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Steelhead To Get Green Light Through Stuart Creek Run

Sonoma Land Trust acquires additional links in Sonoma Valley aquatic corridor

Sonoma Land Trust recently acquired two properties to enlarge Stuart Creek Run in Glen Ellen. The trust purchased the 3.5-acre run last year. The latest purchases will enable the group to restore the creek’s historic steelhead run. The trust has also secured a contract to purchase a third parcel at the headwaters of the creek.

These acquisitions will permanently protect a key portion of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor “pinchpoint” at Highway 12 and also provide more habitat connectivity for wildlife by linking to the large, existing network of protected lands in the Sonoma Valley, according to a news release.

“Right here, right now, we have a unique opportunity to protect and restore Stuart Creek for the fish and animals who depend on it by stitching together these properties,” said Wendy Eliot, conservation director, Sonoma Land Trust. “If we don’t act now, we will lose it forever."

The acquisitions and their connectivity to protected lands

In August, Sonoma Land Trust purchased a 14-acre undeveloped parcel directly across from its Glen Oaks Ranch along Highway 12. This property, now called Stuart Creek Hill, includes oak woodlands and native grassland, along with a stretch of Stuart Creek. It is one parcel away from connecting to Stuart Creek Run and is also functionally connected to Glen Oaks because the creek flows through the Highway 12 undercrossing between both properties. On the market, the property was promoted as a perfect spot for vineyards and a winery. The Land Trust was able to move quickly to acquire it thanks to a generous loan from a board member and the property’s neighbors, Jim Happ and Betsey Moses.

Nestled between Stuart Creek Hill and Stuart Creek Run lies the 1.3-acre property belonging to Happ and Moses, which is also on the creek. In October, the couple donated to Sonoma Land Trust an appurtenant easement over Stuart Creek and its riparian corridor that will restrict activities that will impede wildlife passage through the property, such as installing fencing or clearing vegetation. This is one of several innovative land protection tools that Sonoma Land Trust uses to protect land in Sonoma County.

The third property, still to be acquired, will be incorporated into Sonoma Land Trust’s adjacent Secret Pasture Preserve. Sonoma Land Trust is currently under contract to purchase this wild, undeveloped 40-acre property high up in the Mayacamas Mountains, which holds part of the headwaters of Stuart Creek. Securing this extraordinary property from the Metallinos family will mean that a significant stretch of Stuart Creek will be protected, top to bottom, from Secret Pasture Preserve, all the way down through Audubon’s Bouverie Preserve and Glen Oaks Ranch, then under the highway to Stuart Creek Hill, the Happ-Moses easement, and finishing at Stuart Creek Run. The landowners would like a conservation outcome for their property, which they are selling for $130,000. The Land Trust is actively fundraising to secure the parcel by Dec. 6, 2012.

“This is how conservation happens today — we are creating restored and protected landscapes parcel by parcel,” said Ralph Benson, executive director, Sonoma Land Trust. “Stuart Creek is a high priority for us and we believe that the community will also recognize the importance of these properties and the aquatic linkage, and come forward to help finance them.”

Progress for fish at Stuart Creek Run

Stuart Creek Run, purchased by Sonoma Land Trust in July, 2011, includes a one-third mile stretch of Stuart Creek, which historically supported a healthy run of federally threatened steelhead trout. Stuart Creek is a tributary of Sonoma Creek, which has been identified as one of eight “anchor watersheds” where restoration actions are likely to have the most powerful effect on conserving and restoring Northern California steelhead populations.

At Stuart Creek Run, three fish barriers prevent steelhead from spawning and reaching Sonoma Creek. Last month, the State Coastal Conservancy authorized $162,000 for Sonoma Land Trust to complete plans to remove the barriers and restore access for steelhead to high-quality upstream habitat.

Background on the Wildlife Corridor

Thanks to the longstanding, extensive work of the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC) when the 2020 Sonoma County General Plan was updated in 2002, the Plan cites the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor as one of two important linkages with significant natural habitats and connectivity needing to be maintained, This year, SEC’s work was reaffirmed when the Critical Linkages Project of the Bay Area Open Space Council identified the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor between the Mayacamas and Sonoma Mountain as a key component of the larger Marin Coast to Blue Ridge Berryessa habitat linkage — and also pointed out the potential loss of habitat connectivity for wildlife through the narrow “bottleneck” in the Stuart Creek area near Glen Ellen.

“Stuart Creek serves as a primary passageway for fish and wildlife within the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor,” says Richard Dale, executive director, Sonoma Ecology Center.   “The Land Trust’s new acquisitions will help to ensure that the aquatic linkage remains open. “

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About Sonoma Land Trust

Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has preserved more than 27,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations.

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