The Sonoma Land Trust this week announced receiving a $2.1 million grant to further strengthen and protect the region’s most important wildlife “linkage” system, which passes right through the heart of the Sonoma Valley.
The grant is from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation which, three years ago, funded a $1.7 million project to monitor the wildlife corridor between Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas.
“We did a fair amount of work on that project and completed it,” said Tony Nelson, program manager for the SLT. “This grant is a follow-up to that, essentially taking what we learned from the first grant and applying it to the larger linkage all the way across Sonoma County.”
The goal is to catalog and eventually manage wildlife movement across a wide swath of northern California, from the Marin Headlands to the Blue Ridge-Berryessa Natural Area, on the east side of Napa County – a vast area dubbed the Marin Coast to Blue Ridge Critical Linkage.
Not only “romantic” animals like cougars and bears, but more common – if derided – native species like opossums, raccoons and skunks transit the region, which was once free of such obstacles as industry, residential development and highways. In fact, senior state archaeologist Breck Parkman of Glen Ellen characterizes the pre-historic Sonoma Valley as resembling today’s wildlife parks of East Africa.
“It was a California Serengeti,” Parkman said, “but our birds and animals were even more diverse than the Serengeti’s.” Many of those species are long-gone – mammoths, bison, pronghorn antelope and others. The culprit, most naturalists agree, was homo sapiens, which appeared in California about 13,000 years ago – and within 1,000 years, the megafauna was gone.
The bison aren’t coming back, nor are the grizzlies and probably not the wolves, but today’s naturalists strive to preserve the mountain lion, black bear and other species, large and small, that still hang on in the region. Monitoring projects like Sonoma Land Trust’s help identify what species, and how many, remain; their management programs help protect them.
“The biggest surprise to me was getting a porcupine, we got that at one of our underpasses near Glen Ellen,” recalled Nelson, referring to a photograph of North America’s second largest rodent the earlier project produced. He noted that the while status of porcupines isn’t known in Sonoma County, and though they could point to just this one this sighting, “That was really exciting and something I didn’t expect.”
Motion-sensitive cameras located in specific areas that Nelson and others identify as possible places where wildlife tries to pass across the ever-more-crowded Valley – like under bridge crossing and small road culverts – help document the animals in our Valley. Grey squirrels, bobcats, mule deer, even foxes like those that showed up in a recent Sonoma Land Trust video posted on Facebook, help put a face on the issue of wildlife conservation.
Though their motion-sensitive cameras primarily take still photographs, “We take video when I have some extra cameras and we know some good spots where we can put them up,” said Nelson. “And we get some cool stuff. We get more response on our website and social media when we put up wildlife pictures and videos than just about anything else we do.”
The first grant helped SLT complete their monitoring in the “pinch point” of the Sonoma Valley, between Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas. This second grant should extend what they learned to the larger area, and accordingly new tracking cameras are being installed elsewhere in southern Sonoma County, to document the animal movement from Marin County into Napa.