The Kenwood Press
: 08/15/2016

A wildlife corridor in Sonoma Valley

Sharon Ponsford

There are so many things to be thankful for living in Sonoma County. One of them is the Sonoma Land Trust. It is because of the Land Trust and other partner organizations that Sonoma County has been able to preserve and protect so much of our beautiful land. Sonoma Land Trust is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. In that time they have protected more than 48,000 acres.

My husband and I were recently invited to a Land Trust event right down the road from us at the White Barn, the birthplace of the Land Trust. Otto Teller was one of the visionaries who started the trust. The beautiful 300-acre Secret Pasture on Otto and Anne Teller’s land was one of the Land Trust’s first acquisitions. We remember a meeting at the Teller’s many years ago listening to Otto talking about the Secret Pasture being preserved for the wildlife. Having viewed the Secret Pasture on many occasions while hiking near our home, we were delighted that it was being set aside for wildlife.

A few years ago, the Sonoma Land Trust (SLT), embarked on a project near and dear to my heart: The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor. Wildlife tend to use trails of their own making. Who knows, what with the disruption humans have caused, how far back in time some of these trails might have been in use? I see paths made by wildlife on our place. Of course, when these trails come to man-made roads and highways, wildlife is at great risk crossing them. One of the saddest things for me to see is dead wildlife by the side of the road.

Concern about declining wildlife populations has focused attention on helping them cross roads. About a year ago, a Los Angeles group called The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority announced a five-year plan to build one of the largest wildlife corridors in the world. What they are proposing is amazing. The bridge will go over Highway 101, an eight-lane east west freeway! The idea for this corridor is mainly to help mountain lions cross the freeway. Most don’t make it. Neither do the bobcats, bears, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, etc. In order to support genetic diversity, the lions need to cross the freeway in both directions.

There are wildlife corridors for all types of animals in other parts of the world. The tiny Netherlands leads the way with more than 600 wildlife crossings, ranging from very small to one that stretches almost half a mile. Some are tunnels and some are bridges. The bridges are usually landscaped with the natural habitat of the area. Not all of these corridors are for mammals. Norway has built a special corridor for bees; Australia’s Christmas Island has crab crossings to accommodate the annual crab migration; and in South Wales, a special bat bridge was built to allow bats to follow their historic pathway after a tall bridge was built that disrupted them.

The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor stretches from the southern hills of Sonoma Mountain, across Sonoma Creek and the valley floor in the vicinity of Glen Ellen, to the top of the Mayacamas range at Calabazas Creek Open Space Preserve. The narrowest part of the corridor lies near Highway 12 and Arnold Drive. The SLT was able to purchase three at-risk properties in this area, which they call the “pinchpoint” as it is the narrowest part of the corridor. The Land Trust can’t afford to buy all of the land, of course, but because of their work and the work of other organizations more than 8,000 acres have been protected for wildlife.

SLT has reached out to landowners and advised them how to make their properties more wildlife friendly. Animals need to be free to roam. Fencing is a major impediment. Removing too much vegetation is also a problem for them, as they need cover. Night lighting is unnatural and can disturb them. Many land owners have put critter cameras on their property, so they can see what animals are crossing their properties and provide valuable data to the SLT. The good news is the diverse wildlife seen passing through the bridges and culverts. They are using them!

This is such an exciting project and it doesn’t end in Sonoma Valley. The corridors here link to Marin and Napa counties and beyond.