A year in review: Highlights from 2021

January 25, 2022

Posted in: News Articles

We are grateful to be able to do the work of protecting our county’s natural and working lands. As we move into a new year, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the work we’ve done with you, our Sonoma County community, over the last year. Even as we look back on the highlights of 2021, we look forward to another year of serving our community, and accomplishing great things in the year ahead.

Watershed moments

  • In May, we happily welcomed the appointment of our own Misti Arias as our new permanent General Manager. Misti’s incredible wealth of knowledge after 25 years at Ag + Open Space has, and will continue to, serve us well as we carry out the community’s vision for a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable future. We also want to extend our deep gratitude to Caryl Hart, our Interim General Manager who helped with the leadership transition. Hear more from Misti about her vision for our work here >>
  • After finalizing our Vital Lands Initiative in 2020, we’ve now moved on to  developing tools to implement that vision, and are currently working with data, government and community stakeholders, and fellow conservation agencies to develop evaluation criteria for new conservation projects. We look forward to sharing more as we work towards the visionary goals laid out in the Vital Lands Initiative >>

Additional public access

  • We transferred Calabazas Creek Open Space Preserve and Wright Hill Ranch to Sonoma County Regional Parks, creating over 2,500 acres of new parkland that will open in the years to come. While everyone works hard to open these parks, we’ll also be offering Park Preview Days and free public outings on these properties. 
  • As part of our Matching Grant Program,, our Board of Directors approved six new projects throughout the county that will add 145 acres of new and enhanced parks, trail additions, and several new access points to existing local parks.
  • We worked with the County of Sonoma to add Paulin Meadow (also known as Parcel J) to our Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve in northwest Santa Rosa. This property will eventually be transferred to a partner that will expand community access, while staying forever protected by an Ag + Open Space conservation easement.

Climate resiliency work

  • We partnered with the County of Sonoma to develop and launch a countywide Vegetation Management Grant Program that provides resources and grant funding for vegetation management in high-risk areas. For the 2021 wildfire season, the Board of Supervisors approved $3.6M in grant funding for nineteen vegetation management projects throughout Sonoma County. The County recently offered a second funding opportunity  to help reduce fire risk ahead of the 2022 wildfire season and beyond. Learn more about the program here >>
  • With grant funding from the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) program, we worked with landowners to protect Mattos Dairy, 700 acres of working dairy farms in Two Rock Valley, with a conservation easement. Preventing future subdivision and residential development on this property results in avoided GHG emissions and more pasture land to sequester carbon.
  • At our stunning 960-acre Saddle Mountain Open Space Preserve, which lies just northeast of Santa Rosa, we completed prescribed fire and forest thinning plans, and worked with contractors to remove ladder fuels in the property’s oak woodlands. We’ve also been working hard on our Oken property to restore and support the property’s intermittent creek and other seasonally wet areas. This project included  working with local contractors and Point Blue’s STRAW program to install fencing and bridges for the cattle, and to plant willow trees and other native plants to help reinforce the soil and enhance habitats along the waterway.

Meaningful community engagement

  • We sent our first-ever landowner survey to hear directly from our landowners about their experiences managing their land, and how Ag + Open Space can continue to support them. Our Stewardship team also conducted dozens of monitoring visits and developed an efficiency-increasing remote monitoring program to help with future monitoring. 
  • We engaged in meaningful collaboration with the Wappo Tribe about forest stewardship and cultural burning, and began working with Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria on access to Dogbane Preserve for gathering of the culturally-significant Dogbane plant. 
  • We further committed to making our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work a part of everything we do, and our DEI committee focused on bringing in consultants to help our staff continue to grow and learn. We have also partnered with the County’s Office of Equity to create deep and productive change that further ensures our work is truly about caring for our working and natural lands in a way that connects and benefits everyone. More to come in 2022…
  • Our Public Outings and Youth Education program continued to grow despite the limitations brought on by the pandemic. Through partnerships with the Laguna Foundation, LandPaths, Sonoma and Gold Ridge Resource Conservation Districts, Sonoma Ecology Center, and Sonoma Land Trust, we reached over 5,000 (more than any year before!) students, teachers, and community members through virtual and on-land outings, field trips, and classroom visits.

With so much going on, it’s hard to keep up so be sure to follow our social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And be sure you’re signed up for our monthly eNews here >>