Our accomplishments from 2022: A year in review

December 20, 2022

Posted in: News Articles

Over the last 30+ years, Ag + Open Space has conserved over 12% of our county’s natural and working lands. As we look back on 2022, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to increase the scale, pace, and equity of land conservation by putting our Vital Lands Initiative into action, and continuing to evolve with the needs of our community. While we’re already looking ahead, we wanted to share with you all we accomplished  in this last year:

Vital Lands Initiative in action
  • Developed new project evaluation criteria, and utilized new tools to increase our data analysis and mapping efficiency, to assess potential land conservation projects and ensure they are meeting our goals.
  • Updated our landowner application to make it more accessible and useful for potential easement landowners.
  • Utilized diverse datasets ranging  from biodiversity to wildfire fuels to identify the priority areas for land conservation projects across our county. With these priority areas as guides, we will proactively reach out to landowners to develop new projects that will be critical for the long-term health and resilience of our county. 
  • Launched the development of our Farmland for All program, which aims  to conserve agricultural lands and increase equity in land access by connecting small farms with opportunities to purchase these lands. As part of developing this program, we partnered with SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture Education) and UCCE to initiate a study: “Land Access and Farm Business Viability for Limited Resource Farmers: Assessment of Conditions and Opportunities in Sonoma County.” 
  • Through the collaborative Vegetation Management Program with the County of Sonoma, we worked with our Board to approve grant funding for 28 new vegetation management projects throughout the county worth $4.7 million. We also continued to monitor the 19 vegetation management projects that were funded in 2021. 
  • Worked with Promise54 – a national leader helping organizations infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into their work – to run a series of all-staff trainings to help us become more equitable community partners, and help us build a multi-year strategy for assessing and evolving how we work. 
  • With the approval of our Board, added new staff positions and promoted several staff members to increase our capacity, strengthen our team, and ensure that our Vital Lands Initiative goals are achieved. There will be more job openings in 2023, so stay tuned >>
Keeping our mission in motion
  • Acquired a conservation easement on El Recreo – a beautiful, 289-acre property near Kenwood in the Mayacamas Mountains, nestled next to Hood Mountain Regional Park. Owned and cared for by the same family since the 1950’s, several family members worked with Ag + Open Space to ensure the property’s natural resources are conserved and stewarded for generations to come.
  • Laid the groundwork for nearly a dozen potential acquisitions, with several in the appraisal phase – a key step towards developing easements and ultimately conserving these lands. Be on the lookout for these acquisitions in 2023!  
  • Accepted two projects into the 2022 Matching Grant Program funding cycle – the Lower Colgan Creek Restoration and Neighborhood Park Land Acquisition and the Helen Putnam Regional Park Extension Project. Both projects will add land to existing parks, restore key natural resources, and help bring long-planned open space projects to fruition. We also opened a second application cycle on December 13, which will remain open through March 10, 2023. See more about the program and how to apply >>
  • Implemented a remote monitoring program to balance the need to regularly visit our conserved lands with the reality of how much time it takes to visit in-person. Just like an on-the-ground visit, remote monitoring involves a conversation with the landowner, and then utilization of an online remote monitoring platform, Lens by Upstream Tech. This platform allows us to access recent aerial imagery of these properties that we can review and use in our talk with the landowner, and include in our records and monitoring report.
  • Continued our core stewardship work through monitoring visits and review of permitted use requests for projects like prescribed burns, trails, ag facilities, and rainwater catchment systems. We also continued to care for over 1,200 acres of fee lands that we directly own and manage. This included wildfire fuel reduction work at Saddle Mountain Open Space Preserve, restoration work at Oken, and shaded fuel break work at Calabazas Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve.
  • Continued to transition to a hybrid working environment, with a focus on keeping our staff  safe, and increasing our efficiency and sustainability through innovative administrative best practices.
Becoming a better community partner
  • Created our Community Resources Program to enhance and increase communications and marketing efforts, community engagement activities with diverse communities, legislative affairs, landowner support, and coalition building to achieve our ambitious goals.
  • Worked with the County of Sonoma’s Climate Action and Resilience Division (CARD) to create the Sonoma County Climate Resilient Lands Strategy,  which identifies the highest priority projects to build resilience across our diverse land types and promote system-wide benefits to the county’s watersheds and ecosystems. 
  • Joined the Together Bay Area Policy Committee to advocate for state funding to better leverage our local tax dollars, and became a Premier Partner of Los Cien to deepen engagement with the Latinx community.
  • Moved our Public Outings and Youth Education program into a hybrid model to continue the successes in increasing accessibility and engagement experience through virtual programming during the pandemic. Since April 2020, the program has had over 16,000 participants in over 550 field trips, outings, and special events. That’s about what we would normally serve in four years, and we did it in two and a half! Sign up for upcoming outings >>
  • Infused new energy into our engagement with easement landowners by using the results from last year’s landowner survey to develop new strategies including revamping our Landowner Resources hub and launching a bi-annual landowner eNews – LAND LINE, the first edition of which went out in October.