Property Spotlight: Oken

November 20, 2023

Posted in: News Articles

As we all gear up for the rainy season, we have some updates from our Oken property – home to 76 acres of gently sloping pastureland and an intermittent stream on Petaluma Hill Road. 

Oken has long been part of local agricultural heritage, and currently the Crane family, famous for their unique Crane melons, graze cattle on the property. While cattle help to reduce fire hazards on the property, the intermittent stream on the property had been damaged over time by cattle access during the wet season.

Over the last few years we’ve been working on a restoration project focused on strengthening the health of the stream, and creating habitat for native plants and animals. To help revegetate these areas, we worked with Point Blue Conservation Science’s STRAW (“Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed”) program to plant native species including live oak acorns, buckeyes, rushes and sedges. 

Blue flag marking restoration sites as the intermittent stream filled with water in last winter's storms.

Blue flag marking restoration sites as the intermittent stream filled with water in last winter’s storms.

We’ve also worked with Humboldt Fencing and Hanford ARC to install seasonal fencing, repair eroded areas, and install stream crossings for cattle and vehicles that help protect the stream and keep the cattle away from sensitive areas during the wet season. This project also included planting several hundred native willows to stabilize the stream banks.

Last winter, the heavy rains tested this work and we were very pleased to see the plantings and updated fencing, crossing, and flood gates did their jobs – the stream banks and native plants remained strong and stable. While the plantings are still fairly small, they’re continuing to grow nicely and we’ve been happy to see coyote pups, jackrabbits, and numerous songbirds on the property recently.

Ag + Open Space purchased Oken 1998 to act as a vital open space buffer between Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. Greenbelts are open space lands that act as community separators to limit urban sprawl, to retain the rural and open character of the county, and to preserve natural resources and agriculture near our cities and towns. 

In addition to erosion repair and plantings, invasive species management has been a key component of supporting native habitat and protecting the agricultural resources of the property.  When we purchased the property, there was a severe infestation of thistles, which had impacted the quality and quantity of grazeable pasture, and had also led to a lack of soil-stabilizing grasses, which can cause issues with erosion.  Additionally, non-native Himalayan blackberry had become established within the creek channels.  

Since then, we’ve carefully and diligently worked with contractors to manage these invasive plants within the pasture and restoration areas, resulting in better land for grazing, protected habitat for native plants, and improved soil stability.  Both Sonoma County Probation and Hanford ARC have helped remove Himalayan blackberry, and Prunuske Chatham, Inc. and Greenbelt Pest Control are helping us manage three species of invasive thistle. 

This past spring, we also saw a huge bloom of California poppies on the property for the first time since we took over ownership! Between the focused restoration work over the last few years, and our commitment to the ongoing stewardship of this land, we’re thrilled to see Oken flourish as a home to grazing cattle, and native plants and wildlife.