Protecting a Forest, Restoring a Way of Life

The spectacular Sonoma Coast and the mighty redwood forests are iconic elements of California’s identity. And forever intertwined with these inspiring landscapes is the cultural richness of the Native American tribes that have lived for thousands of years along the coastal bluffs and forested waterways. Save the Redwoods League and its partners are celebrating one uniquely Californian place along the coastline where nature and culture come together in one successful conservation achievement, the protection of Stewarts Point. The 870-acre Stewarts Point property along the Pacific Coast Highway in Sonoma County offers breathtaking terraced coastline, coastal grasslands, and a 700-acre redwood forest. Its protection has secured the opportunity for a coastal trail, access to sacred sites for the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, and benefits for the local community.

On a tour of Stewarts Point earlier this week, that sense of community was palpable as conservation partners and community leaders gathered to share what this project meant for them. We stood witness as this week’s rains filtered through the redwood forest above, found a streambed across the gstrassy terrace, and cascaded over the rocky cliff down to the beach below. Our optimism only grew as we discovered that the Gualala River was full to the brim and the sag ponds along the San Andreas fault line were full as well, welcoming a wood duck to look for food between rain squalls.

Within the next two years, everyone will be able to admire Stewarts Point in person after a one-mile trail is finished along the coastline. By the end of 2019, visitors will be able to walk along the windswept coastal terrace and look out over the protected Marine Reserve to the west. The trail will be developed and managed by Sonoma County Regional Parks, and it will ultimately merge with the planned 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail (external link) network that, when complete, will extend the entire length of the state.

For the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians (external link), the terraced coastal bluffs along the property’s western edge are central to their spiritual and ancestral heritage. Yet for the last 150 years, the Kashia have only had occasional access to these lands. The League is finalizing an agreement with the Kashia Tribe, providing them with permanent cultural access to these sacred grounds. The Kashia will once again be able to hold seasonal ceremonies, harvest traditional foods, and lead other spiritual and cultural activities along the stunning coastline.

“This place is very special for us,” said Martina Morgan, Vice Chairwoman of the Kashia Tribe, as she looked out over the expansive ocean vista. “This is the place of our beginning,” she continued as she described the Creation Story of the Kashia taking place along the Northern California coastline long ago.

She was grateful for how well the former landowner cared for Stewarts Point and proud that so many others will be able to enjoy its beauty, including her daughter who collects shells on the beach and her elders who ask for the traditional foods gathered there. The ocean and these sacred lands have always provided for Martina and her ancestors. She was glad for the conservation efforts we were advancing together to protect this sacred place and to secure cultural access for her tribe.

For many years, the protection of Stewarts Point seemed beyond the reach of the conservation community. The property was at risk of subdivision and heavy logging of its second- and third-growth redwood forest, and there was no clear path for its conservation. With the help of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (external link), donors from around the country, and a loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (external link), Save the Redwoods League purchased the property in 2010 to stave off development and find a long-term conservation solution.

Seven years later, we have put that long-term solution in place by transferring a conservation easement to the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (District) (external link). With funding from the California Wildlife Conservation Board (external link), the California Coastal Conservancy (external link) (thanks to Prop 84 and the voters of California), and the District, the multiple resources on this critical piece of the California Coast will forever be protected.

Sam Hodder, Save the Redwoods League’s President and CEO, stands amongst the ferns in front of a magnificent old-growth redwood located in the 175-acres old-growth Restoration Reserve on the Stewarts Point property. Photo by Mike Kahn
Photo by Mike Kahn
Looking to the future, it’s our goal to recover the old-growth condition lost over a century ago, with large, thriving redwoods present in all 700 forested acres. As part of the conservation plan, approximately 525 acres of the forest will be sustainably managed as a working forest with enhanced protection for wildlife and the waterways flowing through the property — all while providing forest management jobs and benefitting the local timber economy. The remaining 175 acres will be protected as an old-growth restoration reserve along the Gualala River. In time, the League will plan to sell or exchange Stewarts Point to a buyer who is willing and able to continue its conservation.

Thank you to each and every one of our amazing donors and partners who supported this project over the years! We’d like to thank the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, and Sonoma County Regional Parks for partnering with us; the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for helping with the original purchase of the property; and the California State Coastal Conservancy and California Wildlife Conservation Board for providing major funding support for the conservation easement acquisitions. Together, we’re restoring cultural access and generating recreational and economic opportunities in Sonoma County — all while improving the health and vitality of this remarkable forest.

About the author

President and Chief Enthusiast for the Outdoors (CEO) of Save the Redwoods League, Sam brings more than 25 years of experience in overseeing land conservation programs from the remote wilderness to the inner city.

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