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Land Conservation Collaboration Protects Estero Ranch

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Land Conservation Collaboration Protects Estero Ranch

Advancing their shared missions to protect scenic, agricultural and biologically significant landscapes, Sonoma Land Trust (SLT), the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District (District) and The Wildlands Conservancy (TWC) teamed up with the California Coastal Conservancy and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to purchase the 547-acre Estero Ranch, located south of Bodega Bay. The acquisition, which closed on December 24, permanently protects a rugged section of the iconic Sonoma Coast where the Estero Americano meets the Pacific Ocean, and will enhance SLT’s adjacent 127-acre Estero Americano Preserve. It will also increase the number of District-protected properties in the coastal agricultural belt of Sonoma County, and will serve as a companion to the TWC-owned and managed Jenner Headlands Preserve to the north. Watch video flyover here: youtube.com/watch?v=KUERF0lKB9c.

“This is a very exciting property to be able to protect,” says Land Trust executive director Dave Koehler. “Collaboration is the key, and each partner brings a unique set of tools to help get the job done.  The estuary is where life begins for hundreds of fish and wildlife species, and the working ranch is a cornerstone in the scenic landscape of the Sonoma Coast. Its permanent protection has been a conservation goal of all of the partners for more than 20 years.”

Eestero Ranch by Stephen Joseph PhotographyProject structure

Serving as the architect of the acquisition, Sonoma Land Trust secured funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the California Coastal Conservancy, as well as the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, whose contribution of $1.95 million makes up just over half of the $3.8 million acquisition cost. The District will retain a conservation easement and recreation covenant on the property to ensure the natural resources and agricultural values will be protected, and that there will be some level of recreational use available forever.

“We are thrilled to work with the Land Trust and The Wildlands Conservancy to protect this important coastal agricultural property,” says Bill Keene, general manager of the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. “The District has a history of protecting sensitive properties along the Sonoma Coast and this ranch – with its significant natural resources, vital agricultural capacity and spectacular views – is no exception.”

The Wildlands Conservancy, which owns and stewards the largest nonprofit nature preserve system benefiting the citizens of California, took title to the property at closing and will manage it. Grazing will continue, along with scientific research, education and, in the future, passive recreation via an expansion of the existing California Coastal Trail.

“The opportunity to protect a property of such extraordinary resource value, and add nearly a mile of Coastal Trail that affords one of the most beautiful views in the county, comes once in a lifetime,” says Dan York, vice president of The Wildlands Conservancy. “This would not be possible without the dedicated partnership that has evolved with the Land Trust and the District, working in harmony to save the Jenner Headlands, and now, what will be the Estero Americano Coastal Preserve.” 

Historic use and biological features

The Bottarini Family bought the property in 1954 and placed the property on the market in July of 2014. Between 1919 and 1954, the property was owned by the Albini Family and used primarily as a dairy. Presently, the majority of the land is grazed and the southwestern tip is used as an aquaculture farm.

The property offers three-quarters of a mile of Pacific coastline and a mile of Estero Americano frontage from which one can enjoy views of Point Reyes, Bodega Head and Doran Beach. It consists primarily of rare coastal prairie and ranges in elevation from sea level to approximately 600 feet. Estero Ranch also bridges several protected lands and marine areas, including SLT’s Estero Americano Preserve, Pinnacle Gulch and Doran Beach Regional Park, Bodega Head (Sonoma Coast State Beach), Bodega Marine Lab, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Estero Americano State Marine Recreational Management Area, the University of California Bodega Marine Reserve, and private ranches protected by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

The Estero Americano itself is a unique, relatively undisturbed, fjord-like coastal estuary that is one of the most biologically dynamic areas on the entire Northern California Coast. In the heart of the Pacific Flyway, the Estero is bordered by steeply sloping hillsides and provides important habitat for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, as well as many special-status species. In addition, much of the uplands on the property are coastal prairie, which is considered an “Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area” by the California Coastal Commission because it supports the highest plant diversity among North American grasslands.

“This special property deserves to be thoughtfully managed to protect the natural resources while continuing its historic productive agricultural use,” says Sonoma Land Trust acquisitions director Amy Chesnut. “It was loved and cared for by the Bottarinis for more than 60 years and the intent is to carry on in much the same way.”