I’m told that on a clear day you can see as far as Point Reyes and Mount Diablo from Jenner Headlands, a 5,630-acre coastal ranch north of the town of Jenner on the Sonoma coast. After four years of negotiations with the landowners, Sonoma Land Trust is poised to purchase the $36 million property in spring 2009, completing the largest conservation land acquisition in Sonoma County history.
On the day I went to visit the headlands in early November, the setting was moody and stormy like the Scottish highlands. From a Highway 1 overlook, I could barely see the wide mouth of the Russian River below, much less the coastal prairie that extends north about two and a half miles along the highway or the upland oak, redwood, and Douglas fir forests. Ten endangered or threatened species live here, including the northern spotted owl, burrowing owl, and peregrine falcon. The eight watersheds on the property include habitat for red-legged and foothill yellow-legged frogs, steelhead trout, and coho salmon.
The property, adjacent to Sonoma Coast State Park, will become part of 30 miles of nearly unbroken protected coastline. Jenner Headlands will eventually be open to the public and include a 2.5-mile stretch of the California Coastal Trail. The land trust plans naturalist-led tours as soon as the sale is complete later this spring.
Four years ago, the land trust began raising money for the purchase. Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District provided most of the funding, with help from the Coastal Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Board, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and private donors.
Eventually, the land will likely be absorbed by the state park system, says Sonoma Land Trust Executive Director Ralph Benson, but with public agencies now struggling financially, land trusts have to take up some slack in land protection and management. “The Sonoma Land Trust decided to step in and take title so we wouldn’t lose this now-or-never opportunity to protect such a large and magnificent coastal landscape,” he explains. But the land trust probably won’t acquire anything comparable for a while. “This was swallowing a big one,” he says, “and we will be digesting it for some time.”
For now, the land trust and open space district will survey the headlands’ resources and create a management plan. To enhance and restore the property, the land trust needs to raise an additional $2 million. Go to www.sonomalandtrust.org to make a donation.