Why We Steward Forestland

Sonoma County numbers:

  • Acres in Sonoma County: Approximately 1 million (1,131,520)
  • Acres in forestland: Approximately ½ million (513,000)
  • Percentage of forest held in parcels of 100 acres or less: 30%
  • Percentage of coniferous forest held in parcels of 50 acres or less: 68%
  • Percentage of forest parcels smaller than 100 acres: 93%

Forgotten Forests

Many people buy their first or second home in Sonoma County specifically to enjoy the great outdoors. This area has expansive natural beauty, unique ecology, photogenic agriculture and a community that cares about being gentle on the land. And it boasts beautiful woods: true oak woodland (Quercus spp.), coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) are the primary forest type, with an intermix of hardwoods like tanoak, madrone and bay laurel.

With so many people wanting a slice of Sonoma County heaven, the county has become one of the most highly parcelized counties in the state. The result is a divided forest landscape.

Small sized ownerships mean that the historic uses of this land, timber harvest and rangeland, are uneconomic. Without economic incentive, vast acres of forest sit untouched, unmanaged, and for many, forgotten.

“Overstocked” forests tend to:

  • Be susceptible to disease, pest and invasive species
  • Crowd out less competitive tree species and shift ecosystem types
  • Produce small and crooked trees that have limited commercial value
  • Pose an immense wildfire threat

What’s at Risk

The no-action approach to our forests is a concern, not just to the health of individual trees, but to watershed function across the landscape, a wide variety of sensitive wildlife, our general public safety and the global climate.

One of the primary challenges facing our forests is an over-abundance of trees.

Over-stocking occurs when a forest that relies on regular disturbance (such as wildfire, grazing or timber harvest) does not experience that disturbance for many years. Small acreage forest parcels are unlikely to experience these disturbances because of the no-management approach.

Tools in the toolbox today include:

  • timber harvest (commercial and non-commercial)
  • forest thinning
  • tree pruning
  • mechanical treatment (mastication)
  • chemical treatment (herbicide)
  • grazing
  • prescribed fire
  • understory planting
  • overstory planting
  • monitoring
  • and much more

Stewardship is a Deliberate Action

Historically, this landscape has been shaped by and resilient to the human influence. In prehistoric times natives tended and burned the land intentionally to cultivate a landscape that provided for their human needs. Later, the Spanish grazed enormous landholdings, called ranchos, with cattle. Russian settlers logged the ancient forests and left a lasting mark on the landscape. And since that time Americans have by and large suppressed wildfire and taken a preservationist, or no-action, approach.

The solution is a return to active management. Modern day stewardship practices have learned lessons from the past and are guided by a large body of scientific research to arrive at ecologically appropriate, responsible methods. It’s our job to continue to refine these practices in pursuit of the best solutions.

Helpful links:

The Forest Working Group is Here to Help

Created in 2005, the Forest Working Group was made to empower Sonoma County’s small-parcel landowners in managing their woods for the better.

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Let’s get the right tools in the hands of forest landowners so we can all manage the woods well.

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