Nearly 700 acres of Sonoma County coast protected under deal with landowners, Kashia Pomo

An agreement to protect nearly 700 acres of Sonoma County coast land cherished by the Kashia Pomo is being hailed as a healing step that restores access to the tribe while allowing public use.|

Sonoma County supervisors have signed off on the final piece of a complex deal that will transfer nearly 700 acres of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians' ancestral lands near Stewarts Point back to the tribe in exchange for permission to build a public bluff-top trail along more than a mile of sweeping coastline.

The $6 million deal, put together by the Trust for Public Lands in partnership with more than a half-dozen private and public agencies, was dependent on the willingness of the sellers — three descendants of the area's Richardson family — to accept a discounted price nearly $1 million below the appraised value, partners in the transaction said.

The agreement is being hailed as a proud, healing occasion — one that restores coastal access to the Kashia people while providing for environmental conservation and public use.

'It's a momentous occasion all around,' Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo said.

As part of the agreement, the tribe will commit to steward and protect the property, which includes more than 350 acres of redwood forest.

Coming approximately 150 years after the Kashia were forced to retreat inland — ultimately settling on a tiny, water- poor reservation of just over 41 acres — the tribe's nearly 1,000 members now will be free to practice their cultural and ceremonial oceanside traditions without having to seek permission, Tribal Chairman Reno Franklin said.

Tribal members have missed their traditional subsistence activities like collecting seaweed, shellfish and other sea life, he said.

The land transfer means his people can reconnect with the coastal origins of their creation story and 're-establish that sense of place' and cultural identity they relished for thousands of years before they were pushed off the land, he said.

'They have aided us in righting a wrong,' Franklin said of those who participated in the sale.

The new Kashia Coastal Preserve abuts Salt Point State Park's northern edge about three miles south of Stewarts Point. It straddles Highway 1, with about 52 acres of coastal prairie on the west side and 636 acres on the inland side long used for cattle grazing and timberland.

Public officials said views from the property reveal a stunning stretch of coastline with 70-foot bluffs and dramatic, craggy rocks below. Two or three seasonal streams that cross the property descend to the ocean, creating spectacular waterfalls, officials said.

Those involved in the sale tout its multiple benefits that include protection of an uninterrupted, 8-mile stretch of coastline that includes Salt Point State Park and Rocky Point, a piece of property on which the Sonoma Land Trust has a conservation easement.

The transaction puts approximately 600 acres of coniferous forest off-limits to most commercial logging, prevents any future development on the site and contributes more than a mile to the planned California Coastal Trail, a 1,200-mile path ultimately intended to connect Mexico to the Oregon border.

Two scenic barns on the coast side of the highway are to be preserved. Harvest of native wildlife and plants also will be limited.

Though funding for the trail is not yet in hand, the hope is to get planning and construction underway quickly in partnership with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and the Trust for Public Land, officials said. Some work will also be required to connect Salt Point State Park trails to the property.

'The goal is not to let this just sit there, but get something going sooner rather than later,' county park planning manager Steve Ehret said.

The Open Space District has agreed to pay up to $2.9 million for a conservation easement over the entirety of the 688-acre property, which will prohibit future development on the land and requires the tribe to develop a plan for protecting natural resources.

The Kashia will contribute an estimated $650,000 in anticipated proceeds from one or two limited timber cuts necessary over the next few decades to cull smaller trees from the forest so larger ones can grow over the long-term, according to Franklin and to Brendan Moriarty, a project manager with the Trust for Public Lands.

Other funding sources include the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which is donating $1.5 million toward the purchase price, and the California State Coastal Conservancy and the state Department of Natural Resources Environment and Mitigation Program — each contributing $500,000. The New Mexico-based Lannan Foundation, whose mission includes support of indigenous communities, is donating $250,000.

The transaction, expected to become final in mid-November, is part of a burgeoning movement to protect land in partnership with indigenous people and, in some cases, restoring ownership rights to Indian tribes.

The Trust for Public Lands' Tribal and Native Lands Program has worked with more than 70 tribes since its founding in the late 1990s and restored more than 200,000 acres to tribal ownership, Moriarty said.

But this particular sale was initiated by members of the Richardson family, which has owned much of the oceanfront property in the Stewarts Point area for generations, since Herbert Archer Richardson first arrived from Franconia, N.J., in 1876 with a new bride and 40 cents in his pocket. Richardson later became a timber baron and patriarch to a family of loggers, ranchers and merchants behind the landmark Stewarts Point Store, according to family lore.

The three siblings who now own the land have longtime ties to the tribe dating back to their school days. They have been generous in allowing tribal members access to the coast for traditional activities, Franklin said.

Several conservation groups have pursued acquisition of the land at different times, according to a state Coastal Conservancy report.

Family members, meanwhile, approached the tribe about a decade ago to inquire about possibly selling. The years since have involved negotiations between a number of different parties without a final deal.

Early last year — several months before the Trust for Public Land acquired an option to purchase the property — the owners filed a timber harvest plan seeking permission to log 427 acres of their forestland, according to Cal Fire records. They agreed to hold off on what would have been the first commercial logging since 2004 in deference to ongoing negotiations, according to the Coastal Conservancy report.

As caretaker, the tribe now hopes to restore the forest to old-growth conditions and preserve and protect the entirety of the property in a condition that's as close as possible to what it was like before Western contact, Franklin said.

One of the family members will remain in the only house on the property after the sale. The tribe eventually wants to create a museum that showcases the history of the area — both the tribe's and that of the loggers and ranchers who settled the area, he said.

'It will be exciting to tell the story of the coast,' he said.

County Supervisor James Gore said the opportunity to partner with the tribe and to learn the history and people behind the property makes the land transaction stand out from the many county officials make as directors of the Open Space District.

'I think it's one of the best examples of the use of our Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District money that I've ever seen,' he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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