Sonoma Coast’s Stewarts Point becomes part of historic agreement for coastal ranch
Martina Morgan’s black hair whipped about as she gazed out from Stewarts Point in northwest Sonoma County this week at a stunning expanse of Pacific Ocean.
Far below her, waves crashed on a rock-strewn beach where Morgan and her great-grandfather gathered shellfish, seaweed and other dietary staples of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. Leonard Marrufo is gone now, but the rope the pair relied on to rappel down the 70-foot cliff to access the beach is still there, attached to a wooden post buried deep in the bluff.
Now vice chairwoman of the Kashia tribe, Morgan said the site between Jenner and The Sea Ranch is sacred ground for the tribe’s 1,000 members, the place where they believe their creator sent down spirits with explicit instructions that they take only what they need and leave the rest.
“That’s our island,” Morgan said, pointing to a large flat-top rock she said her ancestors climbed to access the land.
The tribe’s special connection to what Morgan referred to as “the beginning place” is part of a historic new land use agreement for Stewarts Point Ranch that marries elements of cultural preservation, habitat protection, outdoor recreation and economic development through logging.
Those wide-ranging provisions comprise a $6 million conservation easement recently purchased for Stewarts Point Ranch by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and other public and private agencies.
The deal encompasses 868 acres of coastal land that incorporates about a mile of coastal bluff north of Salt Point State Park and extends inland for some 2 miles across grazing lands and mountains straddled by dense forest, including 100 acres of scattered old-growth redwoods skirting more than a mile of the Gualala River.
The property offers a wide lens on the region’s natural and cultural history, according to Sam Hodder, president and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, which purchased the site from the Richardson family in 2010 for $11.25 million.
“It brings together what’s so special about the state of California,” said Hodder, as he walked the bluffs this week, boots sloshing along saturated pastureland.
Under the conservation easement, 525 acres of second-growth redwoods on the property can be logged using sustainable methods. Officials say that could provide local jobs, as well as a source of revenue for the property’s ultimate owner. The nonprofit Redwoods League is seeking a buyer.
Stewarts Point offers an opportunity to strike a rare balance of managing the forest for fire suppression, healthy habitat for species such as spotted owls and economic vitality, according to Stephanie Martin, senior wildlife biologist for North Coast Resource Management, which was hired to steward the property.
“If you just put these forests in a conservation reserve where you don’t do anything, eventually they’re not going to be doing us a whole lot. They need to be managed to some extent,” Martin said.
She and other officials made that case while on a tour of the Stewarts Point forest this week. Riding in all-terrain buggies, the group traversed steep and narrow logging roads beneath a dense canopy of redwoods, Douglas firs, bishop pines and other species of tall trees.
At higher elevations, the forest was a tangled mess, highlighting concerns about fire danger and potential adverse impacts on wildlife habitat and waterways.