PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 139, Winter 2005: PRBO's New Environment: Northern San Francisco Bay


One of the last large-scale acquisition and restoration opportunities on the shore of San Francisco Bay.

Preservation of the Incomparable Sonoma Baylands

John Brosnan

Introducing This Issue
Restoring Petaluma River Marsh
Executive Director's Column
The Changing Face of San Pablo Bay
Monitoring North Bay Restoration
Sonoma Baylands Preservation
A Presence on San Francisco Bay
Oak Woodlands and Vineyards
California All-Bird Workshop
Anticipating PRBO's New Center
PRBO's Volunteer Program
Bird Bio: Mute Swan
Birding PRBO's New Back Yard
Lasting Legacy Campaign

A view of Sonoma Baylands today, looking south from southern Sonoma County toward San Pablo Bay. Photo © Stephen Joseph/Sonoma Land Trust.

Nowhere else in the Bay Area can you take in a bucolic, sweeping vista like the place where Sonoma County meets San Pablo Bay. The unique vastness that characterizes Sonoma Baylands, however, was in jeopardy just two short years ago. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria had announced plans to build a casino and resort right in the middle of the landscape. Instead, faced with opposition from local communities and a broad coalition of environmental groups, tribal leaders worked with Sonoma Land Trust (SLT) to ensure that the indelible beauty of the Baylands remained intact.

With assistance from local foundations and state and federal agencies, and unprecedented financial support from members and area residents, SLT is the new owner of 2,327 acres of this rich and unique open space.

Preparations are currently under way to restore hundreds of acres of tidal and seasonal wetlands on the site. In just five years the levees will come down and what are now agricultural fields will once again host a variety of native wetlands species. PRBO, with its expertise in tidal marsh restoration, will be a key partner in this ambitious project.
Click here for larger view. Map A: On the northern shore of San Pablo Bay, tidal marsh habitats (black areas) historically were extensive. Map B: After the mid-1800s, diking produced a mostly agricultural landscape (dark red areas). A recent acquisition at Sears Point has added a key conservation area (irregular dark gray outline) to the complex of North Bay wetlands..

Known collectively as the Sears Point Restoration Project (see map), the site extends from the margins of San Pablo Bay to nearly 400 feet above sea level. It offers a rare opportunity to restore a complete transect within the San Francisco Estuary, from tidal marsh to upland grasslands.

The Sears Point area supports over 500 species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals and is considered a "hotspot" rich in sensitive and endangered plant and animal species. A variety of migratory birds will take advantage of the project's restored wetlands as they travel along the Pacific Flyway.

This is the largest single bayland campaign since the South Bay salt ponds purchase from Cargill--and one of the last large-scale acquisition and restoration opportunities on the shore of San Francisco Bay. The Sears Point Restoration Project is made even more significant by its location. It fills a critical gap amidst a massive North Bay complex of historical and restored wetlands and preserved land measuring over 21,000 acres.

"The Sonoma Land Trust values our partnership with PRBO. We see the Baylands landscape at one level, and then listen to the scientists at PRBO and come to a whole new and greater level of understanding. We are exhilarated to look at our lands through PRBO binoculars and come to know how alive they are."--Ralph Benson, Executive Director, Sonoma Land Trust

Sonoma Land Trust will work with stakeholders on a preliminary restoration plan and will continue coordinating the project up to the time when bay waters once again flow over the land. Then the property will be transferred to public ownership and remain protected in perpetuity.

For more information on the Sears Point Restoration Project or to get involved, please email John Brosnan at, or call 707-526-6930, ext. 109.

Sonoma Land Trust is especially grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for a $7.9 million grant in support of the land acquisition and restoration planning.

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