Southridge Conservation Easement Preserve
About the Preserve
About 700 feet above the Santa Rosa plain, in the Rincon Ridge hills to the northeast, a unique 4.2-acre rare plant preserve is overseen by the Milo Baker Chapter of CNPS.
Even as a growing neighborhood continues to spread on Rincon Ridge around the preserve, the preserve and surrounding open space still contain a remarkable diversity of native plant and bird species. Much of this diversity derives from the interface between several plant communities on the preserve. One of the few patches of chaparral scrub found in the area intermingles with northern oak woodland and mixed evergreen forest to form a mosaic of habitats and food sources for a number of birds, deer, and other animal species. Manzanita shrubs such as Eastwood’s, common and Rincon manzanita species and scrubby live oak species like coast and interior live oak dominate the chaparral scrub. Chamise, coyote brush, chaparral pea, California bay, wavy leaf ceanothus, Rincon Ridge ceanothus and toyon also grow within the chaparral scrub community. Tall, robust black oak and coast live oak dominate the northern oak woodland community and mix with the dominant species of the mixed evergreen forest, Douglas-fir. In the early spring, many colorful wildflowers such as ground iris, scarlet fritillary, pacific hound’s tongue, and native herbs like coyote mint populate the herbaceous layer. During the dry summer months, the white flowers of coyote brush and the yellow flowers of solidago bring specks of color to an ever-browning landscape.
Rincon Ridge Ceanothus, Ceanothus confusus
Warrior Plume, Pedicularis densiflora
Ground Iris Iris macrosiphon
Photos courtesy of Gary Hundt
Southridge Conservation Easement Preserve, as it is formally called, is the result of a great deal of effort undertaken by former Milo Baker Chapter president, Betty Guggolz and former long-time steward, Greg Wahlert. During the 1980’s, the drive to develop Rincon Ridge led Betty and other supporters to do all they could to protect several rare plant species that only grow in a handful of locations in Sonoma County, Napa and Lake Counties. Several small populations of the rare Rincon Ridge ceanothus Ceanothus confusus and Rincon manzanita shrubs Arctostaphylos stanfordiana ssp. decumbens were found to occur in the path of the proposed Fountaingrove Ranch (Fir-Ridge) development and would be lost as a result. Before the project could be approved, mitigation for the loss of these plants was required by the City of Santa Rosa. This mitigation took the form of Southridge Preserve, where one mature Rincon manzanita individual already grew amongst a patch of chaparral scrub. With the easement deed officially consummated between the Milo Baker chapter and Fountaingrove Ranch Master Association in 1988, the chapter and preserve stewards have planted several dozen genetically distinct individuals of Rincon Ridge ceanothus and manzanita, along with plantings by propagation cuttings. More than 50 individuals of these two rare plant species now grow on the preserve.
Activities at Rincon Ridge
The original design of the conservation easement has led to some difficulties for the chapter in maintaining the habitat integrity and in protecting the rare plants from degradation. A development divides the preserve nearly in half and so it is not contiguous. Moreover, given its small size, the preserve has a very large surface area along its borders with the neighborhood and adjoining open space. During the negotiations that created the conservation easement, an independent biologist, a California Department of Fish and Game project leader and CNPS representative Betty Guggolz, among others, were concerned the design of the preserve was flawed. In many respects, the current state of the preserve reflects the accuracy of their judgment. Invasive non-native weeds such as French broom, Harding grass, yellow star thistle, and milk thistle have spread onto the preserve while horticultural plants like periwinkle, Himalayan blackberry and Aptenia cordifolia have escaped from neighboring yards. Fire-prone chaparral brush has become anathema to the people living in the suburbs now pushing out into the countryside. Consequently, much of the chaparral is being cut back around neighborhoods like those surrounding the preserve. Balancing the maintenance of chaparral habitats and its rare plants with the fire protection needs of surrounding neighborhoods has become a major issue, not only in places like Rincon Ridge, but throughout the Mediterranean climate of California. Fortunately, the preserve stewards along with dedicated volunteers in the plant society have given their time over the years to pull weeds, clear excessive brush, to rake grass when it is cut each year during the summer, and to basically do whatever they can to maintain the habitat integrity and keep weeds at bay. As you can imagine, the weeds win more often, but if we did not attempt to keep the invasive plants even marginally suppressed, the rare plants and their habitat would be much worse off.
The Milo Baker Chapter holds various weed pulling work parties, nature walks throughout the year at Southridge Preserve, and you are invited to attend. Look for work party dates on the chapter homepage or in the monthly newsletter.
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