Ecology and Restoration: Preserving Native Russian River Watershed Species

Sonoma County lies at the core of a biodiversity hotspot, one of 34 designated locations on our planet. Mediterranean ecosystems, like Pepperwood, are second only to tropical rainforests in measured biodiversity. Our 3,200 acre preserve is home to over 750 species of plants and 150 species of animals occupying habitats that range from sweeping grasslands to sublime oak woodlands, and from dense chaparral to tranquil redwood forests. Read on to learn how this diversity provides the setting for our conservation initiatives at the preserve and our partnerships with other institutions and organizations throughout our region.

View of Mount Saint Helena from Pepperwood's Three Tree Hill.

Adaptive Management Plan

Adaptive management utilizes cutting edge research and robust monitoring to provide resource managers with the data necessary to evaluate restoration and management practices. Managers can then modify practices as necessary to meet restoration goals and to develop best management practices to benefit land managers throughout our region and beyond. Click here to view Pepperwood's Adaptive Management Plan.

Invasive Plant Management and Grassland Restoration

The purpose of Pepperwood’s weed management program is to control and eliminate existing and new populations of invasive plants, enhance native plant communities, promote healthy wildlife populations and livestock, and support healthy watersheds. The critical first step is to track areas where known weeds occur and to identify new invaders. Then we eradicate the invasive weeds using a range of methods that include hand removal, herbicides and prescribed burning. Our volunteers provide a critical workforce focused on pulling weeds and helping to plant native seedlings.

Native Grass Propagation

Native grass seed is collected annually, started in our onsite nursery and then planted in selected habitats to increase the cover of native grasses. Some 3,000 to 10,000 seedlings are planted each year! Pepperwood is also working closely with CAL FIRE and our Native American Advisory Council as we bring the prescribed burning of small plots to Pepperwood. One of our worst invasive weed offenders is Medusahead, which can’t tolerate fire, and thus was the target of our first controlled burn in June 2016. Pepperwood partners with UC Berkeley to scientifically monitor the effectiveness of fire as a treatment method.

Preserve Manager Michael Gillogly (left) and volunteers collect native grass seeds for restoration work.

Conservation Cattle Grazing

Our conservation grazing partner, Holistic Ag, manages over 100 cattle at Pepperwood using a new grazing method designed to improve ecosystem health. By carefully controlling cattle density and grazing duration we ensure the land has a chance to rest. Soils become richer; the abundance of forbs and native grasses increases; invasive plants decrease; the landscape becomes more

Oak Woodland Restoration

Oak forests have the richest wildlife of any habitat in California, yet are one of the most threatened. Pepperwood protects and enhances its oak woodland habitat through a comprehensive program focused on improving oak health. This includes using proven forestry techniques and innovating new approaches to native habitat restoration in partnership with experts from throughout California.

The Douglas-fir challenge

Douglas-fir forests are native to California, yet in the absence of fire, they can thrive in the shade of oak trees and eventually overtake oak woodlands. Native Americans once used prescribed fires to clear the understory of oak woodlands and increase acorn production, a staple of their diet. A century of forest fire suppression has facilitated the invasion of Douglas-fir saplings into oak woodlands. Now, Douglas-fir removal is a key management priority to protect oak woodlands. Pepperwood hires crews to either remove Douglas-firs or girdle them to serve as standing dead tree habitat. Felled trees are limbed and cut into small sections and left on the forest floor to naturally decay. Volunteers revisit Douglas-fir removal sites to pull small seedlings, simulating the effects of having a low-burning fire move through the area. Pepperwood is also working closely with CAL FIRE to test the use of prescribed fire as an oak woodland habitat enhancement and management tool.

Russian River Watershed benefits

Pepperwood is at the headwaters of three main watersheds of the Russian River and numerous salmonid streams. Erosion control and fine sediment reduction is key to protecting high quality habitat for Coho salmon and steelhead. The restoration work done at Pepperwood minimizes soil compaction, increases water retention and reduces erosion. Reducing invasive plants, propagating native grasses and conservation grazing work together to encourage decomposition, enhance nutrient cycles, strengthen microbial communities, and increase organic matter and carbon storage. The benefits of this work extend far beyond Pepperwood's 3,200 acres. These efforts improve the quality of headwaters and watershed functions while creating economic opportunities for livestock producers throughout Sonoma County.

More Resources

Preserve Map

Our preserve maps features vegetation communities, roads, buildings, trails, streams, ponds and springs. Visit our Maps webpage view them.

Pepperwood Vascular Flora

Learn about Pepperwood’s plant communities, read over 600 species accounts, view the rare plant list and learn about the preserves fire history. View the Pepperwood Vascular Flora here.