Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Stepping inside the Valley Fire burn zone: Our Boggs Mountain field trip

A Pepperwood Fire Mitigation and Forest Health Initiative update.

By Lisa Micheli, PhD, President & CEO

Team Pepperwood at Boggs Mountain rocking the hard hats:
Michael Gillogly, Lisa Micheli, and Sophia Porter 
When Michael and Sophia and I finally reached the severe burn zone, it was kind of like stepping in to the cartoon world of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, with slender ebony black branchless trunks clawing at the sky.  The foresters tried to break us in easy on this Boggs State Research Forest tour, including Nick Kent of CalFire and Fred Euphrat who is an instructor at Santa Rosa Jr. College and currently advising Pepperwood on our forest management planning process. 

We met at the Boggs Mountain CalFire forest station, which had been an island of firefighting activity during the onset of the Valley Fire less than two months ago, before the guys who worked there put up their “white flags” and had to get helicoptered out.  The station itself survived and was in a zone of relatively low burn severity. While some of the trees showed sign of char from the flames, the ground itself was covered with recently dropped pine needles which draped a soft looking sepia carpet over whatever scorched soils lay beneath.  

Field map of burn zone, fire severity, Boggs boundary,
and remaining live trees.
At the station they showed us a map of the burn zone marked in pink to dark reds, with the darker the red showing increasingly greater burn intensity.  Green dots showed the survivors, living trees the foresters hoped would provide some of the seed needed for forest regeneration.  But right now the urgency is on identifying the dead trees, and getting them out of the forest for a couple of reasons—to reduce future fuel loads, to make way for new plantings, and perhaps even to help fund restoration.  They do leave 5% of the dead trees behind for habitat, with dead wood known as excellent habitat for cavity-nesting birds and other critters.

Forester showing how to expose cambium and
example of healthy indicators despite scorched bark.
The way the foresters can tell whether a tree is alive or dead is by taking an axe to its base and taking off about 1 inch or more of the bark in order to expose the cambium* underneath. The cambium seemed rather akin to our own fatty layer, lying just beneath the skin of the tree, and containing cells that are in charge of growth (see the more technical definition below).  We learned that if it is white and firm that’s an indicator of life, but if it’s gooey and caramel colored, the tree is likely a goner.  So this has been a big focus of the immediate post-fire efforts on the state forest, to identify live and dead trees in order to cull out the dead.

Don Lindsay of California’s Geologic Survey showed us the water quality/sediment runoff study sites that are being installed at multiple locations to measure how much soil erodes this winter off of the forest floor.  This is really important given we are in an El Niño season that could bring heavy rains! Will the more severely burned areas shed more soil than the less severely burned areas?  Lindsay’s study (in partnership with university researchers) will create controlled study sites where literally all of the sediment coming out of a small drainage (1-2 acres) uphill will be captured and measured.  They will also measure the amount of incoming rain and water coming off the sites using a rain gauge plus a small dam and water depth measurement setup. (See photo below). It’s exciting to know they are collecting this critical data and it’s also clearly a lot of work.  Don has been hustling to get the sediment traps installed before the onset of the rainy season.

Don Lindsay of Cal Geological Survey showing a water quality
monitoring setup.
Eerie shape left where a living tree stump used to be.
When they finally took us into the severely burned area, it was like stepping into a charcoal landscape.  The trees were shiny and metallic, with their bark looking in some ways more like stone then wood. The stones that were burned were shedding their fried outer layers (called spalling**).  There were shadows of branches where all that was left was oxidized rust colored minerals streaked across the black earth.  We found more than one reverse tree stump, where the earth was essentially sculpted by the negative space of a tree vaporized by the heat (see photo below).  Where the soils have experienced great heat, often at the intersection of rock or root, Fred showed us how hydrophobic*** (or water repellent) the soils were by pouring water out from a drinking bottle to show us how it pooled up and refused to sink in.  This means even though the soils are extremely stressed by drought, one of the lasting effects of the fire will be to cause more runoff than normal for at least this winter. 

Someone in our group started to observe that beetle activity was already evident on the burned trees, including tiny little piercings on the bark surface and some kind of extruded waste collecting at the bottom of the tree which was oddly a light pink-orange color.  With the threat of bug infestations helping to take out what’s left, starting next spring the foresters will focus intently on planting new trees, and apparently a range of planting techniques will be designed and tested at Boggs Mountain State Forest.  On the way out we saw many signs of miraculous life coming back on its own: a bracken fern that had pushed up through the charcoal soils, and this fresh oak shoot coming off a fried stump. I thank Nick and Fred for hosting us and I look forward to visiting again next spring to help track the recovery of the site!

Oak re-sprout—life carries on!
*The vascular cambium is a plant tissue located between the xylem and the phloem in the stem and root of a vascular plant, and is the source of both the secondary xylem growth (inwards, towards the pith) and the secondary phloem growth (outwards to the bark). It is a cylinder of unspecialized meristem cells that divide to give new cells which then specialize to form secondary vascular tissues.

** Spall are flakes of a material that are broken off a larger solid body and can be produced by a variety of mechanisms. Spalling and spallation both describe the process of surface failure in which spall is shed.

*** Hydrophobic is repelling, tending not to combine with, or incapable of dissolving in water.

Launching the Fire Mitigation and Forest Health Initiative

A Pepperwood Fire Mitigation and Forest Health Initiative update.

By Lisa Micheli, PhD, President & CEO

On October 3, 2015, Pepperwood launched its Fire Mitigation and Forest Health Initiative at its anniversary celebration and first ever fundraiser thanks to an outpouring of support by the community.  

The objective of this initiative is to integrate multiple threads of Pepperwood’s applied science and management activities into one unified approach to forest health.  Our goal is to demonstrate best practices on the preserve and to leverage Pepperwood’s role in research, outreach, collaborations, and technical advising to expand these throughout our region.  

One of the many beautiful oak woodlands found at Pepperwood.

Here are just a few of the exciting developments kicked off since our launch.
  • Pepperwood’s Mayacamas Forum to host spring convening on fire mitigation and forest health in partnership with Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We are in the planning stages of a workshop with BLM to bring together our researchers and experts to share and advance the multiple threads of this initiative.

  • Pepperwood engaged in White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Climate Resilience Project and presenting at their hosted session at the American Geophysical Union (AGU)'s Fall Meeting. Pepperwood’s Dr. Lisa Micheli has been invited to present on December 14th in the White House’s session on Linking Climate Resources for Community Resilience where she will present her Climate Ready work on links between drought and fire.

  • Pepperwood raises awareness of connections between fire and drought via Climate Ready North Bay. In its role as the science lead on the California Coastal Conservancy-funded Climate Ready North Bay vulnerability assessment for Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa counties, Pepperwood is applying a statewide model that estimates the increase in fire risk associated with climate change for the benefit of our regional county water, parks, and open space districts long-term planning.

  • Pepperwood selected to advise the North Coast Resource Partnership (NCRP) on climate, hydrology, fire and forest health. The NCRP, which serves coastal counties from Sonoma to the Oregon border, has chosen Pepperwood and it’s USGS Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Collaborative (TBC3) partners to extend our Climate Ready North Bay approach throughout their region, thanks to funding from the Regional Growth Council, to support long-term sustainability planning.

  • Pepperwood completes this year’s installment of fuels reduction on the preserve. A significant portion of Pepperwood’s annual stewardship budget is focused on removing thickets of young trees that in previous times would have been cleared via native peoples’ prescribed burns or natural wildfires. These young fir saplings create a dangerous level of fuel loading. This fall Pepperwood cleared over 12 more acres of accumulated fuels in concert with our partners at Great Tree Tenders and our dedicated volunteers.

  • Pepperwood has partnered with CalFire to develop a five year plan for comprehensive fuel reductions. We will work directly with CalFire experts to develop a diverse array of prescriptions aimed at reducing accumulated fuels in the forest understory across the entire preserve. By making this a joint project with California’s lead fire management agency, this planning process will entail securing the permits and clearances needed to move forward with a more comprehensive, long-term approach.

  • Native American advisor joins Pepperwood’s adaptive forest management team. Thanks to the generosity of the Christensen Fund, Pepperwood has been able to officially add our Native American cultural advisor, Clint McKay, to our adaptive management team. We have already gained a valuable long-term perspective on our landscape thanks to Clint’s generosity, and we’re only at the beginning of this process.

  • Pepperwood awarded California Forest Improvement Program grant to develop adaptive forest management plan. Pepperwood was successful in securing a grant to hire a professional forester to advise us on all aspects of long-term management of our forest resources. We are working with Fred Euphrat, Registered Forester, who also serves as the Professor of Forestry for Santa Rosa Junior College.

  • Santa Rosa Junior College students are learning forestry at Pepperwood. Our partnership with SRJC’s Forestry Professor has also created a wonderful opportunity for SRJC students to gain valuable career experienced by assisting in Pepperwood’s forest inventory, and in the process, further strengthen Pepperwood’s long-term partnership with SRJC. We hope this can become an annual learning opportunity for our local natural resource management students.

  • Pepperwood advancing forest and fire research with UC Berkeley. In addition to our now multi-year forest ecology monitoring partnership with UC Berkeley’s Ackerly lab (Department of Integrative Biology), Pepperwood has a new partnership with Professor Scott Stephens’ Wildland Fire Science lab (Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management). We are exploring an experimental design and monitoring plan for small prescribed fire test plots at Pepperwood perhaps as soon as next summer or fall.

With your help, we have already made great strides in launching our Fire Mitigation and Forest Health Initiative. Thank you so much for your support!

Stay tuned to our monthly e-newsletter and Pepperwood’s Field Notes blog for future updates.  

Click here if you want to check out Lisa’s latest blog piece on visiting the Valley Fire burn zone.

Mayacamas Christmas Bird Count for Kids

Practicing with binoculars before heading out.
Photo © Sandi Funke.
By TeenNat interns Emma and Ben Hoffman

Every December, Pepperwood, Safari West, and the Petrified Forest all come together to host the Mayacamas Christmas Bird Count For Kids. The bird count involves going out to one of the three properties and counting and identifying all of the bird species we see, then uploading the information to an online database.

So why do we go out and count all the birds we see? It’s because bird populations are changing in response to habitat loss and climate change. By counting the number of birds and the species in a given area, we give scientists data to track bird populations and see what’s going on—whether there’s trouble coming, if a species is rebounding, if territories are changing, etc.

Getting a closer look through a spotting scope.
Photo © Sandi Funke.

Everyone who wants to participate in the bird count gathers each year at one of the aforementioned properties—this year it was Pepperwood. Several expert birders taught everyone how to use binoculars and bird guides, then divided everyone into three groups. An expert or two was on every team to aid in correct identification. The goal of the day was to find the most birds, but we also wanted accuracy. 

One team wandered twisty trails of Pepperwood, another searched the wilds of Safari West, and my team explored the woody Petrified Forest. In my group we went through several biomes, watching all the time for movement in the trees, bushes and grass, and listening for calls that might show where a bird was. One person in the group was designated as the counter—they tallied all the species and number of birds per species that we spotted.
Nicole Barden, Pepperwood Environmental Educator and expert
birder, helps confirm bird identification. Photo © Sandi Funke.

After everyone was done gathering data, we all returned to Pepperwood where we turned in the data and the experts compiled it into one single Excel page. In the end, there was a total of 54 species and 928 birds counted. 

My favorite part was that at the end we got to add our data to the collection of hundreds of bird counts all happening at the same time on There were people all around the world participating, and we got to see the data of our day added to the ever growing pool of information. Scientists are now using the information we collected to study migration and population changes in the species we counted.


Join us for the next Mayacamas Christmas Bird Count for Kids on Saturday, January 16, 2016! Click here to sign up or learn more.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Harvest Reflection: Camaraderie is a key to scientific collaboration

By Lisa Micheli, PhD, President & CEO, written on September 15, 2015

It is a pitch black harvest morning at 5 AM and I find myself in the Sonoma Safeway at the Starbucks counter trying to calculate how much coffee I can safely transport to the Bechtel House via Prius without spillage. I am headed up to Pepperwood to meet some of our incredible TBC3 scientists - who all arrived the night before to share a nice sunset dinner on our deck overlooking the incredible view. We are prepping for a full day of Sentinel Site work, complete with a field excursion to dig a soil pit. The field trip requires an early departure due to the threat of hundred degree temperatures by midday. I get the most sugary doughnuts I can find and carry them out to my car with several pints of hot coffee.

This is a great day at Pepperwood. This particular group of folks, which includes my TBC3 co-chair David Ackerly of UC Berkeley, Alicia Torregrosa and Alan and Lorrie Flint of the US Geological Survey, and Stu Weiss of Creekside Earth Observation - the mastermind behind the Bay Area’s Conservation Lands Network. Who wouldn't get up early to secure stimulants for this brilliant crew!? I want to arrive in time for the breakfast window which often is the most creative, with people freshly out of their tents watching the sunrise, some still in jammies, cracking open their laptops and brainstorming hypotheses about how our natural world works. This is how great interdisciplinary science happens - unless, of course, you are out of coffee.

The TBC3 team visiting a weather station on the preserve.
Well-caffeinated and doughnut-powered, we leave the Dwight Center after a brief strategy session to hoof it to one of David’s long-term forest monitoring research sites on the preserve. There, next to the newly installed wireless weather station, is a square hole in the ground about a foot plus on each side. Many of us got down on all fours to peer inside this soil pit that Pepperwood’s Celeste Dodge had dug by hand. We actually determined that since the soils were so thin Celeste had actually dug more than a foot into the bedrock -highly weathered bedrock - but bedrock after all. (And she had done it in the hundred degree heat of the day before: we were impressed.)

In peering into the hole from close-up we all discover something different through that window into the skin of the earth. We notice the influence of roots on potential water flow pathways, evidence of burrowing animals stirrings the strata up, and the wildly variable conditions just a few feet away in this hummocky forest landscape. This complexity and diversity is thought-provoking but working against our desire to rapidly generate statistically-significant field measurements of the soil hydraulic properties across David’s tennis court-sized field plot. The more the variability, the more pits Celeste will have to dig to get a valid average. That's how statistics works.

So what is the story the soil pit tells? First of all, it’s darn dry. There isn't one iota of moisture evident below the earth’s surface in the midst of California’s worst drought in centuries. The soils are only about 7 inches thick, but below is a layer of deeply weathered porous rhyolite capable of storing great amounts of moisture. This actually what is keeping this patch of forest alive - a secret water cache deep below where our spade can reach-something we would not know without digging this hole in the ground. Lorrie rips out a clod and pours some water on the light gray rhyolite material that absorbs the liquid right up - not exactly the behavior you’d expect of a rock.

The soil protocol we planned to use assumes much deeper soils than we are finding, so we debate how to adjust our sampling strategy to handle that. (We love standardized protocols but in nature rarely do they work everywhere!) We also brainstorm how we can we use our map data to estimate how variable the soil thickness may be across all of David’s sites to minimize how many of these pits Celeste will have to dig. Solutions to these sampling questions are never perfect due to the complexity we find everywhere we look in nature - but they do have to be internally consistent!

Too late, perhaps my most important amateur botanical observation of the day is that we are holding this discussion in a deceptively leafless patch of poison oak. Upon return we are joined by the new executive director of the Laguna the Santa Rosa Foundation, where several TBC3 scientists have also worked. In my hostess’ haste I forget to do my usual Technu rubdown post hike-normally a ritual since as a non-native I am wildly allergic to poison oak. I think I am out of the woods, so to speak, but now I write this with a few bubbles on eyelid, arm and knee to prove that plants can be smarter than people. The toxic oils apparently traveled right through my field pants. (“Oh those tricky plants” as Pepperwood’s Preserve Ecologist Michelle Halbur likes to say.)

But today I wear my poison oak as a badge of honor, proof that this mostly desk-bound scientist still can make it into the field with dear colleagues who share a keen desire to understand the relationships between water, earth, sun and life.  I am reassured that in this age of technology humans observing nature directly remains the ultimate source of our knowledge and inspiration. And, at the end of the day, as the first sprinkles of fall rain try to slake the earth’s deep thirst, I am reminded that really meaningful collaborations are always sustained by the joys of camaraderie.

Julie Bartice on Pepperwood's Fund-a-Need and her own experience with the Valley Fire

The following is the speech Pepperwood's Development Director Julie Bartice gave at Pepperwood's Anniversary Sunset Celebration on October 3rd, 2015, explaining the evening's Fund-a-Need and sharing her own experience with the Valley Fire.

For me, the Valley Fire began with a text message. That text read: "Don't worry, but there's a huge fire." It was sent by my 16-year old niece who was visiting from Wisconsin with her parents. She had stayed at our new home in Hidden Valley Lake while the adults spent the day at the coast. We had just sat down for dinner at Lucas Wharf when the text arrived. With her text, Charlotte included a picture that looked like, well, like something from the gates of Hell. And it had been taken from our balcony.

Photo taken from the balcony
of Julie's home
What I remember of that evening - for lack of a better phrase - was organized chaos. My husband, brother, sister-in-law and I rushed from the restaurant. Charlotte called the police. We navigated numerous road closures while Charlotte kept us updated with frequent text messages: She was in a police car. Fire was blazing on either side of her. Sirens blared.

It was after midnight when we reached Charlotte at a gas station in Lower Lake. That night we stayed with friends who welcomed us evacuees with open arms.

One of the longest nights of my life followed. But the next few days were even longer while we sat in vain and wondered if our home was still there. On day three we were told conclusively: our home had been destroyed.

I'm not proud to stand up here and say that I struggled with that news. We had just moved from Sonoma County to Hidden Valley Lake. After a year and a half of searching for that right place to put down roots, we had found a beautiful home with sweeping views of nature. We could see the magnificent Mt. St Helena from our kitchen, dining room  and bedroom windows. We had amazing views of Cobb Mountain and rolling green hills dotted with Douglas Fir, Madrone and Oak Trees. Deer wandered through our yard daily. Coyotes howled at night. And living in our backyard was a fox who neighbors said had whelped nine litters. It was a magical place filled with nature, beauty and serenity. As I thought about our home, I looked down at my wedding ring and was glad that was with me. I then looked at my husband, my brother and his family, and felt tremendous gratitude that we were all safe.

That afternoon I received a phone call. "Hi, it's Katherine Brown." My tired, emotionally-weary brain tried in vain to remember who Katherine was. "Julie! It's your neighbor Katherine. I want to tell you: Your house is fine."I responded with impatience: " Katherine, it's..." She interrupted me. "Julie, I'm standing in front of your house and I'm telling you, your house is fine. I'll text you a picture." And she did. And the house was indeed still standing.

For the next two days, my husband and I volunteered with relief efforts. We worked with the Sheriff's Department arranging short 15 minute visits for people to check on their homes, their animals and grab necessary belongings. Most didn't know what "home" would look like, if "home"  would even be there, and if their pets were dead or alive.

We were set up at Lower Lake High School in a packed gymnasium of desperate yet hopeful people. And generous and patient people. Many of these people came back after their visits to thank us for our small role in getting them home for a brief time. I saw elated elderly people, hugging cats on their laps. Kids smothering their dogs with love. People with stories of homes that were untouched by fire. And I saw the opposite. People who had lost everything. People whose homes and all worldly possessions except the clothing their backs, had been reduced to rubble. Shell-shocked children, quietly sitting next to parents not knowing what to do next and parents who had yet to figure that out. I saw poor people who had been evacuated three times this year alone, and this time they weren't so lucky. I saw people without insurance, people who literally now had nothing and no safety net who nonetheless said: "We'll be okay." And I saw many people helping to make it okay.

I witnessed so much generosity and it made me love Northern California even more.

The Valley Fire made me realize how precarious good fortune is and how quickly it can turn. It also made me realize that we are generous community, deeply in tune to those in immediate need. When there is a crisis, people of our community respond. It also made me realize that now is the time to focus our attention on working together to ensure a catastrophe of this magnitude doesn't happen again. While we must pay attention to the immediate, our generosity cannot be confined to the immediate. It also needs to focus on the long-term. We need to invest in proactive measures to help prevent these tragedies. And when they do happen, we need to help restore our whole community, and our environment, so they can thrive together well into the future.

I now look out my windows and where I used to see rolling green hills and mature trees, I see black ash and a charred landscape. Where I used to hear the birds singing, now I hear the constant sound of chain saws cutting down dead trees. Last night, for the first time since the fire, I heard coyotes howl again. It was the lonely sound of a few, not the raucous yipping that used to wake me at night. I'm am starting to see the deer return. In fact, just this morning, I saw a buck and doe creep across our front yard. Maybe it's my imagination, but there isn't that spring in their step I remember, and they certainly aren't around in plenitude like they used to be. I haven't seen or heard the fox since the fire and I wonder if she made it.

This year alone, 12.5 million trees have died in California fires. We all wonder, how do you rebuild a community after a disaster like the Valley Fire, but how do you rebuild and restore a healthy forest? Keep in mind, the tinder from these 12.5 million trees is in the forest bed lying in wait to become fuel for fire in the future.  How can we be proactive and mitigate the chances of catastrophic fires while we restore forest health?

Tonight you have that opportunity. Tonight, I ask that you help Pepperwood capitalize on its new partnership with the Federal Bureau of Land Management. and invest in our Fire Mitigation and Forest Health Prevention Fund-a-Need.

By raising your paddle:
  • You will support the engagement of youth in fire response and fuel load reduction.

  • You will support work here at Pepperwood to demonstrate and test best practices for fire mitigation.

  • You will support engaging our students, university researchers and citizen scientists in the necessary monitoring critical to understanding the drivers of fire risk, forest health, and wildlife response.

  • And you will support community outreach efforts to empower the many agencies we partner with - agencies such as the Land Trust and the Open Space District, who have representatives here tonight - to mitigate fire risks and other climate hazards on their own properties. You will also support landowners - landowners like many of you here tonight - to do the same.

Working at Pepperwood has taught me that we can't prevent fire. Moreover, working here has taught me that we shouldn't. Fire is necessary to forest health. But we can mitigate the risks of catastrophic fires such as our recent Valley Fire.

Tonight please help ensure a beautiful, robust Northern California - ensure that the Northern California that we love and that we hold so dear, stands proud long into the future.


You can play a role in the success of this initiative!

 Click here to donate now.

Many thanks to our entire community for a generous display of caring, compassion!

Pepperwood Anniversary Sunset Celebration a Huge Success

Wow! Do we ever live in an amazing community. Words cannot express how grateful we are to everyone who attended our Anniversary Sunset Celebration and made such generous contributions to help launch us into our second decade! On October 3rd, a sold-out crowd of nearly 200 community members gathered to celebrate Pepperwood's growth and accomplishments. 

Pepperwood's Anniversary Sunset Celebration held in the Dwight Center courtyard,
photo by Gary Hundt.
Attendees were treated to a transformational musical performance led by Nolan Gasser that did nothing short of elevate the entire outdoor evening to a whole new plane. There was great food and wine, compelling presentations from staff and partners, an honoring of Pepperwood's founders, Herb and Jane Dwight, and a Fund-a-Need auction drawing in our guests. The outcome exceeded our wildest expectations when our Fund-a-Need alone raised $250,000! 

You can play a role in the success of this initiative!

 Click here to donate now.

Below are photos from the event and some of the feedback we received from event attendees.

Pepperwood Development Director Julie Bartice addresses the crowd,
photo by Gary Hundt.

From my perspective and from the guest point of view - everything was perfect. The Dwight Center looked amazing, the staff and volunteers were coordinated, organized and professional. The food looked amazing, the entertainment was fabulous and the people were beyond generous with their gifts to Pepperwood. 
- Abra Annes, Professional Auctioneer

What an amazing event and evening.  Thank you and congratulations to you and all the board and staff that contributed to making is such a special celebration full of music, fine food, excellent speeches, and fundraising. I can't think of a better way to have commemorated Pepperwood's 10th anniversary and with such a great tribute to you, Herb and Jane... I have the opportunity to attend many evening events, and last night's was my favorite in years--truly a stand-out and reminder of how lucky we are here in Sonoma County to be surrounded by such beauty, community, and generosity.
-  Elizabeth Brown, President and CEO, Community Foundation Sonoma County

Pepperwood President & CEO Dr. Lisa Micheli gives a presentation on Pepperwood's past accomplishments and current research,
photo by Gary Hundt.

Julie Bartice looks on as auctioneer Aubra Annes takes the floor,
photo by Steve Ruddy.

Congratulations on hosting a very successful Pepperwood event celebrating a decade of vision and capital accomplishment. It was a first class affair. [Development Director Julie Bartice's] speech was the second bravest thing I have ever witnessed. You should be very proud to have done such an excellent job with your personal story that spoke to a higher planetary need, and a program vision at Pepperwood. The "funds a need" carried that emotion and enthusiasm and it was a powerful part of the evening.
- Edward Wallis

Musicians perform a piece from Phantom of the Opera, 
photo by Gary Hundt.

Pepperwood Preserve is a beautiful place with some amazing caretakers like yourself doing remarkable work.  The evening and event was perfect and I am grateful to have been a guest. 
- Roni Brown, Vice President and Marketing Director, 
Summit State Bank 

Toni McWilliams of Jackson Family Wines
with Pepperwood co-founder, Herb Dwight, 

photo by Steve Ruddy.

You did such a spectacular job on the event!  ...All of us at the JFW table had a really wonderful evening.  
- Toni Kay McWilliams, Director of Operations, Jackson Family Wines

There’s more to Pepperwood than meets the eye... safeguarding the future of our land and wildlife through the kind of education that excites and inspires... I was moved to witness the testimonials, dedication and support of all those connected to this wonderful gift to our County.
- Suzi Redlich, Executive Assistant, Jackson Family Wines

Auctioneer Aubra Annes hosts Pepperwood's Fund-a-Need,
photo by Gary Hundt.

The Pepperwood Anniversary party was most likely one of the best Sonoma County events of the year. We have this jewel of a property here in our own backyard and the Pepperwood team put together a 1st class dinner with exceptional music by Nolan Gasser in one magical venue. I was not surprised it was sold out months in advance. 
- John Meislahn, Vice President and Sales and Business Development Manager, Exchange Bank 

The sun begins to set on the Dwight Center for Conservation Science, photo by Gary Hundt.
Special thanks to all the Pepperwood volunteers who made this event possible, and to Gary Hundt for volunteering his time to take some of the great photos above!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pepperwood Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Over the past decade, Pepperwood has grown from the vision of its founders, Herb and Jane Dwight, into a thriving hub for conservation science and education. And we couldn’t have done it without you!

Morning fog recedes from the Mayacamas Mountains,
view north from Pepperwood's Three Tree Hill

One decade ago, Herb and Jane Dwight stood on a hill overlooking 3,200 acres of pristine Sonoma County habitat.  It was a beautiful, expansive property mirroring the tremendous diversity of plant and animal life found in Northern California.  Rolling grasslands, oak woodlands, chaparral and even a redwood forest provided refuge for over 900 species of plants and animals.  The land was up for sale and the Dwights were shown it as a potential development investment opportunity.  However, inspired by this wonderful, one-of-a-kind property, Herb and Jane had a vision to protect it forever.  They created the Pepperwood Foundation to acquire the land and dedicated it to the community as a nature preserve, serving the community as a center for conservation research and education.

Dwight Center for Conservation Science
Five years later, construction was nearing completion on the new Dwight Center for Conservation Science.  Pepperwood had just hired Dr. Lisa Micheli as its first Executive Director.  Lisa brought a strong science background and a vision of her own:  to create a thriving hub of applied conservation science, leveraging collaboration and community engagement to promote the health of the life and landscapes of Northern California.
Now, ten years since its founding, Pepperwood has emerged as a leader in collaborative science-based conservation.  We serve as a field site for cutting-edge research, provide comprehensive environmental education for adults and youth, and host an innovative citizen science initiative.  This may have been Herb and  Jane's initial vision propelled by  Lisa’s leadership, but none of this would have been possible without  you.


All of our accomplishments are thanks to a tremendous show of support from you, members of our community. You play a vital role in all aspects of our work.  You provide financial support for programs.  You volunteer your time and expertise to power many of our research and education efforts.  And you spread the skills and knowledge of the natural world learned here at Pepperwood throughout the North Bay and beyond.  Together, we are making incredible strides in advancing the health of Northern California’s land, water and wildlife.
Thank you for making a dream that began with two visionaries a reality for so many!


Since the Dwight Center for Conservation Science opened in 2010, Pepperwood has...
  • Made science come alive for thousands of under-served grade school students through our year-long SCENIQ program
  • Created a nationally-recognized, life-altering summer internship for teens
  • Partnered with the Santa Rosa Junior College to give diverse students   hands-on, career-boosting experiences in the sciences
  • Pepperwood's SCENIQ program enhances science learning for
    over 800 local elementary students each year
  • Joined with local elders to create Pepperwood’s Native American Advisory Council to help steward Pepperwood's 3,200 acres
  • Established a cutting-edge Sentinel Site that produces vital data on climate, plant and animal life for use by resource managers and conservation planners
  • Spearheaded the formation of TBC3, a group of scientists producing ground-breaking research centered on how climate change affects natural resources
  • Grown a comprehensive volunteer program with community members now contributing more than 7,000 hours each year
  • Been honored by awards in fields ranging from green building, to women in business, to climate protection and adaptation
Want to help make Pepperwood's next decade an even bigger success?

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Sunset as seen from a hill near Pepperwood's Dwight Center

On October 3rd, Pepperwood will host our first-ever fundraising event to commemorate our 10 year milestone.  There will be great food, Nicholson Ranch wine, wonderful camaraderie and a two-part performance of classical, jazz, rock and world music by Nolan Gasser, who will be joined by vocalists Michael Maguire and Buffy Baggott, with Jeremy Cohen on violin.  Visit for details.

Black bear photographed by our Wildlife Picture Index
monitoring system, the first of its kind in North America!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Formula for Lifelong Environmental Stewardship -
Take 222 Hikes and Call Me in Forty Years

By Sandi Funke, Education Director

Pepperwood's Budding Biologists summer camp
 (photo by Sandi Funke)
Like many parents, I want my child to grow up and have a deep respect for this place we call home. Yet with the pressures of work, friends and family, it is sometimes hard to know what parenting technique is most effective at conveying my value of environmental stewardship. As a child, we did not hike or camp, yet I romped through the neighborhood playing army and as teen flitted in the forests of central Michigan “acting out” roles as fearies and townsfolk at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. Just how important were these play sessions? Was it those or the countless episodes of NOVA that led me to who I am today?

Is getting kids outdoors the answer to creating nature stewards?

In his breakthrough book Last Child in the Woods - Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (2005), Richard Louv links the time young people spend in nature with a myriad of developmental benefits. In the chapter entitled Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From? he points out, “Attachment to land is not only good for the child, it is good for the land.” He goes on to explain, “if we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”

Louv based his book on research from a variety of sources. In chapter 14 of Influencing Conservation Action - What Research Says about Environmental Literacy, Behavior, and Conservation Results (2013), author Dr. Nicole Ardoin of Stanford University begs the question of whether connecting kids to nature has an impact on conservation over the long term. She explains:

“…there is evidence to suggest that kids’ nature experiences can affect behavior over
the long term. For example, a number of studies have explored ‘significant life experiences.’ This research examines the important influences in the lives of environmental professionals, looking for factors that might have encouraged their environmental commitment. This body of work has consistently revealed that time spent in natural settings – and in particular with a caring adult or mentor who encourages respect and appreciation for nature  often provides a critical formative influence in the development of environmental professionals’ lives.”

Pepperwood's Budding Biologists summer camp
 (photo by Sandi Funke)
Direct research investigating “significant life experiences” and their affiliation with environmentally responsible behavior investigates these assertions. Researchers Wells and Lekies (2006) interviewed 2,000 demographically representative American adults living in urban areas. They asked participants questions about their childhood nature experiences and their current attitudes and behaviors related to the environment. They found that childhood participation in nature such as hiking or playing in the woods has a positive relationship to environmental behaviors. 

Chalwa (1999) conducted interviews with 56 environmentalists both in Kentucky and Norway to determine the source of their environmental commitment. Upon interviewing these environmentalists, the leading explanation given for commitment was again experience of natural areas in childhood. Researchers Palmer, Suggate, Bajd, and Hart (1999) constructed autobiographical narratives with 1,200 environmentally active individuals in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. They found that again childhood time in nature was a very salient factor.

Students from Calistoga Elementary School participating in
Pepperwood's SCENIQ program (photo by Sandi Funke)
So what is a mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, or uncle to do that does not yet know how or where to hike with kids? Starting this fall, Pepperwood will be launching a new initiative: Family Fun al Fresco - Diversión familiar al aire libre. This program will give diverse families more access to Pepperwood. We will continue to offer family classes and overnights as well as new bilingual family hikes. In the meantime, we are very lucky in Sonoma County to have access to a myriad of Regional Parks and folks like Landpaths that partner with Pepperwood to link families with nature. So, if you want to raise the next great environmental writer, scientist, policy maker, or even avid composter get those kids outdoors and do it often!