Sonoma Ecology Center’s research, education, restoration, and outreach efforts focus on the health of the Sonoma Creek Watershed, which drains into San Pablo Bay. We monitor water quality and erosion, study the wildlife and ecosystems that rely on the creek, educate children and the public about the importance of watershed protection, help landowners reduce erosion and runoff from their properties, and inform policymakers and public agencies.
We also contribute to protecting the headwaters of Sonoma Creek by operating Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in agreement with the State and other local non-profits. Sugarloaf, like much of our watershed, burned in 2017 and again in 2020. More than 98% of the park burned between these two fires, and half of the park burned twice. We expect frequent fire like this to increase as the climate continues to change. This presents a significant risk to the quality of the water in Sonoma Creek. Mountainous terrain denuded of ground cover can deliver large amounts of soil and ash to the creek when the rains finally come.
In response to this threat, Sonoma Ecology Center has created a Community Science Program, which, through research and public education, will inform the management of Sugarloaf and surrounding areas. Our research focuses on understanding the fire ecology of the park, documenting concerns that affect water quality such as the recovery of vegetative ground cover and duff, fire fuel reloading, and changes in plant communities after the fire, particularly invasive grasses that increase fire risk and increase surface runoff. This research is aided by bringing students and members of the public into our research team, asking them not only to help us gather data but to take on the challenge of studying those ecological questions that most interest them.