Tuesday, February 12, 2019

We're Hiring!

Do you know of anyone who wants to be part of a winning team and help create a legacy in Solano County?

Solano Land Trust has three positions open: 

-Comprehensive Campaign Manager

-Seasonal Field Steward

-Manager of Land-People Connections.

Click here to check out the job description on our website.

Please help us spread the word!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Views can be inspiring and offer perspective on day-to-day hassles. Doesn’t it feel good to know that your support of Solano Land Trust helps people find inspiration?

Take a moment to imagine people of all ages and walks of life climbing trails, breathing deeply, and attaining that sweet spot of perspective.

Check out our list of  favorite views on Solano Land Trust properties:

Suisun Hill, Rush Ranch - The Suisun Hill Trail that starts on Grizzly Island Road opposite the driveway to Rush Ranch takes you to the top of Suisun Hill. The view looking south to Mount Diablo leads your eye across the ranch and the Suisun Marsh. One staff member says she’d love to hike Mount Diablo but doesn’t have to because Suisun Hill is in her own backyard, figuratively speaking. That makes her reflect on how grateful she is to be in nature within ten minutes. Be sure to keep an eye out for birds of prey when on Suisun Hill.

North Ridge Trail, Lynch Canyon - Climb to the top of the North Ridge Trail for rewarding views of the Napa River, North Bay wetlands, San Francisco Bay, Mount Tamalpais, and even the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The trail is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and has picnic tables where you can sit and catch your inspiration while catching your breath.

Tower Trail, Lynch Canyon - It seems that everyone stops at the bench that overlooks the reservoir on the Tower Trail. And just as often they pull out a phone to take a picture of the reservoir below or the classic selfie. There’s something about this spot that people like, beyond the fact that it’s a good place to catch your breath. Look to the towers and see if you can spot a golden eagle.

Big hill overlook, King Ranch - If you have an opportunity to go on a docent-led hike at King Ranch, do it (first Saturday of most months). There are several views that are spectacular. Perhaps the most dramatic is from atop the windy mesa. From this perch, you really get a sense of the vastness of Suisun Marsh and realize how lucky we are that people have worked to protect it for over a century.

Harmonia Hill, Rockville Trails Preserve - From a rocky outcrop at the eastern edge of Harmonia Hill, you can look out over Suisun Valley and further on to Suisun and the Montezuma Hills. On a clear day, you can see forever - well, at least to the Sierras.

Hills at Eastern Swett - On a docent-led hike, you can climb the hills with no names for views that block out housing developments, roads, and cities. The signs of society are in the valleys and hidden from view, and all you see are hills for miles. In the springtime, it’s miles of emerald green, which is so good for the eyes.

Tell us what views you love and why.

Photos courtesy of (in order) Aleta George, Edwin Osada, Aleta George, Solano Land Trust, Nicole Braddock, and Solano Land Trust.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Fighting Fire With Fire

Using fire to manage grasslands

Fire has come to the forefront of our consciousness as Californians. In Solano County, fires directly threatened several communities in 2018, and we all spent months under the oppressive, surreal haze of poor air quality from large fires throughout the state. Reducing fire risk is a priority for all of us, and you may be asking yourselves, can we really fight fire with fire?

Historically, yes. Long before European settlement, indigenous Californians used fire as a tool to manage vegetation and improve habitat for the plants and animals they needed to survive. Light- to moderate-intensity fire can refresh an ecosystem, removing dead plants and releasing nutrients. Following light to moderate fires, it is common to see a flush of new growth, which can attract deer and other animals. Fire can also help control invasive grasses.

Controlled burns

Not all fires are created equal. Fire intensity refers to the energy produced by a fire, and severity refers to the damage left after the fire. Scientists agree that modern fires, with heavy fuel loads resulting from fire suppression policies, are burning more intensely and creating more severe burns with lasting ecosystem effects.

To reduce fuel loads, land managers practice methods such as removing woody material with machinery or using grazing and browsing animals. Another way that fuels can be reduced is through prescribed or controlled burns. Prescribed fire is a tool that is carefully planned and designed to meet management objectives.

Rush Ranch green

Solano Land Trust has a history of using fire as a management tool. If you have ever visited Rush Ranch, you may have witnessed controlled burns that have been part of a training program in partnership with the Montezuma Fire District.

In 2018, three unplanned fires affected Solano Land Trust properties (Rush Ranch, Lynch Canyon, and Paradise Valley). In each case, the fires began on the shoulder of public roads and were carried by the wind onto Solano Land Trust properties. Fortunately, all the fires were of low intensity and severity. You may notice how well vegetation is recovering from those fires. In some ways, these unplanned fires were a test of vegetation management. If fuel loads had been higher, the fires would have been more severe.

Your support of responsible land management practices, such as cattle grazing, ensures we can continue maintaining the resiliency of our lands.

By Jasmine Westbrook, project manager. Photos courtesy of Ken Poerner, Tim Malte, and Tom Muehleisen.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Monday, January 28, 2019

Next-Gen Blue Oaks

Replanting an old clear-cut at Rockville Trails Preserve

Sometimes little ones need to be coddled.

That is the case with a “nursery” of blue oaks deep in the heart of Rockville Trails Preserve. Twelve acorns and two saplings have been planted as a first step to restore an area that was logged decades ago. Historic aerial photos show a thriving oak savanna in 1937. Today, areas of the Preserve have only foot-tall stumps, evidence of a past clear-cut. They may have logged the trees for firewood, or because agricultural advisors thought removing the trees would benefit livestock. Whatever the reason, the result is that huge areas that were once wooded are now grasslands. Our goal is to plant and protect 60 young trees in one of these historically wooded areas. (See aerial photos below.)

Iconic California oaks

Your support enables us to replant these oaks and do all we can to help the babies grow.

If you have ever been on a docent-led hike at Rockville Trails Preserve, you may have noticed the blue oak savannas that sweep across the landscape, lending it an iconic California look. This species of oak grows only in California, and only in a narrow ring around the Central Valley.

For the past few decades, land managers and ecologists have been concerned because these slow-growing oaks are not regenerating adequately on their own. Researchers believe slow regeneration may be caused by changes in rainfall and summer temperatures, depleted groundwater, or cattle eating the tender leaves of saplings.

Tender seedlings
We know now that healthy grassland ecosystems include a variety of plants and trees, and we are doing everything we can to support blue oaks at Rockville Trails Preserve. At the clear-cut site, stewardship coordinator Ryan Lewis has protected the tender seedlings from cattle with moveable fencing. When the weather heats up and dries out, staff and volunteers will water, mulch, and apply shade cloths. With help from Citizen Scientists, Lewis is also caging a population of one-foot-tall, stunted and tenacious blue oaks throughout the property.

Although we plant oaks and other native plants and trees as part of restoration efforts on all of our properties, we focused on blue oaks at Rockville Trails Preserve to replace the trees that will be removed as we build the entrance and parking lot for the natural park.

None of our efforts would be possible without your support and shared passion and commitment to the land. We also thank Nomad Ecology, former staff member Sue Wickham, and our dedicated volunteers for helping us care for our blue oaks. If you are a tree-hugger at heart, or just want to help care for these special trees, please contact Ryan or Jasmine to sign up as a volunteer.

Photos courtesy of Nicole Braddock, Wikimedia Commons,  and Solano Land Trust.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

January 26th: Communing With Cattle: Interpreting Animal Behavior And Sending Positive Cues

Registration for the Communing with Cattle Workshop scheduled for January 25th filled up quickly!  We are happy to announce that we have added an additional day for those who weren't able to make the initial registration list, but still wanted to participate!  Please join us on Saturday, January 26th at Rush Ranch! 

Venture into the world of animal behavioral science! We will be learning how to read and interpret cattle body language and recognizing how our actions can affect cattle behavior. As Citizen Scientists, Docents, and SLT staff and volunteers, we can lead the way towards minimizing stress for livestock and recreationists alike. Let's learn to safely share the trails!

Livestock and recreationists share the trails on over 130,000 acres of open space in the North Bay and San Francisco Bay Areas. All of Solano Land Trust's properties are managed with grazing. Grazing animals serve a valuable purpose on the rangeland but are often misunderstood. Cattle can be especially imposing to hikers due to their large size.

January 26th, Meet by 9:30 am at the Rush Ranch Nature Center; you will be done by 1:00 pm. This activity will be led by Jasmine Westbrook, SLT Project Manager. We will begin with a presentation and some discussion, and then we will take to the pastures to try to interpret the behaviors of cattle in the field. Please bring water and comfortable shoes for the outdoor portion. I recommend dressing in layers, as the Nature Center can get a bit chilly! The walk to the pasture will be easy to moderate difficulty level, depending on where the cattle are. If it is pouring rain, we may cancel the hike, but the rest of the event will take place. I plan to bring a lunch and I hope that some of you will join me!

RSVP by following the link:

Space is not limited for the January 26th event, but it will help us get a head count. This event is open to the entire SLT community. If you are a docent, the docent specific training will be February 2nd.  For questions about this event, email Jasmine Westbrook at jasmine@solanolandtrust.org. THANKS! 

Looking forward to another learning adventure with you!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Meet The Farmers: Five Dot Ranch

Five Dot keeps it in the family

Kirby and Kaitlin Swickard of Five Dot Ranch don’t mind if you call them cowboys, even though they are cowgirls. The two young women have joined the Five Dot Ranch family business, and represent the latest generation of the Swickard family that has produced grain and livestock in California since the 1850s.

Todd and Loretta Swickard, Kirby and Kaitlin’s parents, took over the Five Dot Land and Cattle Company in Susanville from Todd's parents in 1994 and launched a natural beef business in 2006. Kirby says she and her three siblings spent their childhood “on the rangeland, gathering cattle, and cowboying.”

A Family Affair

Today, Kirby, the eldest, does outreach, catering, and human resources for the family business. Kaitlin does marketing and sales. Both earned degrees in agricultural business, Kirby at Chico State, and Kaitlin at Cal Poly. Another daughter, Lindsey, teaches FFA at Elsie High School in Santa Rosa, and the youngest, Logan, 20, is a student at Butte Community College.

Five Dot Ranch runs cattle at the King-Swett Ranches and has done so since the early 1980s when the property was still owned by PG&E. They have been part of the Solano Land Trust family for years, and at a recent Solano Land Trust business breakfast, Kirby and Kaitlin gave a short PowerPoint presentation about the business while Todd watched proudly from the audience. Five Dot donated all the beef served at our recent Sunday Supper at Joyful Ranch, and Todd was a spotter during the live auction.

Popular butcher shop and restaurant

In addition to the cattle operation that produces beef 100 percent hormone and antibiotic free, the family runs the Five Dot Ranch butcher shop and Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse in Napa. Theirs was one of the original businesses in Oxbow Market.

“In ten years, we went from being full-time ranchers to being full-time ranchers and restaurant owners. It’s been a steep learning curve,” Kirby said.

We are proud to play a role in this family business and happy to share their inspiring story with you.

(By Aleta George, January 2016. Photos courtesy of Five Dot Ranch.)