August 15, 2023

New Effort to Save a Rare Coastal Stream at Dillon Beach

Dillon Beach Ranch
Dillon Beach Ranch
Photography | David Dines

Up and down the Pacific Coast, a vast array of fish, birds, insects, plants and animals—many of them rare—congregate in and around estuaries, the dynamic habitats where rivers and the ocean converge. Many of the same qualities have drawn indigenous people to estuaries and surrounding coastal areas throughout their histories. Shared cultural and natural linkages forged over time in places like these provide context for conservation solutions today. Dillon Beach Ranch, perched on a bluff overlooking Northern California’s spectacular coastline, is just such a place. This summer, Western Rivers Conservancy committed to purchase the ranch, which it plans to buy and hold until a partner with a shared vision can step in as a permanent conservation steward.

Dillon Beach Ranch encompasses 466 stunning acres at the edge of West Marin County, some 40 miles north of the Golden Gate. The ranch sits high on windswept, grassy headlands as if standing watch over the estuary at its edge—known as Estero de San Antonio—and Bodega Bay some 400 feet below. The property forms the entire southern shore of the estuary (about 1.5 miles) and connects to another mile and a half of pristine Pacific coastline and gently sloping beach.

Ancestors of the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, a federation of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo communities, inhabited the Estero and surrounding areas historically, with ancestral lands, cultural sites and descendants still present there today. Elements of almost any landscape change with time and human impact, but the Estero ecosystem remains relatively intact compared to other coastal streams of this size. Two meandering creeks feed the main freshwater stream from above, and a variety of native fish species inhabit the system. Notable among those is a strong population of endangered northern tidewater Goby, a tenacious little fish that finds safe haven and critical spawning habitat among the Estero’s seasonal sandbars.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife recognizes Estero de San Antonio as one of the most significant habitat areas in the state, and manages it as a State Marine Recreational Management Area. Only four populations of the endangered Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly are known to exist, all of them in the Estero’s vicinity. You might see an endangered San Bruno elfin butterfly flitting about there too, and threatened California red-legged frogs find refuge along the Estero’s marine and estuarine wetlands and ephemeral streams.

Western Rivers Conservancy will now work closely with the Graton Rancheria and other partners to craft a durable conservation solution that forever preserves and protects Dillon Beach Ranch, the Estero de San Antonio, and the irreplaceable cultural and natural resources they share.

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