Healthy forests equal thriving rivers
Flowing from the rugged slopes of northern California’s Coast Range, the Gualala River is an exceptional free-flowing river with three main forks: the South Fork, the North Fork and, the largest of the three, the Wheatfield Fork. The Gualala supports an abundance of wildlife at the edge of a region that has experienced significant development during the last 50 years. On its 40-mile journey to the Pacific, the Gualala courses through a mosaic of redwood forest, mixed conifer forests and oak woodlands that provide important habitat for numerous threatened, endangered and sensitive species. These remaining expanses of California forest and woodlands are crucial to fish and wildlife and provide critical watershed functions for rivers like the Gualala. They are also important as open space for towns throughout the region, while the area’s working forests and ranches provide income for families and revenue for local economies.
The Gualala River is home to threatened Northern California Coast winter steelhead and endangered Central California Coast coho salmon, two crucial populations of imperiled anadromous fish whose future hinges on the health of rivers like the Gualala. The river is also home to the Gualala roach, a distinct species of minnow that is endemic to the river and has been isolated to the watershed for thousands of years.
Upping the odds for salmon and steelhead
In 2015, Western Rivers Conservancy embarked on an effort to conserve the 4,440-acre Silva Ranch, located on the Wheatfield Fork in the headwaters of the Gualala River. We successfully conserved the ranch in December 2022 by partnering with California Rangeland Trust to place a conservation easement over the property. The easement protects an important reach of the Wheatfield Fork, as well as a series of headwater tributaries that provide invaluable clean, cold water to the Gualala River and crucial spawning and rearing habitat for imperiled anadromous fish. Our efforts preserve over 40 acres of old-growth redwood forest and more than 2,600 acres of hardwood forest and oak woodland. Conservation of the property, which lies adjacent to more than 75,000 acres of protected land, also improves habitat connectivity on a scale far beyond the Silva property itself.
The ranch had the potential for dozens of home sites and extensive grape production, which the easement prevents or severely limits. It instead allows only around three percent of the property to be used for vineyards or other intensive agriculture and adds protections to streams throughout the ranch to conserve habitat and prevent water withdrawal.
With the conservation easement held in perpetuity by Rangeland Trust, the Silva family will continue to sustainably manage the ranch’s lands for timber and livestock production, while the property’s critically important river habitat, redwoods, woodlands and rangelands will remain intact for fish and wildlife.