Who owns the land?

Landowners, homeowners, businesses, and governments at all levels each have a part to play in keeping Sonoma County safe. But who owns the land in Sonoma County? According to the Sonoma County GIS website, this is the breakdown:

Total acres in Sonoma County: 1,132,000 

Total State Owned:           32,754

Total Local Owned:          45,000

Total Fed. Gov. Owned:   37,534

Total Publicly Owned Land: 115,579 acres

 

Total Privately Owned Land: 1,016,421 acres

 

 

So only 11% of the land in Sonoma County is owned by local, state, or federal government. Nearly 90% is privately owned.

 

Sonoma County has 513,000 acres of coniferous forests and oak woodlands. Most of the oak woodlands, and more than sixty-eight percent (132,000 acres) of the coniferous forests, are in privately-owned smaller parcels (50 acres or less).

In 2012 a work group, formed after a 2005 meeting held by the Sonoma Land Trust, put out a Sonoma County Forest Conservation Paper.  They considered the issue of small, private parcels of forested land and found that Sonoma County is the "most highly parcelized county in California." They saw this as a big problem because, since these small parcels are not useful for timber or rangeland, they are often ignored, with nothing being done to maintain the land and manage the trees and the undergrowth. The lack of financial return is not the only obstacle to active management of this land. The working group, aftere conducting studies and surveys,  found that many landowners:

  • Lack the knowledge and information needed to make good management decisions

  • Lack financial resources or lack awareness of the available programs providing financial assistance

  • Do not see the connection between poor forest health and heightened fire risk

  • Do not often partner with neighbors to make management decisions at a larger landscape scale

  • Lack the ‘social permission’ to cut trees, a product of preservationist philosophy

The group concluded that:  "...irregular management practices, and land tenure changes all contribute to fire hazard. And most importantly, the smaller size of ownerships with dwellings increases both the likelihood of fire and the severity of fire damage, including the potential for loss of life." 

Map showing government-owned land in Sonoma County (orange shapes denote government-owned land--the rest is privately owned). Note: large area in the north is Lake Sonoma/Army Corps of Engineers. Map is from the County of Sonoma website.

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Map of fires in Sonoma County from 2017 through 2020. Map supplied by Sonoma County Sheriff to KRON4

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