Success Stories: Upland Habitats: Chileno Creek, Marin County

Tom Gardali

Riparian habitat on the Gale Ranch, before and after restoration began.

Sally and Mike Gale live and work on a 600-acre ranch first purchased by Sally’s great-grandfather in 1856. The Gale Ranch is located in Marin County’s picturesque Chileno Valley, where agriculture has been a way of life for 150 years. Mike and Sally took over operation of the ranch in 1993 and currently tend a humanely raised grass-fed beef herd of about 100 cows as well as other farm enterprises such as u-pick apples.

Mike and Sally are stewards of the land and quickly noticed that the creek running through their property, Chileno Creek, was completely lacking vegetation and drying out in the summer. The Gales recognized the need to revive Chileno Creek in order to retain soil and prevent creek sedimentation, keep evaporation in check, retain water, replenish groundwater, and provide better wildlife habitat. Working with the Marin Resource Conservation District, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed Program (STRAW), the Gales undertook a seven-acre riparian restoration project.

The restoration has successfully increased native vegetation (see photo), especially to benefit birds. The number of bird species found on the Gale Ranch has increased significantly since the restoration project began. The growing populations of the 33 bird species inhabiting the ranch tell us the restoration is really paying off.

Over the years, neighboring ranches joined in and the cumulative effect in Marin and southern Sonoma counties has greatly increased the number and diversity of birds.