WatchSonoma Watch

New role for Modini ranch



Remote Pine Flat Road northeast of Healdsburg once carried visitors to a 19th century boom-and-bust mining town, traces of which

Biologist Sherry Adams changes the card for a camera that uses motion detection to take photos of a section of the Modini-Ingalls Ecological Preserve on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. (SCOTT MANCHESTER/ PD)

Biologist Sherry Adams changes the card for a camera that uses motion detection to take photos of a section of the Modini-Ingalls Ecological Preserve on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. (SCOTT MANCHESTER/ PD)

have all but disappeared.

In more recent decades, it’s been the site of deer poaching, target shooting and even the occasional dumping of a human body from a crime committed elsewhere.

But things are different these days.

On a recent tour of a green, hilly preserve about four miles up the road from Alexander Valley, biologist Sherry Adams spoke of the transformation taking place.

“Our strategy is changing how it feels to come up Pine Flat Road,” she said. “It was a Wild West mentality.”

As more land in the area has come under some form of conservation protection, the deer poaching around Pine Flat has pretty much stopped, she said.

The area now is defined by 12,000 acres of contiguously protected properties that are wildlife and plant havens.

But the most isolated and private parcel is the 1,750-acre Modini-Ingalls Ecological Preserve, just acquired by Audubon Canyon Ranch, for which Adams works.

“It’s a natural treasure,” Adams said of the land, home to deer, black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, fox, otters, turtles and nesting golden eagles.

The property belonged to the late Jim and Shirley Modini, the couple who bequeathed the former sheep and cattle ranch to Audubon Canyon Ranch.

It had been in Jim Modini’s family since 1852, when his aunt and uncle, Theresa and Timothy Ingalls, were homesteaders there.

The Modinis, who began living on the property in the mid-1940s, were known for their love of the land and animals.

After initially placing a “forever wild” easement on it in exchange for $1 million from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, they deeded the property to the environmental organization.

The transfer became final in late December, five months after the widowed Shirley Modini died.

Now it’s the setting for scientific studies and habitat restoration projects, some of them funded by an endowment of more than $1 million that the Modinis attached to their gift.

“It’s a great laboratory,” said Scott Feierabend, executive director of Audubon Canyon Ranch.

The land rises from 400 feet above sea level to the 2,700-foot peaks of Ingalls bluff. It has lofty views of Mount Saint Helena, Knights and Alexander valleys and encompasses three creek systems that flow into the Russian River.

The 2004 Geysers Fire ravaged the area and destroyed a barn on the Modini property. Although there still are blackened trunks of pine, oak and Douglas fir, many saplings regenerated from the ashes.

“It’s a remarkable story of how nature heals itself,” Feierabend said.

On a tour Thursday, Adams pointed out some of the pines with cones that do not open to spill their seeds without fire. And she noted the serpentine outcrops with harsh soils in which rare plants can grow.

“We’re a hot spot of rare and native plants,” she said, stooping to touch a clump of indigenous grass with roots that may be hundreds of years old.

“It gives a hint of what California grasslands once looked like,” she said.

Scientists are not only cataloging and studying the plants and flowers at the preserve, and how they adapted to fire, but are monitoring the more than 90 species of breeding birds.

Researchers are also doing inventories of animals such as amphibians — from salamanders to newts and rare frogs.

Some limited cattle grazing, believed to increase diversity and native plant growth, is allowed.

The property has a historic road that was taken by stagecoach driver Clark Foss, a charismatic showman who delighted and terrified passengers with his fast driving to and from The Geysers geothermal area, where tourists would go to view steamy white fumaroles and bathe in mineral pools.

The Modini-Ingalls preserve is closed to the general public, per the Modinis’ wishes. But Audubon Canyon Ranch also manages the adjacent 1,620-acre Mayacamas Sanctuary, open to self-guided hikes as well as a number of monthly guided hikes led by a naturalist.

Pine Flat Road runs through it and also includes the remnants of the mining town that may have numbered 2,000 people at one point.

“There were churches, brothels and schools,” Adams said, although frequent fires left hardly a trace of the settlement, save some building foundations.

ACR, now in its 50th year, has other preserves as well. They include the 535-acre Bouverie Preserve near Glen Ellen; the 500-acre Cypress Grove Research Center in Marshall along the shores of Tomales Bay, and the 1,000-acre Martin Griffin Preserve near Stinson Beach.

Information on tours and public access of the Mayacamas Sanctuary are available at 431-8184 or www.meetup.com/Friends-of-the-Mayacamas-Mountains-Sanctuary.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

8 Responses to “New role for Modini ranch”

  1. Fiscal Conservative says:

    In California, we have access to public lands. This was granted in an act, eons ago and
    DFG gives oversight. The eception is land that is granted as an ecological preserve and
    land used for military purposes.

    Now I understand why all of this land is being made an ecological preserve. That’s
    because some think the hardworking tax payer is not deserving to use it. Using the land
    does not fit the special interest agenda.

    When we created this district we voted for funding, but we did not vote for a board. This
    board was created by themselves to buy land that they want and do not allow us access.

    I know that there are so many families that would love to get out and hike, go camping,
    plink at cans with grandpa’s old .22, ride an ATV or horses. This is part of who we are,
    we live in the west! To have an agenda to change this and keep us off from the land we
    bought with our hard earned tax dollars is just plain wrong!

    Anyone who is paying the sales tax in Sonoma County is the rightful owner of that land,
    not some self appointed board and special interest groups.

    They say they are “changing how it feels to come up the road. It WAS a wild west
    mentality” Nobody asked for this changing of our feelings, nobody appointed them with
    this task. Nobody said they could buy land and deny us legal access.

    I say we gain our freedom and Liberty back. I support turning all of these lands over to
    the California Department of Fish and Game for ALL of us to use.

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  2. Fiscal Conservative says:

    add to list:

    Drinking beer,riding dirtbikes and blowing stuff up.

    Much more fun than molesting anphibians.

    It’s our taxes being spent, where the hell is the public access?

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  3. James Bennett says:

    Yeah Steveguy; UN Agenda 21 is ‘odd’.
    To say the least.

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  4. Steveguy says:

    Odd how when the ‘public’ buys the land , they can’t go there anymore.

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  5. bear says:

    The voters of Sonoma County TWICE approved sales tax measures to preserve this land. Isn’t this democracy, even if you don’t approve?

    Nobody is forced to make a deal with the Open Space District. Mostly, they want to preserve the land AND grab the cash.

    The alternative is to have it all broken down for rural castles. Is that the goal? You people should feel blessed to live in Sonoma County, where many have worked to preserve the best.

    If you want to shoot pigs on somebody else’s land, move to Idaho.

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  6. James Bennett says:

    Are you recognizing the trend?

    Local government in the land aquisition business (?) amid a backdrop of fiscal shortfalls.

    Parking shenanigans.

    Lands ‘put aside’ for ‘sanctuaries’, ‘wildlife corridors’, ‘preserves’, ‘view sheds’, ‘conservation easements’, etc..

    Humans walked around the landscape before UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development.

    Unless you were on another animal’s menu, or on another tribe’s ‘territory’, you could hike around.

    See our problem is, through a concentration of wealth (that should never be allowed) globalist elitists have decided that the whole world should be their ‘territory’. By hi-jacking our government they make ‘deals’ with farmers, ranchers, land owners; we’ll give you 30 cents on the dollar for your land. You have to use it the way we say (not much), but you can’t pass it to your kids.

    Or they’ll legislate, regulate, paper ag people to death, or take away their water ’till the land is cheap that they can monopolize it too.

    So under the guise of environmental concern (they do not care about the enviro.) they contrived a complete plan for complete control.

    It’s happening all over, even in Australia. I’m pretty sure the Aborigines won’t like Smart Growth. No matter, it’s all part of the Plan. What they hope will be the Agenda for the 21st Century.

    This courageous member of Parliament schools the room on Agenda 21, and does and admirable job of it:


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  7. Fiscal Conservative says:

    It sounds like it would be better used for poaching,target shooting and dumping bodies.

    Just my opinion.

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  8. Jimbo96 says:

    There used to be access to the public lands at the top of the hill and along the ridge line to the South. Used to be a parking lot down near Big Sulfur Creek as well. Was a wonderful place to hunt deer and pig back in the late 60′s early 70′s. Can’t access the area any longer due to geothermal development. Miss the old days when folks were able to enjoy the open spaces and public lands without hindrance, unlike today when there is less freedom of use.

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