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FoGR Acts to Protect the Wheatfield Fork

Friends of Gualala River takes action to protect the Gualala River
from damage caused by all-terrain vehicles.

For more than a decade, Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) has called attention to the harm caused by driving in the river. Many community members are aware of FoGR’s long-standing public education campaign about the damage that off-road vehicles cause the river’s ecosystem, however, the problem reached a new level of severity this year.

In June, a member of FoGR alerted the board about disturbing news of intensive off-road vehicle activity on the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River. The drivers of all-terrain vehicles and heavy trucks were driving in the river and riverbed for miles causing serious damage to sensitive habitat in and around the river. This stretch of river is habitat for the protected steelhead fry, yellow-legged frogs, western toads, garter snakes, western pond turtles and breeding pairs of spotted sandpipers that nest on the gravel bars.

The vehicle drivers were gaining access to the river through a small parcel of land owned by the County of Sonoma near the Haupt Creek Bridge on the Wheatfield Fork. The County’s parcel, and neighboring stretch of river, had previously been protected by a gate to prevent unauthorized vehicle access. FoGR discovered that the gate, and its foundation, had been torn out of the ground, leaving the area wide-open to abuse. The drivers were leaving trash, crushing willows, taking chainsaws to redwood logs and building campfires. The FoGR member who reported the problem described it as “the wild west of wet river road driving – using the riverbed as a roadbed.”

FoGR contacted the County of Sonoma to report the vandalized gate and on-going environmental damage, and requested the installation of an upgraded replacement gate. The County shared FoGR’s concerns and was quick to respond to FoGR’s request. The Department of Transportation and Public Works installed a new gate in August (pictured below).

Haupt Creek gate, 2020
Haupt Creek gate, 2020

Through the work of its Education and Outreach Committee, board of directors, members, and partner organizations, FoGR develops educational materials and projects to increase awareness and stewardship of our treasured Gualala River and its watershed. When other measures are necessary, FoGR will continue to provide leadership to ensure that its mission is fulfilled – to protect the Gualala River watershed and the species living within it.

FoGR acknowledges and is grateful for Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and the Department of Transportation and Public Works for partnering with us on this important effort.