Under Pressure From Growth, Wildlife Has a Friend in a Deep-Pocketed Local Foundation

The Moore Foundation backs some massive global conservation projects. Its Bay Area funding program, however, looks to its own backyard of Sonoma County, where wildlife populations need some help.

Sonoma County’s beautiful mix of rollings hills, forests and open grasslands are a paradise for agriculture and wine enthusiasts alike. But it’s also an important region for diverse wildlife populations, which are increasingly pushed to the margins.

Only 15 percent of the sprawling county is permanently protected land, compared to 59 percent in neighboring Marin, and as a result, wildlife end up weaving their way past farms, roads and housing to traverse the area.

To give them a leg up, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation recently made a $2.1 million grant to the Sonoma Land Trust to extend a wildlife management project in the region, including extending a network of motion-sensitive cameras to track exactly which animals are going where. 

The heart of Sonoma Valley is a particularly important area for wildlife in Northern California, providing a key corridor for their travel across a larger swath of land that connects the Marin Coast to Napa. For bears, cougars, foxes and many other species in the region, such travel has become increasingly difficult as surrounding residential and agricultural development has narrowed the passage.

Back in 2013, the Moore Foundation funded a $1.79 million project in the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor to monitor animals’ movement, acquire chunks of land, and flesh out a management plan. With the recently extended funding, the Land Trust will broaden its work to the larger region, including planting more cameras to snap images of foxes crossing highways, porcupines meandering under bridges, and whatever else wanders by. 

The monitoring will ultimately help them manage the region’s wildlife, including purchasing new land and working with land owners to make their parcels friendlier to animal commuters. 

The funding is part of a strong relationship between Moore and the Sonoma Land Trust. The nonprofit has worked to protect open space in the region since the 1970s, and the Palo Alto-based foundation has been a big backer in recent years. 

Moore’s website catalogs 10 grants dating back to 2004, totaling more than $25 million to fund operations like the wildlife monitoring program, as well as major land acquisitions. For example, in 2004, the foundation gave nearly $8 million to protect and restore 2,300 acres near San Pablo Bay, and in 2008, gave $6 million to protect 5,600 acres on the Sonoma Coast.

The grantmaking falls under Moore’s San Francisco Bay Area program, which supports conservation and science museums in the region to the tune of around $270 million to date. 

This kind of work is definitely not the largest area of funding for this tech money juggernaut; it’s dwarfed by some of Moore’s larger science and conservation initiatives. But like a lot of big funders with global ambitions, the foundation sets aside a chunk of funding to tend to their own turf. For Moore, that includes some non-human neighbors to the north.