About Galbreath Wildlands Preserve

OriginsClimateLandsCultural HistoryFacilitiesResearch Management


Fred GalbreathThe Galbreath Wildlands Preserve was donated to SSU by Fred Burckhalter Galbreath (1901-2000) through his living trust in 2004. Professionally, Galbreath made his mark in the marine insurance business in San Francisco and spent decades working with some of the biggest names in the industry. In 1944, he purchased property in southern Mendocino County as a working sheep ranch and undertook a wide variety of projects to improve the health of habitats on the property. He reduced sedimentation by undertaking drainage improvement projects, removed the invasive wild boars through hunting, and engaged in selective forestry to reduce downed woody debris and remove old and diseased trees. Throughout his life, Galbreath valued protection of natural resources and the knowledge needed to make wise land management decisions. He sought to protect his land in perpetuity as a site for higher education.


The climate is Mediterranean. In nearby Yorkville the warmest months are July and August (91/90 F average high and 55/56 F average low respectively) and coolest are in December and January (55/56 F average high and 37/37 F average low respectively). The highest recorded temperature was 115°F in 1955 and the lowest recorded temperature was 13°F in 1972. Rainfall average is 40.2 inches, with the lowest average monthly rainfall in July (0.02 in) and August (0.09 in) and the highest average is December (7.91 in) (The Weather Channel: Yorkville). About 60% of rain falls during winter months from mid-December through the end of March. Large storms and floods are episodic. Since the 1950's significant floods have occurred about once a decade.


Levingston Falls

The 3,670-acre Galbreath Wildlands Preserve lies in the Coast Range of northern California, approximately 17 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in southern Mendocino County. The nearest towns are Cloverdale (20 miles) and Boonville (18 miles). The small outpost of Yorkville is 5 miles from the Preserve. Elevation ranges from 900 to 2,200 feet (275 to 670 meters).

Preserve lands are composed of the highly erodible Franciscan melange, a jumbled matrix of rock types created as the Pacific tectonic plate subducts beneath the North American plate. Although serpentine outcrops, which are characteristic of this formation, are common locally, exposed serpentine has not been found on the Preserve. Alluvial fill occurs in the low-lying areas of major tributaries, such as Rancheria Creek.

The Preserve lies in the upper Rancheria subbasin of the Navarro Watershed Rancheria Creek flows northward through the Preserve and drains into the Navarro River. Rancheria Creek dries up during the summer, but its tributaries, such as Yale Creek, which lie in steep canyons can remain wet throughout the summer. Groundwater recharge and exchange predominantly occurs in areas with recent alluvium, stream channels or terrace deposits. Only minor amounts of groundwater are contributed by the Franciscan formation (West Coast Watershed 2007). Two natural ponds occur on ridgeline in the southern portion of the Preserve. Wood Duck Pond is fed by a spring and contains water year round. An unnamed pond nearby dries seasonally.


Sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) occur in scattered locations on the Preserve.

Vegetation occurs in mosaics representative of the inner North Coast Range (NCoRI) and the outer North Coast Range (NCoRO) geo-floristic districts. Preserve vegetation types in order of abundance (from Calveg 2007) are:

  • Pacific Douglas Fir Forest (1980 acres, 51.4%) - Over half the Preserve is Douglas fir (Pseuotsuga menziezii) forest, characterized by a higher, irregular overstory of Douglas fir and lower overstory of sclerophyllous broad leaved evergreen trees, such as tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) and Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii). Sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) occur in isolated locations on some ridgelines.
  • Hardwood Forests (1600 acres, 42%) – Hardwood forest types on the Preserve include Interior Mixed Hardwood, Montane Mixed Hardwood, and Single Dominant Hardwood. Hardwood habitats typically consist of an evergreen hardwood tree layer, a patchy shrub layer, and sparse herbaceous cover (West Coast Watershed 2007). Associates include tanoak, Pacific madrone, Douglas-fir, and California black oak (Quercus kelloggii). Some areas of the Preserve support single species dominants, including California Bay laurel (Umbellaria californica), Tanoak, Valley Oak (Q. lobata), Canyon Live Oak (Q. chrysolepis), Interior Live Oak (Q. wislizeni var. wislizeni), Oregon White Oak (Q. garyana) and Coast Live Oak (Q. agrifolia).
  • Annual Grasslands and Forbs (160 acres, 4%) - Annual grassland habitat is composed primarily of annual European grasses and some invasive perennials such as Harding grass (Phalaris aquatic). Areas dominated by native perennial grasses are patchy.
  • Redwood Douglas Fir Forest (57 acres, 1.5%) – Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are mostly limited to drainages and north slopes on the northern portion of the preserve. They also co-occur with Douglas fir. Based on field reconnaissance, redwoods are underestimated in the Calveg data.
  • Franciscan onion (Alium peninsulare var franciscanum) at the Galbreath Preserve.

    Barren Soil (55 acres, 1.4%) – Bare soil predominantly occurs along eroding terraces and stream channel of Rancheria Creek.
  • Riparian vegetation along Rancheria Creek is not extensive enough to register in the Calveg layer (minimum mapping unit for Calveg is 2.5 acres). Species include white alder (Alnus rhombifolia), big leaf maple (Acer microphyllum) and red and arroyo willows (Salix laevigata and S. lasiolepis).

Chapparral commonly occurs on dry slopes and ridges throughout the watershed but is notably absent from the Preserve. Some chapparral species, such as coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) and manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) are scattered in small patches or in the understory of open woodlands.

Three special status plants occur on the Preserve: Santa Cruz clover (Trifolium buckwestiorum), white-flowered rein orchid (Piperia candida), and Franciscan onion (Alium peninsulare var. franciscanum).


Grasslands, woodlands, forests and aquatic habitats support a diversity of plants and animals. The Preserve is relatively unexplored and knowledge about species occurrences and distributions on the property is still being compiled. Galbreath species lists are available for vascular plants, special status plants, vertebrates, and fungi.

Top predators are still present within the landscape, and include mountain lion (Puma concolor), black bear (Ursus americanus), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), coyote (Canis latrans), bobcat (Lynx rufus) and gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). (For videos of black bear, gray fox, and other predators, see Gallery under Galbreath Wildlands Preserve Videos).

Rancheria Creek and its tributaries support anadromous fish that make the journey inland from the ocean to breed and oversummer in cool waters of the upper watershed. Northern California Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and California Coastal Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) – both listed as federally threatened - were once abundant in Rancheria Creek. Between 1948 and 1952, large numbers of Coho and Steelhead were rescued from drying areas of Rancheria Creek by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (KrisWeb 2011). Today, Coho have largely disappeared from the upper watershed. Steelhead are still present and have been documented by CDFW in Rancheria Creek in 1994, 2000, and 2001. The NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (2005) considers Rancheria Creek a “critical habitat” for the Northern California Steelhead.

grassy hilltops

Three species of newts occur on the Preserve: rough-skinned newt, Taricha granulosa, (shown above), California newt, Taricha torosa, and red-bellied newt, Taricha rivularis.

Riparian areas include coastal species, such as Merganzers (Mergus merganser), that fly inland along the Navarro River. Most species observed, however, are typical of riparian inland areas, such as yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii), western pond turtle (Emys marmorata), garter snakes (Thamnophis atratus, T. sirtalis), and red-bellied newts (Taricha rivularis). Pacific giant salamanders (Dicamptodon ensatus) breed along water courses and retreat to burrows in the cool canyons. Natural and man-made ponds attract breeding newts (Taricha granulosa and T. torosa), garter snakes (Thamnophis elegans), wood ducks (Aix sponsa), and wildlife during the summer. Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana), which are non-native and known to feed on a variety of native amphibians and reptiles, are found in Rancheria Creek.

Upland habitats are dominated by a patchwork of douglas fir, redwood, and hardwood forests. The majority of doug fir and redwood forests are secondary growth, decreasing the potential for federally threatened marbled murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) and northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina). Species occurring in redwood and douglas fir forests include red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) and violet-green swallows (Tachycineta thalassina) in the overstory; pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus), red-breasted sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus ruber) and western grey squirrel (Sciurus griseus) in the understory canopy; and brown creepers (Certhia americana) and white-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) in the shrub layer. Blue grouse (Dendragapus obscura), which eat conifer needles in the winter, are found in forest clearings.

Nine species of oaks occur in woodlands and forests of the Preserve. Acorns are a key resource for black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus), black bear (Ursus americanus), scrub jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens), California quail (Callipepla californica), band-tailed pigeons (Columba fasciata), and acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) among others. Feral pigs (Sus scrofa) and turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), which also are avid acorn eaters, can occur in large numbers throughout Preserve. In some years, ground disturbance from feral pigs is extensive. Sudden oak death recently was documented on the Preserve and is the subject of on-going monitoring.

Cultural History

(summarized from Zolnoski 2011)

At the time of historic contact with Europeans, the Preserve was within the territory of the Central Pomo people. Central Pomo speakers occupied land from the southern Mendocino coast at the mouth of the Gualala River, extending north just above the Navarro River and east to the crest of the Russian River divide, approximately 40 miles (64 km) inland. The redwood-covered mountains between the coast and the valleys were only seasonally inhabited and were accessed along defined trail routes. Villages and campsites were more common in the warmer interior on the eastern border of the redwood belt, with permanent villages in more favorable locations.

Several villages and campsites occurred near the Preserve along Rancheria Creek and areas southwest of Yorkville. “Late”, the principal village in this area, was located on the west bank of Rancheria Creek approximately one mile west of Yorkville. The people of Late were referred to as Danokeya, or upstreamers, by coastal Pomo. Other villages and camps nearby included Polma, on the west side of Rancheria Creek 1 mile (1.6 km) southwest of Yorkville; Kalaicolem, 1.25 miles (2 km) south‐southwest of Yorkville; and Lali, near the head of Rancheria Creek 2 miles (3.2 km) southwest of the town of Whitehall. The tribelet community consisted of several villages of 100 to 2,000 people belonging to one or more extended kin groups. A headman in each extended family acted as leader, and formed a tribal council with other extended family leaders.

The Central Pomo had amicable interactions with their neighbors, often venturing seasonally into the territories belonging to other Pomo groups to hunt and gather. Relationships with groups living in more distant areas were maintained through social and economic exchange.The Clear Lake area was regularly visited for its distinctive fisheries, as well as the unusual mineral resources available there (magnesite, steatite, and two sources of obsidian). Trips to the coast were made to collect clams and other sea food.

Because the nearest mission was far to the south in the town of Sonoma (Mission San Francisco de Solano), the Central Pomo were largely spared the conflicts endured by other tribes during the Spanish Mission Period. However, in the mid 1840s, Mexico granted three land grants as far north as Mendocino County: the Sanel Valley, Yokaya and an unnamed grant in Point Arena. Central Pomo may have been recruited to work for these Mexican ranchos.

The United States assumed control of Alta California in 1848 and the first American settlers began to claim lands in the area. The earliest structures recorded on the Preserve are the “Livingston’s house” and an old trail. Both appear on the General Land Office map in 1884. Features within 1 mile of the Preserve include the “Leaford’s house”, an old road to Whitehall, a road to Cloverdale, a spring, and old trail.

Similar to other areas in the region, doug fir and redwood were heavily logged between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fred Galbreath bought the land in 1944 and used it for cattle and sheep ranching, selective timber production, and recreation. With the donation of the property to the Center in 2004, the lands are managed for research and educational value.


Facilities at the Preserve currently are limited to two campgrounds for overnight stays or day use. The larger campground is located along Rancheria Creek and includes a fire ring. The small campground is located approximately 0.5 miles from the entrance and includes a composting toilet. For both sites, all water must be brought in by visitors. A small storage shed is available for researchers interested in leaving equipment on site.

An 8-mile dirt road traverses the Preserve. Roads are steep but clearance is good. Access may be restricted immediately after a rain. Phone service is not available. Cell phone reception is possible at only two sites within the Preserve. Additional information about facilities and reservations is available at "Visit a Preserve."

Facility planning is underway for on-site utilities and buildings to support educational and research use of the Preserve. As part of this effort, we are including plans for an astronomical observatory that will be used for advanced research, instruction, and outreach.


Research at the Galbreath Preserve has focused on student projects (Masters degrees and student projects) as well as collaborative work with local agencies for steelhead conservation. For a list of current research, see Galbreath Research. New faclities are planned to expand research opportunities and use.


The Galbreath Wildlands Preserve is representative of the Upper Rancheria and Navarro watersheds. Relatively steep, low order headwater streams have been affected by logging and grazing. Key management challenges include reducing erosion from old logging roads, and controlling feral pigs (Sus scrofa) and invasive plants, such as scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) and yellow-star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis). Sudden oak death was recently discovered on the Preserve and declines in some oak species, especially tanoak is anticipated, causing an increase in standing deadwood. A detailed list of natural resource management issues is outlined by West Coast Watershed (2007).


West Coast Watershed (2007). Upper Rancheria Creek Preliminary Bio-geomorphic Assessment.

Zolnoski, S. 2011. A Cultural Resource Study for the Proposed Galbreath Wildlands Preserve Field Station Project. Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. (protected)