and Future of SBRLT

Photo © by Sue Graue
Photo © by Jason Brooks
Photo © by Greg Payne
Photo © by John Martinez
Photo © by Mark More
Photo © by Amy and John Hasle

The Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust has enhanced conservation awareness throughout the Sutter Buttes area.


For many decades the landowners in the Sutter Buttes allowed easy public access to their ranches. By the 1960’s, population growth lead to an overwhelming number of people wanting to access the Buttes and problems with visitors leaving gates open, painting graffiti on rock formations, fires, and other problems. Understandably, the landowners began to enforce rules against trespassing, and access to the Buttes was curtailed.


By the 1970’s, California’s continued population growth had increased demands for more outdoor recreational areas. In response, the state made the acquisition of the Sutter Buttes as state parkland a number one priority. This resulted in such strong controversy between the private landowners and the members of the public who wanted access to the Buttes that the state tabled the parkland plans.


One landowner decided that a way to protect his land from being taken over by the state would be to provide the public some access. In 1976 he created the West Butte Sanctuary Company to allow egress in a controlled manner, and to realize income from the enterprise. He hired Walt and Rebecca Anderson to be directors of the Company.


The Andersons operated a gallery and gift shop and led hikers into the Sutter Buttes, the nearby Sutter Sink waterfowl area, and other nearby wildlife refuges. They also conducted educational programs to increase public awareness of the uniqueness and value of the Sutter Buttes.


Expanding this concept in 1979, the Andersons set about establishing relationships with many of the Sutter Buttes landowners and created The Sutter Buttes Naturalists. Through Walt and Rebecca’s work, the public was given access to private lands within the Buttes in a controlled manner that protected the flora and fauna, provided economic compensation for the landowners while relieving them of legal liabilities, and facilitated educational activities and scientific research in the Buttes. During his tenure in the Sutter Buttes, Walt penned assorted magazine articles about the landscape and even published in 1983 The Sutter Buttes, A Naturalist’s View, a veritable one-volume encyclopedia of its geologic and natural history.


When the Andersons moved to Oregon in 1985, they hired naturalist Don Schmoldt to continue the operation of Sutter Buttes Naturalists. After two years Don, in turn, handed the organization over to Ira Heinrich. Ira partnering with Joe Freeman obtained a non-profit status for the organization in 1989, which then became The Middle Mountain Foundation (SBRLT).


Under Heinrich and Freeman’s tutelage, the organization expanded its role in the community. A modestly priced school field trip program was initiated. Busloads of young people now had the opportunity to experience firsthand the lessons of history and Mother Nature in the Buttes. Additional guides with varied backgrounds were brought into the organization. Outings continued to focus on the geological and natural aspects of a dramatic landscape, but a broader scope of thematic perspectives now included “Paths of the Heart, the sacred spirit of the Middle Mountain,” and “The Mountain in our Midst, the history, and culture of the Sutter Buttes.” Overnight backpack treks and old-ways workshops offered diverse experiences. Scores of outings each season enabled 1,000’s to participate in educational experiences in the Buttes.


Taking more of an advocacy role, Heinrich spoke out against a planned housing development and a proposed ash dump that would have filled up one of the canyons in the Buttes. He addressed the county supervisors and planners about the preservation of the Buttes as they updated the county’s, General Plan. In 1994, Ira prepared and delivered an impassioned report in which he effectively conveyed the unique qualities of the Sutter Buttes, the value in preserving them in their entirety, and their important role in the sense of community in Sutter County and surrounding counties.


In 1996 Heinrich negotiated with McClatchy Newspapers, Inc. the donation of 200 acres of land, which comprises most of North Butte to the SBRLT. McClatchy had purchased the property intending to use it as an antenna site for future broadcast radio and TV operations, but by the 90’s they no longer pursued that course and chose to preserve the mountains’ integrity.


By early 2000, new faces and increased community involvement had expanded the educational and interpretive programs. Slideshow presentations and information booths at local events increased exposure and public awareness of the Sutter Butte’s historical, cultural, and natural significance. School field trips were augmented with teachers’ curriculum outlines and school presentations that brought the natural elements of the Buttes into the classroom.


In 2013 the board recognized that land conservation was becoming a main focal point for the organization and the decision was made to pursue national accreditation through the Land Trust Alliance. The steadily growing land conservation activity and successful interpretive hike program represented two unique focus areas for the organization. In order to better serve the community and pursue accreditation, the board made the decision to split the organization into two separate non-profits, the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust and Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes. In August 2015, SBRLT was recognized as an accredited land trust. The accreditation seal represents a commitment to excellence, trust, and permanence. By becoming an accredited land trust the organization was able to make a stronger commitment to land conservation and creating a sustainable organization. SBRLT will be required to complete an accreditation renewal to ensure continued compliance every 5 years.


From the inception of the West Butte Sanctuary Company, the Sutter Buttes Naturalists, and The Middle Mountain Foundation, our single mission had morphed into two separate missions, now carried on by the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust, and our sister organization, Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes. While the organizations have separate missions, our common ground is an understanding of the importance of protecting the Sutter Buttes, its surrounding communities, and our rural heritage. Through our Memorandum of Understanding, both organizations have committed to partnering together to emphasize the significance of protecting and sharing the natural, agricultural, and cultural resources that are vital to the well-being of our communities.

Future plans for the organization include negotiating several agricultural and habitat easements in Yuba and Sutter Counties. To effectively expand the capacity of the stewardship program, specific organizational elements must be funded and initiated (ongoing management and monitoring of current easements, local and regional mapping, equipment purchased, and stewardship personnel hired) so that SBRLT can become a more sustainable organization and better represent the land conservation interests for the region. The land trust recently completed our 4-year strategic plan to address organizational goals and land conservation priorities.

Increase awareness through supporting education, and conservation programs.

Build partnerships to balance conservation with economic growth, flood protection & agriculture

Provide the resources to create extraordinary opportunities and preserve the Sutter Buttes legacy.

Property is more than just real estate. It is a legacy, a part of family heritage.

Copyright © 2022 Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust |  Yuba City, California.   |    Website hosting and design by Blueray Concepts