Salmon Creek

Salmon Creek – Between Occidental and Bodega, CA

Salmon Creek topo map
Salmon Creek watershed. Click to enlarge.

In June 2002, the Salmon Creek Highlanders (SCH) began conducting a citizen water monitoring program at 5 sites in the upper Salmon Creek Watershed in conjunction with CCWI. The sites are on creeks that form the headwaters of Salmon Creek itself, Fay Creek, Thurston Creek and Tannery Creek. A sixth site in the middle reach of Salmon Creek was added a year later.

Citizen Monitor: Lily Berkeley

Site Descriptions
West of Occidental in the Joy Road Area
FAY040: Fay Creek off Taylor Lane.
WES010: “Westwood” Creek at Bittner Road
SAL040: Salmon Crk School in front of parking lot, abutting Bohmian Hwy
SAL060: Headwaters of Salmon Creek at Bittner Road
TAN030: Tannery Creek at the bridge on the trail that starts at the end of Jennifer Lane
THU030: Thurston Creek at Joy Woods Way

Objectives: Conditions in the upper watershed are critical to efforts to restore salmonid habitat in the lower watershed. Also important are efforts to maintain habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and other endangered and threatened species as well as wildlife migration corridors. The purpose of the SCH monitoring program is to develop baseline characterization data and document water and habitat quality changes over time. The specific objectives of SCH are: to assess the upper areas of the watershed taking particular notice of habitat for threatened and endangered species; to quantify stream flow changes; to identify siltation sources and problems in water quality; and to use data collected to develop background information, statistics and educational materials for residents and landowners highlighting best stewardship practices and strategies for protecting the watershed.

General Description: The elevation in the upland areas of the Salmon Creek watershed varies from 600′ to 1,000′. It is very steep in places and is historically prone to landslides. The upland areas of Salmon Creek and its tributaries are dominated by a redwood forest habitat that persists today even though logging has been an ongoing activity since 1837. (The first logging site was in the Freestone area). In the early days most of the uplands were divided into woodlots for the use of residents in the lowlands. Most of the redwoods were harvested to build San Francisco during the gold rush and to rebuild it after the 1906 earthquake. By 1922 most of the sawmills in the watershed had run out of redwoods. Early residents in the Salmon Creek watershed were widely scattered along the ridgetops and creeks on Joy Road, Marra, Bittner, Coleman Valley, Fitzpatrick, and Taylor Lane. Many early residents planted apple orchards, established sawmills, at least one winery and several stills. Today the lowland areas are dotted by towns and villages, several of which were founded as stagecoach, train stops or fishing villages and dog hole ports for loading lumber. (Bodega, Bodega Bay, Freestone, Occidental and Salmon Creek.)

Salmon Creek estuary
Salmon Creek flows into the ocean at Highway 1 north of Bodega Bay. In the past this estuary was a deep water port. Redwood logs were sent south from here to build San Francisco – once during the gold rush, and again after the 1906 earthquake. The Salmon Creek Estuary silted up long ago.

By 1950 intensive residential and agricultural development had begun and the rate of logging accelerated once again. Additional roads such as Westwood, Burl, Owl, Joy Ridge, Lauri and Jennifer Lanes were added. By the 1970s forested plots were being subdivided and replaced by vineyards and more homes. The upland ridges are designated as Class 4 Water Scarce areas. By 1974 a county study determined that the groundwater recharge capacity had been exceeded. The county established a “10 Acre Minimum” ordinance to control growth because of the limited water supply. The heavy pressure of development has reduced the availability of water in the uplands area because the Wilson Grove aquifer occurs only in isolated pockets at the top of the ridges. Rainfall and fog drip are the only means to refill the upland aquifers. Rainfall in the uplands averages about 60″ per year but can vary from 35″ to 115″. Some residents haul water in dry months, yet run-off and erosion can be severe during winter storms.

Today the headwaters in the Salmon Creek watershed are again forested with 2nd and 3rd growth trees. A few pockets of old growth and a few scattered ancient trees remain. Douglas fir replaced redwoods in some areas. Clear-cutting left some open grassland areas on Taylor, Fitzpatrick and Joy roads. Several year-round streams have become seasonal and a spreading infection of “Sudden Oak Death” has killed many tanbark oaks. Yet much of the uplands of the watershed still retain their forested, rural character. The Grove of Old Trees on Fitzpatrick was protected by a conservation easement in the 1990’s, as were several properties along Westwood lane. The ever increasing interest in conservation easements and the recent expansion of restoration activities on many fronts (Goldridge Rural Conservation District, Sate fish & Game, Coastal Conservancy, Salmon Creek Watershed Council) are intended to make Salmon Creek and its tributaries hospitable to the androgenous fish that were once so plentiful. The Salmon Creek watershed is a relatively pristine environment where such efforts may help it rapidly recover its biological integrity.

2004 Data Summary Report
Prununske Chatham Inc.’s 2006 Salmon Creek Estuary Report
Salmon Creek at Bodega, 2006-7 Winter Report
Salmon Creek 2004-2006 Summary Report
Joy Road Lawsuit Article


Salmon Creek Monitoring Plan

Objectives: The focus of this project is to identify pollution sources and problems in water quality; to quantify stream flow changed, to assess the upper areas of the watershed taking particular notice of habitat for threatened and endangered species; and to use data collected to develop background information, statistics and educational materials for residents, landowners and government agencies highlighting best stewardship practices and strategies for reducing pollution, protecting the watershed and determining changes needed to restore salmonid habitat.

When: The project’s orientation and initial sampling date was 6/18/02.
Why: Parameters were chosen according to general interest to citizen monitors, and relation to erosion impacts. Sites were chosen according to the following criteria:
– Representative of the areas of the Creek for general creek characterization.
– Concerns of water pollution resulting from potential erosion from upstream timber harvests
– Concerns with pollution and flow interference from gravel mine operations
– Accessibility and safely throughout the year, as well as trespassing constraints.

How: The monitoring program is intended to develop baseline characterization data, document water and habitat quality changes over time and to help establish a scientific basis for land use decisions. Sites and parameters were chosen after discussions with local residents.

Salmon Creek Highlanders
TAN030: Darlene Lamont & Carol Sklar
FAY040: Bob Nelson
SAL060: Beth Trachtenberg
WES010: Margaret Gerner
SAL040: Noel Bouck
THU030: Noel Bouck


The Enchanted Wood – Bittner Road, Occidental, California

Logged in about 1870, the Enchanted Wood is a second growth mixed redwood forest on the upper reaches of Salmon Creek. This part of the creek runs all year, while the other major feeder into Salmon Creek (from up Bitter Road) goes dry sometime during the summer. But because that side of the creek starts farther away, it is considered by mapmakers to be “Salmon Creek” and this is an unnamed tributary. For purposes of water testing, we have called it Westwood Creek.

The Salmon Creek Highlanders monitoring in the Enchanted Wood.
The Salmon Creek Highlanders monitoring in the Enchanted Wood.

For hundreds (and probably thousands) of years native people used this reach of the creek as part of their trail linking Bodega Bay and Clear Lake. Vinson Brown (The Pomo Indians of California and their Neighbors) tells of a summertime trading party on the East Shore of Clear Lake…with the people from the coast bringing shells and other goods to trade for obsidian. Spearheads and a partially worked chunk of obsidian have been found here.

While native people didn’t usually live in the redwood forest, they must have found it refreshing to dip down into the forested creekbed during the hot days of summer. And of course they utilized the plants here, the hazelnuts, acorns, peppernuts from the bay trees, thimbleberries, blackberries, stinging nettle and soaproot among many others.

Near Bittner Road is “the woodcutter’s cottage,” built in 1939 (probably part of the Montalfi property at that time). Across Bittner was the site of one of the Meeker sawmills on a steam train line, property owned for these last few generations by the Guidici family. Recently some of the forest and all the old apple orchards there have been cut down and planted with grapes.

The Enchanted Wood is protected by a conservation easement through the Sonoma Land Trust deeded in 1980 by former owner Lorene Terhell. Lorene lived here with her animals from the time of her retirement until she was in her late 80s. She had Tennessee Walker horses and one of her big disappointments was to see fences and houses going up on land she had ridden through as though it were one big wild country. Lorene’s book, Otters in an Enchanted Wood, tells of her otter pets (Malasian clawless otters) and the yearly cycle of life here; available through the Sonoma County Library.

The 8 1/3 acre property includes a 2 acre meadow with a hand-dug bricked well and some old fruit trees. Square nails in a falling-down fence make me wonder about the previous residents and what life was like for them. Lorene plowed and planted the meadow with grasses as pasture for her horses. The easement allows the keeping of 2 horses; which would mean that the area could once again be plowed and planted as some of the plants there now are poisonous for horses. It is also the sunniest area of the property and an ideal spot for a vegetable garden.

The forest floor is covered with redwood sorrel with its year-round shamrock-type leaf and springtime pink blossoms. Wild ginger, calypso orchids, trillium, redwood and stream violets, and several kinds of ferns (sword, woodwardia, lady fern, brachen, gold back fern among others), Clintonia, twinberry, and coffee berry, are some of the native plants. I’ve introduced some plants native to the area but missing from the property: Scarlet monkey flower is now established in the creekbed and comes back every year. I’ve planted a few aquilegia formosa (the native columbine, red and yellow) but would love to see creek areas lined with this, my favorite wildflower.

Non-native plants including ivy, periwinkle, and scotch broom, have been pulled up and discouraged but we haven’t been able to eradicate them. Other non-natives are welcome and would be missed: forget-me-nots, foxglove, and the wild pink pea that blooms all over the area.

The land on the west side of the creek is owned by the Toscano family; Marie Toscano is a long-time resident and protector of the forest. She says they have had to move their water intake four times as the creek has gotten smaller during the years of increased human water usage. (Both of our properties are dependent on water directly from the creek.) Bordering her property is land belonging to the Montalfi family, including a parcel currently up for sale.

Spring 2006 has brought a kingfisher pair which dart through the property, sometimes over the creekbed, between a pond across Bittner to one across Westwood Lane. There are trout (mostly small now) and long-time residents have said there used to be good fishing and much deeper pools. Once, a few years ago, a water diversion upstream caused the creek to stop flowing. It is possible that building more homes up Westwood Lane could lead to the death of this as a year-round creek.

For that reason we think that the area is built out…that the wild animals who live here and depend on this water, and the life in the water itself, deserve consideration.
Because of the conservation easement we have a yearly visit from a monitoring team who check that we are keeping the land as it should be kept. I worry when I see so many tractors and earth movers and water trucks going by on Bittner. Humans are torn between their love of the wild and their need to make a home for themselves and generate income. Perhaps all of us wildland owners could use a little help with this balancing act.