photo of Mark West Watershed

From "The Preservation of Mark West Creek"

•  Historical Notes by Calvin Ares (1973)
•  The Natural Environment of the Mark West Creek Today
•  Plant Life Along the Mark West Creek
•  Anadromous Fish in the Mark West Creek

The Preservation of Mark West Creek(Download the entire 1973 report)

Historical Notes by Calvin Ares (1973)
Since human life is dependent on water, people have settled along streams where there is an abundance of plant and animal life. So it was with the Mark West Creek.

The first known people to live along the Mark West Creek were the Southern tribe of the Pomo Indian Nation, who called the creek “Potiquiyome.” Each tribal group depended on the plant and animal life in an area covering 1 or 2 watersheds. During this time, the creek remained virtually unchanged. The few Pomo people living in the watershed led a simple life, using few resources and wasting very little. We, in this century, have much to learn from this early way of life.

When the white settlers came we brought with us a different culture, based on private ownership of land and water and we began to exert a very different influence on the creek. In 1890 the Spanish Governor of California granted 6,660 acres along the creek to a man named Mark West. Here, with abundant water and fertile soil, Mark West established a rancho where he grew wheat, barley, corn and beans, built a grist mill and raised cattle for meat and hides. Most of the Indians were pushed to the rugged hills or died of diseases that the white settlers brought. The remainder were coerced into working on the rancho. Logging was done on nearby hills to provide lumber for the growing Bay area. Remains of huge redwood stumps along the creek indicate that at one time there were dense forests along the creek. Clearing fields for crops and lumbering began to effect the quality of the creek.

The Gold Rush brought many people to California and some settled in the Mark West Creek area. Many of the stone walls and the original Porter Creek road were built by Chinese laborers who emigrated during this time.

The Homestead Act of the 1860’s brought more people to the area where they took up farming and grazing. In the upper watershed sheep and cattle were grazed. In the lower watershed orchards, vineyards and hops were planted and the land use patterns that we see today took root. During the early part of the last century the creek was very different from what it is today. People who have lived along the creek for 50-60 years tell of deep swimming holes that have long since disappeared. The fish were so thick, they say, you could walk across their backs. Some people attribute the cause of the changes in the creek primarily to road building. Others believe that all the water being pumped out for both the irrigation of grapes and home use is drying up the creek. Prunes, which were the major crop for many years, didn’t require the heavy irrigation that grapes now require.

In post WWII years, agriculture has given way to increasing residential development.

The Natural Environment of the Mark West Creek Today
Life along the Mark West Creek depends on upon how physical and biological factors interact to form a variety of habitats for many different types of plants and animals.

Streams are a major part of our natural water cycle. Water from the sea evaporates to form clouds and as the water returns to earth in the form of rain, some of it is absorbed into the soil and some becomes surface runoff. Streams guide this surface runoff and transport it to rivers which ultimately brings water back to the sea and the water cycle starts anew.

Streams give rise to many different types of important vegetation. This vegetation, especially the trees and shrubs, play an important role in stabilizing the banks against erosion caused by the flowing and sometimes rushing waters. Also, plants provide shade and a humid environment keeping the temperatures much cooler and at the same time provide food and shelter for many kinds of wildlife.

Plant Life Along the Mark West Creek
The Mark West Creek Watershed encompasses many different plant communities. This variation can be attributed to a few basic environmental components which constitute the biological and physical environment. The biological environment encompasses all of the relationships between living organisms, both animals and plants. Within the physical environment we include such factors as temperature, altitude, humidity, and precipitation, soils and nutrients, and amount of sunlight. All of these elements interrelate in a balanced, dynamic, functional system. So, the Mark West Creek is not just a location on a map, but an ecosystem which has certain basic needs, as do all living things. These basic needs must be met in order to continue functioning.

The variation in plant communities can be observed by noting the gradual differences in vegetation from the Mark West creek headwaters in the Mayacama Mountains to the end of the creek where it flows into the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

The headwaters, which are at an elevation of 600 ft., are hot and dry in the summer while the winter is cool and wet. The plants which grow in this area are specifically adapted to this change in conditions. The plants are usually woody and shrubby in nature, with leathery or waxy leaves to retard evaporation of precious moisture in the summer and to protect against exposure form the wind in the winter. This plant community is known as chapparal and grows extensively throughout California where similar environmental conditions exist.

Downstream from the headwaters, chapparal gradually gives way to an oak-woodland community. This transitional area between two plant communities is called an ecotone. In the ecotonal area the trees are usually gnarled scrub oaks of small stature because of the limited availability of moisture.

To the west and at lower altitudes, the trees become larger. More variation within the community occurs as more water becomes available. This is an area of mixed woodland with larger oaks (black, live, goldcup) and evergreens (Douglas fir and Coast redwoods).

The most productive and most extensive community exists where there is the most water and the soils are richer and more fertile. This occurs along the banks of the Mark West creek. This is the riparian community which is characterized by lush and abundant vegetation. Vegetation alongside the creek remains generally the same from headwaters to the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It serves to cool the waters, protecting the creek waters from rapid evaporation. Moreover, the abundance of plants in this community serves as the primary bank stabilizer and provides food and shelter for a great variety of wildlife in the Mark West watershed.

Anadromous Fish in the Mark West Creek
One can generalize that there is an inverse relationship between the number of people living along a creek and the anadromous fish population, but there is a complex diversity of other important factors such as pollution, logging, construction of roads and trials for easier human access, channelization or construction of a dam. Any change in the environment can have an adverse effect on the fish populations.

During the summer, most of the steelhead, silver salmon, and other cool water anadromous fish stay in the upper reaches, while carp, chubs, mudsuckers, lamprey, green sunfish, bluegills and others inhabit the middle and lower reaches of the Mark West Creek. The creeks ecosystem goes through tremendous seasonal changes in flow, chemistry and aquatic life.

People in the upper reaches of the Mark West Creek may feel that channelization in the lower reaches, west of Highway 101 will not effect them. The vegetation and the wildlife in the upper reaches will not be significantly altered, but what about the anadromous fish? A lengthy concrete enbankment denuded of all vegetation can raise the water temperature 3 to 18 degrees. A 10 degree change in temperature can prevent the migration of anadromous fish to a significant extent. This will be damaging to any summer run of steelhead and salmon. Moreover, unless resting spots are established, channelization prevents anadromous fish from spawning.

The North Coastal streams are the last hope for the once great salmon fisheries of California. This is a case of direct economic effect on the people of the state, however, at this point very few legislators are taking heed.

(Thanks to Kate Wilson for transcribing this document)

Friends of the Mark West Watershed • 6985 Saint Helena Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Email • Tel: 707-538-5307 • Fax: 707-595-5322

The views expressed on this website reflect those of the submitting writer(s).
They do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Friends of the Mark West Watershed or its members.
The FMWW does not warrant or assume legal liability or responsibility for
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FMWW encourages any and all community members and interested persons to attend
our monthly meetings to discuss these watershed issues.