Memory Lane

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There’s a large-scale project under way to turn back the clock in order to better prepare for the future.

In Napa Valley, the non-profit San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) has been working to establish the historical ecology of a region that has seen huge landscape use changes over the past two hundred years. It has gone from being from a massive estuary with varied ecosystems to a heavily populated stretch of land famous around the world for its wines, climate and culture.

It has also become less climate resistant and lost a great deal of biodiversity.

 A map, two aerial photos and a land survey showing different stages of the area around the Napa River and the city of Napa, Calif., in (from left) 1858, 1942, 2009 and 1858.  Composite by Ruth Askevold/San Francisco Estuary Institute; from left to right: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S.D.A., U.S.D.A., Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley  Image/caption: New York Times

A map, two aerial photos and a land survey showing different stages of the area around the Napa River and the city of Napa, Calif., in (from left) 1858, 1942, 2009 and 1858.
Composite by Ruth Askevold/San Francisco Estuary Institute; (L to R) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S.D.A., U.S.D.A., Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Image/caption: New York Times

The SFEI embarked on the task of establishing just how this key watershed once worked, in all its complexity.

Researchers dug deep into every kind of archive imaginable. From the SFEI site:

The Native Landscape View of the EcoAtlas is a composite picture based upon hundreds of independent sources of data. These include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century maps, sketches, paintings, photographs, engineering reports, oral histories, explorers’ journals, missionary texts, hunting magazines, interviews with living elders, and other sources.

Guadalcanal Mitigation Site, an area restored to tidal influence in 2001. Photo: Gena Lasko (CDFW)/SFEI

Guadalcanal Mitigation Site, an area restored to tidal influence in 2001.
Photo: Gena Lasko (CDFW)/SFEI

The goal isn’t so much to recreate the Napa Valley of the past as it once looked as it is to re-establish the estuary and ecology as they once functioned. To improve the once-lush delta to the point that it can better absorb both flooding as well as withstand drought.

A side effect is the return of some of the wildlife and plants that once lived where there are now vineyards, roads and suburbs.

It’s not as extreme as the de-extinction projects of long-gone animals like Revive and Restore, but it is an attempt to re-invent a future that looks, at least just a little bit, like what went before and was almost forgotten.

Tidal mud in Guadalcanal Mitigation Site. Photo: Sally Mack

Tidal mud in Guadalcanal Mitigation Site.
Photo: Sally Mack

4 responses »

      • Hi Sally and thanks for stopping by! I’m including your comments to me regarding this project below – so interesting and it expands on what I knew. Glad you are there to witness and record the changes as they evolve.

        From Sally Mack:
        “The site is called “Guadalcanal Village” after a failed housing unit that was built on the site to house Mare Island workers during World War II. Surprise! They kept having water problems as the tides ebbed and flowed, so the housing was abandoned after WWII. GV, as I call it, is a 53-acre mitigation site owned by CalTrans, mitigating the widening of Highway 37 into Vallejo. At some point it will become part of the San Pablo Bay NWR.

        “I’m copying into this e-mail the announcement of my wetlands photo exhibit at The Faculty Club on the UC Berkeley campus, Feb 1-29, 2016. The pictures were taken at GV and Cullinan Ranch, adjacent to GV, over a period of almost 15 years. Many of the pictures could not be taken today.

        “The Cullinan Ranch pictures in the exhibit were taken several miles east of the new boat ramp, closer to GV. A levee separates the two. Although the area is not open to the public, I have permission from both CalTrans and SPB NWR managers to photograph there. Please forward the e-mail to anyone who would be interested (PKR note: Contact me if you would like this email address). Environmental values aside, wetlands are beautiful.”

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  1. So much damage has been done under the guise of “taming nature,” as if it could or needed to be “tamed.” I’ve been privileged to watch the restoration of Guadalcanal Village wetlands since 2001 when it was opened to tidal influence. And now part of the adjacent Cullinan Ranch site has been opened to tidal influence as of January, 2015. Encouraging steps.

    Like

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