Wildcat Creek Landuse History 1800-1850: Ranchero Landscape

Impact Map — 1800-1850

Watershed View — ca. 1850

Approaching the mouth of Arroyo Chiquito (Wildcat Creek) from La Bahia de San Pablo in 1850, one observes several changes. Sediment from recent erosion of San Pablo and Wildcat Creek has buried over 100 acres of marsh in alluvial sediment. As a result, San Pablo Creek has filled its old bed that independently connected it to the bay and captured and widened a small slough that connects to Wildcat Creek.

At the convenient juncture of Arroyo Chiquito, Arroyo Grande (San Pablo Creek), and the receiving marsh slough, an Embarcadero has been built, enabling transfer of cattle products to San Francisco and more distant markets. As we follow Wildcat Creek across the flatlands, it passes just north of Juan Jose Castro's adobe, built with an unusual cellar which elevated the house 3.5 ft above ground, presumably to avoid flooding. Continuing upstream, we pass the original adobe, placed near the perennial laguna and built onto the earlier Mission Dolores ranch headquarters. Small gaps in the riparian forest are noted near the adobe, probably the first removal of riparian timber or signs of vegetation loss due to bank erosion.

The grasslands of the plain and Canyon — now grazed with cattle, sheep and horses — have undergone major changes in species composition and ecology, with deep-rooted perennials replaced by shallow-rooted annuals. The drought, which seemed to start at the time of the Spanish contact, has broken with the floods of 1832 (see page 9). Wildcat Creek is no longer referred to as Arroyo Seco.

After more than a decade during which the landscape was essentially abandoned, Rancho San Pablo is in full swing. Several thousand cattle graze the plain and the grassy hillsides of the Canyon. Despite the cattle, the area of brush and woodland has expanded in response to increased moisture conditions, greatly reduced fire frequency, and the combined absence of fire and cattle in the early part of the century. Brush expansion is most notable in areas of active or recent landslides.