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07.28.10

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Making Good

Redwood Creek restoration dethrones cars, cows and capitalism

By Juliane Poirier


I wonder if Joseph McCarthy is turning in his grave. Maybe just a half-turn, since Marin's Redwood Creek project's particular brand of communism advances the liberation of only a waterway and its kin—no blacklisting of intelligentsia. But he might be suspicious that bright, radical thinkers really are behind the whole thing, a virtual commie plot to overthrow species classism and restore equality to a nine-mile watershed that emerges atop Mt. Tam and winds its way to the sea at Muir Beach.

Losers in this brilliant restoration strategy are cars, cows and capitalism, in that order. The Muir Beach parking will be reconfigured, forcing cars to take a back seat; the exotic grasses brought in for the cattle that grazed the area for almost 200 years before getting ousted in 1995 will be removed along with interloping Monterey pines and cypress; and the property-rights imperative that barked on behalf of McCarthyism is not allowed off its leash on this land.

Redwood Creek is an all-species watershed, with the humans showing signs of evolving smarts by getting further out of nature's way. During the fall, August through October, careful work will proceed and observers can expect to see the gradual return of wetlands, sand dunes and an intermittent tidal lagoon, all of which will provide a habitat that should once again sustain populations of coho salmon and steelhead trout. This past winter, about 45 coho came back to spawn in Redwood Creek. A good sign! This four-year ecosystem-repair project, which just finished its first year, seeks to remove obstacles to natural drainage and also repair a damaged section of the California Coastal Trail.

Not surprisingly, our cars, cows and capitalism have had a degrading impact on what was once "an expansive 46-acre network of wetlands, dunes and a 13-acre open freshwater lagoon," according to the Conservancy. The impact of our commercial lifestyle "altered the creek's alignment, flow and connection to the floodplain—and affected its ability to support the southernmost continually returning natural population of the endangered coho salmon in western United States."

But all of this is changing. The bridge, levee road and beach parking lot will no longer disconnect Redwood Creek from its historic floodplain. Among the benefits of the reconnection are more native plants making more cover for wildlife, less flooding and vastly increased species equality.

And if that gives old McCarthy's corpse a good spin in its grave, then more power to Redwood Creek and its comrades.


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