Gualala River


The Gualala River drains a watershed of 298 square miles of steep coastal mountains with numerous creeks. Most creeks are in rocky canyons. There are three major sub-basins: South Fork, North Fork, and Wheatfield Fork. Near the ocean, the river widens out into an estuary. The western and central portion of the Gualala River watershed is covered with dense coniferous forest. Oak woodland and grassland covers the eastern portion of the watershed.

Logging started in the 1860s. Redwood and Douglas fir logs were hauled or floated down waterways to the mill at the river mouth; then the milled lumber was hauled to small coves along the coast. In these coves, there was just enough room for a small ship, also known as a dog-hole schooner, to anchor and load its cargo. Most timber was shipped to San Francisco. In the early 1900s a 22-mile logging rail line was built along the south fork of the Gualala River.

Ridge tops in the Annapolis area were planted with apple orchards. Sheep and cattle ranches covered grass and woodland areas.

In the 1940s-1950s, a population boom in California brought widespread clearcutting of the Gualala forests. Numerous dirt roads were cut and creeks were graded for use as roads in the dry season. Tractors dragged cut trees down steep slopes and along creeks where the trees were loaded on trucks bound for the mill. In less than 20 years, most of the remaining first- as well as second-growth timber was cut.

The effects of this second era of clearcutting included numerous landslides, very high siltation rates, and damaged creeks. During large floods, the confined creeks and river channels filled with more sediment than could be scoured out by the flood waters. Summer stream flow became subsurface and remains this way in many locations. Logging removed most of the trees shading streams. A comparison of 1942 and 1968 aerial photos showed 40-70% of the total stream length exposed by the clearcutting. By 1999 the forest had re-grown to expose 25% of the total stream length.

During the 1990s, vineyards were developed along the grassy ridge tops, replacing the apple orchards.