Part I. Background
Part II. Management Plan
Part III. Appendices

Part I: Carpinteria Salt Marsh: Background and Natural History

Human habitation has been estimated to occur continually in the vicinity of Carpinteria Salt Marsh for as many as 9,000 years before present. Resource utilization by the various cultural economies through this time has had a profound effort on the extant condition of the estuarine ecosystem and its adjacent watershed. The management plan proposed herein is the next step in a long process of land use and planning that has focused on the Carpinteria Valley.

9.0 Prehistory and History of the Carpinteria Valley

9.1 Period I: Pre-1869 Coast Survey
Although initial habitation of the Carpinteria Valley probably occurred approximately 9000 years ago, the earliest reliable date for occupation came from cultural materials associated with an archaeological site near Santa Monica Creek that yielded a radiocarbon date of 7300 years old (Wilcoxon 1984). Early inhabitants of the region were most likely descended from populations with North American Paleo-Indian Cultural Tradition. Locally, there is little evidence of Paleo-Indian occupation. The extent of coastal occupation may never be known because coastal sites occupied during this era are now submerged. With the changing climatic conditions following the Pleistocene and with the reduction in numbers or extinction of large game animals, human populations became more dependent on a wider diversity of resources including the collection and processing of plant materials and small game for food.

The cultural divisions for the South Coast of Santa Barbara County include Early, Middle, and Late Periods. Evidence for occupation during each division has been found in the Carpinteria Valley. The Early Period was the first well-defined cultural tradition in the Carpinteria Valley and dates from about 7500 to 3000 years ago (Wilcoxon 1982). People of the period, described as the Oak Grove Culture (Rogers 1929), practiced generalized hunting and gathering techniques. Because the climate was wetter than it is now during parts of this period, and hence flooding was probably more frequent, the lowlands were even less suitable for the location of a village than they are today. Early inhabitants lived on highlands or other sites surrounding and in proximity to the coastal wetlands such as Carpinteria Salt Marsh. The use of marine and estuarine resources by the early inhabitants may not have been as extensive as that in later times; however, shellfish remains do occur in older middens. Thus, archaeological evidence suggests that even the earliest inhabitants of Carpinteria Valley utilized the resources of estuarine wetlands or shallow marine habitats ancestral to Carpinteria Salt Marsh.

Inhabitants during the Middle Period, described as the Hunting People, used large land animals and marine, estuarine, and riparian resources as food sources (Rogers 1929). The cultural adaptation was established locally as early as 5000 year ago (Wilcoxon 1982). Archaeological sites from this time are often clustered upon headlands near the mouths of canyons or on knolls that bordered estuaries. A typical Middle Period site occurs in the vicinity of s spring-fed marsh near the mouth of Carpinteria Creek (Rogers 1929). The inhabitants were probably attracted to this locality by the exposed asphalt, fresh water, and abundant food resources. Also, several species of marsh plants used by this culture for basketry (e.g., Juncus textilis [Basket Rush]), house thatch (e.g., Scirpus californicus [Yerba Mansa]), and medicinal purposes (e.g., Anemopsis californica) occur at the site even today. Other Middle Period settlements are recorded along Santa Monica Creek. Many dense shell midden deposits occur, the faunal inventory of which Wilcoxon (1982) has interpreted as clearly reflecting a predominant estuarine exploitation pattern. Thus inhabitants of the Carpinteria Valley were dependent upon estuarine resources as early as several thousand years ago.

The Late Period, beginning about 700 years ago, included an even greater reliance on marine and estuarine resources by coastal inhabitants, sometimes referred to as the Canalino or coastal equivalent of the Chumash. Although they often occupied the same sites as earlier settlements, the Canalino also settled in bottomlands and at the mouths of estuaries. Several Late Period settlements occurred in the vicinity of Carpinteria Salt Marsh. As with their predecessors, the Canalino were probably attracted by the rich coastal resources including fresh water, asphalt, and diverse plant and animal life. Topographically, both the mesa east of Carpinteria Creek and the sandspits and lowlands to the west and north of the creek provided suitable sites for villages. The Carpinteria Creek village ("Misopsno") continued to be inhabited after the arrival of European man to the Carpinteria Valley, and apparently extended from the estuary, eastward along the bluffs for about 3/4 mile. The village was responsible for the current name of the region because Spanish explorers to the valley observed plank canoes under construction and noted the area looked like a carpenter's shop, and referred to the area as "Pueblo de la Carpinteria". The early post-contact population of the village was estimated to be over 300 individuals (Brown 1967). Although the extensive settlements placed definite demands on local plants and animals used for food, implements, and construction, these were renewable resources that received no apparent long-term adverse impacts.

A second site occurs in proximity to the present-day estuary and was first reported by Rogers (1929) as a former extensive Canalino village, located on the sandspit at Sandyland Cove. Rogers suggested that this was probably remnants of the village known as Teneknes. The site was relocated during a field survey for the Carpinteria Valley Watershed Project (Wilcoxon 1974, 1996), but is seriously impacted by erosion of the coast.

In 1769, Gaspar de Portola and father Juan Crespi traveled through the valley during the first Spanish expedition to the mainland. Portola claimed California for the King of Spain during this expedition. This places a baseline for aboriginal conditions at approximately 1770 (M. Glassow, pers. comm., 1996). Following the establishment of a mission in Santa Barbara by Franciscan friars in 1786, the Carpinteria Valley was granted to the Mission by the Spanish Government. Although many Chumash continued to live here during the early Spanish period, others left the area or died because of a lack of immunity to European diseases. Upon the overthrow of Spanish rule in 1822 and the formation of the Republic of Mexico that included California, the Mission lands were secularized by the Mexican Government in 1834. Lands under mission control were deeded as ranchos to families loyal to the Mexican Government. Agricultural development of the local watersheds of the Santa Barbara region was initiated during Spanish and Mexican control.

Following defeat of Mexico by the United States, California became a state in 1850. The U. S. Government formed a Land Commission to decide the validity of claims to land under Mexican deeds. In 1853 a map of the Pueblo Lands of Santa Barbara was drawn up to establish ownership. Lands not confirmed to owners were open for claims by Americans, and the remaining land was open to homesteading under the National Homestead Act of 1862. Subsequent loss of native vegetation (e.g., loss of native grasslands) may have contributed to increased siltation in local estuaries, a phenomenon that has been accelerated with continued expansion of agriculture in the Santa Barbara region (California State Water Resources Control Board 1977). However, such loss of vegetation apparently began during the period of Spanish and Mexican rule. Ranching during these Mission and rancho periods also probably contributed to erosion, siltation, and the subsequent decrease in open water habitats in the estuary. At the close of this period, the estuary was threatened with habitat conversion to agricultural land when 160 acres of slough and beach were purchased to dike and raise rice (Redman 1996). This conversion was never implemented.

9.2 Period II: 1869-1914
During the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century, considerable environmental impact, resulting from a combination of agricultural development, urbanization, and climatic forces, has altered the configuration and composition of natural resources of the Carpinteria Valley and Carpinteria Salt Marsh. An early map of the estuary was produced by the U. S. Coast Survey in 1869 (Fig. 10). This map serves as an illustration of potential baseline land use and environmental conditions of the Valley at the beginning of the American Period. At this time, Carpinteria Salt Marsh extended from the vicinity of Carpinteria Creek westward to beyond its present boundaries. Extensive agricultural development occurred throughout the Valley, and the first "historic" settlement in the Valley was started on the northern margin of the estuary in the vicinity of Santa Monica Creek and Carpinteria Avenue. Although most residences are not shown on the 1869 map, in 1870 an estimated 87 houses and about 400 people apparently existed in the general region. In 1887, the village was described as occurring adjacent to low salt marshes and drifted sand dunes that were fringed with reeds and willows (Caldwell 1979). On this map, Carpinteria Salt Marsh is designated El Estero de la Carpinteria.

As noted in the "Environmental Setting", infilling of the estuary has been an ongoing process associated with erosion of the uplands. However, even 120 years ago, and perhaps as early as 200 years ago (M. Glassow, pers. comm., 1996), increased sediment loads in streams caused by human alteration of the local watersheds could have increased the rate of siltation over natural levels in the basin. This impact in addition to local draining and diking of wetlands contributed to the conversion of wetlands to uplands. Clark (1962) suggested Carpinteria Salt Marsh covered three-quarters of the valley at one time. Thus, the present estuary may be less than half the size it was during historic time.

Two early transportation arteries also have had significant impacts on Carpinteria Salt Marsh. The first road through Carpinteria Valley (Fig. 10) was constructed in part through wetlands to provide a route for stage coach travel between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Similarly, construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad (1884-87), now known as the Union Pacific Railroad, was achieved by placing it on a berm in wetlands along the northern margin of the estuary. As a result of the construction of a train station at the eastern end of the developing town, the expansion of Carpinteria moved east and southward from the area of "Old Town", resulting in the fragmentation and filling of the eastern portion of the estuary. By 1888, Carpinteria Valley had a population of about 800 (Caldwell 1979).

In January 1914, a major storm hit the region, causing significant damage to "Old Town" and altering wetlands in marsh. Such major storms have also been recorded in the 19th century. Significant amounts of erosion in the local watersheds, particularly that of Santa Monica Creek, resulted from this latter storm in the spread of sediment over lowlands and across portions of the estuary. Also, sand dunes at the beach had been practically wasted away (Clarke 1962). In spite of the damage caused by the storm, general local opinion was apparently that of gratitude, because various lowlands and estuarine wetlands had been transformed into farmland (Stockton 1960, Caldwell 1982).

9.3 Period III: 1914-Present
A detailed discussion of the land use of Carpinteria Valley in terms of 20th century impacts to Carpinteria Salt Marsh has been covered in detail by Ferren (1985). A brief history of land use changes on the margin of and in the estuary is presented here in the form of aerial photographs (Figs. 11-20) that cover the period 1929 to 1981. Legends associated with these aerial photographs provide a narrative of some of the changes. In summary, construction of roads that traversed the portions of the estuary, infilling and development of wetlands, residential development on the sand spits (Figs. 11-14), and erosion of the coastline following construction of the Santa Barbara Breakwater (Fig. 13-17) all contributed to the reduction or alteration of habitats. The closing of the estuary mouth led to long-term flooding of the lower elevation wetlands and eventual elimination of extensive salt marsh vegetation (Fig. 17). Because of the lack of tidal circulation and the occurrence of additional flooding in the valley, stream courses were channelized through the estuary to permit runoff to flow unimpeded to the ocean, and to improve the health of the marsh by restoring tidal inundation to wetlands (Figs. 17-19).

Several other events have had beneficial effects on the estuary. In 1977, Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve, an ecological reserve owned and managed by the University of California Natural Reserve System, was established on property obtained from the Sandyland Cove Trust. Recognition of the many important ecosystem functions and socio-economic values of such wetland ecosystems in various legislation such as the California Coastal Act of 1976, and in policies of the County of Santa Barbara and the City of Carpinteria Coastal Plans, provides a measure of protection for the remaining portions of the estuary. Acquisition of additional portions of Carpinteria Salt Marsh by the City of Carpinteria and the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, and development of the multiple phases of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Restoration Plan, (e.g., Phase I, Ash Avenue Wetland Project, and Phase II, Marsh Enhancement Project) continue to contribute to the efforts to preserve the natural resources of one of the most important estuarine wetlands remaining in southern California. Adaptation and implementation of the Management Plan for Carpinteria Salt Marsh, as presented in 20 programs provided herein, is perhaps the most important land use action in the history of Carpinteria Valley that has been focused on the estuary.

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