About the Creek and Its Watershed
Wolf Creek flows approximately 25 miles from its sources
in the hills east of Grass Valley, California, to its confluence with the Bear River,
forming a watershed approximately 78 square miles
in area. Wolf Creek's tributaries include South Wolf Creek, South Fork Wolf Creek, Little Wolf Creek,
and Rattlesnake Creek. The watersed encompasses 13 distinct plant communities. It is home to
more than 20,000 people, a large proportion of them in the city of Grass Valley.
The watershed of Deer Creek lies to the north and west, the watershed of the Bear River
to the east and south, and the watershed of Dry Creek to the west.
Wolf Creek in unusual and special in a number of ways:
The Wolf Creek watershed is almost exclusively in
the lower montane zone, with altitudes along the creek's 25-mile length ranging from
3000 feet at the headwaters to approximately 1200 feet at the confluence with the Bear
River. Most other Sierran watersheds of at least this size originate at much higher
The Wolf Creek watershed occupies a narrow, biotically diverse band of elevation between
the tule fog of the Central Valley and the alpine cold of the higher elevations. This is
the zone where the blue oak and gray pine woodlands of the lower foothills gradually
transition into the Ponderosa pinedominated mixed evergreen forests that characterize
the middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada.
Unlike most other west-slope Sierran streams and rivers (which flow east to west), Wolf
Creek flows primarily along a north–south axis. In comparison to east–west streams, this
geographic positioning gives much more of the land a southern or partially southern
exposure and thus the ability to support the most productive and diverse ecosystems.
Populations of indigenous people in the Wolf Creek watershed were relatively high
because of the land’s productivity and biodiversity. The Nisenan inhabited
the Wolf Creek watershed and surrounding environs, and the Tsi Akim Maidu occupied lands
to the north.
These people are thought of today as being
hunter/gatherers, but in fact they practiced a highly effective, minimally
disturbing form of proto-agriculture. Descendants of the original Nisenan and Maidu
inhabitants still live in the area.
A number of very different rock types underlie the landscape of the watershed, including
mafic rocks such as gabbro, ultramafic rocks such as serpentine, granitic rocks such as
quartz monzonite, and metavolcanic rocks. The different rock types of the watershed lead
to different soil types, some of which (such as the soils derived from gabbro and
serpentine) are chemically inhospitable to most plants and can support only those
species that have evolved a tolerance to these soils. A disproportionate number of these
species are sensitive, unusual, or endangered.
To learn more about the Wolf Creek watershed, consult any of the following resources: