Our 2016 Accomplishments for the Bay

Saving the Bay by Sustaining the Bay: A Year of Firsts…

This year has been decorated with big wins for the Bay. Highlights of 2016 include the historic passage of Measure AA, Prop 67, and nine of 10 local ballot measures we endorsed for the first time in Save The Bay’s history. While November’s election is a setback to environmental progress at the federal level, our 2016 accomplishments give us momentum here at home, where local and regional victories will be more important than ever.

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In early 2016 we published a visionary 2020 Strategic Plan, which maps out our ambitious path to healthy wetlands, Bay Smart communities, and a region that is resilient in the face of climate change.

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We installed 107,239 plants at sites around the Bay, creating important habitat for native and migrating birds.

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Save The Bay was instrumental in passing Proposition 67, a statewide bag ban that will keep billions of plastic bags from polluting our ocean, communities, and waterways, and Proposition 56, which will reduce the flow of toxic, plastic cigarette butts into our waterways.

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For the first time in Save The Bay’s history, we endorsed 10 local ballot measures that will contribute to a cleaner, healthier Bay and more sustainable Bay Area. With our support, nine of these measures were passed by voters.

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Our 4,830 volunteers contributed nearly 15,000 hours to shoreline restoration projects, and we provided 2,500 local students with hands-on volunteer opportunities.

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Culminating a decade of planning and preparation, we passed regional Measure AA, which will generate $500 million for the restoration of Bay wetlands. Thanks to our tireless advocacy, more than 70% of Bay Area voters supported Measure AA.

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Working with nearly 40 cities and counties across the Bay, we created Bay Day, one official day for our entire region to celebrate San Francisco Bay. In its inaugural year, Bay Day reached over 2 million Bay Area residents.

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Save The Bay and our supporters successfully advocated for a ban on outdoor smoking at Sunnyvale bus stops, shopping areas, festivals, and farmers markets. Our success will help protect wildlife from toxic, plastic cigarette butts, and are a model for other communities.

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We removed 7,200 lbs. of trash from the Bay shoreline, making our marshes cleaner and healthier.

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We launched Save The Bay’s new Bay Investors Council, bringing together Bay Area leaders and influencers who support Save The Bay financially and introduces the organization to new friends. We hosted our inaugural Bay Investors Council event on Bay Day with a catamaran sail on the Bay.

Download the PDF version of our 2016 Accomplishments here.

A restoration journey

Jon Backus
Jon Backus joined Save The Bay’s restoration team in 2012. He plans to continue his career in habitat restoration as a graduate student.

On a foggy early morning in 2012, I stepped out of our big red Save The Bay truck into my first restoration site in East Palo Alto. Little did I know I was merely taking the first step on my long, rewarding journey with Save The Bay. As we set out tools, gloves and maps of the Bay, I eagerly assisted the experienced field staff in preparation to lead a large group of volunteers. But when it came to addressing the group for our introduction, I became timid of talking in front of such a large audience.

As I led more programs, my fear of public speaking diminished and as I talked to volunteers I increasingly grew so proud of Save The Bay’s grassroots beginning and the victories won to prevent irreversible damage to such a unique, but once undervalued ecosystem. The history and future of the San Francisco Bay is such an interesting and ever-changing story, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share this with our volunteers.

Though I often started work before the sun was up, leading programs always instilled in me hope for the state of the Bay. Public programs have volunteers ranging from students to families and friends, all waking up early on their Saturday morning to give back to the communities and the wildlife that depend on the Bay. That’s always a positive group of people to be around!

A tangible impact

There is nothing more satisfying than to finish a program with thousands of pounds of invasive species removed and hundreds of native plants installed. This is the reason why ecological restoration will always be my passion. Because it is tangible. You can see it. Seeing firsthand how the landscape can change and heal with our help is an incomparable feeling. In the face of so many environmental and world problems, habitat restoration provides an avenue away from apathy, towards real change through rewarding work.

Two years after that initial step into my first restoration site, I was promoted to the role of Restoration Program Manager. Now I was in the hot seat doing the behind the scenes work. Managing staff, coordinating our volunteer programs, designing site plans, and acting as interim nursery manager provided me with key knowledge of how a community-based restoration program all comes together.

Planting seeds for the future of restoration

My experience culminated in Save The Bay’s largest and most unique restoration project, the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project, in which we planted over 70,000 plants on a broad horizontal levee that combines provision of wildlife habitat, wastewater filtration and protection from sea level rise. As the Program Manager, I witnessed a true testament to our dedication and teamwork through the Oro Loma Project, and am so proud of what we accomplished.

After nearly five years of Saving the San Francisco Bay, I am now ready to take the next steps in my career as a restoration ecologist. So graduate school, here I come! Working for Save The Bay has been an invaluable experience and has given me the skills I need to continue to manage restoration projects and make a difference in our world. I am eager to apply my passion for restoration and my experience at Save the Bay to many restoration projects in the future.

Are you ready to get inspired? Sign up for a volunteer restoration program here.

Restoration projects bring birds back to SF Bay

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the bird population has doubled. Photo courtesy of Nasa.
The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the local bird population has doubled. With adequate funding, this project would restore 15,000 acres. Measure AA would fund critical restoration projects like this one. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The ambitious South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast, is already seeing some impressive results, according to biologists who have surveyed the area.

The populations of ducks and shorebirds in the area have doubled over 12 years, from 100,000 in 2002 to 200,000 in 2014, according to a report issued in October by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies.

“It shows that what’s been done so far appears to be working. It’s really great,” said Susan De La Cruz, a wildlife biologist with the USGS who did much of the research told the Mercury News.

The success of the California Coastal Conservancy’s South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is an example of how wetland restoration can improve habitat for wildlife such as birds, fish, seals, and sharks, in addition to reducing the risk of flooding due to sea level rise associated with climate change,” says Donna Ball, Habitat Restoration Director for Save The Bay.

Historically, diking off wetlands along the bay’s shore for production of salt was a major factor in losing much of the bay’s tidal marshland.  Starting in the 1850s, salt production became a major industry, covering some 16,500 acres, most of which was owned by Cargill Inc. In 2003, Cargill sold 15,000 acres to state and federal agencies and private foundations, which drew up plans to restore the salt ponds to a more natural condition.

Already the South Bay restoration project has reconnected about 3,000 acres of salt ponds to the bay with the goal of revitalizing them as tidal marshes.  When complete, the project will have restored 15,000 acres of former salt ponds to wetlands and other vital habitats.

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is scheduled to be completed over the next 50 years if funding is available. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot is designed to generate $500 million over the next 20 years to provide funds for this project and many others throughout the Bay Area.

All around San Francisco Bay, there are more than 30,000 acres awaiting restoration. Your YES vote for Measure AA will help provide the funding needed for many of these much-needed projects.

Remaining Hopeful Amid Environmental Despair

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Zia found hope by joining 300,000 other activists for the People’s Climate March in 2014.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that any effort we might muster as a society to protect ourselves against the onslaught of climate change could really make a difference. 2015 was the hottest year on record and 2016 is already shaping up to be hotter. We are told that individual lifestyle changes don’t do much to help and that the world is everyday plunging further and further into environmental gridlock and turmoil.

When I hear facts like these, it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the future of our environment. How many of us have ever felt overwhelmed, in denial, or apathetic about the future of the environment? This common feeling of helplessness is a documented phenomenon and something Joanna Macy, an environmental activist and scholar, calls “environmental despair.” She writes that our fear of environmental disaster keeps us from changing our behaviors because it’s all just too much to cope with. Instead of inspiring us into action, environmental despair ends up making us avoid the reality of the problem all together. This is understandable when nearly everything we do has a negative impact on the Earth. It’s hard to imagine how we might “…function in our society without reinforcing the very conditions we decry, and the sense of guilt that ensues makes those conditions – and our outrage over them – harder to face.”

Still, we can’t accept our environmental despair so easily. Climate change is happening and visible on both the personal and global scale. We need to find and cultivate hope in ourselves in order to keep our communities and our minds resilient to the effects of climate change.

A history of hope

The environmentalist history of the Bay is an excellent example of hope realized. When Save the Bay was founded in 1961, the Bay was treated like a dumping ground and the Army Corps of Engineers had plans to fill the Bay to such an extent that it would no longer be a bay but a narrow shipping channel.

It was the work of Save the Bay and the creation of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission in 1965 that regulated development of the shoreline and helped preserve and protect the integrity of the Bay. With careful political organizing, Bay Area citizens came together to bring the Bay back from the brink of destruction. Since then, the Bay “has shrunk no further and has had hundreds of acres of wetlands restored. Its waters are no longer rank, and aquatic life is abundant, with shorebirds in large number feeding along the mudflats and marshes.”

Simple action, big results

In June, Bay Area voters will have the opportunity to protect our home once again by voting yes on Measure AA for a Clean & Healthy Bay.

Measure AA represents a decade of hard work from Save the Bay and our partners. This modest, $12 parcel tax will generate badly needed funding for restoration of San Francisco Bay wetlands, benefitting people, wildlife, and the Bay Area economy. Wetlands restoration is a crucial step in maintaining a thriving Bay – habitat for wildlife, carbon sequestration, defense against sea level rise – all powerful efforts that could mean long-lasting protection for the Bay and its inhabitants.

The time to act is now. The Bay Area, as a longtime leader in environmentalism around the world, needs to become climate adaptive and prepared for the threat of rising seas. We don’t want to wait for a disaster and wish we had done more to protect our shorelines.

Activating hope

For me, it’s the experience of acting with others that makes me feel hopeful. In the fall of 2014, I traveled to New York City with some friends to attend the People’s Climate March with 300,000 of our peers. In that moment, I didn’t feel like my actions and ideals were insignificant. I didn’t feel hopeless. My concerns and beliefs were real, they were powerful, and they were echoed and seen in the voices and faces of the strangers around me.

The climate march was an opportunity to cultivate hope in my otherwise climate-disparaged heart. I feel hope when I come in to work at Save the Bay, and I am hopeful when I think of the Bay Area coming together to vote for protection and restoration. Instead of feeling helpless, I try to feel lucky to live in this moment when advocating for the environment is so important and has the potential for real solutions and benefits.

In June, the Bay Area will have the chance to look climate change in the face and act to restore both our wetlands and our hope in environmental action.

Pledge to vote Yes on Measure AA on June 7.

70,000 planted at Oro Loma

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Last year when Habitat Restoration Director, Donna Ball, proposed a project for Save The Bay’s restoration team to plant 70,000 native plants on an experimental horizontal levee I thought, this sounds near impossible….let’s do it! And with that, we hit the ground running, in preparation for what would be the biggest and most ambitious project Save The Bay’s restoration team had ever attempted.

Over the past 16 years Save The Bay has engaged thousands of volunteers to plant roughly 30-50,000 plants each winter. This year the Horizontal Levee Project at the Oro Loma Sanitary District, combined with our work at various sites around the Bay, will top 100,000 native plants being installed in our restoration projects. But how could we possibly do it? That was the task I was given. To work with our nursery manager, Jessie Olson, to collect, propagate, and outplant tens of thousands of plants.

Getting creative with rhizomes

With our nurseries already at capacity for our other restoration projects, we needed to get creative in order to be able to propagate the 70,000 plants. That’s where ecologist Peter Baye’s help comes in. With his extensive knowledge of the Bay’s ecology, native flora, and restoration practices, he advised Save The Bay’s restoration team on how and where to collect certain plant species and how to propagate the plants using rhizomal divisions.

The idea was fairly simple. Instead of growing individual species in separate containers, we would grow the rhizomatous species in raised beds that we would later dig up, divide, and transplant on site. What exactly is a rhizome? If you missed my previous blog, a rhizome if a modified stem that grows horizontally underground and produces new shoots above ground. It’s almost like they clone themselves.

4 million seeds and counting

With the plan set, we started collection in the field. We had ambitious goals to collect thousands of rhizomes and over 4 million seeds. With collection permits from various parks and reserves, the restoration staff dug up rhizomes and collected ripe seed starting Fall 2014.

During this time, we also went to work building a dozen raised beds on site at Oro Loma. After collecting in the field, the rhizomes were then planted into the raised beds. Our all star volunteers and restoration fellows were of crucial help throughout the collection and transplanting process. Once the beds were planted, all there was left to do was wait for them to do their thing. And they did. Six months later, the small rhizome fragments spread out and produced new shoots, densely filling the raised beds.

Ambitious planting goals

With half of the project accomplished, we were then faced with a bigger challenge, outplanting 70,000 plants… This is where I had to develop new strategies. To aid the restoration staff, I recruited a volunteer planting crew. Lucky for us we had three amazing people join our team for three months, Kelly Franson, Paula Pieriea, and Kelly Hood. We trained them on our restoration techniques and set off with the Horizontal Levee Project Kickoff event on November 14, 2015.

With 2,300 plants installed on the first day, we were off to a good start.

Each day thereafter our staff, all-star volunteers, and planting crew worked rain or shine harvesting rhizome divisions from our raised beds and planting them in a specific planting plan outlined with color coded flags on site. Several public volunteer programs helped our efforts as well as workdays with other restoration teams from around the Bay, including The Presidio Trust and Acterra. Two and a half months later we planted the final plant on the horizontal levee.

What seemed nearly impossible was complete. From the field to the raised beds, to the horizontal levee these plants have had an amazing journey, and so has Save The Bay’s restoration team. We are all proud to have been a part of this innovative project that takes a multi-pronged approach to filter our wastewater and prepare for rising seas, all while providing crucial native habitat at the Bay’s edge.

Learn more about the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project:

Project overview

The science of wetlands and wastewater

Experimental habitat for a better Bay

Experimental Living Levee Could Battle Rising Bay Tides — NBC Bay Area