The successful restoration at Sears Point illustrates the many benefits of regional Measure AA, which will fund similar crucial projects around the Bay Area.
The new marshland will filter excess nutrients from runoff and prevent them from reaching the Bay. It will be a carbon sink, sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It will serve as habitat for species like the endangered Ridgway’s rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. And it will serve as a natural bulwark against flooding caused by future storms and sea level rise.
Previously, the Sears Point Ranch property was proposed to be developed into a casino owned by the local Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. However, the Graton Tribe ultimately dropped its purchasing rights for the site in 2003. The Sonoma Land Trust, which preserves environmentally significant land in Sonoma County, bought the property in 2005 and began working with several funders and stakeholders to restore the ecosystem to its natural state.
The wetland restoration project broke ground in June 2014. Agricultural hayfields were replaced with a grid of specially designed dirt mounds. The mounds will help slow the speed of incoming water, causing the sediment contained in the water to drop out and settle into the marshland, where it can help anchor ongoing plant growth. Additionally, a new levee was constructed to protect adjacent property and infrastructure. The levee will double as new habitat for species that inhabit the ecological transition zone between the tidal marsh and the upland.
On October 25, hundreds of spectators came to observe the removal of the levee separating the Bay from the future wetland. Within moments of an excavator crane scooping away the earthen barrier, water began pouring down into the site, to sustained cheers and applause from the gathered crowd. Attendees were given small pods containing pickleweed seeds in order to participate in the re-seeding of the marshland. I had the pleasure of witnessing the breach, along with Save The Bay’s habitat restoration director, Donna Ball, and our communications director, Cyril Manning.
The project also demonstrates the value of governmental and non-governmental entities working together towards a common environmental goal. The Sonoma Land Trust partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and Ducks Unlimited, among others, in funding and planning this $18 million restoration effort.
The work at Sears Point Ranch is by no means complete. In the coming years, more investments will be made to improve the newly constructed levee, enhance public access, and fully reestablish tidal action and hydrology at the site. However, it is already contributing to a region-wide movement to reverse the damage caused over the past 150 years by wetland degradation and destruction.
According to scientists, the Bay needs to see accelerated action on more projects like Sears Point in next few decades. You can help ensure that the 36,000 acres of baylands awaiting restoration are given the funding they deserve by voting YES on Measure AA this June 7th.