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.

What Is Life Without Transition? Why Estuarine-Terrestrial Transition Zones Matter

transition zone restoration
Save The Bay staff and volunteers are restoring this slope adjacent to a newly restored wetland at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve.

The majority of Bay Area residents live and work within a half mile from the Bay, which makes the San Francisco Estuary one of the most urbanized estuaries in the world. Humans have valued the Bay for various ecosystem services throughout history and have modified the Bay to take advantage of some of those services. For example, humans have diked large areas of the Bay for commercial salt production and duck hunting, and have built trails close to the Bay so that they can enjoy the cultural services that the Bay provides. They have also hampered some of those services by filling and paving over large areas of the Bay to build urban infrastructure, and until the 1960’s, used the Bay as a place to dispose of garbage and sewage. It has only been the last several decades that the general public began to realize the importance of the natural ecosystem services the SF Bay provides.

San Francisco Bay was once ringed by healthy wetland habitats. Those wetlands, in many cases, gradually transitioned from tidal wetlands to upland terrestrial habitat. Those areas of gradual transition would often extend for a mile or more, comprising large expanses of native grasses and salt tolerant plants utilized by abundant wildlife populations. Over time, those transition areas have been squeezed between urban infrastructure and the Bay. These areas at the marsh-upland interface, that we call estuarine-terrestrial transition zones, are important because they provide important and unique ecosystem functions and services. Faced with climate change, transition zones can provide important ecosystem services, including buffering hazards associated with sea level rise such as flooding and erosion, and providing a place for wetlands to migrate inland. In addition, the transition zone provides nutrient cycling, filtration of pollutants from urban runoff, and support for biological diversity.

Save The Bay focuses its restoration effort on creating functional transition zone habitat in areas that lack transition zones. Using a carefully selected site-specific plant palette, we restore transition zone vegetation in areas such as the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER) in Hayward adjacent to recently restored salt ponds where transition zone habitat is lacking. Several of these former salt ponds are being breached to restore natural tidal flow as part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration (SBSPR) Project. Save The Bay has been working with the SBSPR Project at the ELER to vegetate the slopes adjacent to these ponds in order to provide functions such as high tide refuge and cover to avoid predation for marsh animals during high tides. Sign up for a volunteer program and join Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team to learn more about functional transition zone habitat and important ecosystem services at our sites throughout San Francisco Bay.

Watch this PBS NewsHour clip about the importance of restoring transition zones for wildlife.

Notes from the Field | Jumpstarting Restoration at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

We recently hydroseeded 4.25 acres along this levee at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. Click the image to see aerial photos of the process captured by Cris Benton (pictured above).

The Habitat Restoration Team has been talking a lot lately about hydroseeding, thanks to our latest project at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. Hydroseeding is a technique where plant seeds are mixed with a slurry of water, tackifier (treatment to make it stick to the ground), some fertilizer and fine mulch, and then all of the slurry is shot out of a truck using a fire hose. In the restoration world, hydroseeding is commonly used to help jumpstart the establishment of native plants, particularly native grasses.

We were very lucky to have Cris Benton come out and take pictures of the work. He gave us a bird’s eye view of hydroseeding – literally. You can see his images here. 

As you can see from the photos, Save The Bay is hydroseeding our new 4.25-acre project site at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. We are partnering with the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on their project at Eden Landing to create transition zone habitat at the edge of a former salt pond – which has been recently restored to tidal marsh. Last week we installed hydroseed to 4.25 acres along the levee between Ponds E9 and E14 at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. We used a combination of native grasses and plants that are typically found near the bay and that are tolerant to saline conditions.

This winter Save The Bay staff and volunteers will plant over 10,000 seedlings on 2.5 acres of this site to augment the hydroseeding. We hope to finish planting the rest of the site next winter. Creating transition zone habitat next to a developing marsh will help provide cover for animals finding their way to the developing marsh, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail and other small mammals and birds.

We are excited to add this new, large project to our list of habitat restoration sites around the Bay. Altogether, we will be installing over 45,000 plants at all of our sites this winter. Planting season is upon us – and we will need your help. Come out on one of our winter planting programs and help us restore important habitat at the edge of San Francisco Bay!