Funding Wetland Restoration—A Scientist’s Perspective

We all have our own personal connection to the Bay. As a wetland restoration ecologist, there is nothing more personally inspiring than standing at the edge of a restored tidal marsh where pickleweed and other native marsh plants have spread over an area formerly clogged with invasive weeds and trash.

Photo: Rick Lewis
Photo: Rick Lewis

Having spent the last eight years working on wetland restoration in San Francisco Bay, for me, this work is personal, as it is for most of my colleagues. More than seven million people live here in the Bay Area and enjoy the benefits of being able live, hike, bike, and commute around the Bay.

But, as the Habitat Restoration Director for Save The Bay I am frequently surprised by the number of people who do not realize that we have to write grants and solicit funding to do our work. Funds for restoration projects come from federal and private regional sources, as well as foundations and institutions. However, these sources only meet a portion of the need and are not always consistently available. That’s why Federal EPA funding is so important, and San Francisco Bay needs more.

Consider this: Last year EPA spent $300 million on the Great Lakes, $60 million on Chesapeake Bay, and Puget Sound received $30 million. But Congress directed just $6 million from EPA to San Francisco Bay—the largest and most important estuary on the West Coast.

My fellow scientists and I know first-hand that healthy wetlands are essential to a healthy Bay. We’ve already lost 90% of our original wetlands and we agree that the Bay needs a minimum of 100,000 acres of healthy, restored wetlands. In addition to views, open space, and habitat for birds and other wildlife, wetlands perform many functions that most of us don’t see and can easily take for granted: They improve water quality by trapping polluted runoff, sequester carbon and help counter global warming, protect our communities from flooding, and provide economic benefits.

Scientists, non-profit groups, government, and private organizations are grappling with the need for more wetlands and working hard every day to perform the crucial restoration work that will ensure we continue to enjoy these benefits that the Bay uniquely provides. The Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals report published in 1999 provided a scientific blueprint. The latest science indicates that climate change will present additional, unforeseen challenges to Bay Area land managers and scientists. We must restore as many wetlands as possible quickly. For that we need foresight, planning, and more federal funding.

Dozens of current and future projects including The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, Hamilton Field, Sears Point, and Cullinan Ranch (to name only a few) rely on more funding to be completed. These projects all contribute to the vitality and health of the Bay. The San Francisco Bay Restoration Act (HR 843) introduced by Jackie Speier (with companion legislation introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein in the Senate) would create a 5-year program to fund crucial Bay restoration work. I urge you to encourage Congress to invest in San Francisco Bay and pass the San Francisco Bay Restoration Act to help fill the funding gap and ensure that the critical work of restoring and preserving our wetlands continues. Take action now.