Notes from the Field: Seth’s Three Cents

volunteers
Exchange students from Singapore removing invasive species at Ravenswood Pond in Menlo Park.

With a new school year recently underway and our native planting season beginning in a few short months, I took some time this past weekend to reflect upon the two and a half years I’ve spent with Save The Bay. Ultimately, I identified a handful of personal opinions formed while leading habitat restoration programs with Save The Bay. Anyone who has spent time with me in the field has probably listened to me harp on some of the themes discussed below, and while I do not intend to come across as prophetic or prescient, I firmly believe in these three ideas:

1. Almost nothing is static. People change, cultures evolve, economies fluctuate, and landscapes are perpetually in a state of transformation, albeit a gradual one. Back in the fall of 2011 I applied Jared Diamond’s theory of landscape amnesia to the San Francisco Bay. Humans often fail to recognize changes when they occur gradually enough to be imperceptible to the human eye. While we may look at the shape of the Bay and assume it remains unchanged, in reality the outline and appearance of our estuary has shifted dramatically—due to geology, climate, and human impact—and will continue to shift due to these same variables.

Though humans’ impact on the Bay has been ecologically destructive in the post-Gold Rush era, this momentum can be reversed through progressive legislation and physical reparation. Our land use advocacy and on-the-ground wetland restoration accomplishes exactly this: changing the shape of San Francisco Bay in an ecologically beneficial manner. Personally witnessing two and a half years of work at our restoration sites has proven to me that our approach really works; degraded wetland areas can be improved at a terrific pace. As we look towards a future challenged by the threats of climate change, water scarcity, and loss of biodiversity, maintaining a dynamic view of our relationship with the California landscape will be critical to finding creative, sustainable solutions.

2. Everyone cares. I’d like to suggest that Community-based Restoration be renamed “Global Community-based Restoration.” The sight of 50 or 60 Bay Area locals showing up to volunteer at 9am on a rainy Saturday morning will never fail to impress me. That being said, even more astonishing are the groups of volunteers from Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and even Singapore we’ve witnessed demonstrating the same dedication and respect for our projects that the locals do. Despite the likelihood that these volunteers will never visit our sites again, they still take the time to plant each native seedling with care, recognizing that while we do not necessarily all share a bay in common, we do share oceans.

Peter Baye
Local wetland ecologist Peter Baye, Ph.D, walking down a bike path flooded by king tides last winter.

3. It’s all about the “watershed” perspective. One cannot talk about the health of San Francisco Bay without also considering the health of the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the polar ice caps. Melting glaciers at the poles are raising ocean levels worldwide, which means that our Bay will also experience a rise in water levels. In anticipation of this change, local scientists are focusing research on wetlands’ ability to migrate vertically and keep up with rising waters. One major variable in determining the success of vertical migration is the availability of adequate sediments (dirt, sand, and other materials) present in Bay water. The majority of these sediments originate from the Sierra Nevada mountains and travel to the Bay via the Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta.

In recent years the sediment load entering the Bay has decreased significantly due to river damming and diversion in the Sierra Nevada and Central Valley. This sediment supply chain connects the future of coastal Bay communities with the water politics of the San Francisco Bay watershed, an area comprising 40% of California’s landmass. As you might guess, this is just one of many complex interrelationships impacting the Bay. What this means is that San Francisco Bay conservation and restoration cannot just be a local issue; effective action will require state-wide participation and collaboration. Everyone will have a role, and the more we can educate ourselves and maintain a big picture view, the better off our state will be.

Care to discuss any of these ideas in person? Come volunteer with us.