Restoring the Bay: Ecology + Advocacy

Jon and Beckie _03-min
Climate Change Policy Campaign Manager Beckie Zisser (left) works with partners and policymakers to secure large-scale, sustainable funding for Bay restoration projects. Jon Backus (right) manages Save The Bay’s field specialists and community volunteers, who turn shoreline and man-made levee sites around the Bay into healthy tidal marsh habitat.

“Restoration” means creating healthy, vibrant ecosystems that provide important services to both wildlife and people. Save The Bay’s restoration work is powerful because we integrate on-the-ground habitat work with political advocacy for large-scale change.

Our Climate Change Campaign manager Beckie Zisser and Habitat Restoration Manager Jon Backus share what restoration means from both of these perspectives:

Jon: Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team works with community volunteers to restore crucial transition zone habitat around the San Francisco Bay. Due to rampant filling of the shallow Bay edge, and conversion of marshes into salt ponds and agricultural land, the San Francisco Bay has lost 90% of the historic marsh habitat. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Now that people are aware of the critical importance of marshes for wildlife habitat, filtration of Bay water, and flood protection in the face of rising seas, there are large scale efforts to restore marsh habitat around the Bay.  Our volunteers, comprised of students, companies, and the public, help us to remove invasive species and plant California native plants that historically grew along the Bay shoreline.

Beckie: On the advocacy side, our team promotes sound policies that protect and enhance the health of the Bay so that it’s preserved for future generations. I reach out to elected officials, their staff members, and other decision-makers to share why restoring Bay wetlands is so important: protecting wildlife, enhancing water quality, and public access are some of the biggest reasons. It’s my goal to spread the message about how important this restoration work is for our region and to help secure new local, state, and federal funding for those activities.

Both on the shoreline and in the policy world, the key to success is applying the restoration expertise of Save The Bay and its partners on a scale where we can truly make a difference:

Jon: In addition to maintaining and continuing our work at our six restoration sites around the Bay, we are preparing to plant 70,000 native plants at the Oro Loma Sanitary district for a groundbreaking pilot project involving a constructed wetland and horizontal levee that will both store and treat wastewater while also providing native habitat. We are also planting 20,000 plants in sensitive habitat of former salt ponds at Eden Landing Ecological reserve, part of the South Bay Salt Pond Resotration Project.

Beckie: My most pressing and exciting work right now is in support of the Clean and Healthy Bay ballot measure that would fund long-term wetland restoration—not the great work Jon and his team are doing, but many large-scale projects around the Bay. I’m working to make sure this measure gets on the June 2016 ballot. It’s a $12 parcel tax in all nine Bay Area counties, and it would raise $500 million over 20 years. It would be the first real, region-wide commitment to protecting our Bay for future generations.

The political and ecological opportunities we face today are enormous, but climate disruption and extreme weather make the situation on the Bay an urgent one.

Beckie: We know the climate is changing, and we have already seen its effects on the Bay: Warmer waters, more extreme weather that exacerbates our droughts and influences freshwater flow from the Delta, and rising water acidity. Long term, my goal is to elevate the conversation about how climate change impacts the Bay.

Jon: Our biggest challenge to restoring habitat around the Bay is the ongoing drought. Whenever a seedling is planted, even a native, drought tolerant plant, the seedling needs water to establish a healthy root system. It is impossible to hand-water the tens of thousands of plants we install, and we need winter rains to water our seedlings. We are all hoping this year’s predicted El Niño will bring much needed rain for plants and people alike. At the same time, an extreme El Niño—and a warming climate in the years ahead—will bring a different set of problems, including tidal surges that will have huge impacts on communities built at or near the Bay’s shoreline. The marshes we are working so hard to restore, if done on a large enough scale, would work similar to a giant sponge, providing a buffer and natural protection for our communities from the threat of rising sea levels.

Our work is about the future of the Bay—and the Bay Area.

Jon: What inspires me about Save The Bay’s habitat restoration program is the tangible results of our restoration efforts combined with engaging community members around the Bay. It gives me hope to see families, schools, and businesses working together to bring back lost habitat for the well-being of both wildlife and Bay Area residents.  To me that shows how much we care about this place we call home, and how dedicated our region is to saving it for generations to come.

Beckie: It’s so clear to me from my work that people want to do what it takes to protect the Bay. That should give us all hope. In the Bay Area, people are clearly concerned about climate change and its effects on our planet and our livelihoods. I just think many people are at a loss as to what they can do about it. In the face of the stalling and denial that comes from some of our elected leaders, that’s understandable. If residents of the Bay Area support the Clean and Healthy Bay ballot measure in June, our region will have a solid base of funding to work toward real, tangible solutions to the biggest ecological threat of our time.