Mice and Marshes: Protecting the Bay I Love

Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers
Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers

I have loved salt marshes ever since I first stepped into one during a college wetlands class in Washington. I breathed in earthy scents. I felt mud squish beneath my boots. I watched birds fly low over the water. Now, the Bay wetlands nourish my spirit, and I am truly grateful they are the place I call home.

As the Habitat Restoration Director at Save The Bay, I am proud that my work leading volunteer and education programs can directly benefit nearby wildlife. Our efforts provide critical habitat for endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse. But we never lose sight of the big picture.

Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project
Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project

Recently, we collaborated with other scientists on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project – an innovative levee that mimics wetland habitats. Our expert restoration team joined more than 5,000 Save The Bay volunteers to construct the site’s giant outdoor nursery and plant more than 70,000 native seedlings.

The potential benefits are profound, since wetland marshes act like sponges, soaking up water as it rises. If replicated, this horizontal levee model could provide extensive flood protection and create thousands of acres of habitat around San Francisco Bay.

Right now, our Bay faces a triple threat of pollution, sea-level rise and habitat loss. Scientists estimate it needs 100,000 acres of wetlands to be healthy and sustainable. Today, only 40,000 acres exist.

With help from our generous supporters, we can continue working with partners to make significant progress toward that 100,000 acre mark.

The Bay is the heart of my home. Together, we can protect this beautiful resource and all that it offers diverse communities, vibrant plants, and countless animals.

With sincere thanks,

Donna Ball
Habitat Restoration Director

Yes in your backyard

CaptureIn the midst of all the excitement about Measure AA, I didn’t get a chance to tell you about some other very special restoration work that is near and dear to my heart—and hopefully to yours as well.

Thanks in part to more than five years of hard work by my staff and many Save The Bay volunteers, we have played an important part in restoring transition zone habitat at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve in Hayward as part of our partnership with the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. This work, in partnership with the largest wetland restoration project in the history of our Bay, is a thriving example of Bay restoration. You can get an up-close view of the restoration from nearly 4 miles of newly opened shoreline trails and new wildlife viewing platforms.

This is the type of game-changing restoration work you can help fund by supporting all of our work at Save The Bay today. The restored transition zones at Eden Landing now provide so much more habitat for wildlife, including endangered waterfowl and shorebirds, than just a few short years ago. The transformation is amazing.

Right now, in your own backyard, there are other critical restoration projects like Eden Landing at stake.

Your generous gift today will directly support ongoing restoration work at the Palo Alto Baylands, Martin Luther King, Jr. Shoreline, and Eden Landing. It will also help Save The Bay ensure that regional funding from Measure AA delivers the maximum possible benefit to dozens of restoration sites all around the Bay—from China Basin Park in San Francisco to San Pablo Marsh in the East Bay, and from Sears Point in the North Bay to Coyote Point in the south.

Surely you’ve heard that restored wetlands can filter out pollution for cleaner water; increase wildlife habitat; expand trails and shoreline access; and protect our communities from flooding. And you know that we also work to stop pollution at its source, calling on our cities to get to Zero Trash by 2022.

Restoring wetlands is my life’s calling. There’s nothing I love more than getting my hands dirty and restoring this unique, muddy, and incredible habitat that makes the Bay Area so special.

But you don’t need to go knee-deep in the mud to help protect our Bay for wildlife and people, today and tomorrow. Make a gift today and we’ll put it to good use, wherever it’s needed most to protect and enhance our beloved San Francisco Bay.

Giving thanks for healing at the edge of the Bay

Donna sailing
Donna has discovered the healing power of San Francisco Bay. The shoreline supported her recovery and now she loves sailing out on the Bay.

We live busy and often chaotic lives.  Over seven million people live in the Bay area. Our freeways are crowded and busy—and so are our grocery stores, our restaurants and the details of our daily lives.  We are inundated with technology and media vying for our attention.  Many of us escape to nature to find solitude and to recapture a sense of place and belonging that is free from busyness.

The ocean, salt marshes, and the Bay have always been places that bring me a sense of calm and peace, and their beauty and solitary nature appeal to my inner introvert.  As the director of our Habitat Restoration Program at Save The Bay, I’ve been privileged to share the experience of the beauty of the Bay with our volunteers, many of whom are discovering our shorelines for the first time.  I always hope that this experience enriches their lives and opens a door of escape from a busy world.

In a few weeks, it will be one year since I was diagnosed with cancer.  Those of you who have been diagnosed with a serious illness know that it is a chaotic time and that everything seems out of control.   Having worked as a salt marsh ecologist for the last 10 years I’ve come to rely on areas near the water when I need a sense of peace and calm.  I live in Richmond near the Bay Trail so it was only natural for me to look to the Bay as a place of refuge.  Exercise under a doctor’s supervision can be an integral part of a cancer treatment plan, and I found it extremely helpful during my treatment—both physically and mentally to take daily walks along the Bay’s edge.  I live within a short walking distance of the Bay Trail and walks along this path became a part of my strategy to maintain the routine of my life.  I set small goals each day for mileage along the trail and was able to celebrate those small victories each day.

Healing through nature

As I charted my path forward, I relied on family, friends and coworkers to help me through the experience, but I also relied heavily on the experience of being outside and away from all that I associated with being sick.   I was so grateful for the steady rhythm of the waves and the sounds of the wind and of the birds along the shore which daily released me from the chaos in my mind associated with treatment, distracted me from the discomforts of my body, and gave me a chance to focus on things of external beauty.

There is documented research on the power of nature to heal, both physically and emotionally, and many online resources focus on nature’s therapeutic benefits. The days I spent walking or even sitting at the edge of the Bay were instrumental in my healing process I often reeled from the mental chaos and the physical destruction of my body due to the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but the time I spent listening to the wind and the waves and watching birds and small animals was relaxing and healing.  Sitting in the sun at the edge of the bay gave me an enormous sense of peace and calm, and on many days it soothed my soul and allowed me to focus on the gratitude for all of those who walked with me on that journey.  I often sat quietly on a bench at the edge of the bay for an hour or two at a time, allowing both my body and mind precious time to relax and heal and to experience peace.

I am happy to say that I have successfully finished treatment and am recovering well.  I am still walking along the edge of the bay, but I’m now able to sail and to ride my bike along the trail again too.  I continue to look to the water as a place of refuge and healing and I have a renewed zeal for bringing our volunteers to the edge of the bay in hopes that they can experience it as a place that can provide them an option for a place of refuge.  I wish health and happiness for each of you and I hope that you too can think of a place in nature for which you are grateful and that inspires and nurtures you.

Take time this holiday season to reconnect with that place and allow yourself to experience the beauty of nature and the power it has to restore your body and heal your soul. 

Report: The Baylands and Climate Change

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The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do, The Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Science Update was released earlier this week.   More than 200 scientists and climate change experts have worked over the last three years to update the 1999 Baylands Goals Report to address the threat of climate change.   This Science Update addresses threats facing the Bay including rising seas, extreme weather events, the effects of climate change on urban functions, and decreased sediment supply.

Not just another report  

This report highlights the urgency and the boldness with which we must act to save over 80% of our existing wetlands over the next 100 years during this period of rapid change.  Sea levels are rising; weather patterns are shifting, and the sediment supply that has helped nourish our wetlands since the Gold Rush appears to have been exhausted.  We have modified our key natural processes such as freshwater flows, tidal exchange, flood-plain productivity, and the balance between native and nonnative species.

Much of our critical infrastructure such as levees, flood-control channels, roads, railways, storm drains, landfills, and sewage treatment systems are all built at the edge of the bay.  Our human built infrastructure as well as our remaining natural habitats needs immediate investment in adaptation strategies to be resilient in the face of the coming changes.  We need to adjust our policies and our methods to encourage rapid restoration and enhancement of natural infrastructure to protect people and property while also supporting natural processes, and protecting habitat for native plants and animals.

Sea levels are predicted to continue to rise at what is currently thought to be a fairly predictable rate through mid-century.  After 2050, sea levels are predicted to rise at a much higher rate.  We need to accelerate restoration to get ahead of the sea level rise acceleration that is projected for the middle of this century.    This Science Update incorporates the latest science – and advances the understanding of climate change and sediment supply in the baylands. This proposed science-based path forward to address threats facing the Bay emphasizes working with nature to protect existing wetlands and help them grow to keep pace with sea level rise.

This report and the online science chapters place emphasis on:

  • Restoring complete baylands systems. Many of our watersheds and habitat are disconnected from adjacent habitat types and are disconnected from the physical processes that keep them healthy.  Diverse, connected habitats can help sustain wildlife and humans during extreme conditions.
  • Accelerate restoration of complete baylands systems by 2030. This can be done by ensuring that we restore as many tidal marshes before this time so that they are intact to provide benefits when sea levels begin to rise more quickly.  This requires acceleration of restoration projects on available land.
  • Plan for a dynamic future. Instead of reacting to events, we need to create policies that anticipate change over time.  This means that we need to prepare for the landward migration of the baylands by conserving transition zones between the baylands and adjacent uplands.  We also need to develop and implement a regional plan for sediment reuse that takes advantage of sediment from dredged, excavated, or naturally occurring sites so that it can be used to restore and sustain the baylands.
  • Increase regional coordination. Working together is going to be key to implement the recommendations in this report in a timely way.  The recommendations included in this report will require even more collaboration to build consensus, identify barriers, solve problems, and promote shared learning.

The original Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Report was released in 1999 and much progress has been made on restoring San Francisco Bay’s tidal wetlands as a result of the recommendations included in that report.   A number of large tidal marsh restoration projects have been planned and restored.  However, much work remains to be done to reach the goal of 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands and there are numerous pending projects that need funding in order to be implemented.

Shorelines will need to be protected by a combination of gray and green infrastructure but we need to resist the temptation to erect hard infrastructure in every location.  We can use wetlands to provide effective protection from storm-induced waves, absorb excess water from both uplands and from the Bay, filter pollutants, sustain fisheries, and provide wildlife habitat and places to enjoy nature.  While hard levee protection will be needed in some areas of the way we also need to work with nature to use bay shore wetlands to buffer and protect the Bay area’s seven million people from rising seas and extreme storms.

What does this report mean for Save The Bay’s work? 

Our Habitat Restoration Team has been working on restoring transition zone habitat for the past 15 years.  In the past several years we have stepped up that work to work with our partners on much larger projects that can provide protection and migration space.

We are currently working on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project that will serve as a demonstration project for implementing innovative restoration methods to use natural systems to respond to climate change.  Our Policy and Communications Teams are responding to the call from scientists to accelerate marsh restoration by working with other Bay area leaders to place a $12 annual parcel tax measure on the June 2016 ballot that would raise $500 million over the next 20 years for wetland restoration and flood control.  These are only a couple of the ways that we are addressing the threats facing the Bay.  We look forward to working with other Bay area leaders and scientists to implement the recommendations included in this report.

Advice From a Female Scientist: Follow Your Dreams

Donna Ball
Donna Ball inspires us all as Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Director.

I grew up in an era when a college degree was considered a luxury and not a necessity for women and when it was just becoming acceptable for women to pursue careers in ‘male-dominated’ positions that required math and science. For example, my father refused to pay for a college education because I would ‘just get married and have a family anyway’ indicating that upper-level education for women was a poor investment.

I fulfilled the prophecy of getting married and having a family but always longed to go to college. When I was in my early 40’s and my children were in high school I met with a college guidance counselor who recommended that I pursue a secretarial degree, an acceptable profession for a middle-aged woman. I had been out of school for over 20 years and it was intimidating to challenge him. Fortunately, I needed to take a remedial math class before I could take the entry-level math courses and I loved it. In fact, as I moved through college I found that I excelled in math and science courses. I became a little more forceful and determined and changed my major to Environmental Science in which I subsequently focused on studying estuaries and salt marshes and earned both Bachelors and Masters Degrees, finishing at the age of 48.

Now, as a female science professional I love to mentor both young women and men and nothing excites me more than to see them challenge themselves and excel. At Save The Bay, I work with a team of young, strong scientists (both male and female) and I am proud of the work that they are doing to bring the science of tidal marsh restoration ecology and knowledge of San Francisco Bay to over 2,000 5th – 12th grade students annually who attend our education programs.

For those and all other students out there, to my staff, and to anyone out there interested in pursuing math and science careers (or anything you are passionate about) for that matter, I have the following advice:

Whether you are male or female, young or old, you must diligently chase your dreams. You must never give up on challenging yourself and being open to pursuing new dreams or changing directions. Identify and surround yourself with people who can help you succeed and who can push and encourage you. You must be persistent, curious, willing to work very hard, and stubborn enough not to be deterred despite any challenges that come your way – and you must believe in yourself when others do not. The road will definitely not be easy but the adventure and satisfaction of following your passion will be rewarding.

Donna continues to share her passion with Save The Bay staff, volunteers, and students. Watch this video of Donna talking about her career with the Girl Scouts: