Saving The Bay through Meaningful Partnerships: Meet Bay Hero John Bourgeois

John exploring Alviso Slough

“Fishing was a part of my childhood. We’d hop on our bikes and go fishing for hours. It was a nice way to spend a weekend day, and there were always lots of bayous to explore.”

Even as a little kid growing up in southern Louisiana, John Bourgeois knew he wanted to do more than just marvel at wetlands. He wanted to protect them.

“This sounds weird, but I feel deeply wronged by what we’ve done to the environment… and it’s always informed how I interact with the natural world.”

Decades before he took the helm as Executive Project Manager for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, John set his mind on studying biology and ecology in his home state. To him, Louisiana faces “no bigger environmental issue than wetland loss.”

Initially, John hoped to solve the state’s challenges as an environmental lawyer. Spending one college summer as an intern in Washington, D.C. was all it took to change his mind.

“Seeing how the sausage is made in D.C…. I decided I would rather go into the technical side than the legal side.” John sensed the path toward significant wetland restoration would be “very long and political” if he spent his career in Washington. He also found it disheartening to watch “really bright people, a year or two out of law school, doing pretty menial work in congressional offices.”

Bedwell Bayfront Park, one of John’s favorite SF Bay views (photo credit: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle)

So, John shifted gears to research, eager to build up wetlands on a faster scale than policy work allowed. He carried out studies in the “mangrove swamps of Micronesia” among other locations, gaining more and more experience in coastal restoration.

Ultimately, in joining the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, John says he landed the “perfect combo of what I thought I’d be doing — it unites science, policy, and has the applied aspect all in one.”

In many respects, the role of Executive Project Manager puts John at the center of a spider web. On a daily basis, he communicates with “regulatory agencies, local municipalities, utilities, research institutions” and a range of other groups.

Gaining support for a project with multiple phases and mighty goals presents a variety of challenges. But John says the secret to forming meaningful partnerships is quite simple: you just have to be honest. “We’re on a long-term path to success, but you might have to admit to some short-term failures, and it’s really appreciated, that transparency.”

John says he’s found it truly rewarding to collaborate with Save The Bay throughout the years. “I engage with Save The Bay on multiple levels – including working closely with [Habitat Restoration Director] Donna Ball addressing on-the-ground restoration efforts or salt pond sites.”

John alongside Donna Ball, Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Director

He’s also far from disappointed at the pace – or impact — of Save The Bay’s policy efforts. “Save The Bay’s work is not just an important part of our project, but so critical to the Bay Area restoration community.” John says Save The Bay’s decade-long push for Measure AA proved “fundamental” for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project to move forward.

John is grateful for this, as he enjoys the chance to share its story with diverse crowds. “Throughout high school and into college, I was active in debate and acting. I think both have helped me tell a story, tailor my message to difference audiences so it sticks.”

Now, with help from long-time partners like Save The Bay, John gets to watch his favorite kind of wetland story unfold: “the bulldozers moving dirt, local species coming back, Bay waters flowing again, habitat establishing — I’m the most excited seeing these on-the-ground results.”

 

**Save The Bay will honor John Bourgeois as one of a select group of Bay Heroes during our third annual Bay Day celebration – October 6, 2018. Learn how you can dig in, vote, or donate like a true Bay Hero: bayday.org

Behind the Scenes of Bay Day: Looking Back and Gearing Up!

As a Marin County native, I can’t help but appreciate rolling hills, towering redwoods, and vibrant wildflowers. I grew up hiking Mount Tamalpais, and I’ve always loved reaching its peak and looking out at San Francisco Bay.

With these memories in mind, I started a full-time job at Save The Bay last summer after graduating college with an Environmental Studies degree. I was excited to find out that Save The Bay had created an official, region-wide holiday dedicated to celebrating San Francisco Bay, its people and wildlife. I was even more thrilled to learn that I would be heavily involved in planning… Bay Day!

As the weeks flew by, I found it rewarding to translate my college coursework into on-the-ground advocacy for SF Bay. I reached out to local businesses and organizations to spread the word about Bay Day. I packed boxes, loaded trucks, and organized materials to ensure our Bay-saving team was ready to go for the big day.

All that work paid off when October rolled around. On Bay Day 2017, I was so inspired to watch families learn together about the issues affecting our Bay. I was and still am proud that our dedicated staff, volunteers, community partners, and sponsors hosted more than 70 activities across nine Bay Area counties.

This Bay Day, we’re inspiring the Bay Hero in everyone and will recognize Bay Heroes who protect our Bay in extraordinary ways. We will also encourage Bay Area residents to register to VOTE to make their voice heard at the ballot box this November. And, it wouldn’t be Bay Day without an opportunity to DIG IN at one of our restoration events.

Check out our full events calendar and mark your calendars for Saturday, October 6. I hope you will join us in celebrating our beautiful Bay!

Solstice on the Shoreline

From the ancient Egyptians to the Ohlone living here in the Bay Area, many cultures experience winter as a powerful time of ritual, reflection, and renewal. The season officially begins Thursday, December 21st – with a solstice! The term translates to “sun stands still,” as the sun appears to pause in its incremental journey across the sky.
All smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Our dedicated volunteer group was all smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Save The Bay decided to mark this changing of the seasons by planting seedlings with some of our most dedicated volunteers and donors. Through their labor and their generosity, this diverse community had already given richly to support our programs. But on last Saturday’s Solstice on the Shoreline event, they dug right into soil to help out even more. Former board members joined avid gardeners and corporate partners to put on gloves, pick up trowels, and protect our Bay.

 

Along the way, Donna Ball and Kenneth Rangel of our Restoration team explained how our staff cleans seeds and sanitizes soil using somewhat simple tools. They made clear these tasks can be both intricate and time-consuming without advanced technology. However, as we build the support necessary to cover this equipment, Save The Bay staffers remain plenty resourceful in their push to create habitat. 
 
Meanwhile, high winds and incredibly hard ground never phased our passionate participants last weekend. Our restoration staff used an auger – a drill bit that can create holes in the ground – to start each of our planting spots. Then, our lively group got to work (sometimes wielding pickaxes!). In the end, we carved a warm bed to lay the young seedlings.
 
Building community to share Save The Bay’s story is a key part of my role as Events & Outreach Manager. I’m thrilled that the events I design and host can genuinely boost the health of San Francisco Bay. Witnessing that “A-ha” moment on a volunteer’s face as they begin to understand their own role in protecting our Bay is incredibly rewarding. After all, my own positive experiences as a student and educator are a major source of inspiration as I work to connect – and expand – Save The Bay’s community.
 
Save The Bay is a resource for learning, scientific exploration, rejuvenation, and above all, making memories.  With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I encourage you to take a moment to breathe in the Bay air, take a calming walk along its shores and rejuvenate your soul.  We are ready to start building a year’s worth of amazing events and gatherings for 2018. I look forward to seeing you at Blue, our Bay Brunch Cruise on Earth Day (April 22, 2018), and Bay Day, our region-wide celebration for San Francisco Bay, on October 6, 2018.

 

You and your family can also join one of our public programs for free throughout the year. Save The Bay relies on thousands of volunteers annually to make progress on our many wetland restoration projects. Check our calendar often as spaces fill quickly. We can also create dedicated private restoration events for your group or company. Contact Jack Wolfink at jwolflink@savesfbay.org to learn more.

 

State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference 2017

The 2017 State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference, held recently in Oakland, gave scientists, land managers, policy makers, community leaders, as well as writers and artists from across the Bay-Delta region an opportunity to connect with one another, and to build connections between their various fields. Throughout the conference, attendees were welcomed to “get out of their silos,” and explore the interrelatedness of their fields. The conference also provided a venue to look back at the past 20 years of tidal marsh restoration; to celebrate successes, evaluate where we fell short, and anticipate future challenges and opportunities for restoring San Francisco Bay.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This years State of the Estuary coincided with a number of milestones for many tidal marsh restoration projects in the Bay Area. Michelle Orr of ESA and Eric Joliffe of USACE presented on their decades long monitoring of the Sonoma Baylands Restoration project, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Initiated in 1996, the Sonoma Baylands constitutes 300 acres of deeply subsided agricultural baylands, and is one of the first tidal marsh restoration projects in the Bay Area to utilize beneficial reuse of dredged material to help bring the baylands up to marsh plane to re-establish pickleweed, the dominant marsh plant in our area. In 2014, the project finally met their success criteria of 65% native plant cover, mostly due to the successful establishment of native pickleweed and cordgrass. The project is already providing value for the endangered species that call San Francisco Bay home. In 2016, scientists detected 19 Ridgeways Rails utilizing the newly formed marshes of Sonoma Baylands, showing that this endangered species has the capacity to recover so long as we are able to restore their habitat.

Another project that has reached an important milestone is the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. The largest tidal restoration project on the West Coast, this ambitious project aims to restore over 15,000 acres of former industrial salt ponds in the South Bay back to historic tidal wetlands. The project recently celebrated the end of Phase 1 of the project, which aimed to restore 10% of the project area to tidal wetlands while experimenting with novel restoration and management practices.

Since the first levees were breached in 2006, scientists have found that a number of wildlife species, such as Salt Marsh Harvest Mice, Ridgeways Rails, and Harbor Seals have greatly benefited from the increased availability of marsh habitat. In addition, the number of migratory waterbirds visiting these areas has doubled between 2002 and 2014! They are also finding that these salt ponds are returning to tidal marshes at a faster than anticipated rate, even though the amount of suspended sediment in the South Bay has declined in recent years. This sediment is vitally important to marsh growth, as the build up of mud over time allows marsh plants to establish in newly restored areas. These lessons learned will be invaluable as the project advances to Phase 2, where work to restore tidal marsh will accelerate to cover 50% of the project area.

Challenges Ahead

While celebrating the successes of the past, many speakers also brought up the challenges that our tidal wetlands will face in the future. Accelerating sea level rise, decreased sediment entering into the bay, and changing levels of salinity will all impact the health of the bay and jeopardize our capacity to successfully restore 100,000 acres of tidal marshes as necessitated in the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals.

The Delta and our local creeks have historically supplied the Bay with much needed sediment to replenish our marshes with changing sea levels. This supply of sediment has dwindled in the past century as water policy shifted towards the large scale damming of upstream rivers, trapping sediment upstream and starving the Bay of much needed mud and clay. Scientists estimate that without changes in how we manage this valuable but often overlooked resource, our baylands just won’t be able to keep up with sea level rise.

Although our marshes have been resilient to sea level rise historically, the rate of sea level rise is expected to accelerate in the coming decades: by 2100, scientists predict that the worlds oceans will rise by 3.5 feet! Almost all of our highways, ports, and airports will need to be upgraded to adapt to this drastic rise in sea level.

Sea level rise in particular has the potential to disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. Many Bay Area communities, from West Oakland and Richmond, to East Palo Alto, are situated close to the shoreline and are most at risk to displacement and gentrification due to sea level rise. Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth spoke for the need to involve these fenceline communities in every step of the wetland restoration process: from leading the design process, to employing members of the community to implement these projects. Equity for communities of color needs to be the foundation of all of our work.

Working Together

A major theme of this years conference was partnerships. Without the expertise and collaboration of multiple partners, the projects that we need to complete in order to protect our wetlands could never get off the ground. One such project is the Oro Loma Sanitary District Experimental Horizontal Levee, an innovative, multi-partner project that aims to protect our bayside infrastructure from the threat of rising seas.

Unlike a conventional, steeply sloped levee, a horizontal levee is built with a gentle slope and planted with native vegetation, giving marshes space to migrate upward and escape the rising seas. These levees are designed to protect coastal communities and bayside infrastructure from storm surges by absorbing floodwaters. They also have the added benefit of providing wildlife habitat, especially in urbanized areas where marshes lack the space to migrate without running into infrastructure such as roads and highways. The Oro Loma project will protect the aging Oro Loma wastewater treatment and purification plant from extreme storms, provide wildlife habitat and provide a model for adapting critical infrastructure to sea level rise. In addition, scientists are also studying how this project will reduce harmful bacteria, excess nutrients, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals from entering into the Bay!

The Oro Loma project was one of six groundbreaking projects from across the Bay and Delta to be awarded the 2017 Outstanding Environmental Project Award. This award was granted to Save The Bay along with our partners at the Oro Loma Sanitary District, UC Berkeley, Environmental Science Associates, Coastal Ecologist Peter Baye, The San Francisco Estuary Partnership and The Bay Institute. We are incredibly proud of the work our staff and partners have done on this forward-thinking project.

Protecting San Francisco Bay from the twin threats of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise are daunting, existential challenges. The path towards a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is murky, uncertain, and full of challenges. With so many different agencies, organizations, scientists, planners, economists, and policymakers gathered together united in their mission to protect our estuary, that path forward is becoming more and more clear.

 

Wetland Restoration is working. Here’s how.

From our friends at San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, these videos show how wetland restoration is working throughout the Bay Area. 

Check out the videos and take action to support wetland restoration projects near you.

Wetland Restoration is Working, Video Short # 1 – Heron’s Head Park

Wetland Restoration is Working, Video Short # 2 – San Pablo Bay