From Architecture to Access: Meet Nancy Fee, New Board Member

Wetlands at Bair Island

Mention the word “architecture” and Nancy Fee glows. She lifts her elbows. She extends her arms. She broadens her smile. Then, our new board member says something bound to linger with her listener, like: “the Bay Regional style? It’s particularly residential, making the boundary between interior and exterior more permeable.”

A self-described “design buff,” Nancy can’t help but gaze at a structure and consider what its features suggest of “builders and users.” Yet, this San Francisco native undoubtedly has the credentials to back up her conclusions. Nancy earned a PhD in Art History from Columbia University before teaching architectural history at several colleges and universities, including Mills College and UC Davis.

Having returned to San Francisco, Nancy now ponders a question most relevant to the place where she grew up: “one of the most interesting challenges we face is how to deal with the intersection of the built environment and the natural environment.”

For Nancy, this dynamic was on full display during the breach of San Pablo Bay wetlands. She found it truly captivating to watch a crew open up a dike, digging and digging until bay water came “gushing in.” In the same vein, Nancy remembers well when Crissy Field was opened up significantly to the public during her childhood. She recalls how excited she and her friends were at the time; they “would go down there and put our feet right in.”

Now, as Save The Bay’s newest board member, Nancy wants to ensure people of all backgrounds and from all parts of the Bay Area can relish the beauty of our Bay – up-close. Her vision is to reach people who “don’t really have access to it, can’t see it from where they are, don’t necessarily understand how their lives are so connected to it.” Nancy, after all, is a firm believer that small acts can spark major change.

Avocet in the wetlands. Photo by Hank Christensen

During her strolls in San Francisco, she sometimes finds herself “picking up pieces of soft plastic on the street.” She brings them to Recology or Trader Joe’s to ensure they don’t harm wildlife. Nancy says she can’t help but: “think about [them] ending up in the digestive tract of a bird or fish or a sea lion down on Pier 39.” She’s optimistic that with exposure to Save The Bay’s programs, communities around the region can develop the same drive to protect our awe-inspiring Bay, bit by bit.

Indeed, it’s why she puzzled over friends in New York expressing a mix of curiosity and bewilderment over her leaving Manhattan: “What is it about San Francisco?” “Nothing happens in San Francisco.” Nancy’s epiphany came on Treasure Island shortly after her return to the Bay Area – it was the bay. “I find the Bay grounding, uplifting. I breathe a little deeper when I’m near it. It makes me feel hopeful.” Now, she wants everyone who calls the Bay home to experience the same sensation.

Restoration projects bring birds back to SF Bay

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the bird population has doubled. Photo courtesy of Nasa.
The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the local bird population has doubled. With adequate funding, this project would restore 15,000 acres. Measure AA would fund critical restoration projects like this one. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The ambitious South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast, is already seeing some impressive results, according to biologists who have surveyed the area.

The populations of ducks and shorebirds in the area have doubled over 12 years, from 100,000 in 2002 to 200,000 in 2014, according to a report issued in October by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies.

“It shows that what’s been done so far appears to be working. It’s really great,” said Susan De La Cruz, a wildlife biologist with the USGS who did much of the research told the Mercury News.

The success of the California Coastal Conservancy’s South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is an example of how wetland restoration can improve habitat for wildlife such as birds, fish, seals, and sharks, in addition to reducing the risk of flooding due to sea level rise associated with climate change,” says Donna Ball, Habitat Restoration Director for Save The Bay.

Historically, diking off wetlands along the bay’s shore for production of salt was a major factor in losing much of the bay’s tidal marshland.  Starting in the 1850s, salt production became a major industry, covering some 16,500 acres, most of which was owned by Cargill Inc. In 2003, Cargill sold 15,000 acres to state and federal agencies and private foundations, which drew up plans to restore the salt ponds to a more natural condition.

Already the South Bay restoration project has reconnected about 3,000 acres of salt ponds to the bay with the goal of revitalizing them as tidal marshes.  When complete, the project will have restored 15,000 acres of former salt ponds to wetlands and other vital habitats.

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is scheduled to be completed over the next 50 years if funding is available. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot is designed to generate $500 million over the next 20 years to provide funds for this project and many others throughout the Bay Area.

All around San Francisco Bay, there are more than 30,000 acres awaiting restoration. Your YES vote for Measure AA will help provide the funding needed for many of these much-needed projects.

The High Efficiency of Avian Lungs

Photo by: Rick Lewis
This Great Blue Heron always has fresh air entering its lungs, regardless if it’s inhaling or exhaling, because the air is streamlined and stored in multiple air sacs. Photo by: Rick Lewis

Can you remember the last time you thought about your lungs?

For me, most days pass without giving a pause of consideration to them. That is, until I recently visited one of our restoration sites at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve and saw a murmuration of American Avocets smoothly gliding above the marsh. Their comfort and ease navigating the sky renewed my awe for our feathered friends’ coveted gift of flight. Beyond all of the physiological reasons I can’t make it on my own into the sky, just the idea of flying has me winded.

Birds have adapted to experience breath very differently than us. Like other living beings, they rely on good ole air to stay kicking. But what’s special about the avian species is a highly efficient ability to get the most out of each breath.

Ok, take a deep breath in. I’m about to get technical.

Let’s start with us. Human (mammalian) lungs are bidirectional. This means that the pathway for air to enter our lungs is the same pathway used to leave our lungs. Picture our lungs working like balloons that inflate and deflate.  In contrast, the avian species have unidirectional flow, made possible by separate entry and exit points to the lungs. Rather than a balloon, picture a bird’s lung as a windsock that has air continually flowing through in one direction.

Let’s take a Great Blue Heron for example. When the bird breathes in, the inhaled air passes down the throat just like it does for us, but right before it reaches the lungs, it splits. Some of the air enters the lung, where the oxygen is absorbed, and some of the air enters multiple adjacent cavities called air sacs.  These air sacs do not absorb the oxygen and function as storage tanks for the air. When the Great Blue Heron exhales, the old air in the lungs is released into different air sacs and eventually out through the beak and nostrils, and the fresh air stored in the first air sacs enters the lung. In this way, the Great Blue Heron always has fresh air entering its lungs, regardless if it’s inhaling or exhaling.

And here’s another twist, birds don’t have diaphragms.  So to push all this air around they rely on the simple physics of air pressure. The multiple air sacs (up to nine in some species!) exist to offer changes in air pressure, which moves air into the lungs at regulated frequencies that maximize oxygen absorption. Relative to their body mass, birds do not breathe as fast as we do.  However, this respiratory system allows birds to have consistent oxygen absorption.  It’s this unwavering air flow that contributes to their ability to sustain the high energy costs of flying.

Now breathe out. How do your lungs feel?

To learn more about avian respiratory systems check out this site.

San Francisco Bay is home to many bird species and offers habitat to migratory birds making their way along the west coast on the Pacific Flyway. Watch this video featuring the Birds of San Francisco Bay.

 

Guest Post | A Birder’s Perspective on the Bay

Alameda resident Rick Lewis has been a Bay Area birder and a wildlife photographer for more than 30 years. His gorgeous photos often grace Save The Bay’s calendars, email communications, and website. Rick is passionate about preserving bird habitat in the Bay Area, so he created and narrated the slideshow below  to convey the beauty of Bay Area birds. Through his photos, poetry, and this blog post, he hopes to remind Bay Area residents how fortunate we are to live in this region, and to inspire everyone to advocate for wetland restoration and habitat preservation–for future generations of people and birds to enjoy.

There are good birding spots five minutes away. That’s not exactly correct – if I simply open the front door I can watch towhees, black phoebes, warblers, sparrows, crows, and various raptors. Skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and gopher snakes sometimes visit. This isn’t the ‘country’, this is Alameda. From here I can smell low tide. It’s all about habitat around the bay.

Despite urbanization, San Francisco Bay is recognized as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network—a place of hemispheric importance that impacts the entire state and has global implications. Birds are an indicator species and reflect the overall health of the region. The numerous accounts of falling bird populations being the result of human activity is an alarm all should heed. We are not separate from them; there is no separation. Connectivity binds us all and what we do here will certainly have ramifications felt far and wide. As Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Many years ago I was photographing a pair of young Brown Pelicans at the Berkeley Aquatic Park. They were quite chummy with each other and were enthusiastic subjects. Time and again they would walk towards me to investigate the camera. I would back up and they would rub bills inquisitively. This intimate encounter sealed my fate as a life-long birder and left me charmed, thrilled, and honored.

We almost lost pelicans, but they came back from the brink of extinction once we banned DDT. The story of the pelican indicates our positive influence when we decide to act. And also the resilience of nature. There are dozens of other stories like this out on the marsh. Take note of the wintering waterfowl and shorebirds near the base of the bay bridge as you approach from Oakland. The birds are content to feed and loaf as they ignore the traffic and surrounding activity. It is imperative that we preserve and restore what little habitat these birds have amidst the bridges and the cars. We just need to act now.

I believe that our very existence depends on the ability to experience nature close to our homes. Photographing birds along the shoreline is what I thrive on. I hope everyone who lives here will find something that inspires them in the wildness just beyond their doorstep. I am happy to share my inspiration through my slideshow and poetry. Please take a moment now to tell the Bay Restoration Authority to put a measure on the ballot to fund Bay restoration.

I have ever heard,
and listened to, the song
of birds.
Be it day, or
eve, or morn,
or the darkness we perceive
The song prevails, loud
And clear, breaking through
the mist of perversity
A beacon, a light,
a thing of utmost beauty
Dawn has come
and with it
life, illumination
understanding
and a joy too
sublime to calculate
and that is its
essence

Thank you for all you do for the Bay.
Rick Lewis

 

Meet Local Hero Florence LaRiviere

Every section of the Bay shoreline has a story….A story of what could have been, a story of future potential, a story of conflict and inspiration. Behind many of these stories is a powerful 90-year-old Palo Alto woman named Florence LaRiviere.

California, Palo Alto, Florence and Phillip LaRiviere, Wildlife Refuge advocates

Florence and her late husband Philip first fell in love with the marshland as a young, married couple. They’d take a picnic down to the water’s edge to near the old Palo Alto Marina with their children to catch a breeze on hot days. They’d watch the tides wave in and out of the cord grass, and feel the gentle breezes. It was their special place, but it was in danger of being paved over and lost forever. Though they weren’t activists at the time, they would spend the next half-decade of their lives fighting for such places.

Some of the protected places we take for granted wouldn’t exist without Florence. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one such place. The refuge covers 25,902 acres and spans a large part of the South Bay from Redwood City to Fremont. It’s the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country in an area that could easily have become an ugly mass of parking lots, convention centers, and tract housing.
After over 50 years of working on behalf of San Francisco Bay, what advice would Florence give to ordinary citizens who want to make a difference in their communities?

“You need to know what goes on in City Hall. Everyone thinks decisions are made in Washington or California so we elect people to local councils and boards who have no sensitivity to the land. We don’t know how important their votes will be to us and the people who live here after us.”

Take a look at what Florence and fellow citizens have accomplished by acting locally:

• The old Palo Alto Marina and its destructive dredge were shut down, and now that area is the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which covers approximately 1,940 acres in both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Hundreds of species of wildlife live there and it’s considered to be one of the best bird-watching sites on the West Coast.

• LaRiviere marsh near the Don Edwards Visitor Center in Fremont was once a series of crusty salt ponds. Today it’s lush with native marsh plants and home to endangered species like the California clapper rail and hundreds of other migratory birds.

• As the leader of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Florence was instrumental in expanding the Refuge boundaries to include Bair Island, the Redwood City salt ponds, and the remaining wetlands into the refuge. The recent restoration and reopening of Bair Island to public access is an inspiring example of what can be accomplished when people work together.

There’s still much more to accomplish. For the past two decades, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge has been fighting to defeat the City of Newark’s plan to pave over a large section of restorable baylands in the South Bay for an 18-hole golf course and luxury houses. This area is within the expansion boundaries of the Refuge, home to crucial wildlife habitat, and adjacent to a harbor seal pupping site at Mowry Slough. You can help defeat the plan by signing onto our petition Florence asking the Water Board to deny permits for this development.

As Florence says, “If you see something that upsets you, you have to do something about it.”