Federal Wildlife Plan Calls for Restoration of Redwood City Salt Ponds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration site nearby.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration sites nearby.

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a much-anticipated 50-year plan for the restoration of the Bay’s wetlands. A blueprint for the recovery of over a dozen threatened and endangered plant and animal species that depend on the Bay’s wetlands, the Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan includes recommendations for tens of thousands of acres of the Bay shoreline, saying that the protection and restoration of the Bay’s wetlands are critically needed for endangered species like the California Clapper Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse to have a chance at avoiding extinction.

The plan clearly states that restoring the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City and Newark would close critical gaps in the restoration of the South Bay shoreline.

This is consistent with the message from Bay scientists, Save The Bay, and the hundreds of organizations, cities, elected officials, and newspaper editorial boards who have formally opposed Cargill’s efforts to place thousands of houses on 1,400 acres of restorable salt ponds in Redwood City.

The Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan also calls for the restoration of a shoreline area immediately adjacent to the Newark salt ponds – a 550-acre section of diked baylands referred to as “Area 4.” Save The Bay has joined with a dozen other environmental groups to oppose the City of Newark’s proposal to fill these baylands with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses.

These strong recommendations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are another clear indication that the greatest value of the Redwood City salt ponds is what they can provide to the Bay if restored. Knowing that the Redwood City ponds provide habitat for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds, Cargill nonetheless has fought against any governmental effort that discusses the site as anything other than an ‘industrial moonscape.’

This is the same message that Cargill has sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its petition to make the Redwood City salt ponds “exempt” from the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws that protect the Bay from being filled.

The Fish and Wildlife Service took a stand by highlighting the importance of the Redwood City salt ponds to the Bay. Now we need your help to ensure the EPA and Army Corps don’t cave to Cargill on their attempts to be granted an “exemption” from the Clean Water Act. Help Save The Bay continue to make sure state and federal agencies protect the Bay from Cargill. Donate today!

Weekly Roundup November 1, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

Contra Costa Times 10/26/13
Court case, environmental fight continues over planned development in Newark’s Areas 3 and 4
A fight over the development of a swath of land in the southwestern part of town known as Areas 3 and 4 has been reignited as the city updates its plan for the future.
In one corner are city officials, who since 2006 have wanted to construct more than 1,000 homes and a golf course on more than 600 acres of land owned mostly by Newark Partners, a consortium of developers.
In the other corner are some residents and environmental groups who filed suit in 2010 to try to stop the development and have so far done so, although an expected court ruling could change that.
“It’s not a smart place for the city to be building on or sprawling into,” said Josh Sonnenfeld, of the environmental group, Save the Bay. “Most of the region has focused growth around existing transit and infrastructure, but there is no existing infrastructure out there.”
Read more>>

weekly roundup

San Francisco Chronicle 10/27/13
Otter Signals Lake Merritt Ecosystem Comeback
Greg Lewis had just finished his evening row on Oakland’s Lake Merritt when he saw a slick, squirmy, furry bundle hoist itself out of the water and onto the edge of the dock.
It was a river otter, the first one spotted in Lake Merritt in decades.
“I saw his head pop up and saw him pull himself on the dock,” Lewis, 53, of Berkeley, said of the surprise Oct. 6 encounter. “He looked at us, we looked at him for a bit.”
Lewis, who develops air pollution monitors, snapped a few shots, and like that, the animal plopped back into the water and paddled off.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 10/28/13
Report: Some Chemicals in SF Bay Near Levels of Concern
Pesticides, flame retardants and other chemicals used in homes and businesses have been found in San Francisco Bay at levels that could pose hazards to aquatic life if they go unchecked, according to a new report.
For now, none of the chemicals is present in concentrations alarming enough to be of “high concern,” meaning they are unlikely to cause significant harm to water quality and the bay’s inhabitants, according to the annual report from the Regional Monitoring Program, an environmental group that tracks contaminants in the bay.
Read more>>

North Bay Business Journal 10/28/13
Efforts to Reform CEQA Environmental Law Fizzle
Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law a much-scaled back version of a bill that was aimed at reforming the California Environmental Quality Act, eliciting disappointment from much of the business community across the North Bay.
Despite significant momentum from a number of interests across the state, comprehensive reform of CEQA — perhaps one of the most polarizing laws in the state — fizzled at the close of the last Legislative session, resulting in a much narrower bill that proponents of reform say fails to address systematic abuse and slowed economic development.
Read more>>

Oakland Tribune 10/25/13
White Pelicans Flock to Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge
Being the first wildlife refuge in the nation, the bird sanctuary at Lake Merritt has quite a history of visiting birds.
“Not only are we on a migratory path, but we also house injured and senior birds that can no longer fly with their pack,” says Stephanie Benavidez, the supervising naturalist of the Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge since 1974.
Two of their more famous injured birds were Hector and Helen, a pair of American white pelicans that had made Lake Merritt their home until they died at the ages of 27 and 29 years old, respectively. Hector died in 1985 and Helen in 1999.
Read more>>

Contra Costa Times 10/30/13
Fiery Newark Residents Sway Planning Commission Delay Vote on General Plan Environmental Report
A vote to certify the general plan’s final environmental impact report has been pushed back at least two weeks, after a fiery Planning Commission meeting where residents complained the city gave them just a day to review the document.
The draft report was made public Monday and posted on the city’s website, but some residents told the commission on Tuesday they could not access it because the large file kept freezing their computers.”The public’s ability to provide substantive comments during this public hearing are being thwarted because the documents under review were not provided in a timely fashion,” said Carin High, member of the environmental group Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge. “I’ve never encountered a situation before where the public is given only one day.”
Read more>>

Palo Alto Online 11/1/13
Saving the Baylands
Palo Alto Online The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve marshlands, home to the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail, have turned to fall colors of red and gold. Behind the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, yellowing native Pacific cord grass nods at the channel’s edge, and the succulent pickleweed, which tastes briny and tart, is crimson.
Last week, long-billed dowitchers and godwits pecked at mudflats exposed by the receding tide. The elusive clapper rail did not appear along the watery channel known as “rail alley.” But there were signs: Marks in the mud bank showed where the birds had scooted down to water’s edge from hollows made in the pickleweed. A lone feather clung to a nearby plant.
Read more>>

National Wildlife Refuge System 10/23/13
Seals Making a Comeback on the Farallon Islands
More than a century after fur traders killed them off, northern fur seals have staged an amazing recovery on the Farallon Islands. Starting with the 1996 birth of a fur seal pup on West End Island ¬− the first seal birth in the Farallons in more than 150 years − the northern fur seal population on Farallon National Wildlife Refuge has increased exponentially. Seals have re-colonized the islands, which offer prime habitat − remote, easily accessible by sea and lacking human presence.
Read more>>

Protecting Harbor Seals in San Francisco Bay

Pacific Harbor Seal Haul Out Sites in San Francisco Bay
A map showing Pacific harbor seal haul out sites in San Francisco Bay. Pupping may occur at any of these sites, though some locations may support only a few pups. Primary pupping sites are highlighted in red.

There is nothing cuter than a Pacific harbor seal pup.

And as it turns out, these adorable marine mammals can be heard crying “maaaa” right in our own backyard. From March to June, Pacific harbor seals pup at multiple sites along the shores of San Francisco Bay. But our lovable flippered neighbors are also highly sensitive to our presence in the Bay, and human activities both in the water and on land can have negative consequences for pupping seals.

According to National Park Service scientist Dr. Sarah Allen, Castro Rocks, Mowry Slough, and Newark Slough serve as the primary pupping sites in the Bay. Pupping in smaller numbers is also observed at other haul out locations, which include Redwood City’s Bair Island, home to an ambitious wetland restoration effort. (Click on the image above to see a map of harbor seal haul out and pupping sites in the Bay.) Mudflats, rocky intertidal zones, pocket sandy beaches, islands, and wetlands are some of the habitats used for pupping. Dr. Allen tells Save The Bay that if sufficiently deep water is located nearby and human disturbance is absent, future restored wetlands may become new pupping sites as well.

Just as we have the power to improve the condition of Bay wetlands for seals, human activity can also reduce the quality of pupping habitat. As Dr. Allen explained to Bay Nature in 2011, development can cause pupping site abandonment and contributes to the lower number of pups in the Bay compared to other coastal sites. The Marine Mammal Center, which cares for abandoned Pacific harbor seal pups, also notes that “harbor seal colonies in the Bay Area are vulnerable to human disturbance, climate change and human-produced pollutants.” The Center warns that seal moms may be frightened by humans, prompting them to desert pups or pupping sites.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act guidelines, a buffer equal to the length of one football field should be maintained to avoid disrupting these shy creatures. The National Park Service also advises that paddlers and people on land avoid alerting seals of their presence, move away if any behavioral disruption is observed, and refrain from trying to rescue seals. If a distressed seal is detected, contact the Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-SEAL.

In addition, we need to ensure that harbor seals and other Bay wildlife are not harmed by shoreline development. Of particular concern today is a proposed development in the South Bay city of Newark that would pave over wetlands and hundreds of acres of historic baylands in order to build an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses. The shoreline area targeted for development, referred to as “Area 4,” is located directly adjacent to Mowry Slough. Pollutants originating from this development, such as pesticides from the proposed golf course, could negatively impact downstream water quality, threatening wildlife.

Harbor seals’ sensitivity to disturbance, coupled with ongoing attempts to develop the Bay shoreline, underscores the importance of supporting Bay restoration and continuing the fight to preserve wildlife habitat. Learn more about Save The Bay’s wetland restoration programs, pollution prevention efforts, and opposition to the fill of Newark’s baylands.