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Restoration efforts in San Francisco Bay
The Vanishing Bay

he San Francisco Bay estuary sustains over 500 species of fish and wildlife, and this does not even touch upon the thousands of plant and invertebrate species living there. Over 20 of these species are currently threatened with extinction.

San Francisco Bay is one of the greatest estuaries in the world, providing habitat for feeding, breeding, raising young, and resting during migrations for all of these species. The Bay Estuary is recognized as a site of international importance for more than a million shorebirds and over half the diving ducks migrating along the Pacific Flyway. Other species supported by the Bay ecosystem include harbor seals, Dungeness crab, juvenile steelhead, snowy egrets, the California Clapper Rail, and the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

With over seven million residents, the Bay Area is the U.S.’s fourth-largest metropolitan area. To make space for buildings, roads, rails, farming, grazing, and salt extraction, many of these pristine wetlands have been diked and filled in. However, the Bay remains the largest and most ecologically important estuary on the U.S. Pacific Coast.

Audubon's San Francisco Bay Restoration Program

Since 2000, Audubon has been working on protecting and restoring 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands in San Francisco Bay through a comprehensive program of land acquisition, ecological restoration, community outreach, and nature education.

The program, projected to last 20 years, is already well under way. Audubon recently took the lead in successfully negotiating the purchase of 16,500 acres from Cargill, Inc. as well as spearheading efforts to secure $100 million in public and private funding for its acquisition and restoration efforts. The acquisition sets the stage for the largest tidal wetlands restoration on the U.S. Pacific Coast. The scale of this program is unprecedented. This expansive project in the heart of a major urban setting is a model for communities across the country looking to restore natural resources in an urban environment.

Another huge piece of Bay restoration is happening in 2004. Audubon recently acquired a 631-acre tract of land called the Bahia Wetlands Property. Restoration of these tidal marshes is a top priority for the program.

Orvis Partners with Audubon

The Orvis Company, Inc., based in Manchester, Vermont, has partnered with Audubon for 2004 to help save this valuable ecosystem.

Orvis donates 5% of pre-tax profits to conservation each year. Using funds from Orvis’ 2004 matching grant campaign, Audubon hopes make major progress in the Bahia Wetlands this year.
Restoration strategies include removal of dikes and fill material, allowing the Bay’s tides to carry water, sediment, and native plant seeds onto the marsh. Native vegetation will also be replanted to help speed the process along.

Restoration of tidal marshes happens surprisingly fast. According to Audubon experts, it is possible for many of the natural systems to recover in just 12 months. Using the domino effect to their advantage, the oak woodlands adjacent to the wetlands will also benefit from these restoration efforts.

Next year, residents of San Francisco may be able to look upon the harbor seals basking in the sun in the Bahia Wetlands and know they have played a significant role in the recovery of the ecosystem.

Resources:  Special Thanks to Audubon California for providing innovation, detailed insight, and information on this project. Images by David Sanger, from San Francisco Bay: Portrait of an Estuary, by John Hart (2003, University of California Press).

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