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December 16, 2009 > Help restore salt ponds to wetlands

Help restore salt ponds to wetlands

By Meenu Gupta

Driving over the Dumbarton Bridge and the South Bay shoreline, the salt ponds of the area are clearly visible. These manmade salt ponds were created to harvest salt occurring naturally in the Bay. Material from the Bay floor is dredged up to build the levees and create the salt ponds.

The South Bay had tens of thousands of acres of tidal salt marsh around its edges 150 years ago. Over time, they were converted to salt ponds or developed for other human uses. Today, we have lost 85-90% of the Bay's tidal marshes. A project to restore or bring back the historic natural landscape to the Bay is underway. Restoring and enhancing a range of wetlands habitats where salt ponds exist today, can provide habitat for a greater variety of San Francisco Bay wildlife, including endangered species that rely on salt marshes. The project will also open up new public access and recreation opportunities. For several generations, South Bay residents have had very limited access to their part of the Bay.

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is a 50-year wetlands restoration project along the shores of the South Bay. It is the largest wetlands restoration project that has ever taken place on the West Coast. "The project is currently in the middle of completing Phase One actions which include enhancing habitat at Pond SF2 in Ravenswood, studying marsh restoration at the Island Ponds in Alviso, and enhancing habitat and creating new public access features up in Eden Landing, Hayward," said Park Ranger, Interpretive Specialist, Jennifer Heroux. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and CA Dept of Fish and Game with the help of the CA Coastal Conservancy are managing the project, but dozens of other partners, including local governments, regulatory agencies, area businesses and NGOs, are participating in the Project.

The initial stewardship is already reaping the rewards of the first changes. Birds are flocking to the ponds, public access trails are being prepared, and work continues to maintain levees for flood protection. This project will improve the lives of all the communities of the South Bay: animal, plant, and human. As the project continues the restoration work, The Fish & Wildlife Service is again offering public programs about the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. "There will be a short .5-mile hike if the weather permits," said Heroux. Get involved. Learn about the project by attending a public program or join one of the project's public working groups to assist with the planning and management of the project. "This spring we are starting our project docent program again. If someone would like to help spread the word about this incredible project while gaining new presentation skills, they should contact us to learn more. We are currently recruiting volunteer docents," she said.

The public is also invited to participate in the three regional working groups- Eden Landing, Alviso, and Ravenswood. The Working Groups help guide the first phase of restoration at each of the salt pond complexes. Each Working Group meets two to three times per year. If you are interested in participating in one or more of the Working Groups, please contact Anna Schneider, California Coastal Conservancy at (510) 286-0325, or write to aschneider@scc.ca.gov.

"We are excited to be building new public access features throughout project sites including an important Bay Trail connector trail near Moffet Field, wildlife observation platforms and a trail at Pond SF2, and a new trail to the Oliver Salt Works in the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, Hayward," said Heroux. "These are new opportunities for Bay-area residents to explore their Bay. At the same time we will be restoring and enhancing thousands of acres for wildlife including several threatened and endangered species. Two of which, the salt marsh harvest mouse and the California Clapper Rail, are endemic to the Bay. They are found nowhere else on earth."

The benefits to the South Bay from the future restored marshes are innumerable. Salt marshes can help with ground water recharge, improved water quality, provide nurseries for many fish and shellfish species, and provide a buffer from flood waters. For more information visit www.southbayrestoration.org and click Project Description.

Saturday, December 19
Salt Pond 101: An Introduction to the Project
11a.m. - 12 p.m.
Learn about local wetlands restoration efforts underway.
Environmental Education Center
1751 Grand Blvd., Alviso
(408) 262-5513
www.southbayrestoration.org

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