The Fight to Reclaim Bay Marshlands

Ecologists are finding vindication in a new plan

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Joe Rosato Jr.
    Mendel Stewart, banager of the San Francisco National Wildlife Refuge, holds a map showing the Bay and its filled-in tidal lands.

    For an 86-year-old woman, Florence LaRiviere has an awful lot of fight in her. Clutching a white cane for impaired vision, she stepped gingerly across the familiar tidelands of the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge near the East Bay city of Newark.

    “You see those birds?” she asked. “It’s a little world all its own.”

    All around her, rambling thickets of native grass sparred with tiny ponds, as a flock of snowy egrets basked nearby.

    LaRiviere has been battling to save the Bay Area’s diminishing tidal marshes for more than 40 years. The destruction of more than 50,000 acres of San Francisco Bay's wetland dates back to the late 1800s when tidal lands were filled in, developed, or turned into salt evaporation ponds for the commercial salt industry.

    “If you look out here you can see the buildings in the distance,’ said LaRiviere, pointing to a smattering of warehouses on the other side of nearby Highway 84. “All this would be building."

    It used to be LaRiviere was fighting her lonely environmental battle to save the wetlands against the tides. But these days, the federal government is working to restore tidal marshlands all across the Bay Area.

    Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its long-awaited 50-year plan to restore thousands of acres of wetlands from Humboldt to the Central Coast.

    “We’ve actually started some of those restoration projects, “ said Mendel Stewart, manager of the San Francisco National Wildlife Refuge. “We’re moving away from an age of destruction and into an age of restoration.”

    The plan released today details a 50-year course of action to restore and preserve wetlands, and to save endangered species like the clapper rail, salt marsh harvest mouse and the California sea blite.

    It encourages a voluntary plan of action where the federal and state governments would buy-up tidal habitats, remove non-native plants, demolish old levees and restore marshlands.

    “There’s no other recovery plan that deals with such an urbanized area,” said biologist Valary Bloom, who helped author the report. “We’re really dealing with some unique threats here.”

    Some recent government documents estimate 50,000 acres of San Francisco Bay wetlands could be restored. Today, only eight percent of the original bay marshland remains.

    But the restoration won’t be cheap – the plan estimates it will cost $1.3 billion dollars to complete all the work over the next 50 years.

    LaRiviere said the plan was encouraging, and will provide the government with a blueprint to save and restore some of the Bay Area’s greatest treasures.

    “I want the generations that come after us to know the earth we have known,” she said.