Largest West Coast Tidal Marsh Restoration Effort Leaps Ahead
Plan Focuses on SF Bay Area Restoration Challenges
November 14, 2013
Sarah Swenty, Sarah_Swenty@fws.gov, (530) 665-3310
Sacramento, Calif – With only eight percent of the San Francisco Bay’s original marshlands remaining, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has unveiled a plan for the second largest tidal marsh recovery effort ever attempted in the U.S. The recovery plan focuses on 17 species of imperiled birds, plants and animals. The effort will be entirely voluntary, seeking to capitalize on the great affection of Bay Area residents for the Bay. The plan covers smaller marshes along the California coast from Humboldt Bay to Morro Bay, but its primary focus is on San Francisco Bay.
Six federally-protected species are the direct focus of the plan -- the California clapper rail, the salt marsh harvest mouse and four rare plants- Suisun thistle, soft bird’s beak, California sea-blite, and the northern population of salt marsh bird’s beak. By restoring habitat for these species, the plan is expected to benefit 11 other imperiled species that do not have formal protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), including several rare small mammals and secretive marsh birds, as well as two rare marsh plants.
The tidal marsh surrounding San Francisco Bay has faced tremendous challenges since the California Gold Rush era. In some areas the remaining marsh is only a few yards wide and the potential for sea level rise threatens even that.
"We can meet the huge challenges of restoring our tidal habitats thanks to the interest and support of many concerned individuals and organizations throughout the Bay Area,” said Jennifer M. Norris, Field Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' Sacramento Field Office. “The species that depend on the San Francisco Bay, are lucky that so many people and groups are dedicated to the health of this ecosystem; It is their deep affection for this place that will carry this plan forward and help recover our tidal marshes."
"We look forward to working with the community during this recovery effort," she added.
Recovery plans are entirely voluntary, short and long-range strategies to help protected species regain their natural population levels, with the ultimate goal of removal from protected status. The recovery plan lays out a 50-year timeline to achieve its goals. A wide range of actions are envisioned, including habitat protection and management, monitoring surveys, and research, all achieved with a mind to broad public cooperation and coordination.
Habitat loss is the most obvious challenge, because so much tidal marsh has been lost or degraded. Other threats include invasive plants and animals, such as non-native red foxes). Even overuse of the tidelands by people who enjoy the shores of the Bay can have an adverse impact on tidal marsh species. The recovery plan seeks to balance the needs of the people with the needs of the species and uses the best available science to inform the process.
For recovery purposes, the plan divides the California coast areas with similar tidal marsh characteristics into five zones: Suisun Bay, San Pablo Bay, Central/South San Francisco Bay, Central Coast and Morro Bay. It lays out broad goals of developing self-sustaining wild populations of the species, reducing or eliminating threats to them, and restoring a healthy tidal marsh ecosystem. Strategies to achieve recovery are laid out on a regional basis.
The FWS-managed San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which already has undertaken major habitat programs around the Bay, will be a key participant in the recovery effort. Restoring former South Bay salt ponds to diverse habitats will be an important component of the effort.
Similar to a 2007 recovery plan for the Western snowy plover that lives on California beaches, the tidal marsh plan expects to rely heavily on large and diverse numbers of people to carry out the necessary recovery strategies.
To facilitate that effort, the Service will develop regional working groups comprised of various stakeholders to carry out the actions required for recovery.
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