Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
FARALLON NWR: Celebrating 40 Years of Wilderness
California-Nevada Offices , June 28, 2014
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Viewing the islands
Viewing the islands - Photo Credit: Harry Mathias
Park Ranger Jose Garcia interprets the islands
Park Ranger Jose Garcia interprets the islands - Photo Credit: Anne Morkill
A humpback whale announces its presence
A humpback whale announces its presence - Photo Credit: Harry Mathias
A humpback whale announces its presence
A humpback whale announces its presence - Photo Credit: Harry Mathias
A humpback whale announces its presence
A humpback whale announces its presence - Photo Credit: Harry Mathias

By Carmen Minch

One of California’s smallest wildernesses just celebrated its 40th anniversary in a big way. Three special boat tours highlighting the Farallon Wilderness in Farallon National Wildlife Refuge included refuge staff and its partners - the Oceanic Society, San Francisco Whale Tours, and San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society. The partners offered discounted ticket rates on their boat tours while the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society chartered a boat specifically for the tour.

The north islands and West End Island of Farallon NWR were designated as wilderness by United States Congress in 1974, just 10 years after the enactment of the Wilderness Act. The designation added one more level of protection to the islands to ensure that they are left undisturbed and “untrammeled by man.” Farallon NWR is closed to the public except for a handful of researchers on Southeast Farallon Island who are tasked with monitoring seabirds and marine mammals. The Farallon Wilderness, with its delicate ecosystem, is almost never visited by anyone including researchers, other than to collect data that cannot be done in any other way.

This limited human presence most likely resulted in Farallon NWR boasting the largest nesting seabird colony in the contiguous United States with over 300,000 breeding birds of 13 species. Five species of pinnepeds numbering thousands of individuals use the islands to rest and give birth.

Those participating in the boat tours on June 26, July 11 and 12 were not disappointed. Refuge staff, Farallon researchers from Point Blue Conservation Science, naturalists and seabird specialists interpreted the biotic and abiotic features that made the Farallon Wilderness so attractive to wildlife. They viewed first-hand the thousands of Common Murres, Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, Western Gulls and Tufted Puffins that nearly covered the large islets of the North Farallones. Northern fur seals, California and Steller sea lions, and harbor seals were spotted on sandy beaches and rocky shores. Blue and Humpback whales made appearances on the ride out to the islands. The 141-acre wilderness was packed with wildlife.

Because of the refuge’s relative remoteness at 30 miles outside of the Golden Gate, these boat tours offered passengers unique insights into the management of wilderness and how wilderness benefits wildlife. The evidence was in the sounds, sights, and smells of the islands. It was a fitting tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and the 40th Anniversary of the Farallon Wilderness.

Carmen Minch is the outdoor recreation planner at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Contact Info: Carmen Minch, 510-792-0222 ext. 476, carmen_leong-minch@fws.gov
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