California Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan Proposed
Combating Huge Threats Are Focus of Plan in SF Bay Area
February 10, 2010
Al Donner (916) 414-6566
Photo: Howard Shellhammer
With only 8 per cent of the San Francisco Bay’s original marshlands still viable, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing the second largest tidal marsh recovery effort ever attempted in the U.S. The draft recovery plan focuses on 17 species of imperiled birds, plants and animals. The recovery effort will be entirely voluntary, seeking to capitalize on the great affection of Bay Area residents for the Bay.
Release of the draft plan opens a 120-day public comment period, during which the Service will hold several public meetings and encourage all interested parties to contribute their thoughts and ideas for the plan.
The plan also covers smaller marshes along the California coast from Humboldt Bay to Moro Bay, but is expected to focus primarily on San Francisco Bay.
Six federally-protected species are the direct focus of the plan -- the California clapper rail, a shy shorebird; the salt marsh harvest mouse and four rare plants. By helping those species the plan also should improve conditions for 11 other imperiled species that do not have formal protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), including song sparrows, shrews and voles.
“Only eight per cent of the San Francisco Bay’s historic tidal marshes remain viable today,” explains Susan Moore, Field Supervisor in the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “Along much of the Bay the natural width of the tidal marshes has been squeezed in drastically, sometimes to just a few yards.
“The voluntary revitalization of our tidal marshes is a huge challenge that needs the support and efforts of many people and organizations. Fortunately, there is a great awareness and affection for the San Francisco Bay that can bring many people and groups together to help recover some of our tidal marshes.
“We look forward to working with the community in this recovery effort,” Moore emphasized.
Recovery plans are entirely voluntary, long-range strategies to help protected species regain their natural health, with the ultimate goal of enabling them to be removed from protected status. The draft plan lays out a 50-year timeline to achieve its goals. A wide range of actions are envisioned, including habitat acquisitions and protection, monitoring surveys and research, achieved with a broad public cooperation and coordination. Even overuse of the tidelands by people who enjoy the bay shore can have an adverse impact on tidal marsh species.
Habitat loss is the most obvious challenge, because so much tidal marsh has been lost or degraded. In some areas the remaining marsh is only a few yards wide and the potential for sea level rise threatens even that. Other threats include invasive plants and animals, such as non-native red foxes and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). Combating the harmful impacts of cordgrass is one example of how the plan should work.
For recovery the plan divides the California coast areas with similar tidal marsh characteristics into five zones: San Pablo Bay, Central/South San Francisco Bay, Suisun 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. Goals are proposed in each area.
The FWS-managed San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which already has undertaken major habitat programs around the Bay, will be a key participant in the recovery effort. Restoring South Bay salt ponds to diverse habitats will be an important part 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 needed recovery efforts.
To facilitate that effort the Service will hold public meetings in March to explain the plan and gain information from the public. That input will be crucial to completing the plan, then carrying it out successfully.
The full plan can be downloaded at http://www.fws.gov/sacramento/ . The Federal Register notice is available at the same site. More information can be obtained from lead biologist Valary Bloom, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 916-414-6600.