Bringing Back the Baylands

By John Flicker
President, National Audubon Society

In 1847, just before the California Gold Rush, San Francisco had 450 people and San Francisco Bay had 329,000 acres of wetlands. Now, some 150 years later, the Bay Area has 7 million people--and only 93,000 acres of wetlands. The National Audubon Society has decided that that's not good enough, and we've launched a bold new campaign to buy and restore some 100,000 acres of land around the bay. Within 20 years we expect to be able to restore half of this estuary's lost tidal marshes, mudflats, seasonal wetlands, and riparian habitat. San Francisco Bay is one of the great estuaries of the world. Its wetlands are its kidneys, filtering toxic pollution and excess nutrient runoff that would otherwise destroy this fragile nursery for fish and wildlife. The tidal plants of the estuary help control erosion and prevent floods.

The benefits of re-creating so much wetland habitat are enormous. The restored bay will keep one to two dozen animals and plants off the endangered-species list. It could lead to the recovery of 20 species that are currently on the list, including the California least tern, the salt marsh harvest mouse, the Suisun thistle, the delta smelt, the San Francisco garter snake, and the California clapper rail. Humans will benefit as well, and not just from improved flood control and filtration. The restoration will create 150 square miles of attractive open space--for swimming, fishing, wild-life watching, and contemplation--in the heart of a major urban area. 

This will be a monumental effort, with a price tag of $2 billion or more. The baylands we want to restore include thousands of acres of wetlands that were diked for commercial salt production; two decommissioned military bases, Hamilton and Alameda; and 34 acres of former marshland in Candlestick State Park. 

The time to act is now. First, the booming local economy has put the area under pressure as never before. Land that isn't protected now will soon be developed. Second, there is an astonishing amount of consensus about what needs to be done. Our road map is the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals report, published last year by a group of 100 scientists, with the help of dozens of agencies and organizations. Third, the political climate is right. The same economic growth that threatens this land has generated the wealth to save it. The local community is sympathetic to our goals. The state of California has passed $4 billion in conservation bonds that can be tapped for the project. The U.S. Congress is considering making restoration money available to states through the Conservation and Reinvestment Act.

The San Francisco metropolitan area is defined by a single feature: San Francisco Bay. It's time to restore that bay--for fish, for wildlife, and for the millions of people who live there. To learn more, call our Baylands campaign office at 415-388-2055.

© 2000  NASI

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