The purpose of the San Francisco Bay Area Wetlands Ecosystem Goals Project (hereinafter referred to as the Goals Project or Project) is to establish a long-term vision for wetlands planning in the San Francisco Bay Area. This report describes the activities undertaken by the more than one hundred biologists and physical scientists involved in this effort, and it presents a variety of recommendations regarding wetlands protection, restoration, management, and research.
Shortly after the Goals Project began in June 1995, the interagency group directing the effort the Resource Managers Group (RMG) developed this statement of purpose:
The San Francisco Bay Area Wetlands Ecosystem Goals Project will use available scientific knowledge to identify the types, amounts, and distribution of wetlands and related habitats needed to sustain diverse and healthy communities of fish and wildlife resources in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Project will provide a biological basis to guide a regional wetlands planning process for public and private interests seeking to preserve, enhance, and restore the ecological integrity of wetland communities.
In keeping with this statement of purpose, the RMG has prepared the recommendations in this document with the understanding that they will form the foundation for many wetlands planning and improvement efforts throughout the Bay Area.
The geographic scope of the Goals Project encompasses the four primary subregions of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary downstream of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Figure 2.1).
These subregions are Suisun, San Pablo Bay (also referred to as North Bay), Central San Francisco Bay, and South San Francisco Bay (also referred to as South Bay). In this report, the estuarine waters in these four subregions are collectively referred to as the "Bay." Initially, the RMG considered developing goals for wetlands throughout the Bay's watersheds; however, early on it decided to focus on the baylands those lands that lie within the historical or current boundaries of the tides and the baylands ecosystem.
The Project focused on the baylands because they support many species of special concern, and may represent the best opportunities to restore or enhance large areas of wetlands in the near future. However, there are many other wetlands, especially seasonal wetlands and riparian areas, in other parts of the Bay Area that are biologically important and which could benefit from a similar kind of planning effort.
The term "wetlands" refers to areas covered with shallow and sometimes temporary or intermittent waters. Wetlands have many distinguishing characteristics the most notable of which are unique wetland soils, presence of standing water, and vegetation adapted to or tolerant of saturated soils. Perhaps the most comprehensive definition of wetlands was developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after years of review. The definition was first presented in a report entitled Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States (Cowardin et al., 1979):
Wetlands are lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water....Wetlands must have one or more of the following three attributes: (1) at least periodically, the land supports predominantly hydrophytes, (2) the substrate is predominantly undrained hydric soil, and (3) the substrate is nonsoil and is saturated with water or covered by shallow water at some time during the growing season of each year.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency use another definition of wetlands when regulating the discharge of dredged or fill material to waters of the United States under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. That definition reads:
The term "wetlands" means those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. (33 CFR 328.3(b); 1984)
For purposes of establishing habitat goals, Project participants have used the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service definition of wetlands; it is a more appropriate ecological definition and is more useful for planning purposes. Using this definition, most of the baylands are wetlands.
Regardless of exactly how they are defined, wetlands are considered by ecologists to be among the most biologically productive areas on earth, and they provide many biological and economic benefits. They filter contaminants from streams, protect shorelines from erosion, lessen the risk of flooding, help to recharge groundwater, and provide unique opportunities for recreation and education. In the crowded Bay Area, they also provide a benefit much needed by residents and appreciated by visitors open space.
The term baylands refers to the part of San Francisco Bay that lies between Mean Lower Low Water and the highest observed tide (Figure 2.1). It has been used to describe the lands near the Bay for at least a couple of decades. In this report, the baylands include those habitats from the lowest tidal flats to the uplands.
The baylands ecosystem was defined to encompass the baylands and the communities of organisms which rely on them for survival. The boundary of the baylands ecosystem reaches beyond the physical boundary of the baylands in order to accommodate the needs of the many fish and wildlife species that move back and forth between the baylands and adjacent areas. For example, several species of fish, such as Pacific herring and Chinook salmon, rely on the baylands but also utilize streams or deeper portions of the Bay at certain times in their life cycles. Pacific herring schools mobilize in deep channels and then move to the shoreline to lay their eggs in intertidal and shallow subtidal substrates. Chinook salmon spawn in the upper reaches of the estuary or in freshwater tributaries, use the deeper channels during migration, and forage in shallow subtidal habitats within the baylands. Dungeness crab forages and finds shelter in the shallow subtidal and intertidal habitats of the baylands and uses deep channels to migrate to the ocean. Likewise, many wildlife species move into and out of the baylands. Examples include the great blue heron and northern harrier, which forage in the baylands but may roost in upland habitats. Mammals that use the baylands at certain times or to meet particular breeding or feeding needs include the harbor seal and California sea lion.
For the purpose of establishing habitat goals, Project participants defined the baylands ecosystem to include adjacent bay waters and uplands, as well as tributary streams. Thus, this report includes recommendations for habitats both in and adjacent to the baylands. The habitats of the baylands ecosystem are described in Chapter 5.
What is an Ecosystem?
The ecosystem concept was developed by research scientists so that a patch of the earth, of any convenient size, could be studied to see how life worked there. The boundaries drawn around ecosystems are arbitrary and selected for convenience in studying each system. Thus, an ecosystem can be a planet, a tropical rain forest, an ocean, a fallen log, a puddle of water, or a culture of bacteria in a petri dish.
Generally, an ecosystem is a natural community of living organisms that interact with each other and with their physical environment in a way that perpetuates the community.
The need to establish a long-term vision for the Bay Area's wetlands arose initially during discussions among participants of the San Francisco Estuary Project. In 1993, these representatives from the environmental community, private sector, and government produced a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). The CCMP, signed by the Governor of California and the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recommended, among many actions, the preparation of a regional wetlands plan that includes habitat goals.
In 1994, the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), a non-profit organization established by the Estuary Project, began developing and gaining agency support for a process to establish regional wetlands goals. During this same time period, staff from the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service engaged in discussions aimed at improving consistency in addressing endangered species and wetlands issues, and ultimately developing a "shared vision" for wildlife within the estuary.
By early 1995, this group of agency biologists, the predecessor to the Project's RMG, had joined with SFEI and enlisted the help of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) to help organize and initiate a larger effort. The list of potential RMG members was expanded to include other state and federal resource agencies, and an Administrative Core Team (ACT) was formed to administer the Project, procure funding, and provide public outreach. Then, in June 1995, the Regional Water Board and the San Francisco Estuary Institute sponsored the first Regional Wetlands Ecosystem Goals Project Workshop, and initiated the process to establish wetlands goals.
Goals Project participants include representatives from local, state, and federal agencies, academia, and the private sector, and they are listed at the front of this document. Participants are organized into several groups, and each group has a unique role, described below. Figure 2.2 illustrates the relationship among the groups.
The Resource Managers Group (RMG), comprised of senior agency ecologists, biologists, and managers, oversees all technical aspects of the Project. They have met at least monthly over the three-year span of the Project and have directed workshops and focus team activities. The RMG has final responsibility regarding the content of the goals. Members of the RMG include representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, State Coastal Conservancy, State Department of Fish and Game, State Department of Water Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey were invited to participate on the RMG but were unable to commit staff.
Five focus teams of scientists with recognized expertise in populations of plants, fish, and wildlife made recommendations to the RMG regarding the needs of their target plant and animal groups. These focus teams include: Baylands Plants (Plants Focus Team); Estuarine Fishes and Macroinvertebrates (Fish Focus Team); Baylands Mammals, Amphibians, Reptiles, and Terrestrial Invertebrates (MARI Focus Team); Shorebirds and Waterfowl (Shorebirds and Waterfowl Focus Team); and Other Baylands Birds (Other Birds Focus Team). RMG members serve as the leaders of the focus teams, and are responsible for relaying information between the teams and the RMG.
The RMG recognized that the success of the Project would depend upon the participation of qualified experts, and therefore used considerable care in forming the teams. RMG members prepared a list of 110 potential focus team candidates and had it reviewed by representatives of selected environmental groups (Marin and Golden Gate Chapters of the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and Save San Francisco Bay Association), landowners (Bay Planning Coalition and Cargill Salt Company), and the San Francisco Bay Area Joint Venture. The focus team leaders drew from these lists of candidates to form their teams, and ultimately 65 team members were enlisted. The focus teams include a broad representation of scientists from local, state, and federal agencies, mosquito abatement districts, private consulting firms, universities, and other interests.
A Hydrogeomorphic Advisory Team (HAT) works with the focus teams to respond to questions and help assure that the goals reflect what is known about water, land, and infrastructure constraints on wetlands restoration. This team includes experienced hydrologists, geologists, and engineers from state and federal agencies, universities, and private consulting firms.
A Science Review Group (SRG) comprised of leading scientists with expertise in wetland ecosystems analysis, integrated resource planning, and conservation biology provides critical scientific peer review of the Project's process and products.
An Administrative Core Team (ACT) provides Project administration, helps procure funding, and provides public outreach. ACT members include representatives from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Estuary Institute, San Francisco Estuary Project, State Department of Fish and Game, State Resources Agency, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The San Francisco Estuary Institute developed the original process adapted by the RMG for the Goals Project and provides science coordination and technical support to the RMG and focus teams. One of SFEI's main roles was helping the Project participants to understand and visualize habitat distribution and use through time, and assisting them with mapping recommendations. To do this, SFEI compiled maps and other data requested by the focus teams in a computerized Geographic Information System (GIS) called the Bay Area EcoAtlas. The EcoAtlas represents the most detailed documentation of the historical and modern distribution of baylands habitats to date, and it will soon be available to the public. All of the maps and acreage estimates of past and present conditions shown in this report were produced by SFEI from the EcoAtlas. Appendix A contains additional information on the EcoAtlas, and it may be viewed on SFEI's website at http://www.sfei.org
To keep the public informed of the Project's progress, RMG members and staff of the Project and of SFEI made more than three dozen presentations to small groups in 1997. In addition, the RMG and focus teams presented ongoing work at two public workshops in July 1997.
Public input has also helped to improve the accuracy of the habitat maps used for the Project. On several occasions, SFEI invited the public to review and comment on draft versions of the maps, and this enabled SFEI to make a number of important corrections involving habitat designations and boundary locations in the EcoAtlas.
As part of the Project's public outreach program, this draft report will be presented to the public at four workshops in July 1998. The public will have an opportunity at those workshops to comment on the draft goals, and they will be encouraged to submit written comments. The RMG will consider all comments on the draft goals as it prepares its final goals report in the fall.
Funding for the Goals Project began in 1994 in preparation for the first RMG meeting. Most of the early funding was for background scientific work and the associated development of technical tools, including the Bay Area EcoAtlas. Funds also were provided for public outreach.
Many agencies helped pay for the technical tools, primarily the EcoAtlas, developed by SFEI during the course of the Project. These agencies and others have a long-term interest in the EcoAtlas for planning and management purposes. Several agencies also provided funds for other technical work, Project reports, and outreach materials. Without this generous support, the Goals Project would not have been possible.
The agencies that provided funding which directly or indirectly helped support the preparation of the habitat goals include CalFed, City of San Jose, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, Sausalito-Marin City Sanitation District, Shell Oil Spill Litigation Settlement Trustees, State Coastal Conservancy, State Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, State Resources Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others.
The Need for Baylands Ecosystem Goals
During public meetings held in July 1997, Project participants explained that goals were being prepared for the amounts of wetlands habitat needed to protect various species of fish and wildlife. Considerable time was spent listing and describing species, and discussing their habitat needs.
A concerned landowner posed the question, "Why should I be worried about wetlands what difference does it make to me if this mouse (or bird) becomes extinct?" It was apparent that this question captured the sentiment of a number of those present at the meeting, and it is deserving of a thoughtful response.
Clearly, an explanation of state and federal regulations and policy is not the answer. It is well known that there are many regulations and policies protecting wetlands, and there have been many, many projects undertaken in the Bay Area in recent years to enforce regulations and implement wetlands policies. What is being asked for, what has perhaps been lost sight of in society's fervor to take action in wetlands, is really: Why? What is the impact of wetlands loss on me as a human being, on my children, and their children? The answer to this question begins with another look at the ecosystem concept presented earlier in this chapter, and at another important concept, biodiversity.
The Goals Project aspires to promote a healthy wetlands ecosystem for the baylands because a healthy ecosystem provides optimal biodiversity. Described most simply, biodiversity is the diversity of life. More fully, it is the complete range of variety and variability within and among living organisms, and the ecological complexes in which they occur; it encompasses genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity.
Genetic diversity is the mix of different genes found in a population of a single species, and the pattern of variation found in different populations of the same species. Species diversity is the variety and abundance of organisms which inhabit a region. Ecosystem diversity includes the variety of habitats and associated biological communities that occur within a region, or the mosaic of patches found within a landscape. Maintaining biological diversity requires resiliency at all three of these levels and this occurs most readily in a healthy ecosystem.
So, a healthy wetlands ecosystem promotes biodiversity, but this does not answer the question of why this is important to us. The rest of the answer to this question requires consideration of both economics and human values.
Healthy ecosystems, in addition to providing homes for all living things, enrich and sustain human life. When we degrade an ecosystem, we lose diversity and many of the benefits the ecosystem provides. Some of these benefits are obvious, particularly those associated with recreational uses such as hunting, fishing, nature observation, and hiking in wildlands. Other benefits, sometimes referred to as ecological goods and services, are less apparent.
Ecological goods are the ecosystem products such as water, soil, and food that we draw upon to meet many of our material needs. The list of wild species that we exploit is long. Chinook salmon and redwood trees are examples of wild species that benefit human lives, providing food and building material. In addition, our domestic agricultural crops and animals and about half of our medicines were derived from wild plant species. For example, willows are the original source of aspirin. Maintaining diversity in wild populations of plants and animals enhances the ability of humans to cope in an ever-changing environment.
Ecological services are the ways that ecosystems work on our behalf. Although they may be less tangible than are ecological goods, these services are at least as important to our well being. Examples of ecological services include climate moderation, retention of flood waters and prevention of soil erosion, dilution and detoxification of contaminants, production of oxygen by plants, and regulation of the ozone layer by natural biological processes. Another example is the benefit provided by wild birds and other predators which eat insect pests that would otherwise damage our crops or transmit diseases to humans or other animals.
A healthy ecosystem promotes biodiversity which enhances the ability of the ecosystem to provide the ecological goods and services on which we rely. How we manage or otherwise interact with an ecosystem threatens or enhances its ability to provide goods and services. Inappropriate management may result in the degradation, loss, and fragmentation of important habitat and an ultimate deterioration of biodiversity.
Habitat degradation is caused by such factors as pollution, physical disturbance, and over-utilization of resources that reduce the functional capacity of the ecosystem or alter ecosystem processes. Habitat loss occurs when areas suitable for maintaining a species are eliminated or converted to another habitat type. As habitat area shrinks, the number of species present declines, and the remaining patches of habitat are fragmented.
Habitat fragmentation typically reduces the number of species in an area when habitat patches are too small to meet the minimum area requirement of a species. It also results in inhospitable areas between habitat patches that are often impassable barriers to some species or lethal to individuals that attempt to cross them.
A Delicate Balance
An ecosystem is an extremely complex yet delicate natural system about which scientists really know very little. We cannot foresee all of the implications of seemingly minor changes, such as the filling of a wetland. We can see that we might lose valuable open space and perhaps hunting or fishing opportunities, but who can know when such a minor action might result in the extirpation of a species of plant, or mouse, or bird? And who can know when the loss of a plant or other species might ultimately result in a climatic change or the loss of an important human food source or medicine?
The baylands provide some form of food, shelter, or other benefits to over 500 species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Because of our past and present land management practices, such as reclamation and development, we have upset the natural balance of the baylands ecosystem and have lost a good deal of open space and natural biodiversity.
As a result of the upset of the baylands ecosystem, there has been a dramatic reduction in the ecological benefits that the ecosystem provides, as exemplified by declines in the harvest of many important aquatic species such as Dungeness crab, Chinook salmon, and striped bass. To the extent that we can restore the baylands ecosystem and increase biodiversity throughout the region, we will enhance the quality of life for ourselves and for the future generations that reside here. Developing habitat goals for a healthy and diverse baylands ecosystem is an important step in this process.
The San Francisco Estuary Baylands Goals Site is housed at the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
The San Francisco Estuary Baylands Goals Site is mirrored at the California Environmental Resources Evaluation Center.
San Francisco Estuary Institute Website contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Franicisco Estuary Baylands Goals Website contact: email@example.com.
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