Years in the making and the product of thousands of hours of work and input from hundreds of Bay experts from the scientific community, non-profits, governmental agencies, and academic institutions, two important new plans were released this fall, identifying the critical action steps that our region needs to take to maintain and improve the health of the San Francisco Bay Estuary and ensure it can be resilient in the face of climate change. Those two reports are the Estuary Blueprint from the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, and the 2022 Implementation Strategy of the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, Restoring the Estuary.
Both reports emphasize the long-standing consensus that we need to be doing everything we can to protect and restore our Bay wetlands, an irreplaceable resource with numerous benefits for wildlife and our communities, including providing habitat for migratory birds and Bay wildlife, improving water quality, providing flood protection and sequestering carbon. However the plans also highlighted the very real threat facing our Bay wetlands from climate change and rising sea levels, and the critical importance of protecting transition zone habitat and adjacent uplands — undeveloped shoreline areas, like Newark Area 4, where wetlands can migrate inland* as sea levels rise.
- The SF Bay Joint Venture Implementation Strategy explicitly calls protecting wetland migration routes as important for supporting “long-term estuarine resilience to sea level rise,” and that “under higher rates of sea level rise, these uplands may be the few remaining places where marsh habitat can persist.” Their plan calls for the protection of 14,000 acres of currently unprotected marsh migration space around the Bay.
- The SF Estuary Partnership’s Estuary Blueprint, identifies 25 key actions the region can take to create a healthy and resilient San Francisco Estuary. Among those are Action 10 which calls for protecting 20,000 acres of baylands to “Protect San Francisco Bay historical baylands… to preserve and enhance tidal habitats and adjacent habitats to allow for migration with sea level rise.” Action 11, “protecting, restoring and enhancing estuarine-upland transition zones and adjacent upland ecosystems,” further calls for the region to set-aside 30 areas around the Bay for protected wetland migration space, noting that the “protection of adjacent upland areas can help accommodate landward migration of transitional habitat with sea level rise.”
The emphasis on protecting San Francisco Bay’s wetland migration space in these updated regional plans adds to years of recommendations by Bay scientists, state and federal resource agencies, academics and non-profit advocates highlighting the urgency of taking action to protect these valuable undeveloped lands. In most cases, the Bay’s remaining wetland migration zones are unprotected and significantly threatened by development, such as the proposed development of hundreds of housing units in Newark Area 4 which would prevent the Newark Baylands from ever providing this opportunity.
However, our regulations are far behind the science, and there are few policies available to protect wetland migration zones. If we are going to meet these critical goals of ensuring a resilient San Francisco Bay for the future, it will take our communities coming together to identify and protect wetland migration corridors before we are too late, enlisting local cities, the philanthropic community, conservation organizations and land managers in a shared effort to protect the future of our Bay.
There is no better place to start this work in San Francisco Bay than the Newark Baylands, 500 acres of historic Baylands, directly bordering the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and containing some of the largest remaining unprotected wetlands and wetland migration space in the South Bay. For nearly 40 years, these lands have been prioritized for acquisition by the Refuge, and dozens of environmental organizations and thousands of residents from Newark and around the region are working hard to see their permanent protection. This site has become a case study in the fight for the future of our Bay. Will we protect wetland migration zones – or will we let them be developed, leaving no room for our Bay to expand with rising waters? Take action today by signing our petition to Save Newark Wetlands.
*Want to learn more about the importance of wetland migration? Read our tweet thread!