The Restoration of Bair Island is Underway!
Bair Island is a 3,000-acre portion of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and is frequented by an estimated 250,000 visitors annually. Walkers, joggers, nature lovers, and families from throughout the Bay Area enjoy Bair Island’s wildlife, open space, and scenery. The USFWS is undertaking the restoration of about 1,400 acres of Bair Island, to return it to its natural condition as tidal wetlands – a recovery from its historic human use as grazing lands and salt evaporation ponds. The restoration of this ecological treasure will help renew natural vegetation, protect critical wildlife habitat and endangered species, reduce mosquito breeding, and offer revitalized public access and renewed opportunities for environmental education.
Part of the restoration includes raising the level of the island so that when tidal action is re-introduced, the area will quickly become a more natural vegetated marsh. To raise the island’s level, the restoration plan requires the placement of over one million cubic yards of dirt fill onto the island. Due to the sheer volume of the fill material to be delivered to the site, the trucking-in of dirt is expected to continue for an estimated three-to-five years.
The dirt is obtained by the FWS from a variety of sources and will be closely monitored to ensure that it is “clean” fill and absent any unsuitable materials. The timing of the fill activity may also allow for the use of materials from scheduled dredging of the channel serving the Port of Redwood City. This “beneficial re-use” of dredge materials supports the continuing maritime commerce that is an important element of Redwood City’s and the region’s economy.
Re-using dredge materials on Bair Island helps to keep the San Francisco Bay clean by avoiding the more-typical dumping of dredged material into the bay near Alcatraz. Additionally, a vegetated tidal marsh habitat will help to prevent ducks and geese from becoming a bird “strike hazard” for planes using the San Carlo Airport.
Redwood City has been very involved in the USFWS’ restoration plan, creating a supplement to that plan outlining the City’s goals for low-intensity public access and environmental educational facilities and opportunities, and stating its strong desire, shared by the USFWS and many other groups, for full restoration, protection of endangered species, and habitat restoration and preservation.
Once this massive dirt fill is complete and other restoration elements are in place, the USFWS will breach the existing levees at strategic locations, in order to restore natural tidal action. This in turn will provide for the natural evolution of the site to tidal wetlands, natural vegetation, and habitat for many species including the endangered California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.
The entire project represents a model which other entities throughout the Bay Area might use for similar cooperative efforts and beneficial re-use of dredge materials. An important part of that model is a unique partnership between a group of agencies and non-profit organizations to provide mutual support for the ongoing efforts for restoration of Bair Island. This group includes the FWS, the City of Redwood City, the Bay Planning Coalition, the Port of Redwood City, Save the Bay, South Bayside Systems Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others.
More information on the Bair Island restoration project is available at www.fws.gov/desfbay or by calling the USFWS project management consultant, Life Science!, at 530-668-5667.