One way in which the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is incorporating climate change adaptation planning into its management responsibilities is by employing conservation practices that maintain and enhance ecosystem function. These practices will increase the resiliency of ecosystems in the face of climatic changes, ensuring that California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and habitats are better equipped to respond to climate change and that the important ecosystem services they provide are preserved. Restoration projects such as the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, provide many opportunities for developing sound, science-based management strategies that are tailored to a given area and will enhance overall ecosystem function.
The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the west coast. In 2003, the CDFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the California Coastal Conservancy began a four year public process to develop a 30-yr restoration plan to restore wetlands in the San Francisco Bay. Adopted in 2008, the final restoration plan is currently being put into action by a multitude of partners, such as the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Alameda County Flood Control District.
CDFW and the Eden Landing Pond Complex
The CDFW is responsible for managing approximately 5,450 acres within the South Bay Salt Pond project area known as the Eden Landing pond complex. Management goals shared among all project partners include the restoration and enhancement of a mix of wetland habitats, providing wildlife-oriented public access and recreation, and providing for flood management in the South Bay. To date, the CDFW has designed 3.8 miles of new trails within the complex and a new kayak launch on Mt. Eden Creek, both expected to be created in 2012. In addition to planning for various recreational opportunities, the CDFW has taken substantial steps towards ecosystem restoration in the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. In September 2011, the CDFW completed its first in a series of eight levee breaches to return bay water to over 630 acres of former wetlands. The breach is expected to bring crabs, harbor seals, birds, and other marine life back to the area. Additionally, the accumulation of sediment and the creation of tidal marshes in the newly opened ponds will result in the re-establishment of marsh vegetation, including pickleweed, saltgrass, marsh gumplant, and other native tidal marsh plants that provide habitat for the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. At other pond complexes within the South Bay Salt Pond project area, levee breaches in combination with berms and other water control structures, have already resulted in the return of many shorebirds and ducks to the restored ponds. Islands have been created within different ponds for bird nesting, and the ponds now provide shallow foraging habitat for shorebirds.
Climate Change Adaptation in Practice
Actions taken by the CDFW and its partners in the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project provide many examples of sound climate change adaptation practices. The habitat restoration taking place throughout the project area will help to maintain biodiversity by reintroducing various wildlife and vegetation to the area resulting in increased resilience of these ecosystems to climate change. The Salt Pond Restoration Project is also supporting important ecosystem services. The enhanced tidal wetlands will provide a natural buffer against future sea level rise and will continue to develop as sea level rises and washes in sediment, allowing vegetation to continue to grow. The wetlands will also perform natural flood management by absorbing floodwaters during storm events and slowly releasing runoff back into the Bay. The new tidal marshes can may also sequester carbon and help mitigate the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In addition, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is taking great effort to practice adaptive management, one of the major tenets of climate change adaptation. By continually monitoring the effectiveness of project actions, this study will continue to evolve into a project that will benefit the ecosystem and its inhabitants for generations to come. This project is just one example of CDFW’s commitment to landscape-scale restoration efforts in the face of climate change.