Paul Rogers, CONTRA COSTA TIMES
In a clear sign that the largest wetlands restoration project on the West Coast is already improving the health of San Francisco Bay, bird populations have doubled over the past 13 years on thousands acres of former industrial salt-evaporation ponds that ring the bay’s southern shoreline, scientists reported Thursday.
The overall population of ducks and shorebirds in that area, which is about the size of Manhattan, has increased from roughly 100,000 in 2002 to 200,000 today, researchers doing detailed counts every winter found.
“It shows that what’s been done so far appears to be working. It’s really great,” said Susan De La Cruz, a wildlife biologist in Vallejo with the U.S. Geological Survey who has conducted much of the research.
In a landmark deal in 2003, Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt sold 15,100 acres of its bayfront salt ponds, which stretch from Hayward to San Jose to Redwood City, to state and federal agencies for $100 million. That sale also included an additional 1,400 acres near Napa.
The idea was to take the ponds — used for a century to harvest salt for food, medicine and road de-icing — and restore them back to natural conditions over 50 years, bringing back birds, fish, harbor seals, leopard sharks and dozens of other species that have struggled in the bay because of development and a burgeoning human population.
San Francisco Bay has shrunk by a third since the Gold Rush of 1849 due to diking, filling and development. Most of that stopped in the 1980s with the advent of the federal Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.