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RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. - June 30, 2009 - The San Francisco Bay area got a boost today with an $8.5 million grant to stimulate the economy while conserving critical wildlife habitat. The grant was awarded to Ducks Unlimited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Ducks Unlimited will use the money to restore approximately 1,300 acres of former salt evaporation ponds to estuarine tidal marsh. The project is located at the California Department of Fish and Game Napa-Sonoma Wildlife Area.

"This is a great day, not only for citizens of the San Francisco Bay area, who will soon see $8.5 million pumped into their local economy, but also for millions of waterfowl and other wildlife, including endangered fish and shorebirds," said Rudy Rosen, director of DU's Western Regional Office. "This is one of the largest grants Ducks Unlimited has ever received, and the implications for conservation are huge."

Ducks Unlimited plans to begin work on the project immediately. It's part of a much larger complex of restored and soon-to-be restored salt ponds in the San Pablo Bay. The former salt ponds once produced road salt through a complex process of evaporation, but the high salinity prohibited aquatic species from thriving in the water. Once restored, the marshes will provide important habitat for multiple threatened and endangered fish and wildlife species, particularly Coho salmon, steelhead, green sturgeon, Delta smelt, and least tern and snowy plover.

Click on video to view larger.

"This project also lies in the San Francisco Estuary, which is one of the most important staging and wintering habitats for waterfowl in western North America," said Rosen. "More than 30 species of waterfowl occur here, including 50 percent of the entire flyway's diving ducks and one of the largest concentrations of wintering canvasbacks on the continent."

Ducks Unlimited projects in the San Francisco Bay Area

Napa-Sonoma Project (recently completed)

At the Napa-Sonoma Wildlife Area, the 1994 purchase by California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) of approximately 10,000 acres of former salt ponds jump-started the largest restoration effort in the estuary to date. Utilizing funds from the Wildlife Conservation Board, DU restored more than 5,100 acres into a habitat mosaic including shallow muted tidal and managed ponds for shorebirds and waterfowl, deep-water ponds for diving ducks and large-scale tidal marsh restoration.

"Originally estimated to cost nearly $15 million, DU was able to value-engineer the restoration of Ponds 1, 1a and 2 through 5 at the Napa-Sonoma Wildlife Area and save the State over $2 million. Given the current fiscal situation in California, this was a huge benefit to taxpayers in general and wildlife enthusiasts in particular," said Mark Biddlecomb, director of conservation programs for DU's Western Regional Office.

Napa Plant Site

Ducks Unlimited, in partnership with the California DFG and the Wildlife Conservation Board, is currently managing a 380-acre project that will restore and enhance tidal wetlands and associated transitional habitats on former commercial salt ponds along the Napa River next to Fagan Slough Ecological Reserve, a high-quality remnant salt marsh. Where once stood a privately owned commercial salt production plant, there will be opportunities for public hiking and biking on the Bay Trail, hunting, fishing, bird watching and environmental education.

Napa Plant - click for larger image Napa Plant - click for larger image Napa Plant - click to enlarge

Napa Plant Site photos - click to enlarge

"Ducks Unlimited is working diligently to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible in restoring the former Salt Plant Site here at Napa-Sonoma Wildlife Area," said Biddlecomb. "DU has a lot of experience delivering tidal restoration projects, and we're able to make sure it's done properly and with an eye on cost savings wherever possible."


More than 10 years ago, DU and Viansa Wineries partnered to restore one of the largest privately owned freshwater wetlands in the Sonoma Baylands. While still very valuable for the wide variety of wildlife, some rejuvenation is now needed. Enhancement of the wetlands will increase the habitat diversity, thus increasing the wildlife-viewing opportunities. Seasonal wetlands are a particularly rare and important habitat type in the Sonoma Baylands, and Viansa provides an important one. The winery is planning to provide guided tours of the wetlands, and opportunities to see ducks, shorebirds and other wildlife will be abundant.

Viansa - click for larger image Viansa - click for larger image Viansa - click to enlarge

Viansa photos - click to enlarge

next page: South Bay Projects

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South Bay Projects

Bair Island

Part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, the Bair Island project will restore 468 acres of tidal marsh. Ducks Unlimited is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this project, which is the first component of a larger restoration project aimed at restoring 1,400 acres of the entire 2,600-acre Bair Island complex. In addition to wildlife benefits, tidal action and island drainage will assist with mosquito control, an important aspect in light of the prevalence of West Nile Virus within such close proximity to urban areas.

Bair Island - click for larger image Bair Island - click for larger image Bair Island - click to enlarge

Bair Island photos - click to enlarge

"The Bair Island restoration project being delivered by Ducks Unlimited here at the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge is a great example of how federal agencies and private nonprofits can combine efforts for the betterment of people and wildlife alike," said Biddlecomb. "The Fish and Wildlife Service owns the land, has some funding for restoration and has the capabilities to manage this habitat for the long term. Ducks Unlimited brings restoration expertise as well as dollars to stretch those limited Fish and Wildlife Service funds. Ducks Unlimited has been able to acquire state dollars from the Wildlife Conservation Board, funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and private dollars from the Lester Family Foundation to help complete this project. It saves the Fish and Wildlife Service money, ensures the restoration is done to the highest of engineering and biological standards and saves the taxpayers money all at the same time."

New Chicago Marsh

New Chicago Marsh is a 340-acre remnant salt marsh within the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. New Chicago Marsh suffers from severely altered hydrology and substantial subsidence. Ducks Unlimited has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore this important and dynamic marsh. The Fish and Wildlife Service is looking to DU for additional funding and cost-effective project delivery. Not only can DU deliver projects for a relatively low cost, but also it brings in outside funding. In this case, DU has North American Wetlands Conservation Act dollars and was recently awarded a grant from the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation. It is an excellent example of what synergy between public and private partnerships can generate.


New Chicago Marsh - click for larger image New Chicago Marsh - click for larger image

New Chicago Marsh photos - click to enlarge

New Chicago Marsh is next to the refuge's Environmental Education Center, which offers educational programs and facilities for 10,000 students, teachers and parents each year. The site is also easily accessible to the 700,000 annual visitors of the refuge's extensive trail system.

For more information on DU's projects in California, visit the California Projects page.