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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tidal Wetland Restoration in San Francisco Bay: History and Current Issues


Early restoration efforts in San Francisco Bay focused primarily on establishing appropriate elevations for plant recruitment, based on plant distributions in natural wetlands. Sites were graded and planted, and tidal connections were re-established with the expectation that restored wetlands would quickly resemble natural ecosystems. Over time, restoration efforts have evolved, with the realization that natural development of restoration sites is preferable, including a dense channel network and the accumulation of soils of appropriate texture. Bay restoration efforts also have grown substantially in size and scope. Whereas projects of 50 hectares were considered large in the 1980s, now many projects are 100s of hectares. Larger projects are on the scale of 1000s of hectares, with the largest approximately 6000 hectares (the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project). This massive increase in scale has brought enormous restoration opportunities, but it also has increased the complexity of restoration projects and highlighted the necessity of large-scale public involvement. Awareness of non-native plants at restoration sites is just one example of factors that have increased restoration complexity. Potential impacts of climate change also have moved to the forefront of restoration design, as sea-level rise and potential shifts in salinity are critical factors for long-term restoration planning.

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