Eileen McLaughlin                                                                                    
Wetlands Restoration in the South Bay
Eileen McLaughlin is project director of Wildlife Stewards, a non-profit
>organization that works to build citizen-based stewardship among diverse
>communities in support of wildlife and National Wildlife Refuges and that
>is a partner to the National Wildlife Refuges of the San Francisco Bay Region.
>She is also a member of the public access workgroup of the South Bay Salt
>Pond Restoration Project and of the public outreach committee of the San
>Francisco Bay Joint Venture.
Eileen will discuss the salt pond restoration project, reviewing its ecological
>and infrastructure goals, timelines, interagency cooperation and the challenges
>and opportunities involved in finding solutions that serve wildlife and wild lands
>and the communities of the South Bay.

Eileen McLaughlin began her talk by explaining that the three main goals of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project are habitat restoration, public access, and flood protection in the wetlands of the San Francisco Bay Area. She showed us a satellite photo of the area with the Cargill salt ponds in the east bay a pinkish color, and the rest of the salt ponds that are being restored to wetlands a greener color. She explained that the ones losing that "salt pond look" are the ones the project is helping with. 

The difference is because Cargill's salt business will continue on the eastern shoreline of the South Bay, something that is commonly not understood by the public who heard about the salt pond acquisition. These ponds are a location where the company gets a tax break by owning just salt production rights, not the land beneath the ponds. On most of its remaining ponds, Cargill pays no property tax. This arrangement was in existence when Cargill purchased the Leslie Salt Company. In the 1970s many salt ponds were sold to the government to create the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.  As a result, we will continue to see those red salt ponds as we fly into local airports.  The flip side of this land ownership arrangement is that government ownership permanently protects those same ponds from development, should the day ever come when Cargill decides to get out of South Bay salt business entirely.

A salt pond that is left alone continues to make salt. 
Currently, the project leadership team is coordinating input and analysis of many government agencies, NGOs and citizens to identify appropriate ways to turn them into wetlands. While those plans are being developed and to avoid salt production, gates were opened in some of the ponds to let sea water in and out. Since then there has been a dramatic rise in the use of the area by fish and sea birds. In an ideal world, the strong levees on the bay side of the ponds would be removed, and strong levees would be put on the shore side of the wetlands, so that the full tidal wetlands washing of the tides could nourish the place. As is unfortunate but common for a government-run project, funding toward such restoration has not yet been identified.

Wildlife Stewards enjoys connecting people with the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. There is a Visitor Center in Fremont and an Environmental Education Center in Alviso.  In addition, Wildlife Stewards or docents it trained, lead salt pond hikes through the refuge on a regular basis. Groups that want to have a special tour are invited to contact Wildlife Stewards for more information at

If you want to find out more on the web, please visit:


During Q&A the following points came up:

This project is a pet of Senator Diane Feinstein.

There is still a lot of duck hunting in the salt ponds, but the active duck blinds have been moved further from the active parks for safety reasons.

Since Station Island really is an island, one of the most likely projects is to let the levees around it disintegrate, returning it to natural wetlands.

The Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge
is the largest NWR in an urban center anywhere on the country.

Tian Harter