Up until work got underway on the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, Bair Island - located in Redwood City - was one of the largest wetland restoration projects in California.
Like many of our Bay Area wetland restoration sites, Bair Island was diked and drained years ago for agriculture. The island got its name in the 1920s from Fred Bair who owned a home and raised cattle on the land. In the 1940s, Leslie Salt acquired the property and built levees that divided into the three sections known today as: Outer, Middle and Inner Bair Island. In 1973 the land was again sold to Mobil Oil which began a large-scale development plan for the area.
And in response, similar to many of our wetland restoration success stories, it took a group of concerned people like Ralph Nobles and his wife Carolyn and groups like Save the Bay, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and the Audubon Society to fight the plan and eventually find a buyer for the land, first in the Peninsula Open Space Trust who then turned the land over to the USFWS and the CADFW to become part of the Don Edwards San Francisco National Wildlife Refuge in 1999.
More information on the story of Bair Island can be found here.
The restoration project has always had three main goals:
- Restore 1,552 acres of tidal wetlands and salt marsh habitat by creating a more natural tidal hydrologic regime,
- Construct a pedestrian bridge and provide more public access with a trail along Inner Bair, and
- Plant native plants to create habitat for sensitive and endangered species
The work has been done in a variety of stages including breaching internal and perimeter levees in several locations on Outer and Middle Bair Island, and then excavating pilot channels, and installing two flow constrictors in order to restore historic hydrological patterns. The subsided Inner Bair was raised to near marsh plain elevations by adding dredged and upland material to Inner Bair Island from 2006 through 2014 in order to undo years of erosion and sinking caused by diking of the land. The Refuge completed the restoration of this 2,634-acre in December of 2015 with a breach of the perimeter levee of Inner Bair Island.
Project website: www.fws.gov/refuge/don_edwards_san_francisco_bay/BairIsland.html
Save the Bay Blog - Explore the newly-opened trail at Bair Island
San Jose Mercury News - New Bair Island bridge opens way to almost fully restored wetlands
Daily Journal - Milestone for Redwood City’s Bair Island restoration
The following photos courtesy of USFWS