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Refuge Biologist Rachel Tertes, here looking out at wetlands, will lead a bird walk on Saturday.
Refuge Biologist Rachel Tertes, here looking out at wetlands, will lead a bird walk on Saturday.

Let’s Celebrate a Milestone Birthday for the Refuge!

Birthdays are funny things, aren’t they?

When you are a kid, pretty much all you think about for two or three months in advance of it is what your presents will be. When you get a little older, some birthdays matter a little less (though the presents and parties are still fun), but others matter more. Those milestone birthdays come pretty frequently for a while there, when you get to start driving, vote, buy beer, or rent a car.*  

Then the important ones start spacing out until they are pretty much the ones that end in a “0”. One of the biggest of those is the Big 5-0, an event that can be traumatic for some and a delightful moment for others.

For the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s definitely the latter. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Public Law 92-330, which provided for the establishment of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge for “the preservation and enhancement of highly significant wildlife habitat,” the “protection of migratory waterfowl and other wildlife, including species known to be threatened with extinction,” and “to provide an opportunity for wildlife-oriented recreation and nature study within the open space so preserved.”

Much of the impetus for the Refuge’s establishment came from the efforts of a group of deeply committed and active individuals who were then known as the South San Francisco Baylands Planning, Conservation, and National Wildlife Refuge Committee. That group of people and their history and influence are important enough to warrant a separate blog post in the near future. I don’t want to give them short shrift and so will cover them separately (and in more detail) soon, but I didn’t want to not mention them at all. Their efforts were critical!

Anyway, that 1972 establishment was the huge first step in a long line of land acquisitions and expansions that would eventually become the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first of these acquisitions was an area of less than 40 acres from Bayshore Freight Lines railway in 1974. That was the first part of what was then named simply the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In 1995, the Refuge was renamed to honor Congressman Don Edwards, who represented South Bay residents for over 30 years, along the way receiving the Congressional Distinguished Service Award and chairing the House Subcommittee on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights for many years.**

From that humble, 40-acre beginning, many more acquisitions came in the form of purchases or accepted donations of former salt-production ponds. Congress repeatedly authorized increases in the Refuge’s expansion boundary to allow it to purchase, accept, or otherwise assume operational responsibility for certain parcels or tracts of land as they became available. In Palo Alto, an agreement was made for some marshes to remain owned by the City of Palo Alto but to fall under the management of the Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Refuge.

In this way, the Refuge gradually increased in size, complexity, and ecological connectivity. A huge chunk of that area was the 2003 acquisition from Cargill, Inc. of over 15,000 acres of former salt ponds that became…wait for it…the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project! About one-third of that area became part of the State of California’s Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, and the other two-thirds became part of the Refuge, bringing the Refuge’s total size up to its current 30,000-plus acres.

Today, the Refuge not only provides large areas of wildlife habitat in marshes, ponds, sloughs, and adjacent uplands, but it also offers an opportunity for residents and visitors to the Bay Area to enjoy natural open space and a wide range of public access opportunities - - one of the best amenities of living in this part of the world.

In honor of the Refuge’s 50th anniversary – its 50th birthday, so to speak – the Fish and Wildlife Service is planning a celebration on October 8 at the Refuge headquarters in Fremont. The party is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and it’s free to all. There will be guided nature tours, ranger talks, crafts, activities for the kids, and refreshments. You can find more detail here .***

This country’s National Wildlife Refuge System is an amazing gift to us all. It’s right up there with national parks, national forests, marine reserves, national seashores, and so many other types of federal lands**** that bring us all shared benefits and a more complex and complete environment and society.

*And what a weird order of major life events that is, right?
**Congressman Edwards was no stranger to birthdays ending in zeroes either: He lived to be 100 years old before passing in 2015.
***Salty Dave and friends will be there too, so please stop by and say hello!
****Not to mention their analogues at the state, county, and city levels.


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