Adaptive Management Plan cover
Adaptive Management Plan cover

This Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) is integral to the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project and is designed to help to guide the planning and implementation of each Project phase. Adaptive management provides a directed approach to achieving the Project Objectives through learning from restoration and management actions—actions for which many scientific and social uncertainties exist. The AMP lays out the background for adaptive management in Part 1, including the importance of adaptive management in the Project and how adaptive management will direct this long-term effort toward achieving the Project Objectives. Part 2 describes the foundations for adaptive management developed during the planning process, especially the key uncertainties, monitoring, applied studies, and modeling. The scientific approach to generating information and its use in decision-making for the long-term Project as well as the Phase 1 actions is described in Part 3. Part 4 discusses the institutional structures and processes for undertaking adaptive management. This AMP provides direction for the Project, especially Phase 1, based on the best current information. However, the Plan itself is designed to be adaptive and, therefore, many elements including the key uncertainties, applied studies, and the institutional structure may change and evolve over time.

In March 2003, state and federal agencies acquired 15,100 acres (>6100 hectares) of solar evaporation salt ponds in South San Francisco Bay from Cargill, Inc. These former salt ponds became the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project (the Project), which is managed collaboratively by the California State Coastal Conservancy (SCC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). The Project is composed of three complexes; FWS owns and manages the Alviso and Ravenswood pond complexes and DFG owns and manages the Eden Landing pond complex. In 2003, the FWS and DFG began implementing the Initial Stewardship Plan (ISP), a management strategy to decouple the ponds from salt-making and prepare the ponds for restoration under the Project. From 2003- 2007, the Project undertook a comprehensive planning process, in which the Project participants: 1. developed the Project’s Objectives; 2. developed the scientific foundation; 3. engaged the public; 3. coordinated with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) on the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Study, a closely-related multi-objective study that includes the Project area; and 5. produced an EIS/R that evaluates the Project, as a whole, for 50 years as well as the Phase 1 actions, which are the first actions the Project Managers will implement as part of the 50-year program. The adaptive management approach described in this AMP is integrated into the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project EIS/R.

The overarching mission of the Project is the restoration and enhancement of wetlands in the South San Francisco Bay while providing for flood management and wildlife-oriented public access and recreation. The six Project Objectives (Table 1, see page 3), based on this mission, are central to Project planning and implementation. While much is known about the South Bay ecosystem, the Project participants identified eight key uncertainties that could make meeting the Project Objectives difficult. These uncertainties included sediment dynamics, bird response to changing habitats, non-avian species responses, mercury issues, invasive and non-native species, water quality, public access and wildlife, and social dynamics. The overarching uncertainty of global climate change is incorporated, defacto, into each of the specific key uncertainties.

The Project participants developed a number of visions for what the restored ecosystem could look like in 50 years. In particular, the EIS/R for the Project evaluated three alternatives: “No Project” in which ISP management continues for 50 years, a 50% tidal:50% managed pond alternative in which approximately 50% of the Project Area is returned to tidal action and 50% is managed as ponded habitat, and 90% tidal:10% managed pond. While NEPA may require the Project Managers to identify a “preferred alternative”, the Project participants agree that, due to the many uncertainties, the mix of habitats that will optimally meet the Project Objectives— including the amount of tidal restoration and its location--cannot be predicted at this time. Given this, the Project will implement restoration and management in phases and will use adaptive management as the process for determining how far the system can move toward full tidal action and associated tidal habitats, while still meeting the Project Objectives.

For this Project to succeed, no phase can proceed without including adaptive management as an element of the design and implementation. The Adaptive Management Staircase in Figure 2 (see page 8) is a conceptual view of this process. Adaptive management will provide the information needed to determine how far to proceed along the staircase and at what pace. Implicit in the staircase and the Project’s core mission is that the Project will continue to add tidal habitat to the system, so long as the other Project Objectives are met. Also implicit is the possibility, although unlikely, that the Project might stop adding tidal habitat before 50% of the Project Area is returned to tidal action, if substantial unanticipated problems are identified. However, taking that action would require a new NEPA/CEQA evaluation and reconsideration by all regulatory agencies.

The AMP describes how providing public access, one of the goals of the Project, is also subject to adaptive management. The Adaptive Management Approach for Recreation and Public Access (Figure 3, page 9) shows that the suite of public access features described in Phase 1 is the minimum level of public access the Project will provide. Whether additional recreation and access features are provided in the future will be determined through a process that weighs both effects of access on target species and public demand for particular features.

During the planning stage, the Project moved forward with monitoring, applied studies, and model development. Monitoring during Project planning began in 2003 and characterized baseline conditions in all 54 ponds as well as the associated sloughs, and, to some extent, the South Bay before and after ISP implementation. This program also included compliance monitoring, specifically to track water quality conditions before and after culverts connecting ponds to the Bay were opened for ISP operation. Applied studies were initiated during planning, including a research effort to establish baseline levels of mercury in indicator (sentinel) species, a study of the physical and vegetation changes in response to restored tidal actions at the Island Ponds, and studies of bird use of managed and unmanaged ponds. In addition, the Project developed two large-scale models to predict physical and biological changes in response to management, and tapped a team of modelers to begin developing a detailed predictive, landscape-scale model.

Adaptive management of the Project is based on restoration targets, monitoring, applied studies, and modeling that will be used to generate the science-based information managers will need for decision-making. Adaptive management begins with clear, measurable restoration targets that link directly to the Project Objectives. Appendix 3 lists 28 restoration targets for the Project, which should be monitored to determine if more tidal habitat will be restored, i.e., whether the Project will continue along the adaptive management staircase. Monitoring, using appropriate parameters, allows Project Managers to assess progress toward Project Objectives. The Project participants identified the most essential parameters and some potential methods for collecting the needed data. The monitoring parameters in Appendix 3 are all expected to be measured beginning with Phase 1. Applied studies are listed for each restoration target and, during Phase 1, they will provide data to reduce uncertainties related to achieving the Project Objectives. Each restoration target has a management trigger for action if the system is not performing well. For each management trigger there is a list of potential actions the Project Managers might take if a management trigger is reached.

Both simple and complex numerical models will be employed throughout the adaptive management process to integrate knowledge gained from monitoring and applied studies, allow improved interpretation and extrapolation of observed trends, test and refine hypotheses, and aid in identification of key uncertainties. While individual applied studies may contain some modeling aspects, the Project has need of an integrated model that simulates interactions among physical and biological processes. A successful model will integrate new information as it becomes available and will allow Project Managers to evaluate movement along the adaptive management staircase.

Phase 1 of the Project will be implemented beginning in 2008 and actions, including restoring tidal action to some ponds, managing other ponds, and integrating public access, are planned for each of the three pond complexes. In Phase 1, specific applied studies are coordinated with each restoration and management action and are designed to produce information to help manage the current Phase as well as plan up-coming phases of restoration. Studies in Phase 1 focus on bird response to changing habitats, mercury methylation, public access and wildlife interactions, and pond management effects on the Bay.

The Project will need an effective institutional structure to achieve these four basic adaptive management functions:

  1. Generate and synthesize data from monitoring to track restoration progress and from applied studies and modeling to reduce key uncertainties;
  2. Convert the synthesized data into effective short- and long-term management decisions;
  3. Involve the public in decision-making and make management decisions transparent; and
  4. Store and organize Project information for use by the decision-makers and the public.

The organizational structure that will be used to carry out these functions includes the Project Management Team (PMT), which is responsible for decision-making and taking action on those decisions, the Science Program, which will generate and interpret data, the Information Management Staff, which will organize, store and disseminate Project information, and the Stakeholder Forum plus Local Working Groups, which will provide perspectives from the public. The PMT will make decisions on what monitoring, applied studies, and modeling to fund; actions needed to modify current phases; and the design of future phases. In addition to decision-making, the PMT also has important fund-raising and public outreach functions.

Regulatory and funding entities will be involved in the Project as members of the PMT, when appropriate.

The Science Program will be run by two science managers, who will be members of the PMT and will set the direction for and oversee the work of the Science Program. It is anticipated that an array of contractors will do the work required for the Science Program, including collecting and analyzing monitoring data, conducting applied studies, providing reports that analyze and synthesize monitoring and applied studies results, and peer-reviewing Program products and the Program itself. The science managers will use the information generated by the contractors to revise and prioritize monitoring and applied studies and to make recommendations to the full PMT on management actions for current phases and the design of future phases.

Public involvement as an especially important component of successful adaptive management. The public will have multiple avenues to learn about Project activities and provide input to the Project Managers, including through the website as well as Stakeholder Forum and Local Work Group meetings. Collaborative learning among scientists, managers, and the public, will allow for public comment and input on the decision-making process and ensure transparency through Project reporting.

Project participants will operate using processes that integrate their activities on a yearly and more frequent basis. The Project will use processes that coordinate Project participants for effective decision-making and restoration implementation. As with other aspects of the Project, the institutional structures and processes are designed to be flexible, allowing them to evolve to achieve effective adaptive management.

All Project reports mentioned in this document are available through the California State Coastal Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Game, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge or the Project’s website (

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