March 2017 Newsletter    Volume 36

Meeting on Next Eden Landing Plans, Draft EIR in Early Summer

As an influx of visitors check out Eden Landing’s new trails and water access, consultants are working hard on plans for the next spate of construction at the Hayward-area ecological reserve.

We expect to release a draft environmental document on those Phase 2 plan options in late spring and hold meetings for the public in early summer.

Eden Landing Phase 2 focuses on all ponds between Old Alameda Creek and the Alameda County Flood Control Channel in the State Department of Fish and Wildlife reserve. Alternatives include extensive wetlands restoration, either full or phased, as well as an alternative retaining a portion of the acreage as managed ponds. The alternatives also include various approaches to enhancing levees, and a number of options for new trails.

The Project held a meeting in June 2016 to gather public thoughts on topics to cover in the environmental analysis. Now, our consultant team is in the midst of those analyses and write-ups. We will widely announce meeting dates as soon as they are set. To review maps and the June presentation, as well as other Phase 2 information, click here.

Donations Help Birds in Alviso

Thanks to $2,000 in public donations to the Project, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge was able to improve nesting habitat in Alviso for threatened western snowy plovers.

The small amount of earth-moving work at ponds A22 and A23 improves 720 acres on the far northeast edge of the Alviso complex near Milpitas.  The action better protects nesting areas from flooding and vegetation – the birds like to nest on open sand or salt flats. Thanks to our donors, we hope to see more plovers there this spring.

Salty Pond A23 is visible in the foreground below.
  • The Project would also like to thank the Pinpoint Foundation of Palo Alto, which donated $3,000. Donating to the project is easy - clicking on the Donate button on our website at leads to a PayPal button, managed by our partner, the California Wildlife Foundation.
  • A partner effort to fund-raise for snowy plover monitoring is under way. The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory has an Indiegogo campaign through March 31 to fund its scientific work tracking and protecting South Bay plovers. To help, go here.

Construction Funding Update

The Project recently received three significant grants for the restoration work planned for Refuge ponds near Mountain View.

Our construction manager, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., reports the following grants received:

  • U.S. EPA, $1.68 million;
  • NOAA Coastal Resilience, $1.5 million; and
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant program,
    $1 million.

The project at ponds A1 and A2W will help restore tidal marsh, create higher refuge habitat for critters escaping storms, and add trails and viewing spots.

Your Input Sought for
Website Update

The Project is overhauling its website at to a new system easier to view on smartphones and easier for our team to revise and keep up to date.

We want this new design to work for you. Please let us know:
  • What is most important for us to keep?
  • What would you like to see improved or added?
You can let us know by sending us a comment from here.
We are working on the redesign now, and expect it to be in place by the end of the year.

Science Updates

Saying Goodbye to Lead Scientist
Laura Valoppi

We have bad news to report around our science work: Lead Scientist Laura Valoppi left the Project in the fall, after more than seven years shepherding our researchers and adaptive management analysis. The good news for Laura is she is now Science Manager for the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency in Sacramento. We truly miss Laura and her dedication to working collaboratively with scientists and pursuing answers to unknown questions to help us manage the Project more deftly. In the interim, we have reorganized staff and manager duties to cover priority areas of her work.
Laura’s departure occurs within the context of challenges we have faced in securing funds for research and monitoring. Finding money for tangible work such as construction is far easier than paying to monitor the impacts of that work, or to gain knowledge to ensure that future construction achieves the best environmental results. We continue to work hard to find funding for scientific studies and thank those partners who have stepped forward in recent years, such as the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

More Declines in California Gulls
This Year

California gull populations in the Bay declined about 10% for the second year in a row, scientists estimate. This is good news for our efforts to protect waterbird and snowy plover nestlings from predators, as scientists view gulls as one of the major nest-robbing species.

The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO), which has monitored gull populations for the last 36 years, estimates Bay gulls declined 11% from 2015 to 2016, from 47,866 to 38,040. The 2014 estimate was 53,026 birds.

The recent slight decline follows years of dramatic increases in South Bay nesting gulls, which historically did not nest in the Bay Area. SFBBO counted 24 adult California gulls in 1980. By 1990, the number had increased to more than 7,000 birds, to more than 16,000 birds in 2000, and to more than 46,000 in 2010. One of the causes of the gull population explosion was likely a move by gulls to the Bay from Mono Lake east of the Sierra, where lake water use by the City of Los Angeles gave predators access to a major gull nesting island.

While not fully understood, the decline, SFBBO scientists say, likely resulted from a suite of changing environmental and demographic factors. Among those are our management activities:
  • In 2010, the Project flooded the biggest gull colony in the South Bay, at Pond A6 in Alviso, to transition the pond to tidal marsh. This caused gulls to disperse to other locations.
  • In 2011, the Don Edwards Refuge and SFBBO began yearly gull-hazing efforts to chase them away from establishing nests.
  • In 2016, Refuge biologists removed more than 130 gull nests in areas where threatened western snowy plovers were nesting.
The Shoreline Study levee will run along New Chicago Marsh

Flood Management News:
Congressional Legislation Passes; Safer Bay Report Out

Funding to begin the design of the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Study was authorized when outgoing President Barack Obama in December signed the congressionally approved Water Resources Development Act. The multipronged legislation authorizes funds for many US Army Corps of Engineers projects. The bill includes wording to allow for placing dredged material for flood protection and wetlands restoration.

The Shoreline Study is a partner project to the Restoration, allowing for federal funds through the Army Corps to help with restoration, public access and flood management projects. Its plans include building a levee to protect the San Jose and Alviso areas. It also includes implementing Restoration Project plans for trails and restored wetlands in many of the Alviso ponds. Its partners include the Army Corps, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the State Coastal Conservancy.

In other Shoreline Study news, Lt. Colonel David Kaulfers of the Army Corps’ San Francisco District has taken over as the new Corps project manager for the Shoreline Study. We welcome him back on the project and look forward to his leadership and a beneficial partnership!

For background on the Shoreline Study project, you can check out a 2016 blog post by the Santa Clara Valley Water District here.

In other flood-management-related news, a coalition of San Mateo County and Santa Clara County agencies, partners in the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Agreement, have released the SAFER Bay feasibility report. It looks at sea level rise protection, habitat enhancement and trails along the shoreline, which includes the cities of Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Palo Alto. Its projects would include levees and other flood protection for our Ravenswood pond complex. The report is available here, and background information at the JPA’s website,

Faces of the Restoration:
Refuge Biologists Cheryl Strong and Rachel Tertes

Cheryl Strong and Rachel Tertes are Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge’s wildlife biologists. The two are featured with other Refuge Complex biologists in an upcoming documentary film – the photo above is a still from the film. Rachel and Cheryl share the work of conserving and managing the Refuge’s animals, with particular focus on threatened and endangered species and the large populations of migratory birds that winter at the South Bay refuge. Rachel, who has been a San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex biologist since 2001, focuses mainly on marsh species. Cheryl, who came to the Refuge from the non-profit San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory in 2008, handles pond species. They work with all types of animals, including mammals and reptiles, but devote plenty of attention to birds, because of the Refuge’s major role as a stopping place along the Pacific Flyway. We checked in with them in the midst of a recent busy day.

Rachel Tertes (left) with an endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and Cheryl Strong (right) with a great horned owl

• How did you first get interested in working with wildlife?

Rachel: From Girl Scouts, when I was in elementary and middle school, Girl Scouts and Girl Scout camp – it got me introduced to nature, got me outdoors. And playing in my backyard. We had a creek in our backyard, in Pennsylvania. Playing in the creek, we would find salamanders and crayfish. And we would find box turtles in the lawn when we were mowing the lawn, and we’d keep them as pets for a few days and then let them back out into the wild.

Cheryl: I grew up going to the Sierras in the summers. We had standard pets, and I always liked animals. In college, I took an undergraduate class in vertebrate ecology, where you went outside and caught stuff. Around that time, I spent a year in Kenya, where there is lots of wildlife – it is very different from here. I was at the University of Nairobi – we would go on field trips, go camping, and be woken up at night by a wildebeest!

• What are some of the most interesting, impactful or memorable things you do in your work on restoration?

Rachel: One thing that comes to mind: the challenge of driving an airboat to do surveys. We use the airboat to access those areas with very shallow water, mostly to survey for Ridgway’s rails [endangered birds that skulk in salt marsh]. What really strikes me is just the challenge of driving the boat. It takes a lot of experience, skill – it takes time to learn. And being able to challenge ourselves to do the surveys and go out and find these sensitive marsh birds. I like the surveying part of it, and the driving. The airboats are really easy to sink. As you drive, you create a wave behind you, a wake. If you take your foot off the gas, that wave catches up behind you and it can sink the boat. You have to retrain your brain – you have to increase your speed, and maneuver around – you actually go faster towards something you want to avoid. I like that.

Refuge biologists in an airboat
Another of my favorite tasks: getting to do surveys for western snowy plovers. Like my experience at the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. I was helping to band snowy plover chicks. It’s an amazing thing to have this two-hour-old chick in your hands. They are basically little puffballs. And you get to put colored bird bands, little anklets, on them. Just to have that fresh life in your hands. To get then to observe them as they grow, and keep observing them to see if they survive throughout the summer.
Snowy plover chick
Cheryl: The hands-on thing is what I also enjoy, banding snowy plovers or trapping salt marsh harvest mice – these tiny creatures that are really amazing, and they bite you! I’ve been out with USGS to capture western sandpipers to band them, and also Forster’s tern chicks. I’ve been out to put radio backpacks on rails. The backpacks are 2-by-2 inches – they have little harnesses, or glue.
Measuring a salt marsh harvest mouse
We band raptors for Ohlone Wildlife Rehab Center – they are part of the local Humane Society. They take injured birds or chicks that have fallen out of the nest. We help band them. The raptors are very strong – much more powerful than you would think. They will flap their wings, and their wings are really strong. And their talons are really sharp – they will put it right through your skin. It’s like stepping on a nail. Once I had one right under the fingernail. You have to learn two kinds of things: how not to hurt the animal, and how not to hurt yourself.

The other thing I really like is the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. It sounds cliché-y, but during my time, I’ve been able to see the changes, such as Pond A21 [the Island Ponds that were breached to the Bay in 2006]. At Pond A21, we went from a dry, pretty much barren, salt flat, to a functional tidal marsh with endangered species in less than 10 years. It’s highly satisfying. Even A6 [breached in 2010] – it’s not covered with gulls anymore!

• What are other aspects of what you do that readers might like to know?

Rachel:  To really get the work done requires a lot of volunteers and partners, to really accomplish the science at the scale we’re trying to capture it at. To be part of the largest wetland restoration on the West Coast involves a lot of people doing a lot of really cool science, to answer questions about restoration methods, species – we tackle questions that others haven’t tackled yet, relating to sea level rise and restoration. People come here to learn, to take it back to other places, other countries. The restoration, the benefits to people through flood protection and recreation – there are so many people involved in it. And we are really tied in to Baywide efforts, to remove invasive Spartina, to recover snowy plovers, to recover tidal marsh.

• How do you like to spend your free time?

Cheryl: Sleep!

• Right, you two both have family and children responsibilities as well!

Rachel: One of the things I really love is having my daughter come to the Refuge. She’s done mist netting with us [using nearly invisible nets used to gently catch birds for banding], and got to hold a bird in her hands. She’s looked for and touched lizards. To be able to introduce her to some of these things in nature is amazing.
Rachel and daughter Lily with her first fish
Cheryl: My daughter has been out on a boat with [Project fish scientist] Jim Hobbs, and she got to hold a 3-foot-long leopard shark!
Cheryl’s daughter Harper catches a shark

• How do you like to enjoy yourself in nature, or on the Bay?

Cheryl: We go out on my husband’s boat sometimes – he has a mud boat – and we will go out the Alviso Marina and toodle around. It’s fun.

Rachel: We go hiking in the East Bay hills. Arrowhead Marsh (at Martin Luther King, Jr. Shoreline in Oakland) is also one of our favorite places.

• You are featured with other Refuge Complex biologists in a work-in-progress film that a Bay Area filmmaking team, Fabián Aguirre and Maya Pisciotto of The Understory, is producing. They’ve put out a teaser – is the full film coming soon?

Rachel: It’s still not complete. It’s an unfunded project so the Refuge and the videographers are looking for grants or other funding options to help finish it.

• How did the videographers get interested in you?

Rachel: One of them, Fabián, had gone on a tour at Pond SF2 near Menlo Park. He had stopped by, and the volunteer guide was really excited that someone was at the tour. So he got involved through the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project! After that, he followed up with the Refuge on how he could get involved.

To see the Living Refuge teaser, featuring Cheryl and Rachel, go to
For more on The Understory, see

New Film about the Refuge

A new video features the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge -- how it offers people in a dense urban area easy access to wildlife and natural areas.

It can be viewed here.

The video is one of several spreading the word about the nation’s urban refuges, which offer urban communities an opportunity to connect to wildlife and wild places. It was produced by the non-profit National Wildlife Refuge Association and the Tandem Stills + Motion media company.

The Don Edwards Refuge was established in 1972, the first truly urban national wildlife refuge, with the dual purposes of habitat preservation and providing wildlife-oriented recreation for nearby populations.

Salt Pond Restoration in the News

A compendium of recent media coverage

Bay Nature did a big spread this fall on all the new public access at Eden Landing beckoning to hikers, bikers, boaters and birders: Article.
And in a further installment of the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Rising Reality” series on sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay Area, the paper this fall looked at our restoration project, as well as other efforts around the Bay’s shores, to adapt to rising tides: Article.

Other Items:

  • Outside’s website featured the work-in-progress Living Refuge film featuring Refuge biologists: Video
  • Bay Nature interviewed the creator of another Refuge film, this one of a series profiling urban refuges: Article
  • A Bay Nature piece on New Year’s Day, 2017 on finding the wild bay includes our restoration work: Article
  • Another New Year’s piece on the quiet, steady work of the State Coastal Conservancy: Article
  • U.S. EPA $1.68 million Phase 2 grant: Article
  • Local piece on Phase 2 plans for our Mountain View ponds: Article

Upcoming Events and Meetings

More events are listed on the Events and Meetings section of the project web site.

Tours and Volunteer Opportunities

March 2017

Hike the Mallard
Slough Trail

Environmental Education Center, Alviso
Saturday, March 25
10:00 a.m.  – 12:30 p.m.

Look for birds, mammals, and animal tracks as we explore along the water’s edge on this 3.7-mile nature walk. Bring binoculars and your favorite field guide to help enjoy the views. Have at least one liter of water, snacks, and appropriate clothing. Rain cancels hike. Led by Steve Stolper.
For Reservations click here.
Call 408-262-5513 ext. 104.


April 2017

Pacific Flyway

SF2 Trail, Menlo Park
Saturday, April 8
3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Our wetlands are an important stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major bird migration route. Stroll with docent Laurel Stell to learn why birds migrate, why they stop along the San Francisco Bay, and to spot the birds in action. Trail is easy and level. All ages and abilities welcome. Meet at the SF2 trail parking area on the west side of the Dumbarton Bridge.
For Reservations click here.
Call 408-262-5513 ext. 104.

May 2017

Pacific Flyway

SF2 Trail, Menlo Park
Saturday, May 6
2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Our wetlands are an important stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major bird migration route. Stroll with docent Laurel Stell to learn why birds migrate, why they stop along the San Francisco Bay, and to spot the birds in action. Trail is easy and level. All ages and abilities welcome. Meet at the SF2 trail parking area on the west side of the Dumbarton Bridge.
For Reservations click here.
Call 408-262-5513 ext. 104.

Photo Credits: Cris Benton, Judy Irving, Julie Kitzenberger, Maya Pisciotto/ Fabián Aguirre, Caitlin Robinson-Nilsen, Tandem Stills + Motion, Vivek Khanzodé 
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