Bay Area residents who miss the sight of great blue herons along San Francisco's shoreline or who worry about the decline of fish in the bay are feeling the effects of historic wetlands loss. Wetlands are a crucial indicator of regional ecosystem health. They provide vital habitat for a wide range of birds, mammals, fish, and shellfish. In recent years, the Bay-Delta region has seen progress in preserving wetlands. Nearly 22,000 acres of degraded wetlands were enhanced or restored between 1993 and 1999, while permits were issued to fill only about 113 wetland acres for new development from 1993 to 2000. But while these gains are heartening, they must be measured against the fact that nearly all the Bay-Delta's original tidal wetlands have been lost.
NRDC researchers examined data on wetlands loss from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits to fill wetlands. They also looked at wetlands restoration figures from the San Francisco Estuary Project, which reports every two-and-a-half years on Bay-Delta habitat that's been newly protected, restored, or enhanced.*
From 1993 to 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued permits for new development on 112.8 acres of Bay Area wetlands. Between 1993 and 1996, more than 8,137 acres of wetlands were either enhanced or restored. From 1996 to 1999, 6,100 acres were restored, and another 7,556 acres were enhanced, for a total of 21,793. Encouraging as these gains are, it's important to measure them against the magnitude of the losses that preceded them. In the last century and a half, nearly all of the Bay Area's tidal wetlands have been destroyed. The recent gains represent less than 4 percent of the original amount.
* A protected wetland is one that has been acquired through an easement or purchase in full. A restored wetland is a former wetland that has been reconstructed, while an enhanced wetland is an existing wetland that has been partially restored.