The Grants Behind a Huge Tidal Marsh Restoration Effort

For the past 140 years, 1,000 acres of land in Sonoma County was used for farming, but now they’re being restored to their original tidal marsh ecosystem. Why does this matter?

Before the agricultural industry boom of the 19th century, there were 55,000 acres of tidal marsh in the North Bay. However, this area was diked for agricultural purposes. Research has shown that with tidal marsh restoration, the entire bay ecosystem could provide better habitats for native species, capture carbon, filter pollutants, and protect nearby highways and railroads from the impending doom of climate change. So basically, these are all great causes to support for local funders.

Last fall, a levee was breached to kick off a newsworthy public-private partnership and not only restore the tidal marsh, but essentially redraw the map of the San Francisco Bay. This massive effort has been in the works for the past decade with the Sonoma Land Trust, Ducks Unlimited and other organizations at the local, state, and national levels. After raising $18 million, the waters were finally allowed to flow back to where they belong.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation recognized the ecological significance of this region back in 2004, when it awarded a $7,932,000 grant to the Sonoma Land Trust for its Sonoma Baylands Acquisition project supporting the permanent protection and restoration of 2,329 acres at the far northern end of San Pablo Bay. Since that time, the Moore Foundation has provided numerous other grants to the Sonoma Land Trust, including a $1 million grant for the Estero Ranch in March 2015, $300,000 for the Sonoma Development Center in November 2014, and $400,000 for the Howlett Ranch in August 2014.

This latest restoration effort began when a 140-year-old levee was breached in just a few short minutes. You can actually watch a video of the breach on Moore’s website.

According to Julian Meisler, Sonoma Land Trust’s Baylands program manager:

We are literally changing the map of the bay with this project. That’s important not because we are trying to go back in time, but rather, because we all depend on a functioning bay. It is vital to our safety, our economy, and for all the wildlife who call it home. This is our legacy and it’s wonderful to have one of which we, as a community, can be proud.

We can’t help noticing that the Moore Foundation remains heavily involved in big wetlands restoration projects and prominent public-private partnerships. These projects aren’t just shifting around land for the heck of it; they’re actually improving the natural landscape of the Bay Area in measurable ways.

Related: Can the Moore Foundation Save San Francisco’s Wetlands?

Here's an example. Moore was involved early in the acquisition and initial stewardship planning of the South Bay Salt Ponds from Cargill back in April 2002. Back then, Moore committed $6,330,000 to the cause. Now, evidence shows that migratory bird populations have doubled since that time. The habitat is responding faster than scientists have anticipated; however, it will likely cost another billion dollars to finish the job over the next 40 years.

There’s clearly a big push for wetlands restoration around the Bay, and Moore is in tune with these efforts in a unique way. Not only are these types of efforts protecting the environment, they’re also boosting public use of lands and outdoor recreation. For example, there are plans to build a new 2.5-mile section of the San Francisco Bay Trail on top of the new levee. The trail will lead to a kayak ramp, and both are expected to be ready by early 2016.

To learn more about Moore’s locally focused wetlands funding, check out the foundation’s Bay Area Conservation program, which supports projects in the following counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Sonoma.