16,600 Acres of Wetlands to Provide Multiple Benefits for the San Francisco Bay Area


Governor Davis today announced the largest coastal wetlands restoration project in California's history. This agreement will acquire 16,600 acres of Bay Area tidal wetlands and allow for their restoration and placement into permanent protection under state and federal agencies.

"Today, we're taking the first step toward restoring the San Francisco Bay for the people of California," Governor Davis said. "This is more than just a purchase. Today, we're marking a commitment - to enhance our communities, our state, and our most precious natural resources."

These wetlands, which have currently been used as salt ponds by Cargill Salt, cover 26 square miles and ring the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay. Under the agreement, the State of California is supplying $72 million of the $100 million purchase price. The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation are providing $20 million. The federal government is furnishing the final $8 million. The land was originally appraised at $243 million; Cargill will take a charitable contribution claim of the difference.

The restored wetlands will provide a range of benefits including:

  • Preservation of open space;
  • Improved water quality through natural purification;
  • Critical habitat for endangered species;
  • Support for commercial fisheries by providing habitat;
  • Recreation and tourism; and
  • Public access, recreation, and education in one of the most urbanized regions in the country.

The restoration planning will commence once the deal is formally closed. Planning is expected to take about five years and will include a broad range of interested parties, including local communities, scientists and environmental organizations. Restoration is expected to take between 10 and 30 years and will preserve open space and provide habitat for many species, including the endangered salt harvest mouse and the clapper rail.

The salt ponds date back to solar salt making operations that began shortly after the Gold Rush. Over the years, the operations grew to cover most of the tidal wetland areas, and by the 1960s Leslie Salt owned 50,000 acres of salt ponds around the San Francisco Bay. In 1978, Cargill Salt, a division of the Cargill Corporation, bought the ponds from Leslie Salt.

The Department of Fish and Game will operate and maintain approximately 7,000 acres; the United State Fish and Wildlife Service will operate and maintain the remaining 9,500 acres. Cargill retains responsibility for the operation, maintenance and clean up of the salt ponds, and some funds will be withheld until the clean up is complete.

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