Strategic Plan 2023–2028
RETURNING TIDAL WETLANDS TO THE BAY
Tidal wetlands are located in between dry land and tidal waters such as bays and oceans. The vital benefits they provide include flood protection, water filtration, carbon capture, and habitat for a diverse set of species, making them a valuable natural resource. By the 1960s, more than 90 percent of tidal wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Estuary had been lost to development and reclamation of land. With sea level rise accelerating, we must protect what remains, restore what has been lost, and create room for them to expand upland while we still can.
The Earth is warming, and ice sheets and glaciers are melting, and sea water is expanding. The State of California climate modeling guidance projects that sea levels will likely rise 0.6 to 1.1 ft by 2050 and 1.2 to 3.4 ft by 2100 in the San Francisco Bay area. Storm surges, king tides, and short-term climate fluctuations will cause increased coastal flooding. People and infrastructure in communities throughout the North Bay, such as Petaluma and Schellville, are at the front lines of experiencing the full effects of this change, resulting in potential flooding and related damage. Wetland restoration is critical to buffer communities from the rising seas and doing so requires participation from transportation authorities, landowners, and local governments, working together and acting quickly.
Restoring the function of tidal marshes and increasing their reach upland from the bay, provides the space for rising tides and floodwaters to flow naturally. We are increasing the pace of our restoration work in the San Pablo Baylands region to buffer the impacts of flooding from sea level rise and intense storms. We are restoring not only the habitat itself, but the processes that enable climate adaptation and resilience by connecting uplands and streams with the bay and preserving space for marshes to expand.
Reconnecting and rehabilitating the San Pablo Baylands exemplifies the extraordinary beneficial functions that wetlands provide. We will continue to transform the Baylands by protecting and restoring up to 10,000 acres that improve and enhance key coastal habitat for biodiversity including endangered species while buffering local communities and critical infrastructure from sea level rise and flooding.
Why this matters
Sea level rise and increased storm activity threaten to permanently flood much of the San Francisco Bay shoreline, including habitat, commuter transportation infrastructure, businesses, and homes. Tidal marshes act like sponges, absorbing the surges of water generated by high-tide events and flooding, while also providing habitat for birds, small mammals, fish, and plants. Restoring marshlands can alleviate the worst impacts of flooding and provide natural buffers to wind and wave erosion.
Landscape-scale wetland restoration has proven to be the most effective and affordable long-term defense against the impacts of sea level rise. Through a collaboration with state transportation and natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, Indigenous tribes, and local landowners, we are advocating for and implementing the protection and restoration of wetlands in the San Pablo Baylands, Sonoma Creek, Tolay Creek, and the Petaluma River Baylands.
What We’ll Do
Build resilient, interconnected landscapes
We will work collaboratively with public agencies, conservation organizations, and local landowners in the Sonoma Creek and Petaluma River watershed. Working together to conserve, restore, and manage a reconnect landscape of tidal marsh, seasonal wetland, streams, and upland habitats, and the natural processes that sustain them. This work includes protecting and restoring 10,000 acres across public and private land, which will bring vital benefits of flood protection, water filtration, carbon capture, and habitat for a diverse set of species including threatened or endangered.
Advocate for wetland restoration policies and funding
We will build stronger alliances with state agencies and legislators to provide recommendations and secure political support and funding for our wetland restoration strategies. Our policy advocacy and outreach work includes the Highway 37 redesign project, with special focus on widening the Tolay Creek bridge, which will directly benefit the ecological health and resilience of thousands of acres of wetlands. This is in addition to the expansion of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge boundary, which would provide more protection and support to migratory birds, wetland habitat, and endangered species.
Provide land access to communities
We will prioritize the protection and enhancement of tribal cultural connections in the Baylands, as well as access for the general public. We are working on two parallel tracks: Indigenous community access through partnerships and potential ownership, and public access through expanding the boundaries of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This work includes archeological surveys of Sonoma Creek and the Petaluma Baylands, supporting tribal goals for conservation properties — including ensuring rights for tribal cultural practices — and expanding the wildlife refuge boundary for outdoor recreation.