The Salt Pond Test

Rather than my typical synopsis, I present to you the first couple grafs of my latest Eco Watch column in the East Bay Express (published today). This story came about after I learned about the project while reporting on another story for the San Francisco Chronicle, published a couple weeks ago.

Talk of restoring the Bay Area's tens of thousands of acres of former salt ponds to tidal marshes tends to conjure a rather irresistible image: A bright yellow earthmover tears a massive rift in a century-old levee and returns the tides to coastal areas from which they've long been estranged. Soon native vegetation appears, then birds, and eventually the once-desolate flats become a thriving tidal wetland. The recovery is natural, wild, and absolutely inevitable. Except that it's not.

The reality is that saltworks along the perimeter of the San Francisco Bay — some of which date back to Gold Rush days — have permanently altered the landscape and its ecology. Even if all of the hundreds of levees that divide the once vast tidelands into salt ponds were to be breached, the bay's wetlands would not automatically revert to their formerly productive state.

That's why an experiment being developed by Memphis-based hunting and conservation group Ducks Unlimited at Hayward's Eden Landing Ecological Reserve is so important. ...