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For the Birds: Alameda Point’s De-Pave Park

We don’t get a chance to add wild intertidal habitat to our island very often, so let’s make the most of it when we can with De-Pave Park at Alameda Point. Put yourself in a shorebird’s place. Imagine flying on your own wing-power from the Russian Arctic to San Francisco Bay, not just once but round trip, every year of your life. Long-billed dowitchers, a species of sandpiper, do it.

Alameda Post - three long-billed dowitchers wade in the water
Weighing in at just under 4 ounces—the weight of a deck of cards or one “D” battery—with a wingspan just under 20 inches, long-billed dowitchers migrate 3,500 miles on the Pacific Flyway between their arctic nesting grounds and overwintering sites around San Francisco Bay. Photo Rick Lewis.

One of the struggles for long-billed dowitchers, as well as other shorebirds and ducks, is a lack of wetland areas here. Since the late 1800s nearly 90% of the historic wetlands around the Bay Area have been lost: filled to build housing, businesses, and transportation corridors, as well as diked to create agricultural areas in the Delta and salt ponds in the South Bay.

Alameda Post - a map of the marshes in the Bay Area
This infographic shows the magnitude of lost wetlands around San Francisco Bay: over 90% of historic wetlands are now gone. Map USGS.

The coming of De-Pave Park at Alameda Point will help dowitchers and other birds by restoring a small portion of that lost wetland area. Marshland and creeks once covered a substantial part of western Alameda. One of the components and key reasons for creating the De-Pave Park is to establish a wetland area that will be adaptable for sea-level rise with a boardwalk providing access into the future. (Read more about the vision plan for De-Pave Park.) The City Council will be voting soon about how much wetland area will be added. Under consideration is whether to keep or remove Buildings 25 and 29 from the property. Removing both buildings is a decision that supports wildlife as well as maximizes public use of the park.

Alameda Post - an old map of Alameda
Historically, Alameda Point was a large wetland area with streams and marshes as you can see on this map from 1913. Map California Historical Society.

Between 1880 and the 1960s, vast amounts of wetlands and baylands were filled all around Alameda, nearly doubling the size of our two islands. While some marshlands have been preserved, most importantly at the east end of Alameda Beach at the East Bay Regional Park District’s Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary, most of our migratory shorebird and duck habitats have been lost. This makes it tough for species like the long-billed dowitcher that rely on returning to the same area every year when their habitat is drastically reduced. It causes overcrowding and a higher mortality rate from disease and predation as well as a less fit bird for the long migration back to their nesting grounds. You can get a sense for how much of Alameda’s main island and Bay Farm Island used to be wetlands on a USGS map for potential liquefaction zones in areas where structures were built on filled lands.

Alameda Post - many birds of different varieties on a beach
Let’s make more habitat for our migratory feathered friends at De-Pave Park at Alameda Point. Photo Rick Lewis.

San Francisco Bay has been designated by the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network as a site of Hemispheric Importance for shorebirds migrating between North and South America. Where once shorebirds had more than a half-million acres of mudflats and salt marshes, the largest contiguous tidal marsh system on the Pacific Coast, less than 90% remains. This has resulted in precarious declines in both migratory and resident water birds. The remaining wetlands still host hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, and other water birds throughout the year, but scientists are worried about declines in their populations with some species having close to a 40% decline. Scientists and volunteers are monitoring the populations with an annual count. The next count is in November.

Alameda Post - a multitude of birds take flight on a beach
This is a common sight at Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary during fall and winter with so many species of birds sharing the resources the wetland habitat provides—a place to rest, refuel, and feed. De-Pave Park will provide additional space for them to support more bird life. Photo Rick Lewis.

This week, take a tour around our island home and visit the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary with its overwintering shorebirds, terns, pelicans, and cormorants. You may see some of our long-distance migratory birds like the long-billed dowitchers as well as the tiny least and Western sandpipers. Then explore the future De-Pave Park on the West End of the island and imagine another rich intertidal habitat that can also support an increased amount of shorebirds and water birds. Let your elected representatives on the City Council know how much you value wildlife and support a place for them on our island at De-Pave Park, both now and into the future, with the removal of both Building 29 and Building 25.

Sharol Nelson-Embry is a Board Member with the Golden Gate Bird Alliance (formerly Audubon) and co-chairs the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve (Veterans Administration-Alameda Point). She retired from the East Bay Regional Park District as Supervising Naturalist at the Doug Siden Visitor Center at Crab Cove, Crown Memorial State Beach.

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