San Francisco Bay Area Ecology

San Francisco Bay Area EcologySan Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is one of California’s most important ecological habitats.

California’s Dungeness crab, Pacific halibut, and Pacific salmon fisheries use the Bay as a nursery.  The Bay is also a key link in the Pacific Flyway.  Each year millions of waterfowl use the Bay shallows as a refuge.

San Francisco Bay provided the nation’s first wildlife refuge, Oakland’s artificial Lake Merritt, built in 1860, and America’s first urban National Wildlife Refuge, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in 1972.

The National Park Service has made major investments in restoring the tidal wetlands at the mouths of Lagunitas Creek and Redwood Creek, including removing levees and placing large woody debris in the creeks.  These provide shelter during heavy stream flows and flooding.

Several aquatic mammals recently re-colonized the Bay Area, including the California Golden Beaver who are now established on the Napa River and Sonoma Creek.  The North American River Otter was reported again in Redwood Creek at Muir Beach in 1996,  recently in Corte Madera Creek, and in the south Bay on Coyote Creek.  In 2010 they were seen in San Francisco Bay itself.  Hooray!

Sea otter were hunted to near-extinction in San Francisco Bay by 1817.  Laws were passed, but the Russian-American Company snuck Aleuts into San Francisco Bay.  The Spanish captured them while hunting sea otters in the estuaries of San Jose, San Mateo, San Bruno and around Angel Island.  The founder of Fort Ross, Ivan Kuskov, sent Russian ships and hired an American ship to hunt otter, catching 1,160 in just three months.

In March, 2012 a Bald eagle nest was reported on upper San Mateo Creek. This was the first bald eagle breeding pair on the San Francisco Peninsula since 1915, when they nested in La Honda, almost one hundred years ago. The birds were once common in the Bay Area.

While visiting Santa Clara County in 1855, naturalist James G. Cooper described “a nest of this bird large enough to fill a wagon, built in a large sycamore tree, standing alone in the prairie.” In the 1980s re-introductions began of the bird began.

Life is looking up in the great outdoors.

Writer: Meredith Blevins, featured travel writer for the Authentic Wine Country.  Join her at for wine-country mysteries, classes, and the untamed west.

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