By: Natalie Cheyette
With constant hurricanes and wildfires, it’s no secret that global warming is catching up with us, and fast. But so far, we in the Bay Area haven’t been affected too much, aside from smoke from the Napa fires. How will climate change affect us in the future? I sat down with Gail Raabe, one of the chief members of Citizen’s Community to Complete the Refuge, to talk about what environments in the Bay Area need protecting, how they’re being protected, and what we can do to help.
This is an edited interview.
Q: What is it exactly that you do?
I work for a group called “Citizen’s Committee to Complete the Refuge.” They’re a group of folks that actually got together way back in the 60’s and 70’s. They realized that it wasn’t enough to save various parts of The Bay, especially the South Bay, from development if there was just gonna be another project proposal five years down the road. You’re constantly fighting the same battle. So they thought, “What we need to do is, we need to have a way to permanently protect these lands.” My segment is Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, and Foster City.
Q: What’s a standout case that you’ve had?
Well, this is something that’s not resolved yet. In 1982, the city council made a decision that they were going to allow a massive development to be done on [Bair Island and Bird Island], and it was going to be called “South Shores” and it was going to be just like Foster City and Redwood Shores. They actually went through the whole process and approved it. Citizens organized and called themselves “Friends of Redwood City” and did a Citizen’s Referendum. They got their signatures, put it on the ballot, and won by 40 votes. In fact, when they went to sleep the night of the election, they’d lost, but by the time they got through all the absentee ballots, they’d won. So that was the difference between this area becoming a refuge or being another Foster City. So that was a huge victory, but there’s unfinished business. The salt ponds in Redwood City aren’t making salt anymore, and in 2010, they proposed a huge development on there. There was a big community uproar about this and they decided, a couple of years later, to pull the application. But they told the city they’d be back with a new plan.
Q: And are they?
We haven’t seen a new plan yet, but what we’re trying to do is maintain an organization of people that, if they submit another plan, we can hit the ground running as far as mobilizing opposition to it.
Q: So why is that important?
This is a map taken from the 1800’s that shows what used to be [picture]. So when you look all around San Francisco Bay, they estimate that there was at least 300,000 acres of tidal marsh, these meandering sloughs and pickleweed and whatnot. And 85 percent of it around the Bay has been lost. It’s either been dyked off into salt ponds, it’s been developed, it’s had garbage dumps put in it, all around the Bay. All of these tidal marshes were filled in and lost. So that’s why you have the Clapper Rail and the mouse endangered. In recent years, scientists have taken a look at the Bay and said in order to have a healthy ecosystem, we need to have at least 100,000 acres of this habitat. That’s the goal, is to get back to 100,000. Realizing, like I said, that that’s at the most a third of what used to be here, it’s not like you want to compromise on that, because you’re already only getting back a portion of what was there. So every acre becomes really important.
Q: There’s been some land loss around the Bay. Is that coming from rising water levels?
The tidal marshes, as well as all of us who live on the edge, are threatened by sea level rise, from climate change. We were actively fighting the proposal for the development here. You have a marsh, and when there’s storms and big waves, the marsh buffers that. When you have a lot of runoff from heavy rainfall, the marshes can act sort of like a sponge to absorb some of those floodwaters. But also, pickleweed salt marshes are one of the most efficient types of habitat for sequestering carbon. They suck up carbon like crazy. And I’ve read that it even rivals or exceeds what rainforests do. So it’s advantageous to restore tidal marshes for that reason as well. But what happens, when sea level rises, to these tidal marshes? Well, what can happen is that, if it happens gradually enough, and there’s enough sediment going into the Bay, the marshes can keep up with it. They just build on top of last year’s growth.
A: What can we as high school students do to help?
The first thing we realized, early in, is that people don’t know. [We’re] educating people about the Bay and about the fact that we’ve lost all of this tidal marsh and how important it is and how big a role it plays in climate change and in flood protection. People at your high school would be very receptive because your school [will live] right on the edge of the Bay. And all your audience is going to be turning 18, which means they can vote! So that would be the third thing: VOTE. Vote, vote, vote, vote, and vote! At all levels! National, state, local, you know, be informed, be an informed voter, because things are important at all levels. I think people don’t pay enough attention to some of the votes on the local level that really can have an impact. And your school could contact Save the Bay and say, “Hey, we’d like to do a restoration work day with you.” Because that gets people out there. They’re not just driving by and going, “Oh yeah look at that.” You’re out there and it’s really a wonderful experience.