A new wildlife refuge for San Diego Bay
he US Fish and Wildlife Service has released a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) proposing the creation of the long-awaited South Bay Unit (SBU) of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. The area stretches west from the 24th Street Channel to just north of Crown Cove, south around the salt ponds and then northward along the bay's edge. It covers portions of the cities of Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, Coronado, National City and San Diego.
Historically, San Diego Bay was once one of the richest wildlife resources along the California/Baja coast. The Bay was host to a wealth of native wildlife including osprey, halibut, mussels, lobster, and whales. Most of the original habitat is gone to filling and development and wintering waterfowl have dwindled by up to 90 percent. While it is too late to restore the bay to its original abundance, we can preserve what is left.
All habitats left in south San Diego Bay are at risk and will continue to deteriorate if not protected soon. San Diego Bay's shallow water, eelgrass, mudflats and salt marshes the most biologically productive habitats have virtually been eliminated elsewhere in the Bay. Protection and enhancement of habitat in South Bay is the last remaining hope for many of these species: they need professional management by qualified agencies.
As the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano and the blooming flowers of Anza Borrego draw tourists (and their dollars), so, too, is there a significant market that has yet to be "exploited" in South Bay. Ecotourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry, increasing at a rate of 30 percent per year. A National Survey on Recreation and the Environment showed a significant increase in passive recreation: walking up 42 percent, hiking up 93 percent and bird watching 155 percent.
Birding is a sport that is enjoyed by people of all ages and from all demographic and economic backgrounds. San Diego County has over 480 bird species more than any other county in the continental United States. Our county and the South Bay in particular has abundant natural riches to offer nature lovers and travelers. By protecting critical habitat and promoting compatible use of the resources, we can develop our economic base and, at the same time, protect our unique natural treasures for future generations.
In addition to successful salt production, the salt ponds of South Bay provide irreplaceable habitat for many bird species. Each year, these birds use the ponds to nest, feed, and roost. It is one of the few large areas remaining along the highly urbanized southern California Coast where large populations can gather. In 1994, the salt ponds were used by 522,553 birds including 312,000 shorebirds, 70,000 waterfowl, and 64,000 seabirds.
The open water also provides critical wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl. In the winter, South Bay is heavily used by migrating and wintering birds including: 79,000 waterfowl such as surf scoters and scaup; 10,000 seabirds (such as gulls and terns); and populations of brown pelicans and brant geese. Without South Bay, these birds have few options for areas in which to rest, feed and prepare for migration.
Now is our chance to insure that San Diego Bay's natural community can thrive into the next century.
The Preferred Alternative:
The Preferred Alternative will not:
All too often habitat protection and open space preservation has been focused in more affluent North County areas. The establishment of the SBU completes a major corridor of natural and open spaces including the Otay Lakes, Vernal Pools units of the SDNWR and the Otay River Valley Regional Park for people in the South County. Together these projects will ensure that the residents in the South County will have beautiful, natural open spaces to enjoy into the next century.
The development of a refuge and park side-by-side is part of what creates the marvelous opportunity for ecotourism development in the South Bay. This "natural infrastructure" will ensure that the resources and natural areas that people will travel to South County to see will be there permanently.
Many of the most recent developments in and around San Diego Bay have focused on the affluent tourist or conventioneer. This refuge will provide easy access, educational, and interpretive opportunities for all who live locally. Where else is there a refuge that is easily and directly accessible by mass transit? The SBU has significant potential to serve communities in Barrio Logan, National City, Chula Vista, and Imperial Beach. It is adjacent to or in close proximity to several schools.
Fish and wildlife habitats in the North San Diego Bay are largely destroyed. The massive dredging and filling of wetlands for airports, industry, and commercial and naval facilities on the Bayfront occurred many years ago and was never mitigated. This caused a significant net loss of wetlands and habitat for fish and wildlife. Seventy-five percent of the wetlands along the entire San Diego coastline have disappeared since the 1800s. South San Diego Bay contains 84 percent of San Diego's remaining 76 acres of wetlands.
The creation of this refuge in San Diego Bay constitutes both a historic and visionary action. Historic, because it is the first meaningful habitat protection action since the creation of the Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge and visionary because it will ensure that the natural resources will endure into the next century. Through this action, US Fish and Wildlife Service is giving a tremendous gift to the next generations of San Diegans.
Now is our chance to make history for San Diego Bay.
Letters of Support are due by April 10, 1998. Comments may be emailed to: r1planning_guestfws.gov (type South Bay in the subject line) or mailed to Director Michael Spear, USFWS 911 NE 11th Avenue Portland, OR 97232, or faxed to: (503) 231-6161. The full text is available on the internet at www.r1.fws.gov/planning/plnhome.html.
Also send your comments to: Supervisor Greg Cox, 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego, CA 92101; fax (619) 557-4025; email greg-coxco.san-diego.ca.us.
|Friends of South Bay Wildlife is a coalition of 15 public-interest and environmental groups working to protect San Diego Bay's natural resources. Contact: Laura Hunter at (619) 235-0281|