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Environmental groups praise the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for its two projects

Environmental groups praise the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for its two projects

Tidal marsh or ‘fake habitat’? California environmental project draws criticism and support

By Dan Brekke

14 June 2013

California’s environmentally destructive project to drain wetlands has sparked a flurry of criticism, but it has also attracted the support of leading environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters.

The three organizations issued a letter of support to the California Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Friday for a pair of projects it is about to undertake to reduce the loss of habitat in the San Francisco Bay Delta. One will transfer more than 5,000 acres of coastal marshes south of the city of Morgan Hill, where they were last drained in the 1960s.

The other will create a new estuary in the San Francisco Estuary Program, also south of Morgan Hill, to serve as a wildlife release site for species such as the California red-legged frog. These new wetlands would be connected to the San Francisco Estuary Program by a channel that is being dredged in the Delta to allow wildlife to travel between the two.

There are fears that the projects could open up vast territories for development, and a recent poll found that 63 percent of Bay Area voters oppose the development of an estuary for wildlife.

The environmental groups praised the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for moving ahead with the projects, which have the support of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. They said there is “no question that the delta is in desperate need of additional wildlife habitat and more water management projects to restore and protect the delta’s biodiversity.

“But the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Governor are at odds over one very significant issue: the project to drain the delta’s wetlands,” the organizations wrote.

“We cannot ignore the negative impacts on people, ecosystems and wildlife,” said the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay chapter in a statement. “If the delta is to survive and recover, the Commission and the Governor must take steps to reduce its destruction.”

The project to drain the wetlands was first pursued by the federal Office of Economic Adjustment in the 1960s. After repeated failures by the office, it was taken over by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 1971. There is still a federal agency overseeing this project, but the commission has had full power for over a decade to implement it

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