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Contact: John Dell'Osso, 415-464-5135
The Point Reyes National Seashore announced today that it has received $2.44 million in federal funding to conduct the Drakes Estero Coastal Watershed Restoration Project. The project includes a number of specific physical treatments within five coastal watersheds, all draining into the Drakes Estero system, the centerpiece of Point Reyes National Seashore and one of the most ecologically significant estuarine areas in the state of California. The project area lies within the Central California Coast Evolutionarily Significant Unit for the federally listed coho salmon and steelhead trout and contains habitat critical to these species' survival.
The project will remove or replace nine facilities (culverts and dams), currently in various states of disrepair and restore natural conditions and increase estuarine habitat. The project will reduce the maintenance demands at Point Reyes, eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure of culverts and dams, and increase sustainability, both operationally and ecologically within these small coastal watersheds. Overall, the project will restore fish access to 20 miles of streams.
Removal of facilities from wilderness and estuarine areas, and replacement of existing road crossings with structures that allow for natural hydrological process and fish passage will ultimately allow for the reintroduction and enhancement of endangered aquatic populations, including federally threatened steelhead trout and federally endangered coho salmon. These facilities were the result of coastal development activities that threatened the area in the late 1950s and led directly to the Congressional establishment of the Seashore on September 13, 1962.
Drakes Estero is within Point Reyes National Seashore and is a nationally prized marine resource. The waters of the Estero were designated by Congress as potential wilderness by the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act (Public Law 94-544). The Act designated over 33,000 acres as wilderness, including the waters of Drakes Estero. The wilderness area honors the preservation legacy of the late Congressman Philip Burton.
It is the only federal marine coastal wilderness between Washington State and Mexico and one of only 11 marine wilderness areas in the U.S. The estuary was recently designated a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, a site of Regional Importance in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan because it is critical to a great diversity and abundance of shorebirds. A similar waterbird designation is pending. Drakes Estero is adjacent to Estero de Limantour, a State Ecological Marine Reserve, established in 1974 by the California Department of Fish and Game.
The estuary is a remarkable resource. Extensive eelgrass beds are highly significant to the ecological function of the estuary because they provide cover, food and a nursery for fish and invertebrates. Several marine species such as lingcod, English sole, speckled sanddab, rockfish, and Dungeness crab, spend their larval and juvenile stages in eelgrass beds. The bird life is highly diverse and abundant, with maximum estimated numbers ranging between 10,000 and 100,000 seasonally. Biologists have identified several federal threatened, endangered, or species of concern such as Osprey, White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Peregrine Falcon, Black Brant, and Western Snowy Plover. Black Brant over-winter feeding on eelgrass, and are on the Audubon species Watch List. The Estero is a sanctuary for harbor seals, annually producing 300-500 pups. During the breeding and molting season there are close to 2000 harbor seals in the estuary system. Point Reyes is a significant harbor seal area, protecting around 20% of the California mainland harbor seal population.
Restoration of Drakes Estero is a critical endeavor, locally and nationally. Our global oceans are in dire condition according to a recent publication in the journal Science. If the long-term trend continues, all fish species are projected to collapse within the next 50 years. Already, researchers have found that 90% of all the fish species in the world’s oceans have been depleted. Coastal waters have been degraded by water diversion, chemical and biological pollution, oil spills, and noise. Invasive non-native species have been introduced through bilge water, oyster farming and recreational activities. A scant 0.01% of the global ocean is effectively protected now, with Drakes Estero forming an important part of that small percentage.
The National Park Service (NPS) completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) process, including public review, for both the dam alternations and culvert replacements. Findings of No Significant Impacts (FONSIs) were determined after the public review process. Consultation for each of the projects was conducted with US Fish and Wildlife Service, Regional Water Quality Control Board, Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA Fisheries, who all concurred with NPS environmental analyses.