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Fish and Wildlife Service Drops $3 Million On California Wetlands

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The Endangered salt marsh harvest mouse gets some habitat paid for | Photo: USFWS/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Four coastal wetlands in California will benefit from $3 million in grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will go toward preserving and restoring wildlife habitat, the agency announced Thursday. The grants will be added to another $2.3 million in matching funds from state and local governments, private land owners, and conservation groups.

The money will be used to buy unprotected wetlands and adjoining uplands, as well as working to heal damage to already protected land. Two of the wetland areas are in the southern end of San Francisco Bay, with the others in San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties.

Coastal wetlands are among the most ecologically productive habitats in California, and they're also among the most heavily damaged by a century of commercial exploitation. Protecting and restoring California's coastal wetlands helps boost ocean fish populations, it buffers shorelines against storm-driven erosion, and it maintains habitat for some of the state's most threatened-species.

As an example, of that last benefit, take Bair Island in the San Francisco Bay near Redwood City, which was once a thriving tidal cordgrass marsh with a network of interwoven sloughs. Until it was diked for agriculture in the 19th century, Bair Island provided habitat for the California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse, both now listed as Endangered due primarily to industrial and residential development of their habitat around San Francisco Bay.

$554,485 from this round of grants from the National Coastal Grants Wetlands Conservation Grants Program, along with $660,000 in non-federal matching funds the California State Coastal Conservancy, will work to restore Bair Island's tidal sloughs, cordgrass marsh habitat, and transitional uplands, ensuring that species like the rail and the harvest mouse can keep at least a little of their historic habitat.

USFWS made similar grants to the Coastal Conservancy for restoration work in the nearby Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), as well as the estuarine sections of Los Osos Creek near Morro Bay and the White Slough Unit of the Humboldt Bay NWR. Aside from the clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, other species standing to benefit from the projects include the Endangered tidewater goby, the Threatened green sturgeon, coho salmon, and steelhead.

"Coastal wetlands not only provide key habitat for fish and wildlife but they also improve water quality, support local economies through jobs and provide flood protection," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a press release announcing the grants. "These grants, funded through excise taxes paid by anglers and boaters, give us the opportunity to join with states and territories and other partners to conserve and restore these areas that are so vital to our environment and our quality of life."

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