California’s wetlands have significant economic and environmental value, providing benefits such as water-quality maintenance, flood and erosion attenuation, prevention of saltwater intrusion, and wildlife habitat.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta regularly harbors as much as 15 percent of the waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway. California has lost as much as 91 percent of its original wetlands, primarily because of conversion to agriculture. Flooded rice fields, which are converted wetlands, covered about 658,600 acres in the mid-1980′s. Rice farmers, State and university researchers, and private organizations are cooperatively studying the feasibility of managing rice fields for migratory waterfowl habitat. Wetland protection is identified as a goal of The California Environmental Quality Act of 1970.
California Threatened and Endangered Species
The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) — called the “Ramsar Convention” — is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories. The Convention on Wetlands came into force for the USA on 18 April 1987. The USA presently has 35 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 1,827,196 hectares.
Bolinas Lagoon. 01/09/98; California; 445 ha; 37º55’N 122º41’W. Located in California, less than 20 kilometers up the coast from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Bolinas Lagoon is a tidal embayment of open water, mudflat, and marsh which provides productive and diverse habitats for marine fishes, waterbirds, and marine mammals, and it is also part of a much larger protected natural habitat complex in the region. The site is located on the Pacific Flyway, which makes the Lagoon an ideal staging ground and stopover site for migratory birds, and the temperate climate provides wintering habitat for a wide array of ducks, geese, and shorebirds. The area supports a number of recreational uses, including the use of manually-powered watercraft. Ramsar site no. 960. Most recent RIS information: 2007.
Grassland Ecological Area. 02/02/05; California; 65,000 ha; 37º10′N 120º50′W. National Wildlife Refuge, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve. Located in the Central Valley in the San Joaquin River Basin, the site is the largest remaining contiguous block of freshwater wetlands in California. It consists of semipermanent and permanent marshes, riparian corridors, vernal pool complexes, wet meadows, native uplands and grasslands, featuring Alkali Sacaton grassland Sporobolus airoides and the endemic Delta button celery, Eryngium racemosum. The site is renowned for its wintering waterbirds which reach several hundred thousands every winter. These include Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis), 19 duck species (Northern pintail Anas acuta; Green-winged teal Anas crecca; Northern shoveler Anas clypeata; Canvasbacks Aythya valisineria and others), 6 species of geese, tens of thousands of shorebirds (most abundantly Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri, Dunlin Calidris alpina and Long-billed dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus). The site is home to four endangered shrimps as well the threatened Giant garter snake Thamnophis gigas. Due to flood-control and irrigation projects the entire hydrology of the valley had been dramatically altered, but water quality and allocation issues have been successfully addressed with the Central Valley Project Improvement Act in 1992. Most of the wetlands are managed by the controlled application of water using a series of canals and control structures, mimicking historical flood patterns with pulses of high water flow during winter and spring. The largest potential threat to the site is urban development. Ramsar site no. 1451. Most recent RIS information: 2005.
Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetland Complex. 16/04/2010; California; 1576 ha; 38°24´N 122°47´W. The Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetland Complex is composed of seasonal and perennial freshwater wetlands such as creeks, ponds, marshes, vernal pools, swales, floodplains, riparian forest and grassland located in the Laguna de Santa Rosa Watershed. The complex includes an array of public and privately owned units with a variety of conservation status that range from Wildlife areas to Mitigation banks. The Ramsar Site is considered a biological hotspot due to its various types of rare and unique wetlands like vernal pools and their associated rare and endemic plant like the Sonoma sunshine (Blennosperma bakeri) and animal species such as the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense). Besides its high biological value, the site provides flood control, scenic beauty, and recreation services to the majority of Sonoma County’s human population. The Laguna de Santa Rosa Complex main threats are associated to recent land use changes in the area such as wetland drainage for farming and expansion of urban areas, pollution due to excessive use of fertilizers in the Santa Rosa Plain, and hydrological changes due to the construction of drainage and flood control channels. Currently, the Ramsar Site managers are using a restoration and management plan published in 2006 to implement the conservation goals in the Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetland Complex. Ramsar Site no. 1930. Most recent RIS information: 2010. [See photos | Español]
San Francisco Bay/Estuary (SFBE). 02/02/13; California; 158,711 ha; 37°52′N 122°23′W. UNESCO Biosphere Reserve; includes National Wildlife Refuges and other protected areas. San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast of the US, encompassing approximately 160,000 hectares. SFBE is widely recognized as one of North America’s most ecologically important estuaries, accounting for 77 percent of California’s remaining perennial estuarine wetlands and providing key habitat for a broad suite of flora and fauna and a range of ecological services such as flood protection, water quality maintenance, nutrient filtration and cycling, and carbon sequestration. The site is home to many plant species and over 1,000 species of animals, including endemic and conservation status species. It is noted for hosting more wintering shorebirds than any other estuary along the US Pacific Coast south of Alaska and is recognized as a site of Hemispheric Importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. It is also important for over 130 species of resident and migratory marine, estuarine and anadromous fish species. Development pressures on remaining wetlands and adjacent uplands continue to threaten habitats not owned or managed for conservation. The site is a renowned international tourism destination. Parts of the site are within the UNESCO Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve (1988). Ramsar site no. 2097. Most recent RIS information: 2013.