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Haire Ranch Wetland Project

Haire Ranch Wetland ProjectPhoto courtesy USFWS

April 2019

The effort to restore Haire Ranch to wetlands has made some serious progress and over the past few months waterfowl have been flocking in to check it out!  

The ranch, known as “the holy grail of conservation projects”, is part of Skaggs Island, situated midway along Highway 37 along the Northern edge of San Francisco Bay and in the ecological heart of the Sonoma Baylands.  Long targeted for conservation and restoration, a majority of the Island was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2011. 

In 2013, our partners at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) purchased a wetland conservation easement on the property and Sonoma Land Trust (SLT) acquired the underlying fee title.  The property was then transferred to USFWS, all critical first step to the restoration of the entire 4400 acres on Skaggs Island.

A little History
Skaggs Island was named after Vera Long’s father and Safeway supermarket entrepreneur, M.B. Skaggs.   He acquired the island in the 1930s during the Depression from Nevada Senator John Jones and the Sonoma Land Company. Jones had reclaimed the island in the 1880s and farmed it for oat hay to feed horses in nearby San Francisco. In 1941, during World War II, the U.S. Navy condemned the bulk of Skaggs Island for a communications and intelligence gathering base, with the exception of the 1,092-acre property (Haire Ranch) that Skaggs sold to the grandfather of James and Judy Haire.

Skaggs negotiated a “perpetual maintenance agreement” with the government that required the owner of the larger portion of Skaggs Island to maintain the network of levees and storm water pumps that kept Haire Ranch dry enough to farm. Because of that agreement, USFWS was unable to proceed with restoration plans until the Ranch could be acquired and the reason the acquisition of the property was so instrumental.

More on the project …
Ducks Unlimited, Inc. (DU) partnered with NRCS and USFWS to plan, design, and implement the Haire Ranch Wetland Project with the goal of providing seasonal wetland habitat that will also accommodate longer term future tidal restoration. In 2017 DU conducted a competitive bidding process and recommended Maggiora & Ghilotti as the construction contractor.  They were hired in September of 2017 and by January 2018, earthwork was complete.  As of December 2018, the water control structures, pump station, and tule transplants were in place.

The initial phase of the project was funded by NRCS and the Joseph and Vera Long Foundation and has had immediate benefits such as providing valuable freshwater habitat at the edge of San Pablo Bay, (proven by the 2019 return of birds), and helping to halt land subsidence while laying the groundwork for when the site will eventually be tidally restored.   Over time, in addition to providing a new home for wildlife, these marshes will help buffer the impact of sea level rise on the Bay shore.

The conversion of approximately 782 acres of actively farmed agricultural fields to open water and seasonal managed wetlands was performed through grading, earthen berm construction, and by reconfiguring water control capability within Skaggs Island.   Of the 782 acres, deepwater comprises approximately 72 acres while 671 acres are seasonal wetlands interspersed with deeper wetland swales and potholes.  With all the early 2019 rains, the deepwater unit and seasonal wetlands are currently filled with water and flush with ducks. 

We applaud the visionary and skillful work of our partners at SLT, USFWS, NRCS and DU. Nice job everyone!

Click to enlarge

Photos courtesy NRCS