10 Cities Campaign: Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Video produced for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service by Tandem Stills + Motion in collaboration with The National Wildlife Refuge Association. 

Another View of the Bay
Joy Blackwood, Urban Refuge Program Director

One of the great joys of my work is having the opportunity to travel to cities all over the country, each time experiencing them in new ways depending on the length and focus of the trip. Recently, I traveled to San Francisco to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Transportation Connections team for their field visits, with the purpose of analyzing equitable access to urban wildlife refuges. Previous trips have allowed me the luxury of exploring the city in my downtime, taking in the sights and sounds of the dense urban core via BART and simply walking around.

On this trip, however, I got the chance to truly enjoy the natural wonders of the bay, so close to the city but seeming like a world apart.

After landing bright and early at SFO, I picked up my rental car, met my USFWS colleagues, and off we went to our first stop in the Marin County town of Novato, home to the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. A sister refuge to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, San Pablo Bay is a wetland habitat that serves as a prime stopover for migratory birds within the Pacific Flyway, provides a safe haven for endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse, and offers a beautiful connection to nature for those looking to get away from the traffic and noise that surrounds the US 101 corridor and State Route 37.

National Urban/Vision Coordinator Angelina Yost with a refuge resident.

The next leg of our journey took us across Dumbarton Bridge through the cities of Fremont and San Jose, and we continued on through various beautiful state parks and open lands, eventually joining the Pacific Coast Highway, which took us along Monterey Bay into Santa Cruz County for a visit to Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Though it is closed to the general public, refuge staff were kind enough to show us around, where I and my USFWS colleague Angelina Yost had close encounters with some very special residents of the refuge. Much to our surprise and delight, we caught glimpses of rare and endangered amphibians like the long-toed salamander, the slender salamander, and the Pacific tree frog. The wet weather couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for seeing these cuties up close.

Our final stop took us back north to the jewel of the bay, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a USFWS-designated regional priority urban wildlife refuge located in the South Bay. Established in 1974 as the first urban National Wildlife Refuge in the system, it is dedicated to preserving and enhancing wildlife habitat, protecting migratory birds and threatened and endangered species. It is also the most accessible and community-friendly of the refuges I visited on this trip, creating a connection between the campuses of tech giants like Facebook and Google with the tranquility of the wilderness.

Touring this oasis was a treat, where I learned about partnerships and programs that are uniquely urban, ranging from arrangements with companies like Cargill, Inc. to restoring vital salt marsh habitat to community-oriented K-12 environmental education programs and junior ranger activities. There are also abundant, classic recreational opportunities like kayaking and canoeing on water trails, walking and hiking trails, and even designated hunting and fishing areas for avid sportsmen and women.

Taking in the view at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR.

Aesthetically, the refuge is absolutely beautiful, boasting a variety of wild plants and offering breathtaking views of the water. Experiencing a refuge like Don Edwards makes those of us working on the Refuge Association’s Urban program excited to create greater connections between new and diverse audiences, who may not even realize a place like this exists in their backyard.

Thanks to vigorous outreach efforts and visitor’s services programs offered by the Refuge Complex, wonderful connections have been made with nearby communities and organizations on both sides of the Bay in San Francisco and Oakland. The excitement from both environmental educators and staff is palpable when they describe interactions with school groups and children of all ages as they experience everything from testing water levels to tasting salt from the stalk of the marsh. Here’s a clip of environmental educator Tia Glagolev sharing a project:


Although I could go on and on sharing stories of my exploration, you really have to see it for yourself. I encourage everyone to go out and visit Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex and its accessible sister refuges if you find yourself with a few days to explore the area. Between the iconic national parks and historic charms of the city there is certainly no shortage of things to do, but I highly recommend treating yourself to another view of the bay.

For more information:
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex
San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge

NWRA’s Urban Refuge Program – Protecting our Conservation Future strives to reach beyond refuge boundaries to engage with and connect people of all ages to nature and our Refuge System.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2018/03/10-cities-campaign-don-edwards-san-francisco-bay-national-wildlife-refuge/

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