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Slowing the flow.

Due to human activities, the salt marsh habitat in California's San Francisco Bay area has undergone major changes in the past 150 years. Over 85 percent of these wetlands have been lost to infilling for land-fills, urbanization, and the construction of salt ponds. As a result, several species unique to these wetlands are now listed as threatened or endangered, including the salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris) and the California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus).

The salt marsh harvest mouse is a small nocturnal rodent that makes its home and all of its meals out of pick-leweed (Salicornia virginica), a native plant growing in the salt marshes. The California clapper rail is a secretive marsh bird with a distinctive call. When the light is low, usually at dusk and at dawn, this shy bird emerges from the cordgrass (Spartina folosia) at the edges of the marsh to feed on invertebrates in the mudflats during low tide. In the 1970s, Congress approved two wildlife refuges in the bay area, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the San Pablo Bay NWR. This was due in no small part to the hard work and perseverance of local groups of concerned citizens to protect wetland habitats in the San Francisco estuary.

At the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR Environmental Education Center in Alviso, California, Fish and Wildlife Service employees, Student Conservation Association interns, and San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society employees work hard to provide educational opportunities and promote awareness about the challenges facing the salt marshes and their inhabitants. One of these opportunities is the "Slow the Flow" environmental education program, which is made possible by a partnership among the city of San Jose, the Service, and the Wildlife Society. In 1999, San Jose provided a grant to the Wildlife Society to hire a program coordinator who is based at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR. This partnership grew out of the Service's need to reach a wider audience and the city's desire for an environmental education program to help with issues involving water pollution control.

The Slow the Flow program focuses on watersheds, water conservation in relation to the salt marshes at the refuge, and the effects of the nearby San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant. The plant releases up to 120 million gallons (455 million liters) a day of clean freshwater effluent into the Artesian Slough that runs through the refuge.

This release has altered the salt marsh to freshwater marsh, making it uninhabitable to some species. The Slow the Flow program was created to heighten public awareness of this and other water use issues in an effort to slow the flow of freshwater effluent to the bay's salt marshes and increase viable habitat for endangered species.

The Slow the Flow program incorporates field trips, classroom presentations, weekend interpretive programs, outreach activities, and several annual special events. The San Jose grant includes funding for advertising and materials, making it possible to provide programs to the public free of charge. The field trips include an in-depth hike through refuge habitats, allowing students to see and learn firsthand about native wildlife and develop a greater sense of connection with the salt marshes. Field trips also involve hands-on activities such as mud creature studies, water quality testing, and salinity testing. Classroom presentations such as "Mysteries of Wastewater Treatment" and "Reduce, Reuse, Refuge" were created to increase the program's audience in response to lack of school funding for transportation to the refuge. The coordinator of the Slow the Flow program also plans special events like Shark Day and the International Migratory Bird Day celebrations at the Environmental Education Center. The Slow the Flow program has reached over 3,000 individuals from January to October 2004 and continues to provide meaningful experiences to students of all ages.

On March 11, 2003, the partnership involving the city of San Jose, the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society, and the Service was honored at a ceremony in San Jose. Mayor Ron Gonzales read a proclamation celebrating the successes of the Slow the Flow program and supporting the future of the partnership. He thanked "the dedicated staff of both the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and the San Jose Environmental Services Department for their dedicated efforts in support of environmental and water shed education for the youth of San Jose and our neighboring communities in the South Bay." This partnership has been beneficial both to the Wildlife Society and the city of San Jose, and the Service hopes to establish similar programs to build on this success.

Carrie Wright was formerly the Slow the Flow Program Coordinator at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR Environmental Education Center. The new coordinator, Tina Simmons, can be reached at sfbay_slowtheflow@sfbws.org, or by telephone at (408) 262-5513, ext. 104.
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Author:Wright, Carrie
Publication:Endangered Species Update
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:807
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