July 29, 2014

City Council supports nature at Alameda Point

Runway wetland on nature reserve at Alameda Point. Photo by Richard Bangert.

Runway wetland on nature reserve at Alameda Point. Photo by Richard Bangert.

There’s a flurry of environmental-review activity focused on developing Alameda Point, including a renewed effort for conserving wildlife habitat there.

On March 19 the Alameda City Council unanimously passed a resolution that supports the zoning of 511 acres at the Point as a “nature reserve”. The resolution highlights the history of plans for a wildlife refuge at Alameda Point and calls for a conservation zoning designation on the federal runway area next to the future Veterans Administration (VA) outpatient clinic and columbarium.

“I believe the open-space designation in the reuse plan is equally important as the current mixed-used area,” stated Councilmember Stewart Chen, a co-sponsor of the resolution.

The resolution also calls for controlled public access to the site, and to the extent that it is compatible with protecting the least tern and other wildlife, the Sierra Club strongly supports this concept.

The original plan for the Alameda National Wildlife Refuge went by the wayside when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opted not to take the land and the VA did. The VA is not comfortable with the term “wildlife refuge” because it implies that there is, or will be, a national wildlife refuge there, but the VA still has the legal obligation to protect the endangered least terns that nest on the runway area four months of the year.

The city said its zoning would not have a mandatory effect on the VA, but would be a statement of the city’s position. Open space advocates are hoping the zoning will prompt the VA to respond with similar terminology on its land-use map, which currently designates the VA parcel as “NAS Alameda Airfield”. And while the VA is not equipped to manage a nature reserve, it could decide to lease its land to an agency that would enhance certain areas with vegetation, more wetlands, a beach, meandering trails, and educational/interpretive programs.

Since the planes quit landing and vehicles quit driving around, many more birds now come to Alameda Point. The site has hosted 187 species, and 23 species of birds have been documented breeding there. There are white-crowned sparrows, killdeer, turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, horned larks, and Lincoln’s sparrows, and even an occasional golden eagle. There are various wetland birds, such as egrets, black-necked stilts, and great blue herons.

“We hope eventually to open this space to the public for an incredible passive [i.e. no organized sports], educational, and even spiritual experience during fall and winter months. Any deviation from open-space zoning puts this great dream at risk,” said Leora Feeney, speaking to the City Council on behalf of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “The VA has a nature center in their plans. We need open space to have nature.” Feeney is a retired wildlife biologist who has devoted decades to the protection of the least terns at Alameda Point.

Noting that there is an “ecosystem of information, strategies, and actions” calling for a wildlife area, Councilmember Tony Daysog (the other co-sponsor of the resolution) asked, “Can we still fulfill our goals with the reality that we are now working with the VA?” Passing the Council resolution was a good start.

Irene Dieter

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