West Coast
Sea otters are among the diverse species that live in the Elkhorn Slough. (Shutterstock)

Elkhorn Slough Restoration Project Receives $1 Million Grant

The grant is part of a $20 million package announced last week for 22 projects in 11 coastal states.

SANTA CRUZ, CA — The U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded a $1 million grant to help restore large swaths of tidal wetlands at Elkhorn Slough just south of Santa Cruz. The grant is part of a $20 million package announced last week for 22 projects in 11 coastal states. The funds are being used to protect, restore or enhance more than 7,000 acres of the nation's wetlands and adjacent upland under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program.

Locally, the California State Coastal Conservancy, in partnership with the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, will restore dozens of acres of tidal wetlands in Elkhorn Slough and will establish perennial grassland on five acres adjacent to the restored tidal wetlands. The project is Phase II of a larger plan to restore at least 100 acres of tidal marshes in Elkhorn Slough and the adjoining 35 acres of existing buffer areas to perennial grassland.

The Elkhorn Slough estuary supports the largest tract of salt marsh on the West Coast south of San Francisco Bay. It is seven miles long and covers nearly 3,000 acres, or four square miles. Restoration of tidal marsh along California's Central Coast carries particular significance because of the relative rarity of tidal marsh and the extent of its historic loss. Along the 300-mile stretch of coastline from Point Reyes to Point Conception, only 4,490 acres of tidal marsh exist, of which Elkhorn Slough accounts for 17 percent.

Development, agricultural, and dam and dike construction have significantly harmed or completely destroyed most of California's once extensive coastal estuaries. Scientists have long warned that wetlands and estuaries are key toward battling climate change. Farming near Elkhorn Slough is blamed for that estuary's damage. What was once a thriving ecosystem is now largely a mudflat.

In addition to California, other states receiving funds this year under the grant program are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. In California, the Eel River Estuary Preserve in Humboldt County and the Big Canyon Nature Park in Newport Beach also received $1 million each for restoration projects.

"These grants are a superb example of states, local governments and private landowners working hand-in-hand with the federal government to ensure coastal communities and their irreplaceable natural environments continue to thrive for future generations," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson. "In addition to providing myriad conservation and economic benefits, these grants will increase recreational opportunities for anglers, boaters, hunters and wildlife-watchers across the nation."

Click here for the complete list of projects funded by the 2019 grant program.

See Santa Cruz, CA Patch article . . .