By Mike Lynes
Federal and local government agencies have been moving forward in recent months with plans to transfer part of the former Alameda Naval Air Station to the Department of Veterans Affairs for construction of V.A. facilities on the site. In August, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services issued a Biological Opinion that would allow the project to proceed, but that warned the transfer will make life more difficult for the endangered California Least Terns that nest on the airstrip at the former base.
Under the new plan, the V.A. medical clinic will not be located directly on the tarmac area used by the terns, which Golden Gate Audubon has long fought to have recognized as an official wildlife refuge. Instead, it will be built to the north of the tarmac, on a parcel known as the Northwest Territories. The V.A. columbarium will be built on a small portion of the tarmac near the clinic and will host burial and memorial activities. Several hundred people will visit the VA facilities each day.
The FWS found that the project will increase disturbance and predation pressures on the California Least Terns and will potentially reduce or degrade their foraging habitat. To offset those impacts, the VA will be required to carefully monitor the terns, reduce predators, and minimize disturbances.
While aspects of the project remain worrisome, the current plans are an improvement over past designs to construct the entire complex on the refuge. Moreover, the Biological Opinion further restricts development on the Northwest Territories and other properties adjacent to the terns’ habitat in order to minimize the cumulative impacts of light, noise and predators over time.
The Alameda Wildlife Refuge is so important because it is home to one of the most thriving colonies of endangered California Least Terns and provides habitat for more than 180 other species of birds. The colony has consistently produced more young terns than colonies three to five times its size in Southern California, where predation and disturbance pressures hinder management. The success of the Alameda colony is essential for the species’ survival and recovery.
Golden Gate Audubon and others are particularly concerned about the management of wetlands and other habitats at Alameda Point. These habitats draw predators away from the tern colony—which stands alone on an empty tarmac that dissuades predators. If those habitats are compromised, predators may hunt more intensely within the California Least Tern colony. Moreover, those habitats provide important foraging and nesting grounds for many other species of birds.
While Golden Gate Audubon is hopeful that the VA project can proceed in a way that preserves a refuge for the California Least Terns and other birds, we know that there is still much work to be done. The Alameda Wildlife Refuge is an ecological treasure in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. There is truly no other site like it, and it deserves protection.
Please join and support the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Refuge (FAWR), our subcommittee dedicated to protecting the terns and all wildlife on the Refuge! Now, more than ever, we need the energy and resources that Golden Gate Audubon members can provide to ensure that the Alameda Wildlife Refuge and the endangered California Least Terns are protected and productive in the future.
Mike Lynes is Conservation Director for Golden Gate Audubon Society. Richard Bangert writes a blog about wildlife conservation at Alameda Point at http://