Moving up(lands) at Pier 94 June 23, 2013

Posted by Ilana DeBare in Conservation, Golden Gate Audubon

By Ilana DeBare

Golden Gate Audubon’s habitat work at Pier 94 in San Francisco is entering an exciting new stage – restoration of the uplands area.

Are you familiar with Pier 94?  Most San Franciscans aren’t; they don’t have a reason to stop at this small 5.5-acre natural oasis on the city’s southern waterfront, sandwiched between a stone, sand and gravel processing facility and other industrial port properties.

But many GGAS members know Pier 94 well – from volunteering on the restoration work there, or stopping by to look for shorebirds and Osprey, or viewing the amazing kite photos we shared on this blog last summer.

Before 1960, Pier 94 was a salt marsh with a variety of wetland plants that likely included California sea-blite or Suaeda Californica. But over the next several decades, the marsh deteriorated into an informal dumping site for asphalt and concrete, old tires, rebar and other materials.

Volunteers at Pier 94 on June 1st / Photo by Lee Karney

In the wake of a disastrous 1996 oil spill in the Bay, the Port of San Francisco offered up Pier 94 as a site that could mitigate some of the spill damage. The Restoration Plan resulting from the spill agreed that restoration of Pier 94 could provide benefits such as:

  • Additional spawning and nursery habitat for fish.
  • Foraging and roosting habitat for shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, passerines and raptors.
  • Improved water quality by trapping sediments from runoff and filtering out contaminants.
  • Environmental public use opportunities.

Golden Gate Audubon played the lead role in advocating for restoration of Pier 94, and entered into a long-term partnership with the Port, which owns the site. Starting in 2002, GGAS has coordinated monthly volunteer work days that include planting and monitoring California sea-blite, removing trash and non-native plants, and inventorying plants and wildlife at the site.

Until recently, nearly all of the work focused on the shoreline or marsh section of the site. Today that area is a healthy marsh that is home to a variety of marine life and birds such as American Avocets, Long-billed Curlews and Black Oystercatchers.

Which brings us to the next stage … the uplands. We’re now working on similar restoration of the uplands area of the site. Together with the Port, we tested the soil in that area in 2011 and found that it was filled with rebar, concrete and other rubble that would not support native vegetation. On the advice of consulting ecologists, we developed a plan to place a level of native plant-friendly sediment over the rubble — the kind of sediment that would have been in place before Pier 94 was a landfill.

We received generous donations of more than 3,000 cubic yards of sediment from three local sources — Hansen Aggregate, Pier 94’s immediate neighbor; Barnard Impregilo Healy J.V., contractor for the Central Subway Project in San Francisco; and Lawson Construction Services and S and S Trucking, contractors for the Transbay Terminal project.

Sediment from the Central Subway project / Photo by Noreen Weeden

What does 3,000 cubic yards look like? Imagine a box three feet high by three feet wide by three feet long, kind of like half a refrigerator. Then imagine 3,000 of those boxes!  These donations of sediment — soil that would normally be next to a wetland — were great not only in that they saved us a ton of money, but they re-used material that was excavated and unwanted elsewhere.

On June 5th, trucks deposited the final load of sediment at Pier 94. Now we’ve hired a nearby company, Yerba Buena Engineering, to grade the material so it is leveled out into a natural configuration. Because we can’t start planting until the next rainy season, they’ll apply a biologically-friendly sealant to hold the soil in place and prevent weeds from sprouting.

Sediment being delivered / Photo by Mike Perlmutter

Sediment that will be used to restore the uplands section of Pier 94 / Photo by Noreen Weeden

Then, next fall and winter, our volunteers will take center stage, planting native grasses and flowering plants such as sage yarrow and lupine. The plants will come from seed stock gathered locally by our partners at  Literacy for Environmental Justice, a Bayview nonprofit that runs a native plant nursery.

We’ll monitor the progress of the uplands area for three years, documenting what grows and what wildlife arrives. Some likely bird visitors to the uplands could be Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and White-crowned Sparrows.

The total cost of the uplands restoration project will be $132,000, of which $75,000 has been funded by a Prop 84 Urban Greening grant from the State of California Natural Resource Agency.

Clearly we still need to raise some money! If you know of foundations, companies or others who might want to support this project, let us know.

Volunteer at Pier 94 / Photo by Lee Karney

And come on out to see the progress for yourself! Because the surrounding area is so heavily industrial, we encourage people to visit on one of our weekend work days rather than during the week. Golden Gate Audubon volunteers are busy at Pier 94 on the first Saturday of each month, from 9 a.m. until noon. There’s planting, weeding and cleaning — but also time for birding and observing.

Directions are on the volunteer page of our web site, or click on this map. Come join us!

Pier 94 viewed from a kite camera / Photo by Cris Benton

Tags: Central Subway Project, Golden Gate Audubon Society, habitat restoration, Hansen Aggregate, Pier 94, Port of San Francisco, Proposition 84.


  1. Allan Feinstein
    June 24th, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    Are you confusing a cubic foot with a cubic yard?

    “What does 3,000 cubic feet look like? Imagine a box three feet high by three feet wide by three feet long, kind of like half a refrigerator. Then imagine 3,000 of those boxes! “

  2. GGAS
    June 28th, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    You’re right — I meant to say 3000 cubic yards! Will fix it in the article. Thank you for the eagle eyes.

  3. Anthony DeCicco
    July 19th, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Great article!

    And I’m excited to bring the bring the 8 Eco-San Francisco classes and their family members out to Pier 94 this fall.

    Kids simply love to plant!