alameda national wildlife refuge

California Least Ternintroduction

asphalt heaven

When my friend Richard invited me out to join him on a visit to the Alameda National Wildlife Refuge my idea of what I expected to find there turned out to be further from the truth than I ever imagined.

We set out late Saturday morning, heading for the south end of Alameda Point where, between the faceless buildings of the old air station, we sought a gateway into the Refuge. After a bit of searching we soon caught up with another carload of visitors and followed them into the complex. Immediately upon entering we hopped out to take a look around and to our surprise beheld a veritable sea of asphalt extending to the horizon in all directions.

It looked nothing like any kind of wildlife refuge I had imagined, but how little I understood about the nature of what lay before my eyes.

fenced enclosure

While Richard stopped to talk with some of the people who were there to greet us I marched out with my camera to try to get a look at some of the nearest features. The closest thing I could see in the middle distance was a fence line so I made my way in its direction to get a closer look.

Upon arriving in its vicinity I noticed it was a rather well made electrified fence surrounded with an additional electrified hardware cloth apron designed to keep animals from gaining a footing to jump over the perimeter.

What this mysterious enclosure contained was nowhere in evidence, but my mind churned out various scenarios of dark import. How easily deceived is an ignorant mind and surprised as well when the truth is finally revealed.

California Least Terna mystery revealed

We soon were to learn that the fenced area was a nesting habitat for the California Least Tern, a species that due to the encroachment of human development had been in decline. But strange coincidences may make strange alliances and as it happens many military bases along the California coast, because of their enforced restriction of public access, have provided ideal habitats for tern nesting areas. Among them is the former Naval Air Station at Alameda Point.

For years the terns and the Navy lived together in harmony. The Navy kept the surrounding asphalt clear of obstructions (a clear expanse of asphalt looks to a tern like a clear stretch of open beach, perfect for spying predators on the prowl) and predators, and the terns returned each year to nest and hunt the waters of the Bay for small fish, like anchovies, to feed their chicks.

All was well for quite a long time, but then came the spate of base closures and the fate of the terns fell into doubt. Thanks to the efforts of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was proposed to preserve this portion of Alameda Point as a national wildlife refuge for the sake of the least terns. In 1999 the proposals became a reality.

But issues remain, not the least of which is pollution mitigation and Superfund cleanup, that have stalled the transfer of the site from the Navy to the complete control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. One of the areas most affected by these environmental impacts is the West Wetland area which we were told is the wildest and most remote part of the Refuge. To date much remains to be resolved and progress is slowed by process.

California Least Ternthe miracle of volunteers

Friends of ANWR working

Soon we moved on to the edge of the refuge where the Friends of the Alameda National Wildlife Refuge were working to remove vegetation that was encroaching on the site. These people are the real heroes who act in defense of the planet. Through the effort of people like them the most precious and vulnerable creatures on earth are given a chance to live into the next century and beyond.

The real miracle of preservation lies in the hands of people who love the natural world enough to dedicate themselves to its preservation. But the work is not a one way street. People who participate in the effort have the reward of being alive in these special places where the whole concept of wonder revolves around the wonder of Life.

If you would like to know what it feels like to be there contact the Golden Gate Audubon Society and ask how you can help at the ANWR.

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Report prepared by: Chad Chadwick, CAGP Website Team

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