8 Environs 1 (1984)

handle is hein.journals/environs8 and id is 1 raw text is: 

UCD School of Law                                             Vol. 8 No. 1
Environmental Law Society                                      May 1984

Who's Minding Colifornia's
by Cecilia Bridges and Paul Thayer


In the mid 1970's, responding to the
growing public concern over the environ-
ment, the State of California became in-
volved in the effort to retain its remaining
wetlands. The policies of the newly
created Bay Conservation and Develop-
ment Commission and the Coastal Com-
mission, as well as an aggressive ap-
proach by the State Department of Fish
and Game, resulted in the state assuming
an active regulatory role in the protection
of wetlands. However, policy changes by
the Deukmejian administration have
reduced the State's involvement in
wetland preservation. This article ex-
amines California's changing approach to
this issue.
Wetlands are commonly known by
many names. These include marsh,
saltmarsh, brackish-freshwater marsh,
tidal lands, mudflats, seasonal marsh, or
ponds. Frequently, features include open
channels of water, unvegetated channel
bottoms of sand or mud, expanses of low
elevation covered with water-loving or
water-tolerant plants, seasonal ponds and
man-made perimeter dikes. The key
characteristic of wetlands is their periodic
inundation or saturation by water.
Wetlands play a vital role in the ecology
of California. They bring together the
physical elements of water, nutrients,
light and warmth which are necessary for
biological productivity. Consequently
they provide the environment necessary
to the life cycles of many plants and
animals. Several rare and endangered
species such as the saltmarsh harvest

mouse and clapper rail depend on
wetland habitat for their continued ex-
The total area of California's wetlands,
including freshwater -and tidal areas, has
been reduced from a historic level of
about 5 million acres to thepresent level
of about 425,000 acres. Wetlands have
historically suffered from man's reclama-
tion of what was considered marginal
land. Of the present total, coastal
wetlands comprise just over 100,000
acres, a reduction of about 65-70 percent
from historic levels. In Southern Califor-
nia the proportionate reduction of coastal
wetlands has been greater.
In San Francisco Bay, the wetland
areas have been reduced by more than
eighty percent. For many years, reclama-
tion of Bay marshes took place without
any consideration of the relationship be-
tween the biological health of the Bay and
the presence of its wetland margins.
Protests by the scientific community
and public concern over uncontrolled fill-
ing and pollution of the Bay led to the
establishment of the San Francisco Bay
Conservation and Development Commis-
sion (BCDC) in 1969. The protection of
wetlands required by the McAteer-Petris
Act, BCDC's enabling legislation, marked
the beginning of the State's recent efforts
to preserve the remaining wetlands.
The legislation gave BCDC authority to
regulate filling and dredging, to assure

public access to the Bay shoreline, and to
minimize any further filling of the Bay.
BCDC's regulation of develolment along
the Bay has resulted in the protection of
many wetlands. But the past decade of
regulation has been criticized by some as
being obstructionist, putting marshland
above housing demands, and making
developers pay for public facilities.
Appointments by Governor Deukme-
jian to BCDC now give the agency a new
majority - 14 of 25 voting members -
who favor lessening restrictions on
shoreline development. Environmental
leaders worry that many plans for
shoreline development which have been
previously opposed successfully will now
be brought forward again. The changed
policies and direction of the new majority
of the Commission may result in different
conclusions on shoreline projects.
The State Resources Agency is respon-
sible for protection of the State's natural
resources. A variety of departments,
boards and commissions which oversee
statewide regulation of wetlands are part
of this agency. Among these are the
Department of Fish and Game, the
California Coastal Commission, and the
Coastal Conservancy. These agencies
have overlapping jurisdictions and
responsibilities. In the past, the staffs
have often worked together to insure pro-
tection of wetlands.

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