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Friday, December 13, 2019

An Urban Oasis: The 50-odd wildlife refuge centres across US hold lessons for the whole world

It is open to visitors, who can make a trip to the refuge any day of the week, before sunset, and enjoy short guided hikes with birds of all kinds keeping company.

Written by Divya A | Updated: April 1, 2018 12:02:28 am
The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is the largest among the six wildlife refuges in the Bay Area. (Source: Divya A)

What have the bits and bytes got to do with pelicans and sparrows? A lot, actually, in the Silicon Valley, and a trip to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge demonstrates it amply. Bang in the middle of the Bay Area, which is home to tech giants of the world — be it Google, Apple, Cisco or Seagate — is a 30,000-acre space dedicated to preserving flora and fauna.

And the best part: it is open to visitors, who can make a trip to the refuge any day of the week, before sunset, and enjoy short guided hikes with birds of all kinds keeping company. Founded in 1974 as the first urban national wildlife refuge in the US, Don Edwards was set up with the aim to conserve and enhance wildlife habitat, protect migratory birds and endangered species, while also offering a chance for wildlife-oriented recreation. The huge space in the South San Francisco Bay comprises open bay, salt ponds, salt marsh and mudflat.

The Refuge hosts over 280 species of birds each year, and the variety of flock that are resident here or make a seasonal stopover, consist of the white pelicans, kites, hawks, ospreys, and eagles. Millions of shorebirds and waterfowl also stop here to refuel during the spring and fall migration. The Refuge provides critical habitat to resident species like the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. Hundreds of thousands of Bay Area workforce come here to escape the click-clack of keyboards and enjoy their moments of calm before heading back to the glass buildings.

The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is the largest among the six wildlife refuges in the Bay Area. The others are: Antioch Dunes, Ellicott Slough, Farallon, Marin Islands, and San Pablo Bay. This one was named after Don Edwards in 1995 in recognition of the Congressman’s efforts to protect sensitive wetlands in the South San Francisco Bay.

In fact, there is at least one wildlife refuge in each of the 50 American states. The Refuge System maintains the biological integrity and diversity of the natural resources and also enables public enjoyment of these areas. Besides hikes, visitors can participate in a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities including hunting, fishing, birding, photography, environmental education and interpretation. The National Wildlife Refuge System welcomes nearly 50 million ‘wild’ visitors each year, said the welcome note at the entrance. A true refuge for the soul battered by city life as well, one might add.

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