This semester I took a restoration ecology course and had the privilege of visiting several different sites I had never heard of in the Bay Area and wanted to showcase and give space for those places. I also wanted to give some of the key takeaways from the course, share some pictures, and acknowledge Professor Callaway, who is retiring this year, and his efforts as our professor, which don’t go unnoticed. All photos are submissions from myself and other students from the 2024 Spring Restoration Ecology cohort.

Restoration Involves “Destruction”: A Eucalyptus Case Study in the Bay Area

You might be surprised to know that sometimes restoration projects face some pushback from the general public. Eucalyptus trees were originally introduced to California in the 1850s for various purposes including timber, erosion control, and ornamentation. Over time, they have become emblematic of the California landscape, particularly in the Bay Area. For many residents, these trees hold historical significance and are deeply intertwined with the region’s identity. But unfortunately, these trees are not native to California and have negative ecological impacts.

They often outcompete native vegetation, reduce biodiversity, and pose fire hazards due to their flammability and the accumulation of dry biomass. Restoration projects aim to replace eucalyptus stands with native plant species to restore the area’s natural ecosystem. Eucalyptus trees are often appreciated for their majestic appearance and the shade they provide. Some residents oppose their removal on aesthetic grounds, fearing that it will alter the visual character of the landscape and diminish the recreational value of parks and natural areas. The fire hazard posed by eucalyptus trees is a significant concern, especially in regions prone to wildfires like the Bay Area. Eucalyptus trees have high water requirements, and their extensive root systems can deplete soil moisture, competing with native vegetation and impacting local hydrology.

In California, where water scarcity is a perennial issue, the water demands of eucalyptus trees can exacerbate existing challenges, particularly during drought periods. Critics argue that the cultivation of eucalyptus trees for ornamental, timber, or landscaping purposes can be unsustainable in water-stressed environments. Additionally, the ecological impacts of eucalyptus trees on water resources extend beyond their direct water consumption. Their ability to alter soil moisture levels and hydrological cycles can affect the availability of water for other plant species, wildlife, and ecosystems. As a result, in regions where water conservation is a priority, the removal of eucalyptus trees may be considered as part of broader efforts to promote sustainable water management practices and restore native habitats.

This issue extends beyond eucalyptus. The removal of other flora and fauna can sometimes face serious public pushback, but it’s important to recognize that not all plants are good plants. Some argue that removal constitutes an environmentally unfriendly and destructive practice, but ecological modifications are more nuanced than that. It’s also completely valid to be afraid of the removal of plants, and it’s easy to believe that some plants are better than no plants. This is why it’s important to try to be involved in restoration efforts near you. Not only can you be more informed about the ecosystem near you, you can also help from the planning process to the planting and ongoing maintenance process.

Challenges to Restoration

Restoration isn’t easy. It comes with many different, nuanced, and unique challenges. No ecosystem is ever like another, and all communities have different needs. However, I’ve outlined some of the most common and pressing challenges that I’ve had the opportunity to learn about through fieldwork and from subject matter experts in the course.

Restoration projects typically require significant financial resources, which may not always be readily available. Securing funding for restoration work and maintaining long-term support can be challenging, especially for projects that extend over many years. Additionally, restoration can be stalled by challenges to compliance with regulatory requirements, such as environmental impact assessments, permits, and approvals, which can pose logistical and bureaucratic challenges for restoration projects. Navigating regulatory frameworks and obtaining necessary permits can require significant time and resources.

Invasive plants, animals, and pathogens can quickly colonize restored areas, outcompeting native species and undoing restoration efforts. Managing invasive species often requires ongoing monitoring and control measures. Additionally, climate change presents unique challenges to restoration efforts, including altered precipitation patterns, increased temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather events. Restoration strategies may need to adapt to changing environmental conditions and consider the resilience of restored ecosystems to future climate impacts.

In the Bay Area and San Francisco especially, we’ve seen that one issue is competition for land use, including agriculture, urban development, and resource extraction, which can limit the availability of suitable sites for restoration projects. Negotiating land use conflicts and securing land tenure for restoration areas can be complex and time-consuming. Another layer to this issue is that habitat fragmentation due to urbanization, infrastructure development, or natural barriers can impede the movement of species and disrupt ecological processes. Restoring connectivity between fragmented habitats is essential for the long-term viability of restored ecosystems.

Sometimes, it’s hard to restore a site simply because of the sheer amount of manual labor that is required to make it happen. This plays a crucial role in restoration ecology, particularly in the implementation phase of restoration projects. Before native vegetation can be planted or restored, restoration sites often require extensive preparation. This may involve clearing invasive species, removing debris, grading the land, and preparing the soil for planting. Manual labor, including the use of hand tools and machinery, is essential for these tasks. Manual labor is also typically involved in planting seedlings, sowing seeds, and establishing vegetation cover. One of the primary objectives of restoration ecology is to reintroduce native plant species to degraded landscapes. Restoring habitat features such as wetlands, riparian zones, or coastal dunes often involves labor-intensive tasks such as constructing erosion control structures, installing native vegetation buffers, and creating wildlife habitat features. Manual labor is essential for building and maintaining these habitat elements, which provide essential ecosystem functions and services. In addition to ecological restoration activities, this type of work is often required for maintaining trails, boardwalks, fences, and other infrastructure within restoration sites. Regular maintenance ensures visitor safety, accessibility, and the long-term sustainability of restored habitats.

The amount of manual labor necessary for restoration projects is why volunteers are so important to the creation of these spaces. Finding the resources to fund them is difficult, but finding the people to maintain them and set them up is even harder. Taking the time to contribute to a site near you that you will benefit from feeds into a bigger picture of taking back some control of where you live and reclaiming the space so it is a healthy ecosystem.

Ecosystem Services

In class we learned about ecosystem services, which are services that the ecosystem provides us that we may not always think about. Bay Area ecosystems play a vital role in regulating local and regional climate patterns. Vegetation, such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change. Trees also provide shade and evaporative cooling, reducing urban heat island effects and enhancing local microclimates. Wetlands, riparian zones, and vegetated watersheds act as natural filters, removing pollutants, sediments, and nutrients from runoff and improving water quality. This purification process helps to protect drinking water sources, support aquatic habitats, and maintain the ecological integrity of waterways. Coastal wetlands, marshes, and floodplains serve as natural buffers against flooding by absorbing and storing excess water during storms and high tides. These ecosystems help to reduce flood risk for nearby communities, prevent property damage, and safeguard critical infrastructure.

The Bay Area is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, many of which are endemic or threatened. Healthy ecosystems provide habitat, food, and shelter for wildlife, support genetic diversity, and contribute to ecosystem resilience in the face of environmental changes. Native pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, play a crucial role in pollinating crops and wild plants in the Bay Area. Ecosystems that support diverse pollinator populations contribute to agricultural productivity, enhance crop yields, and ensure food security for local communities.

Ecosystems offer opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, birdwatching, fishing, and nature photography. Access to green spaces and natural areas enhances quality of life, promotes physical and mental well-being, and fosters a sense of connection to nature among residents and visitors. Ecosystem services also contribute to the regional economy through tourism, recreational activities, fisheries, agriculture, and other industries. Protected natural areas, such as national parks and wildlife refuges, attract visitors, generate revenue, and support local businesses, hotels, and restaurants.

Bay Area ecosystems also have deep cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous peoples as well as diverse cultural communities. These landscapes are valued for their historical heritage, traditional knowledge, and sacred sites, contributing to cultural identity, storytelling, and community cohesion.

Ecological restoration is essential for maintaining the health and resilience of ecosystems, supporting human well-being, and safeguarding the planet for current and future generations. By investing in restoration efforts, we can address pressing environmental challenges, promote sustainable development, and build a more resilient and equitable world.

There are a number of ways you can play a role in restoration.

  1. Volunteer: As mentioned before, many organizations and agencies conduct volunteer-driven restoration projects in local parks, nature reserves, and natural areas. Participating in tree planting, invasive species removal, habitat restoration, and trail maintenance activities allows you to contribute directly to improving the health of ecosystems in your community.
    1. This can also be very fun and rewarding to do with friends, family, partners, and even getting to know new people.
  2. Join or Support Environmental Organizations: Get involved with local environmental organizations, conservation groups, or watershed associations that focus on restoration and conservation initiatives. You can volunteer your time, donate funds, or participate in advocacy efforts to support restoration projects and promote environmental stewardship.
  3. Educate Yourself and Others: Learn about the importance of ecological restoration, native biodiversity, and environmental conservation. Share your knowledge with friends, family, and neighbors to raise awareness about local environmental issues and inspire others to take action.
  4. Practice Sustainable Land Use: Make environmentally conscious choices in your daily life to minimize your ecological footprint and support ecosystem health. Plant native species in your garden, reduce water consumption, compost organic waste, and avoid the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides that can harm native plants and wildlife.
  5. Advocate for Policy Change: Engage in local and regional policymaking processes to advocate for policies and regulations that support ecosystem restoration, conservation, and sustainable land management practices. Write letters to elected officials, attend public meetings, and participate in community forums to voice your concerns and priorities.
  6. Participate in Citizen Science Projects: Citizen science programs offer opportunities for community members to contribute to scientific research and monitoring efforts. Join local biodiversity surveys, water quality monitoring programs, or bird counts to collect data that can inform restoration and conservation efforts.
  7. Support Green Infrastructure Projects: Advocate for the implementation of green infrastructure projects in your community, such as the creation of green roofs, rain gardens, and permeable pavement. These initiatives help manage stormwater, improve urban biodiversity, and enhance the resilience of urban ecosystems.
  8. Promote Environmental Education and Outreach: Support environmental education programs in schools, libraries, and community centers to foster a culture of environmental literacy and appreciation for nature among children and adults. Organize workshops, guided nature walks, or community events to engage others in learning about local ecosystems and restoration efforts.

Final Notes from Me

Professor Callaway, enjoy your retirement! It’s been a pleasure to be your student and learn so much from you. We (your spring 2024 restoration ecology cohort) have appreciated the guest speakers we’ve had the opportunity to learn from, your time and lectures, and of course the amazing field trips we took every week.

Some Notes from Your Other Students:

“Thanks for all the amazing adventures! I’ve never appreciated healthy salt marshes more than with your class. We’ve been so lucky to have you at USF!” 

–Chris Pry- Brown

“Dear Professor Callaway, I extend my heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of your Restoration Ecology course. Meeting you before your retirement has been an honor. Your exceptional teaching has enriched my understanding with new perspectives and knowledge. Your departure will leave a significant void at USF, and you will be greatly missed by all.” 

–Ellieka Keida

“Thanks for all your wisdom on wetlands, I loved being able to explore all those wetlands and share your last semester with you!”

Hogan Kinder

“Thanks for the fun field trips and endless knowledge you can provide for just about anything we came across on in the field.”

Andrew Saah

“Your class, the labs, and all of the field trips were so fun! Thank you so much for an amazing semester.”

Jaxen Zoon

“Thank you immensely for the invaluable guidance and encouragement you’ve provided throughout this remarkable course. Lectures and labs were always a rewarding experience, mainly in part due to the treasure trove of insights you gave about restoration ecology. Your wealth of knowledge and seasoned expertise in the field have truly been a beacon of inspiration for me and others aspiring to enter the field. Being part of one of your final classes before retirement has been an absolute privilege and joy. God bless you and wishing you a retirement filled with well deserved relaxation and fulfillment!”

Giancarlo Laguna

This site is one that our class has visited. As a cohort we’ve tried to design different restoration projects for this specific site and it’s helped us think critically about restoration near us. You can visit Pier 94 too!

Pier 94 –

Pier 94

This site is one  of my personal favorites from our trip 🙂 Please read more about it!

Muzzi Marsh –

The 40-Year Evolution of Wetland Restoration Approaches in San Francisco Bay

The Photo Gallery: