Petaluma Wetlands added to international conservation list

The wetlands include environmentally sensitive spots along the Petaluma River that are home to a diversity of species, including the salt marsh harvest mouse, river otter and an array of birds.|

The Mekong River Delta, the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon Rain Forest, and now the Petaluma Wetlands, all share an important distinction. They are sites included in an international list of critical wetlands worth protecting.

Petaluma wildlife advocates received notice last month that the Petaluma Wetlands are included as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, a designation from the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature. The official designation means the Petaluma Wetlands are joining the 400,000-acre San Francisco Bay Estuary, which was awarded international status in 2013.

The Ramsar designation, named after the Iranian city that held the international Convention on Wetlands in 1971, doesn’t include additional funding, but is helpful in securing grants for wildlife conservation, said Susan Kirks, president of the Madrone Audubon Society.

“This is a significant recognition for the sensitive wetlands habitat, birds and wildlife of the Petaluma Wetlands,” she said.

The Petaluma Wetlands include Alman Marsh Tidal Wetlands, Shollenberger Park Wetlands, Ellis Creek Wetlands, Gray’s Marsh Wetland and Hill Property Tidal Marsh, all environmentally sensitive spots along the Petaluma River that are home to a diversity of species, including the salt marsh harvest mouse, river otter and an array of birds.

“We’re sitting in a very special place and we want people to know that this is recognized internationally as a special spot,” said Beth Huning, coordinator for San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, which submitted Petaluma’s application to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Huning said the Fish and Wildlife Service accepted the application, but still needs to submit a notice to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a bureaucratic formality, for it to become official. In the meantime, the group has printed new maps of the San Francisco Bay Estuary’s internationally-recognized wetlands, which includes Petaluma.

Al Hesla, president of the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, said being included on the map is an important fundraising tool. He said he is using the Petaluma Wetlands’ international designation in grant writing, including in an application for $213,000 from California State Parks for an outdoor education amphitheater at Shollenberger Park.

“It’s important to be part of Ramsar,” he said. “It really gives us credibility worldwide. For grant writing, it’s really going to be useful.”

The Petaluma Wetlands joins a list that includes 2,266 wetland sites totaling 810,000 square miles in 170 countries. Locally, other internationally recognized wetlands include Laguna de Santa Rosa, Tomales Bay and Bolinas Lagoon.

Kirks said that Gerald Moore, a founding member of the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, and his wife, Mary Edith Moore, were instrumental in achieving international recognition for the Petaluma Wetlands. She said she hoped the city of Petaluma would post a sign at the entrance of Shollenberger Park marking the recognition and dedicating the achievement to Gerald Moore, who died at the end of 2016 at the age of 77.

“Gerald would have been pleased to see all of our work on this finally realized,” Kirks said.

(Contact Matt Brown at

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