Meet our newest Pilot Project: San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory

Yiwei Wang, Executive Director of SFBBO, recently took time out to speak with Key Team member Erin Haley about what keeps her team going, the challenges they face as a small conservation organization, and why they’re excited to be a Pilot Project for the Key App. We are honored to be working with SFBBO to support them in the critical work they do in the San Francisco Bay Area to conserve birds and their habitats through scientific research and educational outreach.

Where are you based?

San Francisco, California, USA

What species and habitat do you work with?

We perform scientific research to better understand our local bird populations and their habitats. We share our data with universities and other scientists who use it to answer important questions about the health of our ecosystems, and with policymakers and Bay Area residents who use it to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of our region. Through our habitats programs, we work to determine and implement methods to restore Snowy Plover, Burrowing Owl, and tidal marsh habitat.

And, we do outreach because we know science is only half of the equation. We understand that in order to meet our mission, we need communities that value birds and are willing to work for their survival. We engage hundreds of volunteers each year in citizen science opportunities that increase their investment in our work. Through our environmental education and outreach activities we connect people to the birds in their neighborhoods and help instill in the public a desire to protect wild animals and wild spaces.

Photo credit: Allen Hirsch

What are the biggest challenges you face as an organization?

We face a myriad of challenges, politically and environmentally. The cost of operations in an area as expensive as San Francisco Bay poses definite challenges for us. This makes it hard to recruit and retain staff, because we can’t compete with the salary level of a lot of companies with higher operating budgets than what we have as a small conservation organization.

Photo by: Jing Zhu

Obtaining funding is also challenging, as priorities have shifted at the federal level over the past several years. We have lost federal funding, but get small amounts from the local and state government. We also receive some money from grants, but it is a cumbersome process to apply. The process is competitive, and it’s hard to know if you’re checking all the right boxes in terms of application requirements. Grants also don’t tend to cover important overhead costs like people’s living wages.

We do have P/T staff and graduate students making up our team, and that is a situation that has worked well for us. We also tend to rely on people mainly at the local level. Some are able to have financial support from their families or spouses locally, or other inherent resources that comes from having grown up here.

When you encounter a hard day, what motivates you to keep going?

It may sound simple, but our core mission to conserve birds and their habitats as well as the people who step in to help as part of our team are the main factors that keep us going.

Photo by: Karine Tokatlian

What is one of your favorite stories from the field?

We enjoy sharing our origin story of how we got started over 40 years ago. It began during the 1970's when a collection of bird enthusiasts started studying the birds that lived on and around the commercial salt ponds of the South Bay. With other local residents from a birding class, they started a project to investigate the seasonal use of the ponds by roosting and nesting waterbirds under the auspices of the South Bay Institute for Avian Studies, now called the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

In a separate project, during the 1980s the Santa Clara Valley Water District embarked on an ambitious flood control project that included Coyote Creek. Because the flood control channel construction involved removal of riparian vegetation, the Water District established a Coyote Creek restoration site adjoining a pre-existing patch of riparian forest in what was once a pear orchard. As part of the mitigation process, the Water District was required to monitor the wildlife there annually from 1987 to 1996. Researching avian use of the restoration sites through a bird banding operation was initially conducted by the Coyote Creek Riparian Station (CCRS), a non-profit that joined with SFBBO in 1999.

Both of these projects continue today as our Colonial Waterbird Program, Avian Disease Prevention Program, and Coyote Creek Field Station (CCFS) bird banding program. We've also added a number of other research programs, including our managed salt pond surveys, annual shorebird survey, Snowy Plover research and habitat enhancement, Burrowing Owl research and habitat enhancement, and tidal marsh habitat restoration programs, among others.

Photo by: Kristin Butler

What made you want to be a Key Conservation Pilot Project?

We are excited about the innovative nature of Key’s mission to reach out to donors in new ways to leverage real-time support, and also the tech connection that will be provided through the use of the app. We also look forward to being able to ask for money as well as skill sets from our audience who is interested in supporting us.

Photo by: Kristin Butler

The Key app offers organizations help in three ways: Fundraising, Skilled Impact, and In Person. How would you use these specifically?

We look forward to leveraging all 3 areas of support through the app. Fundraising is especially crucial to us. Upgrading equipment is our most eminent priority, as equipment wears out in the field due to weather conditions and wear and tear. We specifically plan to obtain funds for field vehicles, kayaks, computers, and burning scopes.

Photo by: Jacqueline Deely

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