Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011-06-29 "Skaggs Island transferred to U.S. Fish and Wildlife" by Sarah Rohrs from "Vallejo Times-Herald" newspaper
A blue and white flag raised Tuesday atop a tall pole in the midst of endless marshes makes it official: Skaggs Island belongs to the hawks and herons as part of a large wildlife preserve of rare Bay Area wetlands.
Nearly 100 dignitaries braved rainy weather Tuesday morning to mark Skaggs Island's transfer from naval hands into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We honor the men and women who stood watch over our country at Skaggs Island in years past," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. "At the same time, we return these lands to the shorebirds, waterfowl and other wild creatures with whom we share our future."
"This land helped protect the country for half a century. Now the country will protect this land," Woolsey said before officials raised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service flag.
Surrounded by a winding network of sloughs, the 3,000-acre island is on the north side of Highway 37 just west of Vallejo, and is now part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
All traces of the once-badly vandalized base buildings are gone and nature is reclaiming the land. Demolition got under way in January 2010, with the razing of an old white water tower.
For 51 years, Skaggs Island served as a secretive Naval security station, and home to nearly 300 military personnel and their families. It closed in 1993.
After demolition, nearly 95 percent of the wood, steel and other materials were recycled, said Bob Kirkbright, environmental director for Navy Region Southwest.
Because not all of the $8 million in state funds for demolition and clean-up was used, some $1 million will go into the wildlife refuge system, officials said.
Woolsey said she has worked for the island's environmental protection since her first days in Congress. She announced her retirement Monday after nearly two decades, and Tuesday said saving Skaggs Island has been chief among her accomplishments.
"This is a testament of what can happen when people of good will build strong relationships and don't let bureaucratic obstacles stand in the way," Woolsey said.
The Skaggs Island Road bridge was named after Woolsey's longtime aide Tom Roth, who worked on the island's acquisition for many years.
But while people made the environmental protection possible, the island's natural world and wildlife took center stage during Tuesday's ceremony.
"This is perfect for providing opportunity for people to be involved in something greater than concrete and video games," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Rowan Gould said.
Skaggs Island is an important addition to the Bay Area wetlands, while also providing critical habitat to endangered birds and other species, said Ren Lohoefener, director of the wildlife service pacific southwest region.
Meanwhile, Roger Natsuhara, principal deputy assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, said that while Skaggs Island holds an important place in Naval history, the region has a new mission as an environmental preserve.
Long a magnet for vandals and graffiti artists, Skaggs Island will soon be open to limited public access in the coming months, wildlife refuge manager Don Brubaker said.
Such access could involve bird-watching tours scheduled in advance, or reserved trips made by former Skaggs Island naval base employees and residents, he said.

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