Federal officials announced Wednesday the transfer of 3,300 acres of former naval property to the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The ceding of a large portion of Skaggs Island in Sonoma County will take effect March 31, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Navy officials.
Although the refuge already contains 13,000 acres of open bay and wetlands, the transfer will provide an important missing piece of the puzzle, greatly expanding the dry land portion.
"It's a big addition," Fish and Wildlife spokesman Doug Cordell said. "You're talking about increasing the refuge by a quarter."
The refuge was created in 1974 in response to rapidly disappearing wetlands. It is home to two federal endangered species, the marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail. It is also a primary stop for many migrating birds, Cordell said.
The transfer took several years to complete. Last year, the Navy spent $8 million demolishing more than 100 buildings.
The Navy acquired the property in 1941. The base was commissioned in 1942 and operated until 1993.
"This is a big deal," said Karen Ringel, director of real estate for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
"It's really a win-win for the Navy and the Fish and Wildlife Service. We didn't need it anymore and they did."
The transfer will help mitigate for loss of habitat due to the Bay Bridge project, Ringel said.
After the transfer takes effect there will be a planning process for the restoration and public access.
Meanwhile, Cordell said plans for limited public use of Skaggs Island in the near term would be considered.
"What we hope and expect is that within months we'll very likely have public access in the form of tours," Cordell said. Plans for further access could take a couple of years to complete, he added.
The property will add to the north part of the refuge and likely will be referred to as the Skaggs Island Unit, refuge manager Don Brubaker said.
"It's rather significant whenever you have land transferred from one agency to another," Brubaker said. "Especially something as large as a portion of Skaggs Island. That's big."
Brubaker added that the restoration work would complement similar efforts to the east in the Sonoma marshes.
"This land will allow us to maybe work back through time to try to get some semblance of what it was like" before settlers arrived, Brubaker said. "It will be a while, but until then the land is going to be providing habitat for upland birds and other wildlife."
"And as a place where people can eventually go look at wildlife," Brubaker added. "There's going to be some restoration activity ahead of us, but we'll keep plugging away at it."
Visitors should call 707-769-4200 for directions to the refuge office. It is one-half mile east of intersection of Lakeville Highway on Highway 37. The entrance to Lower Tubbs Island is adjacent to Highway 37, about one half mile east of the Highway 121/37 intersection in Sonoma County.
For more information online, visit www.fws.gov/sfbayrefuges