Kneeling above a damp section of the Petaluma wetlands, Gerald Moore maneuvers the blade of a double-headed mattock deep into the soil and, with a jerk of his wrist, rips out a thistle, roots and all. He does the same with the next batch, attacking the matted undergrowth of foreign invaders threatening the natural habitat of this pristine wonderland near San Francisco.
It’s slow, tedious work, and Moore, a 67-year-old retired U.S. Army medical researcher and 1963 Xavier graduate, spends hours with a crew of volunteers dislodging the thorny plants. But he’s optimistic about the future of the Petaluma wetlands, growing both in acreage and in the minds of area residents who are flocking to protect it.
In 2001, Moore, a lifelong outdoorsman, duck hunter and wildlife photographer, helped form the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, which convinced the city of Petaluma, Calif., to buy 270 acres of farmland and use it as part of a new wastewater treatment facility. The city did, and the farmland is being restored to its natural condition and will soon serve as a polishing area for treated wastewater that is released and left to purify.
The $6-million purchase doubled the wetlands’ size. Moore, the chairman, and his fellow alliance volunteers are now clearing out non-native weeds, building trails and raising money. In February, they’ll plant shrubs, wildflowers and native grasses. The restoration is creating “a tremendous wildlife mecca,” he says, improving the habitat for the 175 species of birds, including rare American bitterns and rails that are native to the region.