Publication Date



California Fish and Wildlife Scientific Journal


Humboldt Bay has the highest rate of sea level rise (SLR) in California (47.2 cm/century). Due to compaction and tectonic subsidence, former tidelands and pastures behind dikes surrounding Humboldt Bay are lower in elevation than bay waters at high tide. Adaptation to future climate change and SLR requires that resource managers understand vulnerability and risk to each wildlife area at a local level, because adaptation to SLR is a risk-based management strategy against an uncertain future requiring site-specific solutions. We conducted a vulnerability assessment of the shoreline of three State wildlife areas surrounding Humboldt Bay: Elk River (ERWA), Fay Slough (FSWA), and Mad River Slough (MRSWA). Breaching of shorelines that border each refuge has the potential to flood a diversity of wetland communities, wildlife habitats, and critical infrastructure within the historic tidal inundation footprint. The total length of diked 1-m shoreline segments potentially impacted by SLR was 6.2 km. The relationship between vulnerability and elevation of diked shoreline segments was significantly correlated for all wildlife areas. Vulnerability of diked shoreline was significantly affected by the type of surface covering. MRSWA had the highest percentage of shoreline fortified with concrete and rock (62.2% [2,876 m]), followed by ERWA (0.3% [2,815 m]). ERWA and FSWA had the greatest percentage of shoreline anchored by vegetation (99.3% [2,834 m] and 91.5% [3,385 m], respectively); FSWA had the highest percentage of unvegetated (i.e., exposed) shoreline (7.4% [252 m]); and ERWA had the highest percentage (86.6% [436 m]) of diked shoreline followed by FSWA (69.2% [633 m]) and MRSWA (33.0% [276 m]). The highest overall ratings of shoreline vulnerability were at ERWA (91.7%), followed by FSSWA (72,4%), and MRSWA (34.4%). Issues related to retention of unique characteristics of each wildlife area, natural resources and species at risk, and adaptive planning for future SLR are discussed.