For Immediate Release, August 19, 2009
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Scientists Support Restoration of Sharp Park
Current Golf-course Management Incompatible With Restoring Endangered Species
SAN FRANCISCO— A group of prominent scientists today sent a letter to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department urging restoration of wetlands habitat at Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica for the benefit of endangered San Francisco garter snakes and California red-legged frogs, and contending that current golf-course management activities are incompatible with restoring healthy populations of these endangered species. The signatories to the letter are biologists, herpetologists, ecologists, and hydrologists with collective expertise regarding wetlands habitats, the endangered species at the site, and amphibians and reptiles.
“Scientists familiar with Sharp Park have made it clear that restoration of the Sharp Park wetlands and surrounding habitat is a superior alternative for the long-term survival of the San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog than maintaining the current golf course,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This should put to rest the misguided notion that maintaining the current golf course is somehow compatible with restoring endangered species at this site.”
The scientists note that restoration of Sharp Park wetlands and uplands habitats and connectivity with protected adjacent open space is the best option to ensure the long-term survival of the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog in the area. The scientists cited impacts to the endangered species at the golf course from mowing of greens and fairways, water pumping at a golf-course pond, destruction of gopher burrows that garter snakes and red-legged frogs depend upon, loss of upland habitat needed by the species for hibernation and cover due to vegetation management, and potentially harmful use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Sharp Park Golf Course is owned by the city and county of San Francisco but is located to the south of the city on the coast, in Pacifica. Its ongoing environmental problems are largely due to poor design and unfortunate placement. To create the course in the early 1930s, the Recreation and Park Department dredged and filled areas around a lagoon known as Laguna Salada for 14 months. Not surprisingly, Sharp Park has had problems with flooding and drainage ever since.
In May of 2009 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a Sharp Park restoration planning ordinance, which requires the Recreation and Park Department to develop a plan, schedule, and budget for restoring Sharp Park habitat for the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake, and to consider whether to transfer the property to, or develop a joint management agreement with, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Pacifica, or San Mateo County. An environmental review process is also underway for San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program that will evaluate restoration alternatives for Sharp Park. Numerous conservation groups are advocating for review and selection of a full restoration alternative for Sharp Park.
The Department is reviewing three options for the park: closing the golf course and restoring it to create a natural preserve, keeping it as an 18-hole course while restoring some areas, or cutting the course to nine holes. In July the Recreation and Park Department attempted to appoint an infamous consultant known as a hired gun and advocate for development and anti-environmental interests as a so-called “peer reviewer” of the Sharp Park restoration alternatives, a divisive proposal that was shot down by conservation groups. The Department has missed the July 31 deadline for the alternatives report required by the supervisors’ legislation.
“The Recreation and Park Department seems to believe the current golf course should be maintained, even though the scientific consensus is that the golf course and its management activities harm endangered species and are incompatible with their recovery,” said Miller. “San Francisco has a golden opportunity to save taxpayers’ money, preserve endangered species, and improve recreational access to our coast by choosing a full restoration option.”
The operation and mismanagement of the golf course is undermining habitat-restoration work within the nearby Golden Gate National Recreation Area for the garter snake and the frog at adjacent Mori Point. Golf-course operations continue to illegally kill California red-legged frogs by draining and pumping the frog’s aquatic habitats, stranding and desiccating frog eggs and killing tadpoles. Extremely rare San Francisco garter snakes have been killed by mowing grass in areas that snakes use for basking.
The Pacifica Planning Commission is considering a proposal to designate the golf course as a historic landmark, a tactic by the city of Pacifica to block any changes at the golf course. Such designation would harm restoration and recovery efforts for the endangered species at Sharp Park and would likely provoke a takings lawsuit by San Francisco and expose Pacifica to millions of dollars in liability. The National Park Service has adopted “no position” on the politically motivated landmark designation since it fails to provide any historic recognition to American Indian and World War II historic elements of the property. The Commission deadlocked on a vote on landmark status in July.
Last September the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue San Francisco for illegally killing and harming endangered species at Sharp Park in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. The Center has called on San Francisco to cease harming endangered species, restore wetlands and surrounding uplands habitat for endangered species, and provide more diverse recreational opportunities for the public at the site, including hiking trails and picnicking and camping facilities.
A broad coalition of community and conservation groups support Sharp Park restoration proposals, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Nature in the City, Neighborhood Parks Council, San Francisco Tomorrow, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Sequoia Audubon Society, Pacifica Shorebird Alliance, San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, Yerba Buena Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, Action for Animals, and Transportation for a Livable City.
The scientists that sent the letter are:
Robert Battalio, an engineer and consultant with Philip Williams & Associates, with extensive experience with coastal engineering and restoration of coastal lagoons and estuarine areas;
Peter Baye, Ph.D., a botanist and coastal plant ecologist with 30 years professional experience in applied ecology and botany, and with a career focus on coastal wetlands, dunes, and beaches;
Carlos Davidson, Ph.D., a conservation biologist and ecologist with expertise in conservation ecology and California amphibians, and director and associate professor in the Environmental Studies Program at San Francisco State University;
Robert C. Drewes, Ph.D., a biologist with expertise in herpetological systematics and ecological physiology, and curator of herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences;
Ted Papenfuss, Ph.D., a zoologist with expertise in biogeography and systematics of amphibians and reptiles, and an amphibian and reptile research specialist with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley;
Peter H. Raven, Ph.D., a renowned botanist and president of the Missouri Botanical Garden, with expertise and many years of study on the plants of Central California;
H. Bradley Shaffer, Ph.D., an evolutionary and conservation biologist with expertise in conservation genetics and herpetology, with ongoing research on the California red-legged frog and other declining California amphibians and reptiles, and a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis;
Todd Steiner, a biologist who conducted an early study of garter snakes and red-legged frogs at Shark Park for San Francisco in the 1990s, and the executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network; and
Samuel S. Sweet, Ph.D., a zoologist with expertise in vertebrate systematics, evolutionary morphology, and herpetology, and a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.