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For Immediate Release, November 30, 2011

Contact:  Brent Plater, Wild Equity Institute, (415) 572-6989
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 669-7357
Michelle Myers, Sierra Club, San Francisco Bay Chapter, (415)-646-6930

Lawsuit Over Sharp Park Golf Course Harm to Endangered Species Will Continue to Trial

Judge Denies Temporary Emergency Protections for Endangered Species

SAN FRANCISCO— A federal district court judge has denied a request for an immediate injunction against golf-course operations documented to kill and harm endangered species at Sharp Park in Pacifica. The court referred to a temporary injunction as “extraordinary relief,” and will wait until the scheduled trial next summer to consider measures to address the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s pumping of water from wetlands where California red-legged frogs lay eggs and mowing of vegetation used by critically endangered San Francisco garter snakes.

“The judge did not think that immediate restrictions on the golf course are necessary and intends to address these matters at trial,” said Brent Plater, executive director of the Wild Equity Institute and legal counsel on the suit. “We are excited to go to trial and expect the judge to craft appropriate relief once she has heard the merits of the case.”

“It’s shameful that San Francisco intends to continue draining and mowing sensitive wetlands for another winter — you’d think the ‘green city’ would do right by its namesake endangered species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Because San Francisco garter snake numbers are so dangerously low, golf-course mismanagement that kills a single snake threatens the species as a whole.”

The interim ruling does not affect the ongoing lawsuit filed by conservation groups over the Parks Department’s documented killing of endangered species. Although the court declined immediate relief, it is reserving judgment on the merits of the lawsuit until trial, which begins in July 2012. The Parks Department has no viable plan to comply with the Endangered Species Act or adequately protect endangered species.

"Though we are saddened there will be another season where harm will fall on these fragile creatures, we are confident in our ability to make a strong case for protection of both species in trial,” said Michelle Myers of the Sierra Club.

The judge ruled conservation groups did not show irreparable harm would occur before the case is resolved at trial. Although San Francisco does not deny golf-course operations harm endangered species and the city lacks required permits, the judge relied on assertions by Parks Department staff and hired biologists that ongoing stranding and killing of frog eggs is not hurting the overall frog population and the department’s “compliance plan” can adequately protect frogs and snakes in the short term.

Ongoing killing of endangered frogs at the golf course and a Parks Department “restoration” plan that would actually evict endangered frogs and garter snakes from Sharp Park led to conservation groups filing suit under the Endangered Species Act and asking for an injunction on certain golf-course activities hurting endangered wildlife. Leading experts submitted declarations supporting the temporary injunction.

The city’s Parks Department cited increased observations of frog eggs last winter as evidence of an improving population trend for red-legged frogs in Sharp Park, yet restored habitat conditions at adjacent Mori Point, managed by the National Park Service, a wet winter, and increased surveys and scrutiny by biologists are more likely explanations. Leading scientific experts, with collective experience of more than seven decades of research and study of California amphibians and reptiles, have explained that the golf course is a “population sink” that kills more frogs than are bred and alters suitable habitat, threatening the long-term survival and recovery of both frogs and snakes. The experts also objected to the Parks Department’s alleged compliance plan, which is not being followed, as “unworkable.”

Sharp Park Golf Course faces crumbling infrastructure, annual flooding problems and ongoing environmental violations. Dozens of San Francisco community, recreation, environmental and social-justice groups are calling for a more sustainable public park at the site. A San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee will vote Dec. 5 on legislation introduced by Supervisor John Avalos that would create a long-term solution for Sharp Park by transitioning management to the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This change would not only protect endangered wildlife but also improve recreation and public access and save San Francisco taxpayers’ money. The proposed partnership would end the city’s legal and financial liabilities for Sharp Park and put the National Park Service in charge of protecting endangered species and providing public recreation, allowing San Francisco to reinvest its scarce resources in city-based parks, recreation centers and golf courses.

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