Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

California Native Plant Society
Center for Biological Diversity
Golden Gate Audubon Society
Nature in the City


For Immediate Release: March 20, 2006

Jake Sigg, California Native Plant Society, 415-731-3028
Brent Plater, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-572-6989
Elizabeth Murdock, Golden Gate Audubon Society, 510-301-0570
Peter Brastow, Nature in the City, 415-564-4107

Independent Peer Reviewers Find Plan Scientifically Sound,
Urge Further Protections for San Francisco’s Unique Wildlife and Plants

Three independent scientific reviews of San Francisco’s Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan reached a common conclusion this week: San Francisco’s progressive plan to protect the Bay Area’s most imperiled wildlife and plants is based on sound science and “does an outstanding job overall” of maximizing protection with limited resources while balancing the need to protect natural resources with other public uses. Reviewers also suggested that the plan should be strengthened to address significant risks to natural areas posed by invasive species, off-leash dogs, and feral cats.

The peer-reviewed plan will now go before the Recreation and Parks Commission for final review and approval.

San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program is one of our country’s boldest urban conservation measures. The program aims to protect San Francisco’s numerous imperiled species and ecosystems, many of which are “endemic,” meaning that they are found nowhere else on the planet. The city’s biological diversity—and its precarious status—is of global concern: the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has included portions of San Francisco in the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, a type of recognition also given to Brazil’s Central Amazon rainforests. Yet while Brazil has preserved approximately 42 percent of its rainforests—which most scientists and conservationists consider a failure—San Francisco has preserved only very little of its indigenous habitats.

The Natural Areas Program aims to preserve, restore, and enhance a small slice of San Francisco’s remaining indigenous habitat and species. The program recognizes San Francisco’s responsibility to ensure that our imperiled wildlife and plants are not pushed to extinction, and offers alternatives to harmful land-use management—alternatives that promote environmental stewardship and leave a legacy of wildlife protection for future generations to enjoy. At the same time, the program provides extensive recreational access so that all park users will have beautiful landscapes in which to enjoy nature on a daily basis.

The Management Plan, several years in the making, will help San Francisco make informed decisions to protect our unique habitat and species for the next two decades. Independent peer reviews of the plan concluded that it “does an outstanding job overall” of prioritizing efforts where maximum conservation benefits can be reaped, and that the plan clearly articulates where irresponsible uses of natural areas will jeopardize San Francisco’s unique biodiversity. The peer reviewers also suggested modest changes to portions of the plan, many of which have been adopted in the Final Draft Plan.

The Natural Areas Program cannot protect urban nature while simultaneously accommodating all forms of recreation enjoyed by the public without restriction. Peer reviewers determined that the plan may not go far enough to protect San Francisco’s natural heritage from the threats posed by off-leash dogs and feral cats. Peer reviewers Drs. Lynn Huntsinger and James W. Bartolome concluded that “[g]iven the small size of the Natural Areas and populations of species of concern, it is most appropriate to enforce the existing leash regulations and to exclude dogs from some small but vital wildlife habitat,” and stated that “the proposed control of dogs seems appropriate and even conservative” to protect San Francisco’s endangered biodiversity. Furthermore, the peer reviewers explained that “[t]he need to control feral cats is urgent” because feral cats can “kill prey species even when populations of prey are low, increasing the chances of extinction for the prey.”

“The Natural Areas Program gives people who otherwise cannot or will not drive to distant wild lands an increasingly rare recreational opportunity: the chance to be exposed to things more than human,” said Brent Plater, Bay Area Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This of course applies to those without the fiscal resources to travel to distant wild areas, but also to those overworked and time-stressed individuals who, because of life’s daily grind, cannot find the time to visit nature in far-away places. For these individuals and the rest of us living in civilization, the Natural Areas Program provides an oasis of hope for a sustainable society.”

“This plan combines the best available science with a lengthy community process to find the best way to protect and enjoy the precious wild places that make our city so special,” said Elizabeth Murdock, Executive Director of Golden Gate Audubon. “It’s a thoughtful effort to care for the natural areas of San Francisco—before we love them to death.”

Public support of the Natural Areas Program is vital if this visionary plan is to be approved. Please contact the Recreation and Parks Commission and let them know that they should adopt the plan, and even strengthen its provisions addressing off-leash dogs and feral cats in natural areas, to ensure that future generations of San Franciscans will be able to enjoy our unique biological landscape. A full copy of the plan and peer reviewer comments can be seen at


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