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Restoring Sharp Park, California
San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2011

Sharp Park Golf Course sued over red-legged frog
By Kelly Zito

San Francisco is killing rare frogs and snakes in violation of federal law as the city attempts to ease flooding at a popular but poorly planned golf course, a coalition of environmental groups said Wednesday.

Hundreds of egg sacs from California red-legged frogs - protected under the landmark U.S. Endangered Species Act - have been stranded and left to wither in recent weeks as San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department drained storm water from the low-lying Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and several other conservation groups.

On Wednesday, the groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco charging the city with crafting inadequate conservation plans for the frog and the San Francisco garter snake.

"The city's restoration plan is bogus - the idea was to maintain the golf course, and the endangered species were secondary," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

In a 2009 report, the city outlined a series of projects that would keep the public course intact but reconfigure certain holes and improve drainage in order to restore sensitive habitats. The estimated budget was $6 million to $10 million.

But critics, who contend the 1932 course never should have been built on a thriving wetland, say such measures fall short. Rather, they insist the best and most cost-effective option is to shutter the course and return the site to its natural state.

"The city expects taxpayers to pay $10 million to raise these holes, pay for violations of the Endangered Species Act and pay for a course that will fail as sea levels rise?" Miller said. "It's incredibly expensive and unsustainable."

City officials had not yet seen the lawsuit Wednesday. But they stood firm on plans to improve wildlife habitat and operate the course, where golfers play 54,000 rounds each year.

Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the Recreation and Park Department, said his agency is striking an appropriate "balance between providing a legitimate recreational opportunity and protecting the habitat."

Agency staffers monitor the site each week, according to Lisa Wayne, the Natural Areas Program director for the agency. Since early December, officials say they have relocated 159 egg masses to safer areas under authorization by federal wildlife regulators.

© 2011 Hearst Communications Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton