On the Edge

Engineering the perfect 9-iron swing, playing fetch with your dog, or flying a kite is a source of relaxation for many. But these seemingly innocuous activities may adversely affect creatures. Whether you liken the human footprint to an infected wound, a minor scratch or a harmless overstatement, for many Americans, the consequences are dubious. Prohibiting favorite pastimes or restricting access to beloved locations for an obscure organism is like taking away property rights or even worse, happiness.

For others, nature's rare creations are as priceless as the Mona Lisa and conscious efforts must be made to preserve them for future generations. For Pacifica resident Dyer Crouch, the situation is as serious as his name. "We are in a period of mass-extinction that is taking place like none before us in the history of the planet. There is no reasonable person, in my opinion, who can say this is part of a 'cycle.'"

The senior software analyst for Pacific Gas and Electric loves surfing, but he would relinquish his waves to an endangered animal any day. He believes the habitat needs of endangered species override conflicting human interests.

Pacifica is home to many endangered and threatened species, whose presence limits recreation. The San Francisco Garter Snake and California Red-legged Frog prefer the tule-filled ponds at Mori Point and Sharp Park Golf Course, while Western Snowy Plovers nest on the beach.

The SF Garter Snake, known for its green and red stripes and electric turquoise bellProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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2C is "surreal" to many. While they feed primarily on eggs and tadpoles of the threatened red-legged frog. What is endangering them both are being marginalization by San Mateo and Santa Cruz County wetland draining, cattle grazing, pesticides, urban sprawl, and the illegal pet trade. The adult frogs, for example, were once the largest frogs west of the Continental Divide, but were also once a common cuisine in California."Pacifica is right in the heart of their territory," said Jessie Bushell, an education specialist with the San Francisco Zoo's Animal Resource Center.

To create a more suitable habitat for the animals, conservation advocates want to close the golf course."Management of the golf course is not compatible for a thriving population of these species," says Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. These management activities include mowing and fertilizing laws, filling in rodent burrows (where snakes also hibernate in the winter,) and pumping ponds, which leave frog eggs to dry out and die.

But the golf course is what is "surreal" for local enthusiasts such as Pacifica resident Don Richardson, 57. "If you are out here in the evening time when the sun's going down and it's shining through the trees, it's just the most beautiful place," he says while eating lunch after a round with his pal, Reiner.

Many local golfers, who have never seen the snake, think closing the course is an extreme affront by environmentalists. "We've been here our whole lives and we're outdoor people," says Reiner Binsfeld, 50, pointing to the photograph on the fireplace mantle of the friendly fox that frequents the course. He learned to golf at Sharp Park 30 years ago and thinks Pacifica already has enough habitat designated for the snakes and frogs.

But unlike the Mona Lisa, the snake cannot survive solely in captivity. The fragmented populations are unable to mingle due to the various obstacles of urbanization. This leads to forced inbreeding that can cause mutations and a lowered life span. "Isolated populations that have no way of growing will not become more healthy without intervention," says Bushell, while Mori, one of the San Francisco zoo's three Garter snakes entwined himself around her fingers and wrist. Mori's name derives from the Mori Point restoration area just south of Sharp Park and Bushell brings the snakes to Bay area schools and community events in Pacifica. "People were thrilled. Some did not even notice what they were missing until the zoo and the park service did the outreach."

Mori Point was a popular dirt bike track in the 70's. Multiple eroded paths still scar the hillside above the pond where workers construct raised walkways, to replace the road, so animals can travel under the path of humans.

The Mori bluffs were Alyssa Byrd's favorite spot until she moved from Pacifica to Berkeley two months ago. "I feel most alive when I am in nature. It's very humbling," says the 34-year-old City College student. She hopes science will determine the best route for Sharp Park, not the "emotional and sentimental attachments," which she attributes to most golfers' positions.

"The idea that a species could go extinct in the Bay Area, in 2009, due to habitat loss is shocking," she says. As a children's environmental educator of sixteen years, Byrd believes education is the best way to improve peoples' understanding of their effect on animals.

Byrd used to let her dog roam free on the beaches of Monterey, but now that she understands how dogs negatively affect bird habitats, she keeps her 13-year-old friend leashed when walking on Pacifica's beaches. "As much as I love her and truly appreciate her need to be off-leash with other dogs ... , I realize I cannot make exceptions for myself now that I know more."

The wildlife in California is as diverse the as the people and their interests, but environmentalists say many species will go extinct if no intervention is made. "If we lose that snake from the planet then we will have lost one of the most interesting and beautiful creatures in our biological community," says SFSU Environmental Studies Lecturer Brent Plater.

1932: World-famous architect Alister Mackenzie designed Sharp Park Golf Course. The natural wetlands were dredged and filled

1941: Four of MacKenzie's holes are destroyed by ocean storm surges and replaced by new holes farther east. A seawall is built to stop ocean flooding, but the structure exacerbates winter freshwater flooding.

1967: SF Garter snakes listed as federally endangered. http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=C002

1970-1990: Population in California grows by 49 percent.

1990-2000: Population in California increases by 4 million.

1996: The California Red-legged frog is federally listed as threatened.

2000: Mori Point becomes part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is designated for habitat restoration.

2005- No reliable data exists on the population of SF Garter Snakes, according to Fish and Wildlife, but common estimates are between 1,000 and 2,000.

2005: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibits the golf course from pumping water out of the ponds that flood every winter onto the fairway to protect the frogs' eggs.

2007- 70 percent of the red-legged frog's habitat has been eliminated, according to the CA Dept of Fish and Game

2007- 455 animal species and nearly 1,700 plant species are at risk of endangerment or extinction in the state, according to the California Department of Fish and Game's Special Animals List. 16 animal species are known to have become extinct in California in the last 150 years.

September 2008- The Center for Biological Diversity threatens suit against city and county of San Francisco, who owns Sharp Park, unless they stop harming the snakes and frogs. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2008/sharp-park-09-24-2008.html

June 2009: SF Supes issue a resolution requiring the Recreation and Park Department to develop restoration plans with alternatives to either retain or redesign the golf course or eliminate it entirely. http://www.nps.gov/goga/parkmgmt/sharp_park.htm

Present: Sharp Park's future has yet to be determined.



Jason Rosete | staff photographer
A golfer tees off at Sharp Park Golf Course, which is spread across the natural habitat of the endangered San Francisco Garter Snake and the California Red-legged Frog, both of which are being killed off due to maintenance activities on the course.



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