Federal Agency Throws Wrench in Frog Management, Golf at Sharp Park

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department must acquire special permit or appeal the decision to pump water, move frog egg masses at Sharp Park.

A federal agency has denied the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s request to conduct habitat management and research pertaining to the California Red-Legged Frog at .

The move prohibits the department from conducting golf course operations meant to preserve frog egg masses in the course’s wetlands and keeping the course playable during the rainy season. Those activities include removing overgrown vegetation in wetlands, pumping water away from the course when it floods and moving egg masses when they are stranded after pumping has occurred. It is one of several recent actions taken by both federal and local authorities that affect golf course activities at Sharp Park.

“The City is now on notice that its activities are harming endangered species, and that they do not have permits to cause this harm,” said Brent Plater, executive Director of the Wild Equity Institute, a regional environmental advocacy agency. “If the city nonetheless moves forward with its existing golf plans, city employees could be subject to civil and criminal penalties.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent a letter to the department on Dec. 8 denying its request to conduct habitat management and scientific studies relating to the frog, stating that “The Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Service Office has previously informed your office that operations and management of the Sharp Park Golf Course are not presently covered for incidental take…you most obtain incidental take coverage prior to seeking, the movement of any egg masses that may be stranded this winter.”

An incidental take permit is essentially permission from the federal government to continue otherwise lawful activities with the acknowledgement that a member of an endangered or threatened species may be killed or destroyed while conducting them.

Plater has indicated that it is unlikely the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department will obtain an incidental take permit under current conditions.

Pumping water in the wetlands to keep egg masses from escaping from wetland vegetation and becoming stranded on the course is a critical part of all of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s 2009 restoration plan alternatives for Sharp Park, which were penned as a response to environmentalists’ complaints that the frog, a threatened species, and the San Francisco Garter snake, an endangered species, were being harmed by golf course activities. Where pumping has failed, however, emergency measures have been taken in past winters to move stranded egg masses back to the wetlands.

Without an incidental take permit, the recreation and parks department may not able to continue doing this. 

This Fish and Wildlife Service’s rejection underscores one demand in filed this year by environmentalist groups against the City of San Francisco that the city obtain an incidental take permit before conducting more golf course operations at Sharp Park. It also constitutes just one swing in the teeter-totter response to the controversy at the golf course by local and federal authorities.

Environmental groups asked Judge Susan Illston, who is over their case against San Francisco, for a against golfing in a large part of the course in September until the case was decided. In Late November, Judge Illston .

Judge Illston wrote, in a 15-page ruling, that the plaintiffs—the Wild Equity Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Surfrider Foundation, Sequoia Audubon and Sierra Club—failed to meet their burden in “showing irreparable harm to the California Red-Legged Frog or the San Francisco Garter Snake.” 

Golf supporters called the lawsuit, soon after it was filed,

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to begin a process of transferring management of Sharp Park to another agency, with an emphasis on the possibility that the land would be taken over by the National Parks Service to become part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee indicated the same week he would likely .

Former Pacifica Mayor Mary Ann Nihart and the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce to Mayor Lee supporting a veto.

Environmental groups have been urging the mayor to leave the supervisors’ decision alone, however.

“The City must change management activities at Sharp Park Golf Course to comply with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s directive,” said Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Mayor Lee’s approval of legislation that will allow for a potential partnership with the National Park Service, America’s leading expert in endangered species recovery, will provide opportunities and benefits for the City, including evaluations of feasible options that reduce fines, save San Francisco money, and allow it to sustain park services in San Francisco.”

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department can appeal the Fish and Wildlife’s decision or seek an incidental take permit through that office by submitting a project-specific research proposal detailing the need and justification for the work and the anticipated benefit to the frog.

The department could not be reached prior to the publication of this article for a response to the rejection of its request or information about what it plans to do next.

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ian butler December 28, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Charles Dodgson: "When was a SFGS last seen at Sharp Park? What's the next thing you're going to get all dramatic about, Ian? Pledge drive for Bigfoot? Abominable Snowman bake sale?" It is my hope that Charles' comments are just one individual's extreme views, and not a general shift from "we don't need to do anything because the snakes are doing just fine" to "we don't need to do anything because the snakes are all gone."
Butch Larroche December 28, 2011 at 10:27 PM
Ian, one could say that closing the golf course in an "extreme view".
Dogbert December 29, 2011 at 12:46 AM
@Ian: According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. Assuming that this is true, why is it that I never hear anything from you about anything other than the SFGS? At least the SFGS has a significant population in Europe as pets. In fact, only in the U.S. do we have the subspecies desgination of SFGS. Everywhere else in the world the SFGS is not considered endangered because it is classified as a colorful variety of common garter snake. But you knew that... Ian, don't you think it's time to start closing down pretty much everything on this planet to attempt to save the condemned 150-200/day from the Reaper's sickle? Certainly you would agree that humans, as a minimum, would have to go. Wouldn't you?
ian butler December 31, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Thanks Dogbert, for pointing out the magnitude of the extinction crisis. It is very serious, not only for the species themselves, but for human civilization. Each has a role in the web of life, remove too many threads and it all could unravel. Although efforts worldwide need to be stepped up to save as many species as possible, most of that need to happen at the local level. Communities all over the world need to decide how to coexist with the species that share their environment. In Africa for instance, many people are starving to death, and it's tough to convince people not to hunt the gorillas into extinction if it's the only way to feed their family. In Pacifica, we have four protected species: the SF Garter Snake, the Red-Legged Frog, the Snowy Plover and the Steelhead Trout (Salmon). Each requires some some sacrifice on our part to keep them from disappearing under our watch, but fortunately nothing as serious as starving to death! I happen to be most passionate about the SF Garter, because as a kid in San Diego I was an avid snake lover and all the snake books I had featured a picture of the most colorful of them all: the SF Garter. I dreamed of one day seeing one in the wild, but so far, even though I now live near their native habitat, I've yet to spot one. Of course, no one has spotted one for a while, which is certainly cause for concern. You can see and learn about them here: http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/CAsnakeSFGarter.html
Charles Dodgson December 31, 2011 at 08:24 PM
Since no one has spotted one for a while, perhaps you and your carpet-bagger buddies from Arizona can relax your onslaught against Bay Area golfers. We also haven't seen any SFGS near Modesto -- go bother them for awhile. Anyone accused of "extreme views" by your crowd should take it as a compliment.


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