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.