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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Antiestablishmentarian December 19, 2011 at 03:48 PM
The fact of the matter is that this issue is much bigger than just golfing, and allegedly endangered reptiles. What you're dealing with here is a trained Agenda 21 Change Agent funded in large part by United Nations front organizations which funnel the donations to this Lawyer through numerous superficial environmental support trusts and other perhaps more established so called green organizations. Most of have been overtaken from within at the executive levels by the selected trained officers engaged in patiently furthering the plans for the U.N.'s global implementation of the AGENDA 21 program. If you are unfamiliar with the stated purpose and intended effect of the Agenda 21 program, you really need to put some time in on researching this affront to human kind which places the rights of a rock or a squirrel above those of any human being. The entire program is so absolutely insane that it boggles the mind that anyone would ever be able to justify participating in it's implementation, knowing full well that a part of the plan involves reducing the world population from it's present numbers to 500,000 inhabitants in keeping with the statements carved into the Georgia Guide stones. Most of the depopulation is planned to be effected by starvation and wars. We must make every effort to expose this traitor to humanity for what he is and who he really represents whatever the cost! When that is finished, then go to work on exposing those who were his supporters.
Conrad Peterson December 19, 2011 at 05:36 PM
and aliens are speaking to me through the fillings in my teeth.
CQ December 19, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Gee, there really is a U.N. Agenda 21 ... Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment... http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/
Conrad Peterson December 19, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Where can I find the part of Agenda 21 where it says the plan is to reduce the world population to 500,000 by starvation and wars?
mw December 19, 2011 at 07:43 PM
This is complete nonsense. The WEBLEEDU's (Wildly Equitable Biodiverse Litigants for Ecological Extortion and Deep Untruths) are actually spinning this as if there might be criminal liability. Laughably absurd. These things get settled in the courts, and no one - i mean NO ONE - is going to file criminal charges. This is the identical issue we've seen in the pointless WEBLEEDU lawsuit now pending in Federal court. The Fish and Game memo is just a - um - red herring. We got a pretty good preview of coming legal attractions when the judge denied the WEBLEEDU demand for a a preliminary injunction. This is the judges ruling: "Experts for both sides agree that the overall Frog population has increased over the last 20 years... Neither side disputes that the number of egg masses found last winter in Sharp Park was the highest ever recorded... Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of showing irreparable harm to the California Red Legged Frog or the San Francisco Garter Snake absent the issuance of a preliminary injunction on defendants' activities at Sharp Park. Accordingly, the motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED." It is tough to make a case that the golf course is harming the frog when all the experts say the frog population is flourishing and growing at the course. The lawsuits will continue.We as taxpayers pay them to sue us through their abuse of the EAJA reimbursement system. This is just one more. Eventually they will lose them all.
Suzanne Valente December 19, 2011 at 08:03 PM
(Part 1 of 4) This article, while attempting to appear balanced, leaves out some very important facts essential to any decision-making process with respect to the future of Sharp Park Golf Course (SPGC). From a prominent environmental law attorney: 1) There is critical habitat and then there is everything else. This means your driveway is in the same category as Sharp Park with respect to the red legged frog and SF garter snake. 2) Has anyone demanded you create a Recovery Plan for the RLF or SFGS that might cross your driveway? NO. Are you allowed to intentionally kill these frogs or snakes? NO. SF has created its own environmental crisis at Sharp Park by intentionally allowing fairways to flood so that frogs would lay their eggs on the fairways. Now we have a dilemma: do we drain the fairways and kill the frog eggs OR do we suspend golf until the eggs have hatched? This scenario has played itself out numerous times over the years.
Suzanne Valente December 19, 2011 at 08:04 PM
(Part 2 of 4) Now we get to the heart of the problem: people within the SFRPD have no interest in recreation--they are more interested in "habitat restoration" as evidenced by the Natural Areas Program (NAP) they promote. These people have NO business being in positions of authority in SFRPD because their interests oppose the interests of citizens wishing to recreate in SF parks. These same environmental extremists at SFRPD join forces with the likes of Brent Plater (CBD, Wild Equity Institute, Sierra Club, et al). Brent and his friends file suit against the City regarding the frogs and snakes at SPGC. In response, the City presents FWS with a plan to obtain a "recovery permit" at Sharp Park Golf Course. If you read between the lines on the Plater press release, there is a grain of truth: "In particular, the FWS rejected the Department’s application for a “recovery permit” to clear vegetation from wetlands and lagoons that the golf course uses as its drainage system. Instead, the FWS stated that the Department must either create a habitat conservation plan for Sharp Park or obtain a permit through a formal consulation process for projects that adversely affect endangered species." Essentially, SF must either move forward with a better plan to enhance the park for frogs and snakes, OR (and this is SF’s option) they may apply for a permit to allow them incidental killing of either of these species, through the daily management of the golf course.
Suzanne Valente December 19, 2011 at 08:06 PM
(Part 3 of 4) Taken directly from the USFWS announcement of critical habitat for the RLF: In total, approximately 1,636,609 acres (ac) (662,312 hectares(ha)) of critical habitat in 27 California counties fall within the boundaries of the final revised critical habitat designation. DATES: This rule becomes effective on April 16, 2010. Considering Sharp Park was not included in these 1.6 million acres, how is it that Brent Plater and his cohorts claim that a few frogs potentially lost in the recreational use and maintenance of this golf course will have ANY effect on the survival of the species? Plater’s claims are patently absurd and they insult our intelligence. Clearly, if SF were to apply for a permit to protect them legally in case an occasional frog were to be killed with respect to the maintenance and use of the golf course, it would and should be issued. SFRPD should have applied for an "incidental take" permit. But they did not do so. Instead, they are using this manufactured crisis to justify turning the property over to the GGNRA at which time recreation, people and their pets will be eliminated from the landscape.
Suzanne Valente December 19, 2011 at 08:07 PM
(Part 4 of 4) As for the SF garter snake, there has not been a documented sighting of this creature at Sharp Park for years. Further, the San Francisco garter snake is commercially available in Europe and is a popular pet. Do we really have to give up healthy recreation for this? One last point: if you doubt FWS would issue an incidental take permit, were the City of SF to argue that expanding the wetlands would demonstrably increase the public risk of West Nile Virus, the FWS would most certainly be obligated to protect the public as SPGC is not designated as critical habitat. The ruling on Nov. 29, 2011 by Federal Judge Susan Illston confirms my above assertions. In her 15-page ruling, Federal Judge Illston denied the motion of Plater, CBD et al because she found that the plaintiffs "failed to establish the likelihood of irreparable harm" to the California red-legged frog or the San Francisco garter snake. With his recent failure in federal court, Plater has turned to the Court of Public Opinion to try and backdoor his way to victory. In that particular forum, truth is conveniently replaced by spin and science takes a backseat to anecdote. I encourage the readership of Patch to do their own homework on this matter - as I have attempted through my research. Ultimately, only the truth will help us to truly protect ALL of the inhabitants of this planet.
Steve Sinai December 19, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Brent Plater is known to exaggerate. I read the letter from Fish and Wildlife, and they only rejected the habitat study permit because they felt one of the three researches was too inexperienced.
ted edwards December 20, 2011 at 12:13 AM
Steve Sinai explained in one sentence what the entire press release failed to do. I'd say much more than an exaggeration.
Camden Swita December 21, 2011 at 06:41 AM
No, they rejected one of three researchers in addition to the study/habitat management. The study/habitat management was rejected because of a lack of the incidental take permit.
ian butler December 21, 2011 at 03:59 PM
"Further, the San Francisco garter snake is commercially available in Europe and is a popular pet. Do we really have to give up healthy recreation for this?" The SFGS is prized worldwide as one of the most beautiful snakes in the world, which is one of it's problems. Collectors caught and sold them to the highest bidder, mostly in Europe, because it is illegal to buy, sell or possess one in the US. The European stock suffers from inbreeding since they are the descendants of only a few individuals. In the wild there are probably around a thousand specimens alive, and most of them are in the wetlands near the SF airport. Sharp Park probably still had a few left, but the population is likely less than 100. It remains the most endangered snake in North America, and if it goes extinct in the wild I for one will take scant consolation in the existence of a few inbred specimens in the homes of rich European collectors. I understand that the golf course has a value and is important to a lot of people, and sincerely hope it is possible to keep the course and save the snake, but anyone who thinks that "healthy recreation" is more important than the existence of this animal in the wild needs to rethink their values. We are very fortunate to have an exceedingly rare and world famous subspecies in our back yard, and it is a gift to celebrate, not an obstacle to downplay.
Paul Slavin December 21, 2011 at 08:37 PM
There is plenty of prime frog & snake land just south of the golf course, and GGNRA already owns it. Why do they have to own ALL of the coast?
Charles Dodgson December 23, 2011 at 03:27 AM
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?
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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