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Posted by: Sandy Steinman | January 8, 2013

Protection Sought For Sharp Park Endangered Frogs & Snakes

Press Release from Center for Biological Diversity

Protections Sought for Endangered Frogs, Snakes at Pacifica’s Sharp Park

SAN FRANCISCO— Conservation groups filed a legal appeal today to secure essential protections for endangered frogs and snakes that live at Pacifica’s Sharp Park. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently found that pumping water from wetlands, habitat alteration, mowing, gopher control, and other activities at the Sharp Park golf course, run by the city of San Francisco, are hurting and killing threatened California red-legged frogs and highly endangered San Francisco garter snakes.

California red-legged frog
California red-legged frog photo by Jamie Bettaso, USFWS. Photos areavailable for media use.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has rejected San Francisco’s baseless position that its golf-course activities do not harm federally protected species,” said Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association. “It’s clear our lawsuit was needed to bring professional oversight of the city’s operations. This is a step forward in the campaign to safeguard the precious biodiversity in the Bay Area. The appeal we are pursuing will guarantee that San Francisco abides by the same rules as every other city when it comes to protecting endangered species.”

“Sharp Park ought to be a safe place for red-legged frogs and San Francisco garter snakes, two of the rarest animals in the region,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s unfortunate and frustrating that the city’s management of the golf course has continues to put these species in danger. We’re taking action to make sure these animals finally get the protection they deserve.”

Sharp Park is an important wildlife habitat adjoining National Park Service properties in Pacifica. Today’s appeal, filed in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, seeks to ensure that appropriate and legally binding protections are implemented to prevent and reduce the ongoing killing and harming of endangered species by the golf course’s operations.

Background
In March 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity, Wild Equity Institute, National Parks Conservation Association, Surfrider Foundation, Sequoia Audubon Society and other organizations sued San Francisco under the Endangered Species Act for illegally killing and harming — “taking” is the legal word — protected species through operation of the golf course. San Francisco was manipulating water levels in wetlands and stranding frog eggs during the breeding season, as well as mowing habitat areas occupied by endangered species, without any federal permit.

San Francisco maintained that its golf-course activities were not harming either species, but shortly after the lawsuit was filed the city initiated a formal consultation process under the Endangered Species Act — a step that sought approval to harm and kill protected wildlife. The Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the golf course’s impacts and has issued conservation measures that both San Francisco and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the federal agency that issues a permit for wetlands degradation on the site) must adopt.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s October 2012 “biological opinion” vindicates the position of conservation groups: that golf-course operations adversely affect both the frog and the snake. The Service prescribed dozens of protection measures that the city and the Corps of Engineers must adopt to address impacts, including the construction of new habitats to compensate for wetlands the city is destroying or degrading.

In light of the Service’s biological opinion, the lower court recently dismissed the conservation groups’ pending lawsuit, ruling that the Endangered Species Act claims have now been adequately addressed, although the Corps has yet to issue its permit adopting the conservation measures prescribed by the Service. In their filing today, conservation groups are appealing the ruling to press for further assurances that the habitat needs of endangered species will be addressed.

The city-owned golf course at 400-acre Sharp Park is plagued by crumbling infrastructure, annual flooding problems and ongoing environmental violations. More than three-dozen San Francisco community, recreation, environmental and social-justice groups have called for closing the golf course and creating a more sustainable public park at Sharp Park. A 2011 peer-reviewed scientific study by independent scientists and coastal experts concluded that the most cost-effective option for Sharp Park is to end golf-course operations and restore the functions of the original natural ecosystem, which will also provide the most benefit to endangered species.

But the Park Department has refused to consider this option, and is instead pursuing a plan that would harm endangered species at the site and bail out the golf course’s financial problems with millions of dollars of taxpayer money. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation in December 2011 to prevent this from happening, but Mayor Ed Lee vetoed the legislation.

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