November 21, 2014

San Francisco killing endangered frogs at Sharp Park–again

Desiccated California red-legged-frog egg mass, Horse Stable Pond, Sharp Park Golf Course.

Desiccated California red-legged-frog egg mass, Horse Stable Pond, Sharp Park Golf Course.

On March 2 the Sierra Club, along with the Wild Equity Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Surfrider Foundation, and Sequoia Audubon, asked for a court order to hold the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department accountable for illegally killing threatened California red-legged frogs at Sharp Park Golf Course for a second year in a row (see January Yodeler, page 4). The recent killings were documented by San Francisco State University biology students over several weeks of observation during this year’s short, exceptionally dry winter frog-breeding season.

Golf-course employees or contractors also appear to have tampered with evidence of Endangered Species Act violations by moving stranded frog eggs to another pond, even though federal wildlife officials had expressly warned them not to do so. Photos documenting the illegal water pumping, stranding and moving of frog egg masses can be seen here.

This is the sixth winter in the past decade that the department has killed protected frogs by draining Sharp Park’s wetlands in a failed attempt to prevent frogs from breeding in their historic ponds. When this strategy fails, the department relocates stranded eggs, putting them in jeopardy, so that the frog’s breeding cycle will not inconvenience course management. Friday’s court filing asks for an immediate order holding all responsible parties liable for this illegal activity.

“These actions are really outrageous,” said Arthur Feinstein, chair of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter. “The Park Department is already being sued for violations of the Endangered Species Act and was told by the Fish and Wildlife Service that they may not move frog eggs, yet that’s just what they’ve done. We expect more respect for environmental laws from our city agencies.”

Background

After conservation groups provided evidence of the department’s unlawful activity, the Fish and Wildlife Service last year notified the golf course that it was specifically prohibited from handling or moving frog egg masses at Sharp Park. The Service also denied the department’s request to drain wetlands and dredge lagoons at Sharp Park, which the Department euphemistically referred to as “habitat management and scientific studies”. Water pumping, dredging and other activities harmful to frogs are allowed only if the department obtains an Endangered Species Act “incidental take” permit, which it has failed to obtain to date.

While Fish and Wildlife did authorize the department to conduct surveys for frogs and egg masses, the city’s biological consultant was working with an expired permit. Even before expiration the permit had expressly prohibited “harassing” or moving frog eggs.

The city-owned golf course at 400-acre Sharp Park in Pacifica 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 remove the golf course and restore the functions of the original natural ecosystem, which will also provide the most benefit to endangered species.

The Park Department has refused to consider this option, and is instead pursuing a plan that would evict endangered species from the site, bail out the golf course’s financial problems with tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, and continue San Francisco’s liability for fines for Endangered Species Act violations. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation in December 2011 to prevent this from happening, but Mayor Ed Lee, an avid golfer, vetoed the legislation. Further action by the board of supervisors is expected this year.

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