December 10, 2016

Nurturing native species in the East Bay Regional Parks

Hiking Section hike led by Carol Larson and Ron Ucovich in Redwood Regional Park, August 1999. Photo by Kim Cranney.

Hiking Section hike led by Carol Larson and Ron Ucovich in Redwood Regional Park, August 1999. Photo by Kim Cranney.

Updated (Sep. 7, 2012): added link for e-mail addresses for boardmembers.


The 110,000 acres of the East Bay Regional Parks may be the greatest urban natural park system in the world.

Many of these lands, though, are damaged from heavy usage, and many are invaded or totally dominated by non-native species. Climate change threatens to intensify these problems. As the park district goes through the process of updating its Master Plan, one of its key concerns should be protecting and restoring the natural values of its lands. In fact, though, the District has listed a set of priorities, and these concerns are not yet on the list.

Amazingly, the District does not have a conservation/restoration biologist. The existing staff, excellent as it is, lacks the expertise (and numbers) to cover all the needed topics. Stewardship should be a major or top priority in the District budget, and a specialist in native habitats should be high enough in the District bureaucracy to equal other key people, in other words as an assistant general manager.

The Park District manages most of its open space with the triple objectives of controlling fires, avoiding dominance by exotic plant species, and providing recreational, educational, and health benefits to the public. The District needs to preserve existing high-quality native habitats, to improve and restore native habitat on degraded open spaces (those occupied by exotic species), and to interpret to the public the values of native habitat, in today’s East Bay ecosystem and in history, especially of the region’s native peoples.

The specialist should focus on habitat-level ecological (primarily vegetation) management, identifying how native-habitat values are to be defined and measured. The specialist should be an advocate for native habitats in all the District’s land management, and should create the interpretive context in which the District’s mission, goals, and management and interpretive staff connect with the native habitat values. This should focus around three fundamental contexts:

  • evolutionary time before human occupancy;
  • human occupancy before the arrival of European settlers;
  • the recent period since European arrival.

One related subject area, which the Board is focusing on in the Master Plan revision, is “Creating Conservation standards for Cultural and Historic Resources”. The Sierra Club supports the District’s interest in expanding its efforts on Native American heritage and cultural resources. This should of course include standards for protecting artifacts and programs for explaining the Native American history and presence, but it also needs to situate these in the East Bay environmental setting and ecology. Native American culture–dwellings, foods (both plants and animals), and tools–is linked to the natural environment. Presentation of the cultural history thus depends on restoration of the native habitats. For example, a grinding stone has little meaning without knowing what it ground. To explain it to people, it should be surrounded by the native oaks, buckeyes, and Bay laurel that produced the nuts that were ground. It should not be surrounded by non-native eucalyptus trees.

Thus, there should be a close collaboration between the native-habitat and cultural-resources specialists.

Vision and mission

In a related concern, the Park District Board has deleted all reference to an environmental ethic from its Vision Statement. The Vision Statement in the 1997 Master Plan included the sentence: “An environmental ethic guides us in all that we do.” We understand that the Board believes that since such an ethic guides it now, it does not need to explicitly state it. But an explicit statement of this key ethical principle is vital for future Boards, District employees, and the public. Removing this sentence can be seen as an explicit denial of the principle. We urge the Board to restore that sentence to the Vision Statement.

The Board also decided to change many of its key missions into “strategies”. One such mission is “Balance environmental concerns and outdoor recreational opportunities within regional parklands”. Changing this to a “strategy” implies that one could in the future change that strategy to something else like: “Promote recreational opportunities in regional parklands”. Once again, we do not believe that the Board has any such intention, but staff or a future Board might have a different view.

Therefore, we urge the Board to go back to the 1997 Master Plan Vision and Mission Statements. Some tweaks or additions may be appropriate, but not the proposed overhaul.


Contact Carol Severin, president, and the members of the East Bay Regional Park District Board at:

P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, CA 94605.

E-mail addresses for boardmembers can be found at
Urge them to give high priority in the Master Plan revisions to protecting and restoring the native-habitat values of District lands, including by hiring a conservation/restoration biologist at the rank of assistant general manager. Urge the District to work closely with the Sierra Club on the details of these concerns.

To get involved in the Master Plan process, you can join the Sierra Club’s East Bay Public Lands Committee. Contact committee chair Norman La Force at

For more information on the Park District’s planning process, see its web site

Norman La Force, chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee


  1. EBRPD has been acquiescing to Mr. La Force’s demands for many years. That’s why we have fenced pens like the Albany Plateau (where no burrowing owls have been seen in the 4 years since it was fenced) and the Berkeley Meadow (where everything except walking a fenced path diagonally through the 72-acre fenced pen is prohibited) and money is wasted attempting to eradicate non-native species that will not succumb to the chemical warfare being waged against them and the air is polluted by prescribed burns for the same futile purpose.

    If these proposed changes in the Master Plan are an indication that EBRPD is finally prepared to offer the recreational opportunities which the public desires, that is very good news indeed.

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