Enviro groups sue San Francisco over Sharp Park Golf Course

By Alison Hawkes

California red-legged frog. Photo: Wild Equity Institute

Environmental groups have filed suit against the city of San Francisco under claims it’s violating the Endangered Species Act at Sharp Park Golf Course.

The groups say that San Francisco, which owns and operates the 90-year old golf course in nearby Pacifica, is harming two imperiled native species: the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake.

They claim that lawn-mowing, pesticide and herbicide spraying, and flood control activities on the course are contributing to population losses and that the city has done little to mitigate the ill-effects of golfing on the species’ habitats.

“The course was built on wetlands and was never sustainable with species protection,” said Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association, one of the groups party to the lawsuit. “The city is putting at risk the recovery of wildlife.”

The suit was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Francisco by the Wild Equity Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Surfrider Foundation, Sequoia Audubon, and Sierra Club.

San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department Spokesman Elton Pon declined to comment on the case, saying the department has not yet reviewed it.

San Francisco garter snake. Photo: Sue Gardner.

Environmentalists have battled with the city for years over the future of Sharp Park Golf Course. While the city is intent to maintain the 18-hole course, environmentalists have been pushing for it to be shut down and turned into restored wildlife habitat with low-impact recreational uses like hiking and biking.

Meanwhile, another interest group — golfers — prize the course as one of the only coastal ranges in the state that is open to the general public, making it cheaper than the likes of Pebble Beach.

Last week the city’s park department announced that a working group had come up with a “vision for Sharp Park” that “could balance ecological and recreational objectives” by tripling the amount of habitat available to the two species through restoration efforts.

Species in peril

The golf course is prime territory for the California red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake – two species that have experienced significant population declines as development has taken hold of much of the region.

The red-legged frog has been lost from more than 70 percent of its historic range and is listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The San Francisco garter snake has 1,000 to 2,000 individuals left and is listed as an endangered species. Only six significant snake populations are known to exist, one of which is at Sharp Park, according to the lawsuit.

Environmental groups say they are particularly concerned by a wintertime pumping system at Sharp Park, meant to divert rainwater to the ocean in order to keep the course clear of flooding. In the process, they say they’ve documented numerous cases, the latest on February 22, in which frog egg masses have been stranded and dried out because of the pumping.

Environmentalists say these red-legged frog eggs were exposed to die on Feb. 23 due to Sharp Park water pumping. Photo: Wild Equity Institute

They also documented a case in which a garter snake was found dead after being struck by a lawn mower. Golf carts on pathways are also a problem for the snakes, who use them for basking, the lawsuit states.

In 2005, the controversy drew the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which sent a letter to the golf course’s program manager stating that water pumping in previous years had exposed red-legged frog eggs, resulting in “the death of an unknown quantity of embryonic tadpoles.” The agency warned that it’s illegal to harm any federally listed animal species without a permit. The city responded in a letter saying it has been monitoring the egg masses and had reset the pumps to allow the water level to remain over the eggs until they hatch. But the city also blamed flooding at Sharp Park to water drainage from surrounding lands, including adjacent federal park land managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Since then, environmentalists and park officials have been at odds over whether the golf course could ever exist in harmony with the beleaguered species. The city’s most recent plans for the park, stated in last week’s press release, included removing sediments from wetland habitat and forming a water channel that would connect to Mori Point, which is federally protected parkland adjacent to the course. The city would move the 12th hole to make way for the water channel, and abandon plans to fortify a sea-wall that environmental groups opposed because of beach erosion.

Flooding at Sharp Park Golf Course. Photo: Wild Equity Institute.

“Our priorities have been to meet the ecological requirements of the species and to maintain golfing as a valued recreational pastime at Sharp Park,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, in a statement. “We also accept the consensus which is forming to naturally manage the coastal areas at Sharp Park over the long term.”

But Desai said the city’s efforts are inadequate. Golfing and species protection — in this case — cannot go hand in hand, he said.

“They feel that moving one hole and realigning it consists of species protection,” Desai said. “That’s like treating a species like it’s in the zoo.”

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20 Responses to Enviro groups sue San Francisco over Sharp Park Golf Course

  1. Enviro groups sue San Francisco over Sharp Park Golf Course | Way Out West News « Pesticide Truths on 03/02/2011 at 5:17 pm

    [...] Enviro groups sue San Francisco over Sharp Park Golf Course | Way Out West News. 0 I like This [...]

    • R.E. Brown on 03/03/2011 at 3:17 pm

      I’ed say it’s time for the league of american voters to quit haggle-ing with unions and start on Enviro groups.

  2. Enviro groups sue San Francisco over Sharp Park Golf Course – Way Out West | Buy Golf Today on 03/02/2011 at 5:42 pm

    [...] News Sources wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt [...]

    • Joe on 03/03/2011 at 3:49 pm

      Do these idiots really have nothing better to do? Has to be the Sierra club, no one else is that stupid. Well ok, Peta maybe.

  3. Baba Louie on 03/03/2011 at 2:26 pm

    OMG they killed a snake with a lawn mower,
    frog eggs being washed to sea?? It is truly a shame that embryonic tadpoles were able to swim upstream and create the likes of some of these envrionmentalists!!

    • Professor Bobo on 03/04/2011 at 1:20 am

      The single lawn mower occurrence happened in the 80′s, yet the enviro-mentals keep bringing it up like it happens every week.

      The red-legged frog habitat ranges throughout California. It hardly depends on Sharp Park for its survival. I’m not sure anyone’s seen a snake there for 10 years.

  4. Frances Griffin on 03/03/2011 at 2:42 pm

    Sorry about the golfers, but they can take up other hobbies that provide outdoor experience and exercise.
    We can’t replace species. Get your priorities straight.

  5. Tommy Bolt on 03/03/2011 at 2:48 pm


  6. CSB on 03/03/2011 at 3:12 pm

    Enjoy your “green” funding for now … it’s only gonna last a couple more years.After that,you’ll be lucky to have 25 cents to call a lawyer!

  7. Lena on 03/03/2011 at 3:46 pm

    What is the REAL reason they want this golf course closed down should be the REAL question!

  8. Charles on 03/03/2011 at 3:52 pm

    Who is next PETA or the ACLU?

  9. Johnc on 03/03/2011 at 4:53 pm

    I have mixed feelings since I am an avid golfer. I think the greater good would be to convert the course to a natural habitat so that the species can survive. This course is almost like a metaphor for the entire planet. Pretty soon we will be in a “Soylent” green sitution because the eco-systems collapse.

  10. Leo McArdle on 03/03/2011 at 5:15 pm

    If the golf course is returned to its original status then they have to remove the seawall and let the salt water from the waves back onto the area. Laguna Salada was orginally a brackish pond that did not support any frogs, period. I don’t golf, don’t like the game, but I am all for keeping the course open. All these idiots who want to change it can move out of their houses, pay to have them torn down, and make that land into wildlife habitat.

  11. Jim G on 03/03/2011 at 5:19 pm

    Its been a functional golf course for 90 years, with few changes. Since the current golf course use obviously functions well as a habitat, nothing should be changed that might endanger the snakes and frogs.
    Golf courses can be managed with sensitivity to the environment, and the plaintiffs should stop this harassment.

  12. Ricky on 03/03/2011 at 5:34 pm

    Typical, they’re more concerned with frog embryos than they are with human embryos.

  13. eric on 03/03/2011 at 5:43 pm

    Dumbest thing ive ever heard. Our state is in a budget deficit and an environmental group is suing the city of san francisco? That makes alot of sense. If the golf course has been there for 90 years and so have the “garnder snake” and “red legged frog” have been also for 90 years, I think they will be fine. Hopefully those worthless environmentalists can find something better to do..

  14. Bern on 03/03/2011 at 5:48 pm

    More trees(coniferous and deciduous trees)should be regenerated across the area inorder to allow other vegetation and creatures to increase in numbers. Trees roots stablished the soil/ground, and help to prevent soil/slopes erosion. Vegetation help the soil hydrology and filtration of pollutants.

  15. whome on 03/03/2011 at 5:51 pm

    have you ever even been there??? i go to the park all time. i go every sunday with my kid. the golf course may be PUBLIC but its still a golf course and that means you CAN’T go there unless you play golf. that means we get to walk around outside the fence on top of a levy which is no where near as nice the land on which the golf course sits. so to me it ain’t REALLY public. So why are we subsidizing a small segment of the population by maintaining a golf course for them? i say turn it back into a park. get rid of that fence and let EVERYBODY enjoy that beautiful space.

  16. theo on 03/04/2011 at 8:54 am

    The environmentalists are actually doing the city of San Francisco a favor.

    Sharp Park is 5 miles south of the city limits and the city loses millions of dollars a year running it for the few golfers who bother to show up.

    Turn coastal Laguna Salada into a real park, which is one that more than 20 people can use at a time. Sell the inland part and use the money to fund essential services.

  17. serge dm on 03/04/2011 at 10:00 am

    It is obvious that this is a hot button topic and both sides have passionate feelings. I am not a golfer, but I am an outdoor enthusiast, having camped, scuba dived & traveled to many distant lands.

    I also work in the environmental field – renewable energy & clean water technologies. What need to be brought back to the discussion is the voice of reason. On one hand, golfers have a tradition of 90 years at this course and it’s cost effective to play.

    On the other hand, the frog & snake have been in this region for many hundred or perhaps thousands of years.

    Here are some facts. There are more species of animals dying off right now on Planet Earth, since the last great species die off – the age of dinosaurs. The warning shots are being fired all around us, yet for some reason, humans are loathe to read and accept data and analysis if is contrary to their immediate desires. Go the below link for more info.


    If we turn our backs on two, tiny animals for the sake of knocking some golf balls around, we are setting in motion further catastrophic activity, that is currently incremental in size, but at some point soon, will become an avalanche and irreversible. Humans are part of the biosphere. We do not own it.

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