Video: Biologist on endangered species at Sharp Park golf course

By on Fri, January 22, 2010

Biologist Karen Swaim on endangered species at Sharp Park

Biologist Karen Swaim, speaking at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on December 16, makes the case that until Sharp Park Golf Course was built, the land could not have been San Francisco garter snake habitat.

The presentation is illustrated with historical aerial photographs that give a good indication of how the land changed over the decades, beginning in 1928.

"This is a photograph from 1928. There is no golf here. The land surrounding Laguna Salada to the East, to the South, to the North, everywhere except the ocean, was agricultural fields. It is not pristine upland coastal prairie that would’ve been high quality upland for the San Francisco garter snake. You can see that there is a major channel up here [points to Laguna Salada] that illustrates there was connection to the ocean."

"1946 is the very first year the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog were documented… there are 46 [garter snakes] he gets over two years, and golf has already been here for 16 years."

"In 1978 Sean Berry did his studies and he observed 37 San Francisco garter snakes along this area… and again golf has been in place for 46 years"

"1989 - This [photo] is not long after the the El Nino storms and the big storms of the eighties that resulted in a lot of sea water intrusion into the lagoon. By now, the sea wall is mostly constructed… From 1986 to 1988 some studies were done and no San Francisco garter snakes were found in this area after all the salt water intrusion. That was to a large part because the red legged frog was wiped out by the salt water."

"We’re back to present day conditions… the frogs are prolific west of highway one, they are not in any trouble at all west of highway one. San Francisco garter snakes are concentrating again at Mori Point pond and horse stable pond."

"You need to protect the sea wall. You need to have a fresh water managed habitat currently for this species to recover it, and that is all there is to it."

This video is edited from the full supervisor’s session and transcribed by MW blog. The original (anonymous) blogger is clearly pro-golf, but the biologist seems to be merely pro-snake.

Thanks for the link. I was wondering where this HMB traffic was coming from. 

I am not actually an “anonymous” blogger. My name can be found in the blog, although I admittedly do not promote it in the banner or sidebar. For the benefit of your readers, I am Mike Wallach and I am a 27 year San Francisco resident.

You’ve correctly labeled both me and Karen Swaim as pro-golf and pro-snake respectively.

The important thing about Ms. Swaim is that she is only concerned about the habitat for the snake and frog (not golfers), she is probably the foremost authority on the snake and frog habitat in the bay area, and it is her recommendation that was accepted by the SF Rec & Park Commission to modify and continue the `18 hole course at Sharp Park - not because she cares about golf or golfers - but because it is the best way to improve the existing habitat for the snake and frog around Laguna Salada.

I highlight her presentation on my blog because she directly contradicts and corrects misinformation about Sharp Park that has been (and continues to be) promoted by Brent Plater, the Wild Equity Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and their allies on the “Restore Sharp Park” website and elsewhere. 

I personally believe that there is a legitimate case to preserve the historic landmark course for the benefit of the diverse, blue-collar working stiffs, retirees, and student golfers who enjoy it as a public good in and of itself. However, it is gratifying to know that the best science on how to protect and enhance the existing habitat for the snake and frog, is completely consistent with and complementary to the continued operation of the course.

Comment 2
Sat, January 23, 2010 2:58pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

Mike, thanks for dropping by. I looked for your name and contact info on the site, and I’m glad to close the loop.

Also, thanks for pulling out this clip.

I know that golf makes a lot of greens see red.  I also understand why. It’s harder to understand the impulse to bulldoze a public amenity that clearly appeals to a broad range of users. It’s interesting to see the science in support of keeping the course as beneficial to endangered species.

I’m glad I got to see this video, It is very different than what I have been reading and hearing second hand about. For the record my father used to take me golfing there since I was 7.