Bay Nature magazineWinter 2009


A Good Big Year

January 1, 2009

December 31, 2008, marked the end of the 2008 Endangered Species Big Year in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). The yearlong event was a call to action for people to observe, and do something to preserve, each of the 33 endangered and threatened species in the GGNRA. The 2008 Big Year was a collaboration of GGNRA and several nonprofit organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Nature in the City. Over the course of the year, the groups sponsored at least 100 field trips looking for listed species ranging from Presidio clarkia to humpback whales. At a closing ceremony on January 10, 2009, GGNRA Big Year coordinators will issue awards and swap fish, bird, and whale tales with the winners and other participants. Organizers will also lead a walk to the nearby wildlife protection area at Crissy Field to see the western snowy plover, an endangered bird that has benefited from the restoration of the coastal lagoon here.

The San Francisco Peninsula once had several similar coastal lagoons, including Lake Merced, which is now a freshwater lake, and Laguna Salada at Sharp Park, now a city-owned golf course in Pacifica. A walk out to GGNRA’s Mori Point, a 110-acre headland just south of low-lying Sharp Park, provides a vantage point for understanding why the course has flooding problems and why environmentalists are advocating restoration.

On a warm, clear autumn Sunday, joggers, hikers, and bicyclists overwhelmingly outnumbered golfers. That ratio reflects a recent survey of San Francisco residents that showed hiking and biking trails to be their top recreational priority, while golf ranked 17th.

Many environmental groups–including CBD, Nature in the City, local Sierra Club chapters, the San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, and Golden Gate Audubon–would like to see San Francisco restore wetlands here. “What we’re advocating,” says Nature in the City’s Peter Brastow, “is expanding the freshwater wetlands habitat that’s already there, transforming the area from a golf course in a wetland to a wetland wildlife preserve where endangered species and ecosystem restoration and management are the central mission.”

CBD is pressuring the city to act on behalf of two federally endangered animals that live here: the threatened California red-legged frog and its predator the San Francisco garter snake, perhaps the most endangered reptile in North America.

Change is also afoot at Lake Merced, where the San Francisco Public Utility Commission is conducting a community watershed planning process. To learn more, go to a talk hosted by Nature in the City and Shaping SF on January 28, 2009 ( To comment on or get involved in the planning process, go to the SFPUC website at and search for “Lake Merced Watershed.”

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.