California Red-legged Frog Controversy at Sharp Park Golf Course

April 1, 2007

Some threatened and endangered amphibians and reptiles are content to share habitat with cattle, as we reported in our April 2007 feature Islands in a Sea of Grass. Others, it seems, have been willing to coexist with another introduced species: golfers. However, that relationship now appears to be going sour in one Bay Area golf course.

The Sharp Park Golf Course, situated on a bluff above the ocean in Pacifica yet owned by the city of San Francisco, hosts both threatened California red-legged frogs, which breed in a pond on the course, and endangered San Francisco garter snakes.

In February 2007, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department approved permits for construction of a 30-foot-high, 400,000-gallon tank in the adjacent archery range, to hold recycled water for irrigating the golf course.

The installation of the tank, which would store recycled sewage water taken from the Calera Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, would involve running three miles of pipe through a recognized “natural resource area” and could impact populations of both the red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake. Construction on the $10 million project is slated to begin mid-June of this year.

Even before the proposed water tank, the course was having issues with its frog population. In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notified the City that it could no longer pump water out of the golf course’s overflowing 14th hole fairway pond—to prevent it from spilling over into seven other holes—because the pond supported a breeding population of California red-legged frogs. When water was removed from the pond, the otherwise submerged frog eggs were being exposed to the air, leading to desiccation and death. In late December 2005, the city refrained from the annual pumping, and egg masses were successfully detected in February 2006.

Now, critics charge that the new water tank could be another threat to the already disturbed habitats in the park’s golf course and archery range.

Beyond the fracas over the frogs and snakes, golf in San Francisco might be something of an endangered species itself. “San Francisco’s golf program is under fire from many directions due to its poor management, declining use, and hemorrhaging drain on the General Fund,” wrote community activist and physician Stanley Kaufman in a March 2007 letter to city supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Aaron Peskin.

Late last year, the San Francisco Examiner reported that San Francisco’s golf courses were operating in the red, plagued with an estimated $1.9 million deficit at the close of the 2006 fiscal year. Since 2002, the Recreation and Parks Department, which oversees the City’s six municipal golf courses, has struggled to realize a profit in the face of increasing costs and decreasing attendance. Most recently, the Chronicle reported that the city’s parks commission is considering privatizing all the public courses to pay off debts incurred in recent renovations.

The city’s environmental community, including the Neighborhood Parks Council, is urging the Recreation and Parks Department not to sacrifice native species in its effort to return the courses to profitability, and is specifically demanding that the Sharp Park water tank not be built. Find out more at


Study: 6 golf courses should be privately run (SF Chronicle, 2/16/2007)

Pacifica Water Tank Infuriates Activists (SF Examiner, 2/5/2007)

City May Hand Golf Courses to Nonprofit (SF Examiner, 2/5/2007)

S.F. Golf Courses Plagued by Red Numbers (SF Examiner, 8/3/2006)


About the Author

Matthew Bettelheim is a freelance writer and a wildlife biologist with URS Corporation.

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