Bay Nature magazineFall 2023


Fall 2023 Editor’s Letter: Wildlife Paradox

September 21, 2023
Editor-in-chief Victoria Schlesinger. (Photo by Dave Strauss)

There’s a trio of articles about watching wildlife in this issue that when considered together tell a larger story about the struggle to love something well. One of the oldest challenges around. 

Birding, arguably the most accessible and common wildlife we watch, is a world-class joy in the Bay Area. The diversity of habitat here and the fact that we sit along the Pacific Flyway means there are hundreds of species to learn about and view, particularly during fall migration. David Wimpfheimer, who has been observing avian life in the North Bay for more than 40 years, has compiled a short list of birding spots for Bay Nature that he recommends exploring as autumn sets in—special areas in Point Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma and Napa Counties. 

Most of us love to hear about these kinds of special places, to be in the know, to experience the thrill and awe of watching wildlife. But what happens when a lot of people visit those places seeking the same experience at the same time? Local wildlife photographer Sarah Killingsworth writes a thoughtful and pointed opinion essay about her observation of “hot spots,” locations where wildlife is easily viewable and as a result draws crowds of photographers. What’s the impact on the wildlife? she asks, and cites research that suggests it is not good. Laying out what she describes as a growing problem in the Bay Area, she invites the local wildlife photography community to start a conversation and do better together. 

More than 7.5 million people live in the Bay Area and many of us seek out its natural beauty and access to the outdoors. Those are good wants, and so how do we do it without harming the things we value? The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, a publicly funded land manager in the South Bay, has just opened a new 1,800-acre preserve where they’re experimenting with answering the question. 

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Máyyan ‘Ooyákma–Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve is home to numerous endemic species, including the federally threatened bay checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha bayensis). A five-mile trail loops through the serpentine grasslands where the butterfly lives, but to travel much of it visitors need to bring with them a signed form acknowledging they are entering sensitive habitat and will follow the rules. Trail access is restricted at varying times of year and day, depending on the butterfly’s activity, and Habitat Protection Team Members are on site to ensure good behavior. 

Can we do it? Can we communicate, pay attention, and learn about the needs of wildlife well enough to love it and allow it to thrive? It’s a modern-day iteration of that oldest sort of question. ­

About the Author

Victoria Schlesinger is the editor in chief of Bay Nature.

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