In one of the most environmentally degraded places on the eastern shore of San Francisco, you would not expect to see harbor seals, cormorants, numerous shorebirds, and snakes and lizards hiding in discarded debris. But after a year of gazing through binoculars, listening for songs, and spotting tracks and scat, youth in the Bayview-Hunters Point area have observed 118 bird species, 14 butterfly species, five kinds of reptiles, ten mammal species, and one type of amphibian living around the Yosemite Creek tidal canal near the decommissioned Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. “Considering where the site is, the diversity and number of wildlife were amazing,” says Arthur Feinstein of the Golden Gate Audubon Society.
The wildlife surveyors, a group of local high school students recruited by the nonprofit Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ), have just concluded the first phase of a long-term project to restore a swath of their backyard called the Yosemite Slough watershed. The Golden Gate Audubon Society and other wildlife experts and water quality scientists have trained the youth to inventory ecological conditions in a panoply of habitat types from mudflats and open water to riprap and parking lots, flanked by the former naval shipyard to the north and Candlestick Point State Recreation Area to the south, an area of 780 acres.
“At first we thought getting teenagers out of bed on a Saturday morning to climb around in shoulder-high grass for most of the day would be challenging, but immediately they discovered a sense of place and became interested in the ecology of the area,” says LEJ Executive Director Dana Lanza. Now, the California State Parks Foundation (www.calparks.org) is raising funds for a $10 million project to restore the Yosemite Slough wetlands by cleaning up the heavily contaminated watershed and planting native shrubs with the help of youth and other community volunteers. For more information, visit www.lejyouth.org.