Human settlement in the San Francisco Bay Area dates back 10,000 years to early Native American settlements. Today, the region is a teeming metropolis of 7 million people that collectively challenge the health of the region's ecosystems. How it got this way is a story that prompts a deeper understanding of our place in the landscape.

Ascending Franklin Ridge

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Nearly 200 years of cattle ranching on the Franklin Ridge has left its mark in human history, altered vegetation, and now, the preservation of a critical open space corridor with sweeping views of the North Bay, Delta, and interior East Bay.

Man in the Mud

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Since immigrating to the United States from Norway in the 1950s, Hallvard Haugnes spent almost every day of his life moving mud around the South Bay salt ponds –all in an effort to keep the Bay waters out and salt … Read more

In the Shadow of Giants

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The hills above Oakland once held some of the largest redwoods ever seen, one estimated at 31 feet in diameter. Ten million years ago, such trees towered over much of North America. Nothing in this long history prepared them for the coming of men, armed with axes and saws, who felled all of Oakland’s redwoods in just 15 years. But even second- and third-growth redwood forests hold their charms, not to mention the subtle suggestions of the forests they can once again become. And you don’t have to go too far from downtown Oakland to find them.

Dredging up an Avian Oasis

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What do you get when you scoop up 250,000 cubic yards of muck from the Petaluma River? Prime shorebird habitat, of course. Unlikely as it may seem, Shollenberger Park is a place where birders have spotted 150 bird species, from nesting avocets and stilts to harriers and egrets. And a new addition to the park will make it one of the largest publicly accessible stretches of wetlands in the Bay Area.

Saving El Palo Alto

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Imagine a landmark so prominent that anyone looking south from San Francisco or north from San Jose could spot it. Spanish missionary Padre Pedro Font wrote in his diary in March 1776: “I beheld in the distance a tree of … Read more

Grassland Heritage

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When Spanish explorers first saw the San Francisco Bay in 1769, they found a land cloaked largely in perennial grasses. But the extirpation of the native elk herds that grazed the land, the introduction of cattle, and the incursion of European annual grasses abruptly and dramatically transformed the landscape into the familiar green hillside carpets that turn into brown thickets in summer. Today’s grasslands, altered as they are, still produce some beautiful wildflowers, lots of wildlife, and if we look closely, remnants of the native bunchgrasses of yore, which can be enhanced with careful management. The parks of the East Bay hills are a good place to start looking for that mix of the grasslands of yesterday and today.

Where the Elk and the Antelope Played

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A million years ago, in a climate much like ours today, the land around an ancestral bay teemed with large animals: mammoths and saber-tooth cats; bears, horses, and peccaries. By 300 years ago, the mammoths were gone, but grizzlies, elk, condor, and pronghorn were abundant.European settlers wiped out many of those animals, but programs to reintroduce some of them are now under way. Which raises the question: What should a healthy, native megafauna look like now?

Book Review: Before California

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by Brian Fagan, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003, 288 pages, $24.95 (www.altamirapress.com).   In this new book archaeologist Brian Fagan succeeds in compiling various ele-ments of the history of California before European settlement, including archaeological discoveries, ecological changes, and anthropologic … Read more

Life on Black Mountain

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Q: Getting permission to live in a cabin on Black Mountain Ranch (in the hills east of Palo Alto) in 1975 must have been pretty exciting for a graduate student with a young family. A: I was working on a … Read more

The Essential Tree

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It’s almost impossible to imagine the California landscape without oak woodlands. But this most familiar and prolific habitat faces a number of serious threats, including unchecked suburban development and Sudden Oak Death. Fortunately, many parks in the Bay Area, including those of the East Bay Regional Parks, offer welcome refuge for a variety of oak woodlands.