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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Four Threats to a Healthy Bay
Habitat Loss On the fringes of the Bay lie the varied wetlands that feed and shelter the Bay’s wildlife. Chinook salmon, white croaker, and northern pintails feed in the shallow water as it fluctuates with the tides. Topsmelt, Pacific staghorn … Read more
Toward A Healthy Bay
In the 40 years since the movement to save San Francisco Bay began, we have moved from desperately fending off more bay fill projects to proactively restoring thousands of acres of shoreline wetlands. Yet how healthy is the Bay that we are saving? What are the factors that affect the health of the Bay and what are we doing about them?
Eye to Eye with Otters
Dubbed the cosmic center of the universe by locals, Elkhorn Slough is one of the richest wetlands along the California coast, a magnet for wildlife and humans alike. And the best way to see it all is in a kayak.
A History of the Reservoirs of the East Bay
Lakes aren’t a natural feature of the coast range landscape. But since cities need places to store drinking water, we drowned some valleys for reservoirs. While precious creek habitat was lost, these man-made lakes now draw bald eagles and other wildlife, as well as thousands of human visitors for swimming, fishing, boating and other summer pastimes.