An Open Letter to the San Francisco Chronicle

As the Founder & Executive Director of SAVE THE FROGS!, the world’s leading amphibian conservation organization, and as a former citizen of San Francisco, I feel obligated to respond to the Chronicle’s recent editorial “On Golf Versus Critters”, which incorrectly describes the Sharp Park Golf Course as being suitable habitat for endangered frogs, and dangerously labels people who care about protecting San Francisco’s wildlife populations as “hard-line environmentalists”.

Wetlands are among the most endangered ecosystems on the planet and over 90 percent of California’s coastal wetlands have been destroyed. So I do not consider myself an extremist for thinking it is unethical and outdated that the City of San Francisco is using taxpayer funds to pump the Sharp Park Wetlands out to sea to create dry land for golfing at Sharp Park. Draining the wetlands strands the egg masses of federally endangered California Red-Legged Frogs. The City’s pumps are situated at the most important Red-Legged Frog breeding pond and they suck the tadpoles out to sea. The endangered San Francisco Garter Snakes that inhabit the site depend on the frogs as a food source, and as the frogs go, so do the snakes. It is not “hard-line” to want to protect the endangered species that bear the name of my favorite city and state; rather, it is my duty as a Californian.

The Chronicle speaks of the 80-year old history of golf at Sharp Park as justifying the course’s continued existence. However, is 80 years really a long history? Frogs have existed on this planet for nearly 250 million years, and the California Red-Legged Frogs lived in California long before any man ever stepped foot in the state. Though they have survived countless ice ages and outlived the dinosaurs, 2,000 amphibian species are now on the verge of extinction, due almost exclusively to the actions of humans in the last century. The California Red Legged Frog is now nearly extinct from Southern California and barely hangs on in the Sierra Foothills. The frogs were nearly eaten to extinction in the 1890’s by the California gold miners. Now they are threatened by habitat destruction, roadkill and non-native species such as American Bullfrogs, which are voracious predators that are being imported into California by the millions each year to satisfy San Francisco’s burgeoning frog meat trade. Perhaps it is time that Californians finally gave the California Red-Legged Frogs a little assistance.

Contrary to the Chronicle’s assertion that the city has devised a plan to protect Sharp Park’s endangered species while maintaining the golf course, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service last week issued a statement denying the City’s formal attempt to classify golf course activities as “recovery actions”. The vast majority of amphibian biologists support the transfer of the management of Sharp Park to the National Park Service, and an overwhelming majority of the phone calls received by Mayor Ed Lee’s office have been in support of the legislation. Unfortunately, the Mayor – an avid golfer – has refused to meet with any environmental groups to discuss the veto he is threatening. Many San Franciscans fear a veto would compromise the City’s worldwide reputation as a progressive leader.

Golf is a game, it is not crucial to life on this planet. Even without the Sharp Park Golf Course, there will still be over 10,000 golf courses in the USA. Wetlands however, are not a game; they are a matter of life or death for a large number of species. The frogs and snakes that call Sharp Park home do not have other options: their evolutionary biology makes them hesitant to disperse to other locations and even if they tried they are surrounded by housing developments and by a major highway on which they would get crushed if they set foot.

The San Francisco Chronicle should be more supportive of the efforts of dedicated conservationists who work long hours to protect our natural places and wildlife and thus ensure that future generations of Bay Area residents have a beautiful place to call home.

Kerry Kriger, Ph.D.