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(as printed in the Pacifica Tribune, Wednesday April 15th, 2009),

Businesses Supporting Sharp Park Wildlife
By Don Eagleston
CEO, PACIFICA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Posted: 04/16/2009 05:02:11 AM PDT

There seems to be a misconception about protecting our valued endangered species and understanding the importance of the Sharp Park Golf Course. As was stated in Clark Natwick's article, "...we can enhance recreational facilities-including potential golf opportunities - encouraging economic development around Palmetto Avenue and protect our environment." He is so correct, it is not either the golf course or the snakes and frogs, we need both. Throughout the world, private sector businesses are stepping forward to fund environmental protection projects and save endangered species.

The two endangered species in the Sharp Park wetlands are reliant on the golf course, both economically, from a standpoint of maintenance of the wetlands, and because it has the least impact on the ecosystem compared to any other recreation option. Golf courses in the modern era have become the stewards and the protectors of wildlife habitat. I dread the thought of campsites or picnic tables scattered throughout such a sensitive ecosystem. Campgrounds are one of the most unsustainable and destructive uses imaginable. Look what they have done to the land other parks in the country. Or imagine making this a "public reserve," exposing this sensitive habitat via pathways and trails that the public will wander off of, destroying the fragile ecosystem. Just look what has happened to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. It has been devastated by the public. However, sustainable and well planned trails connecting Mori Point and beyond could be developed sharing golf options and other recreational activities with minimal impact, also suggested in Clark Natwick's article.

Sharp Park Golf Course is a perfect candidate for Audubon Certification and our city has a remarkable history of preserving nature and protecting our ecosystems. A plan to use recycled water is in place.

The staff at Sharp Park allows a maximum of four golfers every nine minutes to walk the course and there are marshals, patrolling and assuring outsiders such as kids on bicycles, soccer games, motor bikes, and rogue dogs are not intruding the sensitive habitat. In addition to our golf course practicing sustainable practices, they also keep the non-native species in check. For example, they prevent the hundreds of acres of non-native grasses from going to seed and they prevent the thousand(s) of dandelions also from spreading into the sensitive habitat.

The golf course can also provide the perfect venue to finance more conservation efforts by charging a small wildlife conservation fee for each round of golf, a perfect, continuous financing source. A so-called "refuge," without any supervision, patrols, or money for protecting and maintaining the species and its habitat, is not a wise option. The refuge option is a disappointing proposal by a, hopefully, well-intentioned group of non-Pacificans who do not understand our compassion for the endangered species in out city. We know how to protect our wildlife and we are good at it. We have traditionally made our environment and our endangered species a significant consideration in this community, while at the same time, supporting dignified businesses that provide revenue sources for both public services and the environmental community. With the low-impact use and sustainable practices of golf course management, we can protect our wildlife while at the same time enjoying a low-impact recreational activity on an historic and jewel of a golf course.

Additionally, it is not accurate that the golf course is losing money, and the gardeners are out there running over endangered species with lawn mowers. These gardeners watch for anything that moves and are caretakers of the wildlife. We have a perfect symbiotic relationship between the minimal impact of a golf course, constant built-in funding, and continuous maintenance for the protection of the wildlife, which we all want. If the City of SF would give us the "green light" and let all groups work together, we could really fine-tune the habitat protection and the wetland vitality. I know Pacifica and all the golfers would be very proud in doing so. Just one example suggested is creating and revitalizing a native sand dune habitat that would double as a barrier to prevent annual flooding. The dunes would also act as a protected and much-needed sunning area for the San Francisco Garter Snake.

Unless a nature preserve is completely isolated from the general public, they have historically created considerable human damage and do not provide any ongoing funding for conservation. We can't protect these species by a getting an occasional grant that eventually dries up. We need continuous funding, and the eco-golfers at Sharp Park can provide that. The "reserve concept" with raised walkways and bridges throughout the wetlands very likely will inhibit natural migrations of frogs, snakes, salamanders, and crawling insects. Unlimited open access to the public will assure off path damage, littering in the wetlands, human overpopulation, and overuse. The carrying capacity of the ecosystem at Sharp Park Golf Course can't possibly handle being overrun by the general public. I like the golfers motto - stay on the cart path, replace your divots, don't leave a trace, stay out of sensitive habitat areas and, of course, the one-stroke penalty.