June 10, 1992
EBRPD Board of Directors
Attn: Carroll Williams
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
Oakland, California 94605-5369
Re: The "Brush Hog" Mentality
The April, 1992 issue of "Regional Parks" described your purchase and use of a "brush hog" to "[clear] areas of poison oak and other potentially dangerous plant life" (p.10). I have also heard that you bulldoze "fire breaks" and "fire trails" in some of the parks. In Claremont Canyon, all underbrush near homes has been cut and removed. This makes me wonder if you know what parks are for.
Mankind has no trouble whatever claiming and subduing every almost every square inch of the Earth's surface. However, if we do this, we will soon be completely alone (except for a few pigeons, rats, cockroaches, flies, and domestic cats and dogs), and our own extinction would follow soon after. What is difficult (and valuable) is to protect the other species on the planet. They cannot protect themselves. They depend on us completely. Therefore, in every human activity, their needs must come first.
We are losing species in California at a rapid and scary rate. You are well aware of this. But what are you actually doing about it? Almost nothing. Tiny islands of habitat are insufficient to protect our wildlife. We need to create continuous wildlife corridors crossing the country from border to border (east-west and north-south), that are completely off-limits to humans. Nothing less will provide the protection that they need. All human facilities that need to cross these corridors (e.g. roads) should tunnel underneath. Our regional parks, representing the last vestiges of protected habitat in our area, must act as the seeds for such a network, and they must be managed, above all, for the needs of the wildlife, not for the whims of their current human neighbors.
If people need developments, they can find them in the city. They can build golf courses (if at all), playgrounds, zoos, etc. in reclaimed parts of the city. Why go to a park to get away from excess human influence, and then recreate that very degradation right in the parks?! The golf course should be removed from Tilden. That land should be restored to wildlife habitat. All human facilities except those that are absolutely necessary (toilets and drinking fountains?) should be removed. Instead of closing South Park Drive only when it rains, all roads should be removed from the parks. The automobile has taken over and destroyed the parks, just as it has our cities and countryside. The Steam Train is cute, but is run by a bunch of anti-environmental rail nuts. I once spent 3 hours picking up trash in the park and went to their maintenance shop on Grizzly Peak Drive to see if I could dump it in their trash can. They refused to let me!!
Everything about the parks should contribute to environmental education, and certainly not give the opposite message. All automobile facilities (roads, parking lots, etc.) should be removed. Roads and vehicles are the number one threat to the environment in this country. They are destroying air quality, water quality, the ozone layer, biodiversity, and causing global warming. You cannot afford to be ambiguous or compromising in your opposition to these threats. If people don't get environmental education in the parks, then where are they going to get it???
Psychologists tell us that we learn almost everything we will ever know by the age of 6. Wilderness should be one of the first visions that a newborn child sees. Only in wilderness will he or she learn what the meaning of life is, and how things are supposed to be. Driving past it in a car, or even on a mountain bike, needless to say, is not the same thing. Let's create some parks where real environmental education can take place, without conflicting messages. Children are not dumb. They learn mostly nonverbally -- by what they see us do. Children who grow up surrounded by pavement and cars grow up believing that that is how things are supposed to be. They grow up to love the mountain bike, the automobile, the bulldozer, and the "brush hog".
People who choose to live near fire-prone parks should take responsibility for their own actions, and not force park users to "sanitize" their parks and force the very wildlife that make the parks interesting into extinction. Just as people who choose to live in a flood plain do not deserve flood protection from the government, people who live near a tree should not expect the taxpayer to fireproof it for them! People can protect themselves; wildlife can not. Wildlife must, therefore, take priority! If you want to do something useful with a bulldozer, use it to clear "dangerous human life" from the traditional, essential, mating, escaping, and food-seeking paths of wildlife! This would provide much-needed work for a lot of people who need it.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.