November 9, 1995
Board of Directors and Planning/Stewardship Department
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, California 94605-0381
Re: Master Plan Revision
The Plan Is Dishonest
The Master Plan has not been followed in the past, and I see no reason why it will be in the future. It is mostly empty words. Filler. Bureaucratic make-work. You say that your mission is to "balance ... public usage ... with protection and preservation of our natural ... resources", but the truth is that you only do the former. You only pay lip service to the preservation of biodiversity. You only pay attention to it when it is convenient, and when it doesn't interfere with your real (actually practiced) goal: creating human playgrounds and maximizing human use of the parks.
For example, your perfectly sensible policy prohibiting "mechanized equipment" (including bicycles) in wilderness areas was ignored when it turned out to be politically inconvenient (in Sunol and Las Trampas Regional Wildernesses), and now you plan to replace "mechanized" with "motorized", in order to allow bicycles where they obviously don't belong. In a further insult to wildlife and people who care about them, you also plan to eliminate the use of the word "wilderness" (connoting places that people love and protect like a mother bear protects her cubs) and replace it with the cold and colorless "preserve".
The true purpose of your Master Plan is to give you greater freedom to do what you want with the parks, free from public challenge and the "burden" of protecting biodiversity. It would do this by allowing you to "zone" the parks for certain purposes, thus opening the way for you to "zone" only certain parks and areas to be for wildlife ("Preserves"), and all other areas to be designated for various human uses that are inhospitable for wildlife ("Park, Recreation Area, Shoreline, ... and Trail"). Any endangered species that happen to live in the "human-owned" areas would essentially be ignored or treated to "mitigation measures" (i.e., lip service).
For example, the Land Use Development Plan (LUDP) for Tilden designates four areas as habitat for the Alameda whipsnake (a Threatened species). It says that these areas will not be developed, in order to protect the whipsnake. However, there is no recognition of the snake's need to travel from one area to the other, and the areas are separated by significant barriers (e.g. Wildcat Canyon Road). There is no recognition that it might live, or want to live, in any other area. Hikers, equestrians, and even mountain bikers are allowed in the so-called "protected" areas (one area is crossed by three heavily used mountain bike trails). Furthermore, the "trails" (they are actually roads) are maintained by bulldozer. Recently, a whipsnake burrow was bulldozed. Only good luck prevented the snake from being home at the time. When one of the largest female whipsnakes ever found was killed by a mountain biker at Black Diamond Mines, the park supervisor told me it was "insignificant". What is "insignificant" is the level of your concern for wildlife!
Is it because Tilden is designated as a "Park" instead of a "Wilderness" that the whipsnake is not protected, much less recovered? Maybe not, but language is a powerful influence. "Park" says that the area is primarily for human use. Not one word or picture in the Tilden brochure suggests that it is anything but a human playground, or that it contains any protected species. (By the way, there is a large, detailed map showing how to drive to the park, but not a word about access via public transit.) Your concept of "zoning" only certain areas to be for wildlife habitat is biological nonsense. Wildlife are not as flexible as us; if they don't get what they need, they die. Zoning them out amounts to writing them off. All parks must be for wildlife! If they are no longer good habitat, then they should be restored.
Another example: "Soil disturbances resulting from activities such as road and trail construction ... will be identified and corrected". This is simply not true. In Claremont Canyon a new trail was created for no good reason. There is no demand for the trail, and it doesn't go anywhere! It was created by bulldozer, rather than by hand, greatly increasing erosion, and vastly overbuilding the "trail" (road). I have never seen anyone on the trail. It also runs so close to a creek that it creates a serious and illegal siltation problem. It doesn't even follow the planned trail route designated by the LUDP. You don't fulfill your own commitments. The same person who put in the illegal trail, Jerry Kent, also told the Board that he "trimmed" a tree on Vollmer Peak, when he actually cut it down! Dishonesty seems to be widespread at EBRPD, and it starts at the top.
In short, the intention of this plan is to apply a patina of legitimacy to the taking of wildlife habitat. It makes plentiful use of the politician's favorite tool: the (empty) promise.
The Plan is also dishonest in that it perpetuates myths and specious reasoning: that it is possible to both use and at the same time protect wildlife habitat; that the fact that an area is messed up (no longer pristine habitat) makes it okay to mess it up some more; that an area being close to us means it is for our use; that all "public" land should be accessible to all people; that there are two types of habitat -- "sensitive" and "non-sensitive"; that in spite of our skyrocketing human population, we don't have to change our lifestyle (or, in other words, our natural resources are infinite); that human problems (e.g. lack of camping space) are comparable in importance to the problems of wildlife (e.g. extinction and loss of biodiversity); and, ultimately, that humans own, and have the right to dominate, every square inch of the Earth.
For example, on p.29 of your Public Review Document for the Plan (10/3/95), you describe "Natural areas ... managed for their natural values" and list the following "Compatible Improvements": paved and nonpaved multi-use trails (allowing bikes and horses), hiking and equestrian paths, hiking-only paths, and backpack campsites. Instead of doing the necessary research to determine whether these uses are compatible, you beg the question, and assume they are. Actually, it is obvious that these uses are incompatible with wildlife habitat: they kill plants and animals, destroy habitat, and crowd wildlife out of their preferred spaces, leading to loss of biodiversity. Even if you intend to continue destroying wildlife habitat, you should have the honesty to say so candidly, since, at least theoretically, you are a public agency.
Please pay special attention to your nonverbal communication. Building trails manually says that you care about people, nature, and even using your funds conservatively, and engenders similar behaviour in your visitors. Building trails with bulldozers says clearly that you don't care about people (e.g. those who need jobs), that you have money to burn, and that the natural world is utterly unimportant. You can see this clearly when you pick up trash: very little trash is left on hiking trails; much more is found on dirt roads; and many orders of magnitude more trash is found next to paved roads. This is probably at least partly due to the fact that the process of road-building utterly destroys any natural areas in its path, and hence teaches people that such behaviour is acceptable and right. If it is acceptable to treat wildlife to the roar and danger of passing motor vehicles, then how could it be very sinful to throw trash in the same area? Similarly, when it is okay to use bulldozers in a park, how can it be harmful to admit horses and mountain bikes? Nonverbal education is by far the most powerful.
Most park systems have already recognized that their resources are finite, and have responded appropriately. Behaviour that was considered innocuous when I was a kid, such as burning wood found in the wilderness, is no longer acceptable. Limits on the number of hikers on a given trail are common. Certain behaviours are as obsolete as buggywhips. Such consciousness doesn't seem to have penetrated the EBRPD, which seems to still be trying to get as many people as possible into the parks. It's nice to be concerned about ethnic diversity in the parks, but not at the expense of wildlife! If you want more minorities to enjoy the parks, then you need to decrease access so that the total number of visitors doesn't increase. Otherwise, wildlife will once again be sacrificed to human whims.
We humans have 1700 square miles of "habitat" in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Only 1/4 of one percent of that is in EBRPD lands, and perhaps a comparable amount in other public lands. That is not enough to support our wildlife, which is why so many of them are heading toward extinction. Biologists' estimates of the amount of land necessary for the long-term preservation of all of the terrestrial species in an area are closer to 50% of all land. Every remaining piece of habitat is priceless, just as the species that occupy it are priceless. None of it can we afford to convert to more campgrounds, parking lots, roads, golf courses, and bike trails.
Camping in the regional parks is probably already obsolete; we cannot provide this experience to more than a handful of people without seriously harming the wildlife who live there, and whose life depends on that land. We aren't even protecting the very wildlife that make camping interesting! I camped once in Sunol regional Park, and had to put up with the annoyance of airplanes flying overhead. Fishing, boating, horseback riding, and off-road bicycling are also probably obsolete: they cannot be justified in an era when species are dropping off of the Earth at a rate of nearly 100 per day! We cheer whenever we acquire new park lands, but from the point of view of wildlife, the change isn't necessarily beneficial, especially when the area has thousands of people visiting it instead of a few. In fact, wildlife lose ground on practically every human action. You really have no excuse to be ignorant of these matters. They have been amply documented in the media and in numerous books.
[By the way, the Bay Trail and Ridge Trail are two similar "park-type" projects that sound nice, but are actually absurd: as long as they are built by creating new pavement and trails, instead of by removing existing pavement (which is already massively excessive in the Bay Area), and by giving people more access to wildlife habitat instead of less, they can only have a negative effect on wildlife and the Bay Area's environment.]
What is Needed?
So what do we need in the Master Plan? First of all, the honesty to admit that wildlife are essential to the parks -- all of the parks -- that in fact it is precisely the wildlife (and paucity of humans) that make a park a park. Without wildlife (i.e., all nonhuman, nondomesticated species -- plants as well as animals), the parks would be boring piles of bare rock. Therefore, wildlife (biodiversity) should be made the top priority of the Park District. The EBRPD should embrace the Wildlands Project, whose goal is to provide sufficient habitat to preserve all of the native species and ecosystems in North America (see Wild Earth magazine for a description).
Access to the parks should be reduced (and the area of park lands expanded) sufficiently to protect all current native species and ecosystems. The easiest and most humane way to do that is to first remove all roads and other human artifacts, so that more access will be by public transit, bicycle, and foot. All such urban amenities are already readily available in the city, so there is no reason to duplicate them in the parks. The whole reason that we created parks in the first place was to preserve values that are not available in cities: wilderness as much as possible untouched by humans! The only way we can preserve that, obviously, is to not touch most of it! For endangered species and populations, the parks may be their last resort. For us, they are mostly a luxury; we do not need to be there all the time, or even very often. And we can easily afford to leave many areas untouched by us or even by all humans.
Whatever wildlife need must be taken care of first; there will still be plenty for us. In particular, for every need that we have, wildlife have a corresponding need: e.g. safe wildlife corridors so they can travel to find food, mates, etc. -- all parks should be connected by these strips of protected habitat. For wildlife that won't tolerate the presence of humans (e.g. mountain lions), there needs to be habitat that is off-limits to humans (that includes biologists, of course!)("pure habitat"). (This will be an Earthshaking event; pure habitat, from which humans voluntarily exclude themselves, has never existed in all of human evolution, although I have heard rumors that it has recently been created in Australia or New Zealand.)
There must be no net loss of habitat, and in order to ensure the long-term viability of species, there must be large enough areas set aside to prevent loss of biodiversity (e.g. via inbreeding) and accidental loss of whole populations (e.g. via fire). (It should be recognized that habitat can not easily be replaced: we don't know how to duplicate what nature does!) If you insist on creating campgrounds, do it by removing your parking lots, roads, buildings, golf courses, and other wildlife-incompatible artifacts. That is the only way it can be done without wildlife once again losing ground. I doubt that the loss of the Brazil Building as a site for weddings will seriously stunt Berkeley marriages. The last time I was there, it was surrounded by nearly 100 cars! Hypocrisy is not a particularly good way to start life together.
The measure of success in park management shouldn't be the number of human visitors, the size of the budget, the size of the motor vehicle fleet, success in preventing fires, or even the number of research projects carried out in the parks (by which measures EBRPD is probably very "successful"). A better measure would be the health and diversity of its ecosystems. There is no reason why the parks should try to meet all of the public's needs. Buying hotdogs can be accomplished in town, where it won't interfere with the needs of wildlife. Motor vehicles, in particular, greatly interfere with park values. They increase police requirements by many orders of magnitude. They are notorious for spreading exotic species (e.g. carrying weed seeds in mud on tires). They vastly increase park expenses, requiring paved roads, parking lots, comparable police vehicles, and greatly increased trash-collecting efforts, as picnickers bring in (and leave behind) large amounts of waste. Your park rangers tell me that most of their problems revolve around motor vehicles. I saw one of them picking up picnickers' trash and said I would prefer to see him spending his time teaching kids about wildlife. He agreed.
In all the years I have been receiving the Regional Parks Calendar, I have seen only a single talk on endangered species. (I was the only one who attended, so it had to be cancelled.) There needs to be less "secrecy" about this subject. You should make your biological data freely available to the public, so that we can help you protect it. The other night I saw an Audubon program on TV about some Caribbean islands that are using their local endangered species as a focus for educating their children (and hence everyone in the community) about the environment. Perhaps we could do the same, using local species such as the Alameda whipsnake, kit fox, tiger salamander, and Berkeley kangaroo rat.
There is really nothing radical about giving wildlife priority, especially since we are utterly dependent on the ecological web of which they are the major portion. Where do people want to live? Usually near natural areas. Where do they want to vacation? Usually in natural areas. We deeply love wildlife (from instinct, E. O. Wilson would say), but without expert guidance, "we always kill the thing we love". Or as Aldo Leopold predicted, we are loving wilderness "to death". "Biodiversity" is now one of our most commonly used words. There is no better time to begin replacing our anthropocentric ethic with a biocentric one. And there is no better place to begin it than in our parks.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
P.S. By far the hardest task you need to accomplish is to ignore most of the comments you get on this Plan. However, this is absolutely necessary, because most of them will be voicing a selfish point of view: "what I want the Park District to do for me". The people you need to listen to are those who speak for wildlife (who, of course, cannot speak for themselves), asking nothing for themselves, but merely that you protect wildlife from the most greedy and selfish of all species -- human beings. I am not trying to be dramatic, just to tell the truth. Somebody has to.
Foreman, Dave Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, New York: Harmony Books, c. 1991
Jamison, Deborah, Species in Danger in our Own Backyard, Volume I. Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species in the South San Francisco Bay Area, Peninsula Conservation Center Foundation, Palo Alto, CA, 1992.
Life on the Edge -- Volume I: Wildlife.
Myers, Norman, ed., Gaia: An Atlas of Planet Management, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, c. 1984
Noss, Reed F., "The Ecological Effects of Roads", in "Killing Roads", Earth First!
Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.