October 29, 2001
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, California 94605-0381
San Francisco Water Department
505 Poloma Way
Sunol, California 94586
Re: Ohlone Regional "Wilderness" Mismanagement
Yesterday I hiked into the Ohlone Regional "Wilderness" for the first time (halfway through the San Francisco Water District portion). Since it is so remote, I expected to see something truly wild. What I saw was disgusting. The "park" is a wasteland of cows, overgrazed exotic grass, and cow shit everywhere. It is a ranch, not a park! Have any of you ever seen it? What ought to be, and easily could be, the crown jewel of the East Bay Regional Parks, is nothing but a ranch managed for the benefit of the ranchers, not for the public or the wildlife.
I was told by your naturalist that this is being done to prevent fire. What are you protecting? These lands have evolved with fire and need to burn periodically. I go to the parks to see some nature, and be cheered by seeing wildlife thriving. If I wanted to see a ranch, there are many places I could go. I was also told that on the EBRPD lands there is no trail, only fire roads. Do you really think that the experience of walking on a road is the same as that of hiking on a narrow trail? I can easily feel the difference in my feet and legs. Roads are hard-packed by the frequent passage of trucks and bulldozers, and are therefore very painful to walk on. Hiking trails (preferably closed to horses) are relatively soft surfaces, and are a pleasure to walk on. I feel silly having to teach you such elementary things, but apparently none of you hike, or you would know what I am talking about, and would have done something about it long ago!
I was also told that you maintain the "trails" (you are afraid to call them by their real name -- "fire roads") by the use of bulldozers. I guess you don't know that bulldozers and other vehicles don't belong in a "Wilderness". How could you not know that?!
I also saw mountain-bike tracks and skid marks on the McCorkle Trail (east of Cerro Este Road) and the Ohlone Wilderness portion of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, as well as across the grass in the Ohlone Wilderness. When I asked whether you patrol the trail, the naturalist said that you don't -- you rely on park users to report such violations (presumably only people who carry cell phones can effectively enforce your rules; by the time I got back to the Visitor Center, the bikers would be long gone). I guess patrolling trails is old-fashioned. It has been decades since I have seen any park personnel on a trail. I guess they are too busy doing … what?
Luckily, I didn't see any mountain bikers -- only their tracks -- but you also don't seem to understand that vehicles don't belong in parks! They cheapen the experience of nature. How would you feel if you sweated your way to the top of a mountain, only to find that other people were able to drive there with little effort, and consequently little appreciation of what they were seeing? If you have ever ridden a mountain bike in a natural area (I have -- I described my experience in Briones Regional Park in http://mjvande.nfshost.com/ebrpd16.htm), you would know that you have to give almost all of your attention to making sure that you don't crash. You can't pay attention to appreciating nature, even animals that you crush on the path.
I am also extremely concerned about the oaks. They aren't reproducing. There are no young oaks throughout most of the parks. I am told that the cows eat or trample the acorns and seedlings, making reproduction impossible. When these oaks die, there will be nothing to replace them. As you know (or should know), oaks are a keystone species. Countless other species depend on them.
Hello? Is anybody listening?
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Foreman, Dave Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, New York: Harmony Books, c. 1991
Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, c.1995.
Liddle, Michael, Recreation Ecology. London: Chapman & Hall, c.1997.
Vandeman, Michael J., http://mjvande.nfshost.com, especially " The Effects of Mountain Biking on Wildlife and People -- Why Off-Road Bicycling Should be Prohibited " and "Rethinking the Impacts of Recreation".