January 2, 2000
Hillary E. Gitelman, Environmental Review Officer
San Francisco Planning Department
1660 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Re: Peninsula Watershed Management Plan Draft EIR
Dear Ms. Gitelman:
Probably the greatest impact that humans have had on the Earth is our destruction of wildlife habitat. This is the main reason that we are losing, worldwide, more than 100 species per day (one researcher estimated 137)! Obviously, since we depend for our own existence and enjoyment of life on the daily work of countless other species, and since those species need appropriate habitat, if they are to continue to exist, then we need to preserve as much of the natural world as possible, and in its most natural state. In our current language, that means "wilderness". And yet, we continue to lose species from existing wilderness, implying that our current level of protection, which allows a high level of human recreation, is insufficiently protective of wildlife.
Indeed, current research (see, e.g. Wildlife and Recreationists) indicates that just the presence of humans can be harmful, even deadly, to wildlife. Thus, if we are to be honest and ethical, we need to begin setting aside some wildlife habitat that is completely off-limits to humans. At the moment, we don't even have a word for such places! (I suggest "pure (wildlife) habitat".) At the very least, we need to reduce human impacts to wildlife habitat. There are only two ways to accomplish this: restrict who can go there, or restrict how they are able to go there (e.g. the use of technology, vehicles, animals used as vehicles, etc.). Clearly, the more humane solution is the latter.
Please manage your watershed as much like Wilderness as possible. In addition, please keep vehicular access (roads, parking lots, boats, etc.), and the use of animals as vehicles, to an absolute minimum. Do not allow mountain bikes, or any other such technology that makes it easier for people to get into wildlife habitat. Besides, the best way to enjoy and appreciate nature is on foot. You may not be able to see as much of the world, but you will really experience what you are seeing. And you won't destroy that experience for your fellow visitors, the way mountain bikes and horse droppings do.
I see absolutely no reason why you should support such a stupid project as the Bay Area Ridge Trail. It is simply another grab of wildlife habitat to create yet another human playground. Humans are very flexible; there are many other places where they can enjoy themselves. They do not need to do it by taking more of our scanty remaining wildlife habitat. (Of course, habitat loss is not limited to outright destruction; anything that tends to drive away wildlife, such as recreation, causes a loss of habitat.) That the Ridge Trail has gotten as far as it has only underscores just how selfish humans can be.
If you wanted to create a device to cause erosion, you could hardly do better than the mountain bike. One look at those knobby tires will tell you that they are up to no good! And they are obviously incompatible with water quality. The same goes for iron-shod horses and lugged hiking boots. But a more subtle point often gets overlooked: vehicles (and animals used as vehicles) make it much easier for people to get into wildlife habitat. The Crystal Springs area is full of endangered and threatened species. Preserving these and other wildlife should be your top priority (and the top priority of every other person and agency in the Bay Area). And that means minimizing the presence of humans.
I salute you for having the courage to suggest Alternative D -- access only via docent-led walks! That is the best alternative proposed. However, it doesn't address the fact that all human presence is harmful to wildlife. Why not simply acknowledge the obvious fact that humans don't need to recreate on every square inch of the planet, and take the next logical step: make your watershed off-limits to all recreation! You have a job to do, and it is not managing a recreation area and babysitting hiker-biker-equestrian wars. It is providing high-quality drinking water. And the best way to do that is to maintain a high-quality, maximally human-free wildlife habitat.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Bicycle Trails Council of Marin v. Bruce Babbitt, No.C-93-0009,slip op. (N. Dist. Cal., Sept. 1, 1994) (see also Third Circuit Case 94-16920, http://www.law.vill.edu/Fed-Ct/Circuit/9th/opinions/t/9416920o.htm).
Ehrlich, Paul and Anne, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. c.1981.
Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, c.1995.
Mountain Biking Symposium Proceedings. Vancouver, BC: Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia, c.1990.
Phillips, Kathryn, Tracking the Vanishing Frogs: An Ecological Mystery. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
Photo of mountain biker destroying Joaquin Miller Park, in Oakland, California:
Stebbins, Robert, personal communication.
Vandeman, Michael J., Ph.D. http://www.imaja.com/change/environment/mvarticles/ andhttp://home.pacbell.net/mjvande (including photos of mountain bike damage at Mammoth Ski Resort, in Mammoth, California)