September 28, 1996
Department of Parks and Recreation
Attn: Planning Section
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
Re: The Purchase of Diablo Ranch
Yes, please purchase this ranch! But don't simply add it to Mount Diablo State Park. We humans already have much more than our share of the land of California. I don't have an exact figure, but I suspect that only a few percent of the area of California is still functional as wildlife habitat for our native species. Recent research has shown that recreation, even activities which we have always thought to be innocuous (e.g. a simple walk in the woods!), can be harmful and even deadly to wildlife (see Wildlife and Recreationists, cited below). But common sense also suffices: don't we insist on not being molested in our homes? Why do animals usually run away when we approach? Why are lands near cities, farms, and developed parks depauperate in terms of species? Obviously, the presence of humans is incompatible with the preservation of all of our biodiversity.
(In case some still harbor the belief that at least "primitive" humans knew how to coexist sustainably with other species, note the comments of Stephen J. Gould (Bully for Brontosaurus, p.110): "We must cast aside the myths of noble non-Westerners living in ecological harmony with their potential quarries. The ancestors of New Zealand's Maori people based a culture on hunting moas, but soon made short work of them, both by direct removal and by burning of habitat to clear areas for agriculture." See also
The End of Evolution, by Peter Ward -- cited below. He argues convincingly that humans were responsible for the demise of most of the large mammals of North America.)
We believe that we own every square inch of the Earth, and have the right to do what we want to it. This is precisely why we are losing, worldwide, dozens of species per day. It is also absurd! How does this relate to our parks? Parks are, potentially, one of the most important areas for the preservation of wildlife habitat. We rejoice whenever we acquire more land and convert it to a park. But if we examine this conversion from the point of view of wildlife, it may not be so rosy. Land that is in private hands may be heavily used, but often it isn't. On the other hand, land that is designated a "park" is usually 100 percent accessible to the public, and thus of potentially zero utility as habitat.
A park is nothing, without wildlife (wildlife = all nonhuman, non-domesticated species, plants as well as animals). Without wildlife, a park is nothing but a pile of rocks, which can't hold our attention for more than a few minutes. By far the most interesting part of any park is its wildlife, followed by prehistoric wildlife, prehistoric humans, early humans, native cultures and peoples, and early remnants of our own culture.
And this is the order in which priority should be given. This is partly due to the relative importance of these various elements in a park (i.e., what makes a park a park, as opposed to a city), but it can also be justified on the basis of what is most vulverable: plants can't protect themselves from animals, animals from native peoples, native cultures from the dominant culture, etc. In other words, if we are going to continue to have parks that are enjoyable to visit, and that offer a respite from the pressures and relative sterility of the city, we are going to have to give much more priority to wildlife.
In recent years, the trend in our parks has, unfortunately, been in the opposite direction. Park managers have given in to pressure from various interest groups, so that lately, wildlife are given only token attention. For example, the last time I visited the Grand Canyon, three of the four ranger talks I heard were about recent American visitors to the Canyon. The one talk about wildlife was about all the fish that have gone extinct or are going extinct, due to Glen Canyon Dam and our mismanagement of the river.
Wildlife need a place to live, just as we do. That means a place where they are not molested (from their point of view, of course, not ours!). But humans think we own every square inch of the Earth. We think we have a right to go anywhere we want. In 2 million years of human evolution, there has never been one square inch of the Earth that is off-limits to humans (from which we voluntarily exclude ourselves)! There have always been some places that were difficult to reach, and hence were de-facto off-limits to humans, but as technology has progressed, there are fewer and fewer of these areas. Various kinds of cars and trucks, motorcycles, boats, mountain bikes, sophisticated camping and climbing gear, helicopter rescues, water stashes, and even freeze-dried foods have all contributed to eliminating the last safe refuges of wildlife.
There are two issues that relate to the impact of management on wildlife: spacial and temporal. In spacial terms, almost all park lands are accessible to all humans during all daylight hours. No special skills are required. This practically eliminates parks as wildlife habitat. Even if there still are places where wildlife have access, any of them can potentially be reached by people, once the habitat is designated as a "park".
In temporal terms, nighttime has historically been available for wildlife to travel and feed unmolested by humans. Camping eliminates that "loophole"! People can potentially camp or explore (with the proper equipment, all of which is available) at night now, anywhere they want to.
Written regulations are only partly effective in curbing human abuses (e.g. witness the "Sedona 5" brazenly mountain biking down the North Kaibab Trail all the way to the Colorado!). The only sensible, humane way to restrict human access to wildlife habitat within a park is to close roads (eliminating easy motor vehicle access). "Demotorizing" and "depaving" the park will go a long way toward reducing human impacts to a sustainable level. However, there still needs to be a prohibition against motor vehicles, boats, horses, mules, and other such travel aids in the park. Bicycles (and, of course, wheelchairs), since they are quiet and nonpolluting, could be allowed in the park but never off-road! (Replacing motor vehicles with bikes is an obvious improvement, but allowing bikes on trails and in habitat areas is an equally obvious step backwards!)
Is this "fair"? Yes, because the same rules apply to everyone. There is no reason that humans should have access to every square inch of the Earth! In fact, there are very good reasons why we shouldn't. It would not significantly reduce enjoyment of the park if people had access only to a few locations, rather than everywhere.
I would prefer that you designate this new "parkland" as a "wildlife preserve", provide no access to it whatsoever (including biologists, who are hard for wildlife to distinguish from other humans), and even experiment with making it the first (?) area in the world that is truly off-limits to humans. The wildlife will thank you!
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
P.S. For more information and explanation, see my web page, listed below.
P.P.S. Please share my comments as widely as possible.
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