August 12, 1995

Board of Directors

East Bay Regional Park District

2950 Peralta Oaks Court

Oakland, California 94605-5369

Re: Northeast Shore Trail Development, Del Valle Regional Park (8/15/95 Board Meeting Consent Calendar Item)


I would like you to pull this item from the agenda until I am able to attend another board meeting and address it. I am amazed that such important items end up on the "Consent Calendar". And are even passed!

Take a look at a map of your holdings. Take the point of view, for a moment, of wildlife. The only protection, such as it is, that they have, in all of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, is in your regional parks, Mt. Diablo State Park, water district lands, and other government lands. This amounts to a very small percentage of their habitat. Most of these areas are separated by barriers (such as freeways, cities, fences, etc.) that are insurmountable or nearly so. Access to water is especially difficult, as creeks are increasingly buried in culverts or otherwise made inhospitable.

Even on the so-called "protected" lands, the "protection" is very weak. Contra Costa Water District is, as I write, destroying over 1000 acres of kit fox (a Federal Endangered Species) habitat, right in the center of its Contra Costa territory (in order to build Los Vaqueros Reservoir and move Vasco Road, making it part of the proposed Toll Road). Of all the agencies, only the East Bay Municipal Water District has had the wisdom, and courage, to ban mountain bikes from its watershed. You allow threatened species to be killed, say that it is insignificant, and do nothing to remedy it. What does your biologist, Joe Didonato, do? Isn't it part of his job to protect wildlife?

How much of that habitat is truly protected? How much of it is off-limits to humans, so that wildlife can carry on their lives unmolested by people? Brooks Island and Brown's Island? They must be pretty crowded. And they aren't truly off-limits to all people; I assume biologists are allowed there. What about the wildlife that doesn't like living on those islands, or can't get there? Is this the best that we can come up with? This situation will lead directly to extinction for many species. We have already lost about 300 species from North America, due to the presence and behaviour of human beings. A finite resource like wildlife or habitat can't survive, if pieces are continually chipped away.

Now you are planning to complete the last segment of a trail around Del Valle Reservoir. When I asked Board member Jean Siri why, she said it was so hikers and bikers "wouldn't have to come back the same way". What a frivolous reason! She implied that there are so many people coming to the park, that more development is needed. (And she is probably the best board member we have.) Does this mean that we will continue subtracting habitat from wildlife, until there is nothing left? Humans are very flexible; wildlife are less so. We don't need to have every whim sated.

Five minutes after the mountain bikers "do" the reservoir loop, they will be bored and want another trail. They are never satisfied. Nor are anyone else. However, bikers, because they move faster, receive less stimulation (visual, auditory, etc.) per mile of travel, and so need to travel much farther than hikers to get the same amount of enjoyment (just as drivers have to travel much farther than bikers, being insulated in climate-controlled capsules travelling at a much higher speed). Therefore, they need a lot more trails, and get bored with them faster.

Why do you use the euphemism "trail", when what you are building is a road? I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where a trail is about 18 inches wide. You are bulldozing "trails" that are up to 20 feet wide. The justification may be to allow fire trucks in, but which came first, the fire danger, or the roads that give people (the fire danger) unlimited access? I would say that fire roads actually cause fires, by making it easier for lazy, out-of-shape smokers to get into the fire-prone areas.

Bulldozing the road, and re-bulldozing it every year after rain, horses, bikers, maintenance vehicles, and hikers have messed it up, will cause an enormous amount of erosion in that dry area, degrading the shoreline and lake habitat. How are wildlife to get to the lake? Only at night? What about species that don't like to be out on a road, where they are vulnerable to predators? Why destroy the last bit of natural shoreline, just so that a few humans won't be inconvenienced?

With so many people out of work, why do you use such energy-intensive methods of maintaining the parks, anyway? If a trail has to be built, it would be much better to hire people who need work, and have them create a trail that is much less of a blight on the environment -- just wide enough for single-file hiking. You often complain about the lack of funds. Considering the huge number of motor vehicles you own and use, this is no mystery! I would much rather see my tax dollars used to buy and protect more wildlife habitat, so that there is something worth seeing when I go to the parks.

One of your primary purposes is teaching people about the environment. Well, most learning is entirely nonverbal! When people see that you bulldoze wildlife habitat to make "trails", and spend your time driving around in trucks, the message is obvious: nature and wildlife don't matter, and it is okay to treat them callously. It doesn't matter how many interpretive signs, brochures, and nature talks you provide (if people even bother to receive them); you have already made your strongest point, nonverbally. That is exactly why most trash is found along roads.

I suggest that you read Reed Noss's new book, Saving Nature's Legacy, before you make any more development decisions. Humans' problems are trivial, compared to wildlife's, who need to be taken care of first. In spite of what Ms. Combs says, parks are not just for people.



Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.


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, p.22.

Life on the Edge -- Volume I: Wildlife, pp.278-9.

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.