The Bay Trail -- A Disaster for Wildlife

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D., wildlife activist

September 21, 2003

No wild animal nor plant was invited to any of the public hearings on plans for the Bay Trail. They are never invited to any public hearing. Humans frame the discussion, carry it out, and make the decisions. Even though it is very easy to do, no one takes the point of view of the wildlife. In this version of "The Emperor's New Clothes", not even a child notices that the Emperor is buck naked.

The results are predictable: yet another park development for pleasuring humans. It's a fallacy as old as the Bible: if a piece of land is not being used by humans, it is going to waste. Roderick Nash, in Wilderness and the American Mind, described the long evolution toward the idea of wilderness, where wildlife take priority. But recently we have regressed, and wilderness is now considered primarily a human playground.

Most species don't like having us around. There are, of course a few, like the mosquito, that like us, and a few others that are willing to tolerate us -- up to a point. But, as every child learns when he or she tries to get close to an animal, it invariably runs away. A good summary of research on the impacts of human presence on wildlife, for example, is Wildlife and Recreationists (Knight and Gutzwiller, eds.): "Traditionally, observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife were considered to be 'nonconsumptive' activities because removal of animals from their natural habitats did not occur.... nonconsumptive wildlife recreation was considered relatively benign in terms of its effects on wildlife; today, however, there is a growing recognition that wildlife-viewing recreation can have serious negative impacts on wildlife" (p. 257).

So what does the Bay Trail attempt to do? Take 450 miles of shoreline wildlife habitat and make it more accessible to people! Humans are suckers for people who tell them what they want to hear, and the Bay Trail lobbyists tell us that our presence won't negatively impact the wildlife. (But just to be sure, "studies" will be done.) Not only will everyone be allowed closer than ever to a lot more habitat, but long-distance modes of transportation such as roller blades and bicycles will be accommodated, letting people impact even more wildlife.

In order to facilitate all these hordes of people, veritable human "freeways" 8-10 feet wide will be constructed, requiring the clearing of up to 16 feet of right-of-way (see! In some cases, habitat has been destroyed to build these trails, and in other cases, new pavement has been laid.

The worst excesses (especially paving!) are due to the desire to accommodate vehicles, such as skateboards, roller blades, and bicycles -- with the excuse that there are "user groups" that need to be accommodated. Actually, they are all human, and have the same needs as everyone else -- which do not include travelling on wheeled vehicles. Only the disabled can truly be said to have such a need, and they can be accommodated on much simpler and narrower trails.

Anyone who wants to bicycle has hundreds of miles of paved roads on which they can do so. If motor vehicles are a problem, then they should be eliminated. But "solving" that problem by destroying more wildlife habitat is not acceptable. Wildlife have already lost some 95% of their habitat, and can't afford to lose any more. Instead of creating islands of habitat in a sea of humanity, we should be doing just the opposite: providing continuous wildlife travel corridors linking adequate wildlife preserves (as described in Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity, by Reed Noss and Allen Cooperrider, and as embodied in The Wildlands Project).

It's obvious that we need to experience nature in order to appreciate it. But it's equally obvious that we need to stay out of it, if it is to survive. It is the latter that is most often ignored. The goals of the Bay Trail are good (protection and respect for nature), but they can be had without the trail!


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