McLaren Park and the Ideological Quandary

Another article in our Park Visitor series: First-person accounts of visits to our parks, published with permission. This one looks at the pleasures of a park that don’t conform to nativist ideology.

Yesterday, we took a break in the dense shade of the forest by Louis Sutter Lake at McLaren Park  watching the mallards, coots, pigeons, and gulls and the seniors, kids, and others just chilling while a nuthatch did morse code from the pine above.  A half-dollar size red-slider turtle lounged on a rock [1], and one woman was reading a book with her three fluffy dogs [2] peacefully lounging in the sun and observing the flocks from a top a picnic table.  A father and daughter were chatting while briskly lapping the lake.   It was perfect harmony watching an adolescent coot gobble a goldfish [3] and the odd colored mallards being fed by a toddler [4].  How many “wrongs”  against nativist ideology are in my perfect picture?

[Here is a Map of Louis_Sutter_Playground as a PDF.]

I’d spent the morning learning to bird-watch with my ears, and we saw plenty of hummingbirds, black phoebes, juncos, house finches,  towhees, ravens, hawks, and chickadees, and heard the nuthatches.  We also saw one kestrel, an egret, a warbler, a goldfinch, and a vireo.

Surprisingly, the greatest variety of birds were in the non-native areas of McLaren, and I was told that the rarest bird species at places like Crissy Field are usually sighted on the lawns (aka non-native grasses) along with the maligned dogs. [5] I was also told the majestic Great Blue Herons nest in the equally majestic eucalyptus at Lake Merced.

I’ve been looking at the e-Bird database for “restored” areas, and few people bird in the “restored” areas like Twin Peaks and Lobos Creek.  Birders seem to flock to Golden Gate Park, Mt Davidson, and Lake Merced which have the most trees and birders report have the greatest diversity of land birds.

So what is more important in a city with more than 800,000 people packed in 49 square miles: 1) protecting the wide variety of birds that use the forests and parks today or 2) attempting to bring back a few species that may or may not come back with wholesale native plant reintroduction?

Does “biodiversity” only include SF natives species, which wouldn’t even include all the forest birds that wouldn’t have existed before trees and forests were planted in the 1800s?

While it is exciting to see a rare bird, my favorite birds are the many birds that are here and sing, chirp, and quack at me everyday.

[1] Red eared sliders are native to the Southern US. Though they delight most park visitors, the nativists consider them invasive and want to get rid of them.

[2] Nearly 40% of San Francisco households have dogs and consider them part of the family. Nativists want to reduce areas accessible to dogs.

[3] Goldfish are a non-native species, but American Coots aren’t. Many nativists believe that native species need native foods.

[4] Nativist ideology frowns on hybrids – especially those involving domestic strains, as is probably the case with these mallard crosses.

[5] Nativists believe that native species of birds prefer native plant habitats.

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2 Responses to McLaren Park and the Ideological Quandary

  1. Dolan Eargle says:

    A thousand thanks for the excellent presentation of what our “real” city looks like…and for the continued pressure on the nativists to circumvent or destroy it. we readers appreciate this, but what is being done to get this info out to the rest of the City?
    Shouldn’t the Chronicle have a long article with pix on this very important work? Any word on any legal action to stop the destruction of the real City as we know it?
    -dolan eargle

    Webmaster: Chronicle coverage of this issue has been consistently supportive of native plant advocates. If you are a Chronicle reader, why not send the Editor a letter asking them to inform the public of the damage being done in our parks?

    Another way to make your views known to the Chronicle is to post comments on SFGATE in response to the puff pieces they publish to support the nativist agenda. SFFA members do that often and the feedback we get from other readers is supportive of our views, not those of the nativists. Public opinion is in our favor. Unfortunately the media is not yet with us.

    Help us to turn the media around by making your views known to them.

  2. Joel s hipper says:

    Well said. When will the powers that be start to listen!

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