The Natural Resources Department (NRD -formerly called the Natural Areas Program) is planning to cut down more than 15,000 trees in Pacifica’s Sharp Park, mostly on hillsides east of Highway 1. This is supposed to benefit the two species that live around there – the threatened red-legged frog and the endangered California garter snake. It will most likely threaten them still further.
THE LAKE OF THE RED-LEGGED FROG
This lake is red-legged frog habitat. And it’s not just good for the endangered frog, and presumably the endangered snakes that preys on it. All kinds of other wildlife use it. Observers have seen everything from bobcats to quail to rabbits in the area.
The lake, which lies to the east of Highway 1 in Sharp Park, was made by damming a seasonal creek. On the left of the picture above, you can see the earthen dam covered with greenery. Now a naturalized pond, it was originally part of the irrigation system for the Sharp Park golf course, and was fed water through pipes and a cistern. Now the golf course gets its water elsewhere, the cistern has been filled in, and the pipes in disuse or gone.
All the water in the lake now comes from the watershed created by the forested hills around. Since this park lies within the fog belt, the tall trees catch the water and rain it down into the pond, even in summer. As a result, the pond has water through the year. (The photos here were taken in June last year. Everything was lush and green and there was no sign of any drought.)
So what happens when the trees are felled? We expect two adverse impacts on habitat.
- First, and immediately, there will be an increase in erosion, bringing mud and debris into the lake and affecting its water quality.
- Longer term, the lake will start to dry up in summer, since without the surrounding trees it will no longer get the water from the fog. What water it gets will evaporate more quickly without the tree shade cooling its surroundings. In dry years, it may not even get much water in winter. Its function as habitat would be severely degraded.
- The area will become a lot dryer and warmer in summer, just the time when the red-legged frogs are changing from tadpoles to frogs. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the California red-legged “frogs do not like very hot temperatures and will seek shade within tall grasses and reeds.”
OTHER NEGATIVE ECOLOGICAL IMPACTS
Besides damaging the habitats of endangered species, the tree-cutting plan is environmentally damaging in many ways.
- Carbon sequestration: Trees sequester carbon, and preserving trees and thus fight climate change. Once they are cut down, they release this carbon back to the atmosphere. With 15,000 trees, the impact will be significant.
- Trees fight pollution, especially particulate pollution. With Highway 1 running through it, and the city of Pacifica nearby, these trees are fighting the pollution that would otherwise drift into populated areas.
- Trees prevent erosion. The trees help to prevent erosion on these steep hillsides, and reduce the likelihood of landslides.
- Trees help water regulation. These trees not only increase the water available by precipitating water from the fog, they also help to store in by slowing evaporation and encouraging the growth of plants that slow run-off. This provides a green environment year-round.
There’s more about the plan for Sharp Park HERE in an article we wrote last year. In the map below , the red percentages show the percentage of trees to be felled at each site. In most places, it’s 75% of the trees. (You can click on the map to make it larger.)
Imagine this hillside as a bald mountain with a few scraggly trees, brown and dry in summer.
What we wrote then in conclusion:
Aside from the beauty of the place, and the undisturbed wildlife habitat that would both be destroyed, we think it is environmentally irresponsible. Eucalyptus, with its dense wood, its size, and its 400-500-year life-span, is particularly effective at sequestering carbon. In foggy areas, it captures moisture from the fog and drops it on the ground below, allowing for a dense damp understory that fights drought and resists fire. It cleans the air, especially fighting particulate pollution, by trapping particles on its leaves that eventually get washed onto the ground. It stabilizes hillsides with its intergrafted root system that functions like a living geotextile. SNRAMP would require the use of large quantities of poisonous herbicides to prevent resprouting of the felled trees – herbicides that are likely get washed down the hillsides and into surface and ground water.
Pacifica actually has an ordinance prohibiting logging (removing more than 20 trees in a year). NRD’s answer to that is to see if the ordinance applies, and if it does, to try to get permission.