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Monday, February 4, 2008

Watching Endangered Species for Fun and Profit

Posted By on Mon, Feb 4, 2008 at 9:05 AM

click to enlarge smhmrelease.jpg

Come see the salt marsh harvest mouse and 32 of his buddies...

Spot endangered animals and plants, log in to a Web page and win a prize (“not a Prius”).

By Joe Eskenazi

The number 33 is:

The innings played in the longest-ever baseball game, a 1981 contest between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings;

The numeral cryptically printed on every bottle of Rolling Rock;

Two words: Larry Bird;

Amazingly enough, the number of federally listed endangered species residing in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, virtually in our backyard.

For this story, we’re going to concentrate on the local endangered species (though there really is only one Larry Bird, when you think about it).

You may never have heard of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – but there’s every bit as good a chance you’ve been there as there is Jamie Lynn Spears’ foray into motherhood will end badly.

The GGNRA runs along the Pacific coast starting in southern San Mateo County and running up past Pt. Reyes in Marin. Locally, it runs along San Francisco’s Northern and Western shores from Ft. Mason to Ft. Funston, including, of course, Ocean Beach.

And while the terms “Ocean Beach” and “Wildlife” may conjure up images of something like this, the local coast is, literally, crawling with flora and fauna; the Nature Conservancy lists the GGNRA as one of only six biodiversity hotspots in the entire nation.

The staggering total of 33 endangered species was discovered by San Francisco ...

environmental lawyer Brent Plater when he was engaging in his favorite pastime of sending out Freedom of Information Requests and poring through the resultant documents over the weekend (‘cause that’s the kind of guy he is).

“I came across that statistic and I was astounded. If I specialize in keeping track of endangered species in the Bay Area and I didn’t know that, then probably a lot of other people didn’t know it either,” said Plater at a recent lecture held at San Francisco’s CounterPULSE.

Plater, a visiting professor at Golden Gate University Law School and the local director of the Center for Biological Diversity, is constantly fighting battles with those who feel undeveloped land on the GGNRA is not being “used.” Certainly an Astroturf ballfield or two or a dozen could fit within the park’s 80,000 acres, right?

With the hope of convincing the general public that many organisms are already “using” the park's undeveloped regions, Plater devised the “Golden Gate National Recreation Area Big Year.” Here’s how it works. You create an account on the GGNRA Big Year Web site here, attempt to see as many of the 33 endangered species as you can by Dec. 31, document it on the GGNRA blog and, at year’s end, you might win a prize (“It’s not a Prius,” assures Peter Brastow of Nature in the City).

So far, more than 200 people have already signed up and started “hunting.” Organized bird-, rodent- and plant-watching trips are organized for throughout the year (you can see the list of 33 species here).

Some species may be easier to spot than others. Brown Pelicans are now fairly plentiful – but Humpback Whales are not. Also, if you stumble across the Raven's Manzanita in the Presidio, be sure not to literally stumble across it.

It’s the only one of its kind left in the world.

Photo | Courtesy of

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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