The Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s far-reaching lands are home to more federally-listed endangered and threatened species than any other national park site in the continental United States. Each year the park is featuring one of these special plants and animals through educational programs, events, restoration activities, and a variety of materials for visitors of all ages.
In 2012, we are celebrating the endangered coho salmon! Several watersheds in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore—including Olema, Redwood, and Pine Gulch Creeks—are home to coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch).
These fish are part of a unique subpopulation that only live in streams along the central California coast. Because coho require high-quality freshwater and ocean habitats over the course of their three-year lifespans they are excellent indicators of the health of these ecosystems.
In 1996 the federal government listed coho salmon in this region as threatened. Unfortunately, their status was further downgraded from threatened to endangered in 2005. Habitat loss from urbanization, dam construction, logging, water withdrawals, and stream channel alterations have contributed to their decline, as have over-harvesting, climactic changes, and periods of poor ocean productivity.
Because coho are an endangered species, the National Park Service is responsible for monitoring and protecting them. Staff at Golden Gate and their partners have undertaken a huge effort to learn more about the size, distribution, and behavior of these populations; understand their habitat requirements; and engage federal, state, and local stakeholders in their protection.
What you can do
The interim Crissy Field Center on East Beach has been a leading example of sustainable technology since its construction two years ago. With recycled carpet, a rainwater catchment system, solar-thermal water heating system, solar lamps, and many other green features, it is a one-of-a-kind youth environmental education center. These new wind turbines will push the Center to LEED-certified Gold status and possibly even Platinum status.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this project is the impact it will have on programs. Young people will have the chance to learn about wind energy and other renewable energy sources and will even be able to study the power generated by the turbines through a dashboard monitoring system.
Proposed educational projects include creating art renderings of wind turbines to learn how they work, using math to learn about gear ratios and measure the swept area, and thinking critically about the wind turbines’ environmental impacts. (Staff with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory will study and monitor the turbines’ effects on wildlife.)
In 2012, come observe the new wind turbines in action—and see how they add real-world depth to the environmental lessons for Crissy Field Center youth!
Our hawk-counters first ascended Hawk Hill on Monday, August 15, and spent six hours tallying 82 raptor sightings including a Peregrine Falcon, a White-tailed Kite, and some Redtails. That was a great first day, because the next five weeks brought fog. Lots and lots of fog. More fog than we’d ever seen in over 25 years of hawk counts.
During August and September, every other day was a “fog-out,” the hawkwatcher’s equivalent of a rain-out. But fog can lift or fall, press forward or retreat, dissipate or condense in a moment’s notice. And so our hawk counters spent many hours at the ready.
Then on September 17, the hawk gates opened up with the first big rush of the season. Six hours later, the hawkwatch team had chalked up 482 in the “total sightings” column, a very respectable 78 raptors per hour (rph).
A week later, on September 26, the team counted 38 Broad-winged Hawks in one day, an amazing number, which contributed to an incredible Broadwing year overall: 202 sightings by December. Broad-winged Hawks are an anomaly in California. They don’t nest here; they don’t winter here. These short-winged, crow-sized cousins of the Redtail migrate in flocks from Canada and northeastern U.S. to the Amazon Basin. California Broadwings are somewhat unique to the Golden Gate, as they’re rarely seen in other parts of the state.
The 2011 hawk count fared pretty well through late September, hovering around the 50 to 60 rph mark until October 7, when the numbers jumped up again, totaling 751 sightings of 12 species, at a rate of 125 rph. October 8 eclipsed even those impressive numbers, clocking 834 sightings with a rate of 143 rph. This proved to be the peak day of the migration from the hawk counter’s perspective.
From October 9 through November 17 we enjoyed mostly brilliant raptor days, averaging 40 rph and including a 20-Merlin day on October 17, and our first adult Bald Eagle of 2011 on October 19. November 14 was a rare double-eagle day; both Bald and Golden Eagles made close passes over Hawk Hill.
The season declined steeply after November 18 with hawk rates fluctuating from 6 to 20 rph, depending on the weather. The eastern Diablo winds kicked in on November 30, with 29 mph gusts on Hawk Hill increasing to 55 mph howlers on December 1. The big breezes blew a bunch of Redtails into town, and November 30 and December 3 each had impressive RT counts for this late date: 198 and 167, respectively.
So, the 2011 hawk migration season as witnessed by the GGRO hawkcounters was a light migration compared with average total numbers, but the counts were still similar to some previous seasons’ in the past quarter-century.
We were heavy in Merlins and Broad-winged Hawks, but light in Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawks, and American Kestrels. Kestrels in particular have been of great concern in the eastern U.S. as they have been showing declines at migration counts and in nest-box studies for the past decade. Declines have been more gradual in California, but this is why we need migration counts.
As the great eco-lobbyist Rosalie Edge once wrote: “The time to monitor a species is while it is still common.”
With the launch of a system-wide Climate Change Response Program two years ago, many national parks now have programs in place to emphasize climate science literacy. Here in the Golden Gate National Parks, several opportunities exist to discover climate change in the San Francisco Bay Area—past, present, and future.
From public art to Google Earth tools to sea-level rise exhibits, Golden Gate National Parks are ramping up their efforts. National park interpretive rangers offer walking tours and presentations on how climate has shaped the Bay Area’s landscape and why estuaries are valuable for carbon mitigation.
The park is developing hands-on citizen science programs, like the California Phenology Project, in which visitors can participate in field studies that monitor the response of natural resources to climate change across California’s diverse landscapes over time. Visitors can also discover the impacts of ocean acidification at NOAA’s new Ocean Climate Center at Crissy Field.
“We are providing ways for park visitors to discover, visualize, and participate in understanding how climate change is affecting the places they love,” says Will Elder, a ranger at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “We are also demonstrating how parks are reducing their carbon footprint. Once visitors make these connections, they will be more likely to take steps toward a more carbon-neutral lifestyle themselves.”
To leverage the parks as a platform for climate science education, the Institute at the Golden Gate is launching a new initiative, Climate in the Parks. The purpose of this initiative is to understand how parks and popular recreation areas can use these places that people care about to demonstrate real impacts of climate change. By assessing case studies, strategies, best practices, tools, artistic media, and partnerships that are being created and used by all types of parks, the Institute will create a climate communications resource for any park to employ.
The Institute would like your feedback! Do you have a case or example in mind of what a park has done (or could do) to better educate the public on climate science? Please send us your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For most people, Earth Day lands on that date pre-printed into everybody’s new 2012 calendar: April 22. But in the Golden Gate National Parks, we celebrate another kind of Earth Day, Muir Woods Earth Day 2012, on January 28. This year’s event is on track to be the biggest ever, with a projected attendance of nearly 300 volunteers.
Now, 21 years later, this amazing annual event continues to be held between mid-January and early February so that we can maximize the winter rains. It became a watershed-wide event early on and, though each year is a little bit different, it has always included planting, weeding, and trail work.
Though there is great diversity in the watershed and many species will be sent out for planting, a favorite to plant is Lilium pardilinum (leopard lily). It is dormant this time of year and is a bulb that breaks apart into many bulblets (like garlic). There are flats of the lily in the nursery that get divided every year and some are planted alongside Redwood Creek in the woods. This coming spring and summer new shoots will appear and, hopefully, in a few years’ time we will see new blooms appear next to the creek!
Collaboratively written by Mia Monroe (Chief Ranger, Muir Woods), Chelsea Dicksion (Manager, Redwood Creek Nursery), and Clara Voigt (Office Administrator, Nursery Programs)
By Elise Hinman
It was a cold, drizzly Thursday in early November, and the last thing I expected to feel was excitement. I walked over to where he and San Mateo Community Programs Manager Price Sheppy were crouching close to the ground.
Leaning over their backs, my eyes focused on the milky white orbs sitting on the wet soil. After a moment of study, I realized what they were: snake eggs!
There were at least five of them littering the ground, empty and shriveled from the elements. Chris Perry picked one up and lightly set it in my hand. It was no more than 1 inch wide and 2 inches long, and it was extremely light and airy. The texture was as smooth as a sheet of computer paper. What amazed me was the hardiness of the shell, despite its malleability.
“What kind of snake hatched out of these eggs?” I pondered. My curiosity sent me on a mission to understand San Francisco’s native reptile fauna. Later that week I sat down at my computer, egg shell at my side, to figure out the species it belonged to.
Could it be an endangered San Francisco garter snake egg? My heart started racing with excitement. Observing these striking snakes in the wild is a rare treat because threats such as urbanization and pollution have reduced San Francisco garter snake populations to dangerously low levels. Compounding these threats is the fact that their prey of choice, the California red- legged frog, is also a threatened species in San Francisco.
Could Chris, Price, and I be witness to a new generation of San Francisco garter snakes populating Mori Point? Alas, my enthusiasm quickly proved unwarranted as I read up on the snake.
There was one big reason why these eggs did not belong to this endangered species: San Francisco garter snakes give birth to live young! Females carry the eggs internally until they hatch, and subsequently release their litter of 12 to 24 young in the months of July and August. With a sigh and a slump into my office chair, I realized my search wasn’t over yet.
Could it be a Pacific gopher snake or a California king snake egg? Pacific gopher snakes grow up 7 feet in length and are often mistaken for rattlesnakes due to the intricate, diamond patterning on their scale. They are excellent burrowers, climbers, and swimmers, and occupy a range that includes all of the Bay Area—they’re even found in urban settings.
California king snakes, on the other hand, reach 2.5 feet in length and have a distinctive black and white striped patterning on their bodies. Both species of snakes do not give birth to live young. Instead, they lay eggs in June through August, which hatch roughly two months later.
I performed the math in my head—this means that the hatchlings would have emerged from their shells in October, making a discovery of the evidence in early November entirely possible!
At the end of the day, I still wasn’t certain of the species that emerged from the eggs. However, one thing was clear: Parks Conservancy volunteers successfully create and maintain healthy coastal ecosystems, which allow native plants and animals (reptiles included!) to grow, survive, and reproduce in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thank you so much for your help.
Significant habitat restoration efforts are underway on the Presidio coastal bluffs and at Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands (see December Park E-Ventures for the Hawk Hill story). In this story and a future installment, learn more about what follows the recent non-native invasive tree and vegetation removals, including opportunities for the public to volunteer in upcoming plantings this winter and participate in walks hosted by the National Park Service and Parks Conservancy staff on what we can expect to see in the restored areas in the coming years. To sign up and for more information, please write email@example.com or call 415-561-3054.
Big changes have been taking place along the Presidio Coastal Bluffs recently. Roads are being improved for cyclists and cars, the Batteries to Bluffs Trail has been enhanced for coastal hikers, and the new Golden Gate Overlook is being built in time for the Bridge’s 75th Anniversary celebration this May.
The tree repurposing was truly a team effort. In addition to Ritchie, collaborators included Assistant Project Coordinator Danny Franco, miller Steve Potts, Marin County Arborists, and other Conservancy personnel and collaborators.
“Without MCA, we couldn’t have done this,” Ritchie says. “And we also needed Steve Potts’ commitment to do this kind of project. He went beyond just milling the wood. He came out on site to help us find the usable wood, and then he turned it into something lovely.”
The most challenging aspect of the work was interpreting the dimensions of the uncut trees. “It’s harder than it sounds,” Ritchie explains. “All these projects were moving forward, and they needed to know if they could use the byproducts of our work. But until someone has a log on the mill, you can’t know if it will work, especially if it’s for a specific design.”
Coordinating logistics between multiple projects, accounting for bird nesting seasons, adapting to weather patterns, and trying to predict unknown obstacles are all parts of the process. But Ritchie believes that the final product is worth the extra effort.
“Even with adequate planning, [repurposing the trees] can’t always happen,” she says. “But it should always be considered. Plenty of projects could have used wood chips, but we knew that this wood was good enough quality to serve a higher purpose.”
With the new year upon us, it’s a time to reflect on the past year and to give thanks. Few deserve bigger thanks than all of you—our park volunteers! On behalf of the National Park Service, Presidio Trust, and Parks Conservancy, THANK YOU for all that you have done this past year to support and care for your national parks here at Golden Gate.
Stormy Day at Crissy Field, photo by Steven Sawyer