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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Golf Course Plans Won’t Bend to Frogs and Snakes

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Golf carts and lawn mowers will roll again at an 80-year-old golf course after a federal judge dismissed activists' fears over harming frogs and snakes.

Wild Equity Institute led a team of nonprofit conservation groups in a lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco, seeking a preliminary injunction under the Endangered Species Act to stop all water pumping at the Sharp Park Golf Course and to ban the use of golf carts on the ninth through 18th holes of the course.

The conservationists claimed that water management at the course has exposed frog eggs to the air, killing them, while lawn mowers and golf carts routinely run over adult frogs and snakes.

Activists and Sharp Park have been at odds for years, before the species were even put on the endangered species list. The 417-acre Sharp Park was built in a residential area of Pacifica, south of San Francisco, in 1930.

City and Sharp Park officials told the court that they constantly monitor the California red-legged frog population and protect the San Francisco garter snake with "no-mow" measures. They also suspend golf play if a snake or frog is seen.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston slammed the conservation groups last year for failing to show that the animals faced irreparable harm. She noted there had not been a single snake sighting at the golf course in three years, and said it is "uncontroverted" that frog populations are increasing.

After she directed Fish and Wildlife Service to decide who is right, the agency entered an incidental take statement (ITS), estimating that golf carts and mowers will kill or injure "one frog and one snake," while harassing all park critters.

The FWS also found that water pumping at the park's pond will cause a wide range of "takes" - harm, harassment, capture, injury or death - to 130 frog egg masses over the next 10 years.

Finding that the report and San Francisco's required incidental take permit shields the park from liability for now, Illston dismissed the case last week.

"Plaintiffs are concerned that unauthorized take of the Frogs and the Snakes will continue to occur until a permit is issued, and that the corps might deny the permit, grant a permit without incorporating the ITS conditions, or delay a decision on the permit indefinitely," Illston wrote. "However, because the ITS is self-effectuating, even if the project permit is denied for other reasons, the corps and the city are required to follow each of the terms and conditions in the ITS. If they fail to do so, their take of the frog and the snake will no longer be immune from liability, and plaintiffs will have a new cause of action against them."

"Similarly, if the corps issues a permit that fails to incorporate the conditions of the ITS, the ITS will have been violated and plaintiffs can renew their suit," she wrote. "Finally, even if the corps delays its decision on the permit, the other requirements in the ITS that have nothing to do with the project (e.g., mowing and golf cart requirements) must still be followed, or defendants will lose their immunity from suit."

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