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The fight literally might stir up a mosquitoes' nest. More frog habitat means more Culicidae, and therefore more West Nile virus, and therefore more spraying. What unforeseen problems may arise in this ecosystem, and who would be responsible for fixing them? And what about the San Francisco garter snake's appetite for the California red-legged frog?
"The two species would coexist," says Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity. "There would not be so many snakes that they would eat away the frogs. That's simply not how it works biologically."
If following the money leads to understanding, San Francisco's recent $16 million investment in refurbishing Harding Park is key to the discussion. Some of that was borrowed from the state and from the city's Open Space fund. Although the available accounting numbers are laughably deceptive, it is plain that recreation budgets have dried up, angering advocates for more hiking trails, dog parks, tai chi areas, and soccer and lacrosse fields. "San Francisco has nine golf courses in our dense city. Surely we could get rid of one money-losing course," Isabel Wade, executive director of the powerful Neighborhood Parks Council, wrote in an op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner on April 16, 2007. Three months later an effort to privatize two of San Francisco's municipal courses was rejected by the supervisors.
Wade and the environmentalists are winning, and they're throwing their weight around. In a practice that began about five years ago, whenever the silt-laden ponds at Sharp Park overflow after winter rains, the fairways are not allowed to be pumped dry—because there might be frogs' eggs in the water. And the city may soon hire someone to walk 50 feet in front of the mowers for the rough and fairway to rescue any frogs or snakes that might be in the path of the blades. "They're paying 50 bucks an hour," says Sharp Park president Diller. "I think I'll apply for that job."
The golfers have organized—hastily, and not as well as the environmentalists, who have more practice. The defense of Sharp Park is led by Richard Harris of the two-year-old, 2,000-member San Francisco Public Golf Alliance. "We're all environmentalists here, and there is no point to returning to some primeval condition," says Harris, a San Francisco lawyer. Harris captained the Stanford golf team during the 1967--68 season, when he was a senior and teammate Tom Watson was a freshman. "We don't think it has to be an either-golfer-or-nature-lover situation. We'd be happy to see boardwalks and viewing platforms and other opportunities for nongolfers to view this."
The dispute at Sharp Park is obviously less about animals than attitudes. High-end retailers now send their shoppers out the door with their purchases in plain brown paper bags, and golf to nongolfers may also seem indulgent, even decadent, in a bad economy. Fewer people are playing. Probably we do need to lose some golf courses—but not the ones charging $24. And not the ones designed by Alister MacKenzie.
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