San Francisco’s Natural History

Now I am shipping copies and taking orders.  This title is on sale at Green Apple Books near Sixth and Clement in the Richmond District, also at Alexander Book Company south of Market on Second Street.  This book is available for order from Amazon as a paperback and inexpensive Kindle download.

In June I will be giving a talk on this topic at two SF Public Library branches: Sunset and Inner Richmond.  Check you local branch for details if you live nearby.  I will also be speaking at the June meeting of the Audubon Society in San Mateo County.


SAN FRANCISCO’S NATURAL HISTORY
FROM SAND DUNES TO STREETCARS69644847_Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEG_7303473


This book sells for $25 with free shipping if you order from me.  See bottom of this blog for related websites and news updates on San Francisco’s environment.

This book traces the changes in San Francisco’s landscape from the days of the Ohlone to the present.  What native species were present when only Native Americans lived here? What animal grazed, flew or swam here? In the wild countryside what natural waterways supported life?  What trees, fruits, and flowering plants would the Ohlone have known and used?  And…what happened to all that after the Europeans arrived? It’s a dramatic cascade of changes, filled with disappearance and devastation, ruin, restoration and rebirth.  As the centuries passed and the cityscape developed and changed, so has the natural landscape and the creatures in it, including us–humans, whose values and actions have altered and shaped everything.

In spite of what amounts to obliteration of the old natural environment, many native species survive and even thrive in the modern city.  “Life” here includes wildlife. Contemporary restoration projects mover forward.  Brown Pelicans and coyotes have been joined by new immigrants like collared-doves and eastern gray squirrels.  Forests of introduced trees today host Red-shouldered Hawks and Hooded Orioles. And yet, there is not stasis and never has been. Now comes climate change.  All is flux.

Through this book, I hope to help provide knowledge and perspective on what has gone before, but also what we now face.  To protect and preserve this peninsula, this beautiful piece of our planet, the decisions we humans must make are not just cosmetic, they are matters of life and death.  People must understand what’s happened and what’s happening in order to avoid repeating devastating mistakes of the past, and in order to proceed wisely and humanely into the future. From open space to micro-plastic pollution, the decisions rest with us.

SOME EXCERPTS

The want of sufficient level space on which to found so great and growing a city, has been partially rectified, at an enormous expense, by taking building ground from the waters, and by lowering, and in many cases absolutely removing bodily the multitude of sand hills, by which the place is immediately surrounded. What with digging out and filling up, piling, capping and planking, grading and regrading the streets, and shifting, and rebuilding, and again rebuilding the houses, to suit the altered levels, millions upon millions of dollars have been spent.                                       –Frank Soule, et al., The Annals of San Francisco, 1855

***

Nature’s plan has evolved through millions of years while man’s plans for the earth cover a short span of time and are very often both selfish and short-sighted.
–Helen Cruickshank, Thoreau’s Birds, 1964


***

Captain Jean François de La Perouse from France was the first European from outside the Spanish Empire to visit California after the founding of the missions and pueblos. In September 1786, he spent time in Monterey. About Monterey Bay he wrote: “It is impossible to describe the number of whales with which we were surrounded, or their familiarity. They spouted every half minute within pistol shot of our frigates, and caused a most annoying stench. We were unacquainted with this property in the whale, but the inhabitants informed us that the water thrown out by them is impregnated with this offensive smell.”

***

            In 1792–1793, Archibald Menzies, the medical officer for the British Expedition, headed by Captain George Vancouver, was immediately taken with the dramatic “broad sheet of water” that is the bay, described in the epigraph to this chapter. The observations by Menzies and other expedition crew are valuable as baseline information about how the area was changed over the decades that followed their visit. During their stay in the fall of 1792, the British sailors reported a large number of waterfowl in the marsh that is now Crissy Field. Menzies describes the area between Fort Mason and Fort Point as a “low track of Marshy Land along shore, with some Salt Water Lagoons that were supplied by the overflowings of high Tides and oozings through the Sandy Beach: on these we saw abundance of Ducks and wild Geese…”  Vancouver mentions large livestock flocks. He is visiting in 1792, less than two decades after the first colonists arrived from Mexico. Yet, already hundreds of domestic animals are ranging across a fragile landscape.

***

1820   Estimated 200,000 northern fur seals killed for their pelts.

1932  First Mockingbird sighted in San Francisco.

***

One of the few surface streams still to be seen in San Francisco runs down Glen Canyon. It constitutes the headwaters of Precita Creek, which joins Islais Creek, named from the Ohlone word for hollyleaf cherry… In 1869 America’s first dynamite factory, the Giant Powder Company, blew up in Glen Canyon. Also, in the late 1800s, the canyon, then known as Rock Gulch, supported a private zoo and amusement park.

***

San Francisco’s original grasslands and coastal scrub are almost gone. Most grassland fell before invasive plants, pavement, housing, and other heavy use. A large swath of coastal prairie in McLaren Park became Gleneagles Golf Course. Fortunately, a parcel of nearly natural habitat survives on the eastern slope of Mount Davidson.

***

Farallones: Research over the past four decades by Point Blue has shown that Common Murres are now breeding earlier in the year, in response to climate change and its effects on upwelling in the California current.

***

Golden Gate Park: In 1870, when this land was set aside by the city government for a park, it was largely sand dunes. Before it was landscaped and planted, there were a few willow-bordered lakes on the site, some squatters in residence, and scattered oak groves in sheltered areas furthest from the windy beach. The most respected landscape expert at the time was Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park. He warned San Francisco these lands outside the city limits were not suitable for a proper urban, forested park. Olmsted’s conclusion about a park in the city was part cautionary, part damning: “There is not a full grown tree of beautiful proportions near San Francisco, nor have I seen any young trees that promise fairly, except, perhaps, of certain compact clump forms of evergreens, wholly wanting in grace and cheerfulness. It would not be wise nor safe to undertake to form a park upon any plan which assumed as a certainty that trees which would delight the eye can be made to grow near San Francisco.”

***

In 2010, the public had no idea that harmful micro-beads of plastic were being put into many consumer products and we were all guilty of spreading them across the planet. The San Francisco Estuary Institute and its partners are now studying the presence of micro-plastics and nano-plastics in San Francisco Bay. This research is being led by Dr. Rebecca Sutton. Her preliminary study found the bay was more contaminated by plastic than the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay.

***

Perhaps most threatening are a group of invasive Asian earthworms first identified on the East Coast and found in Oregon in 2016. The risk from these invaders is that they feed on the surface material in forests, quickly turning leaf litter and fallen plant matter into worm food and then feces. They drive out nondestructive worm species and clear the soil for erosion and desiccation, weakening forests trying to survive climate change and drought.

***

Climate change: Just how bad can this get?  A scientific look back at a previous die-off caused by ocean acidification brings up terrifying images if you value any currently living creature.  Volcanologist Seth Burgess studied the geological and biological changes that took place at the end of the Permian period about 250-255 million years ago.  It wasn’t simply the end of a geological age, it was the end of most living organisms.  Fossil records show that 90% of all ocean organisms and 70% of those on land went extinct. Trees and coral reefs disappeared. 

=============

Other links pertaining to this book:

Newslinks, stories pertinent to San Francisco’s natural history—present and future.

Table of Contents

Species named in the book

San Francisco images, before 1860 
San Francisco images, 1860 to present 

 

 

 

 

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8 Responses to “San Francisco’s Natural History”

  1. SAN FRANCISCO NATURAL HISTORY BOOK | ecowise Says:

    […] Just another WordPress.com weblog « San Francisco’s Natural History […]

  2. MEADOWS, YES! | Towheeblog Says:

    […] In my new book on San Francisco’s natural history I describe some of the problems being worsened by climate change in that region.  Ocean acidification, ocean warming, spread of tropical diseases, disruption of seasonal migration and plant growth–these are but a few of increased stressers being put on all natural system and all the organisms therein.  Click here to learn more about this newly published book.  Copies are available from me or from Ama… […]

  3. AMTRAK BIRDING IN NOR CAL | Towheeblog Says:

    […] SAN FRANCISCO NATURAL HISTORY […]

  4. THE WILD PARROTS OF EVERY HILL | Towheeblog Says:

    […] I have just published my book, San Francisco’s Natural History: Sand Dunes to Streetcars. It t… […]

  5. SAN FRANCISCO FIELD TRIP–SATURDAY | Towheeblog Says:

    […] led a Golden Gate Audubon field trip today in western San Francisco.  It was about San Francisco’s Natural History, subject of my latest book.  We looked at changes past and likely effects of climate change on the plants and animals of our […]

  6. HERE IT COMES | Towheeblog Says:

    […] Click here for the homepage about my book, San Francisco’s Natural History:  Sand Dunes to S… […]

  7. BIRD POPULATIONS | Towheeblog Says:

    […] Robins did not breed in the Pacific states’ lowlands until early 1900s after white men had created yards, lawns, golf courses, cemeteries and parks with plenty of earthworms…so they moved down from the mountains… In the 1860s naturalists noted Cliff and Barn Swallows starting to nest in western towns and cities rather than cliffs, eventually our swifts followed suit… BARN owls, HOUSE wrens, HOUSE finches (formerly known as adobe finches in the west), Mockingbirds, Hooded Orioles following the planting of fan palms as landscape trees…Brewer’s Blackbirds, the invasion of the west by cowbirds following–wait for it–cow herds that replaced the bison once the heart of cowbird life…rock  pigeons, collared-doves, and the northward march of many species as we humans heat up the planet (Anna’s Hummingbird, R-S Hawk, W-T Kite, G-T Grackle)… On the ravens, we owe it to them…they were almost extirpated  by our gun-toting ancestors who shot them on sight as “vermin.”  I wish them well as they are clever and adaptable enough they may survive the planetary holocaust we are bringing down on living creatures on this earth. I should add it is not just the modern market economy that destroys and alters the natural world.  This has been going on since man walked upright.  Studies of Native American shell middens in San Francisco area showed how they had hunted their way down the food chain…from geese to small shorebirds, gradually wiping out the most preferable (big) prey and moving down to the next largest…what saved the native birds that had become so abundant when Europeans arrived?  European diseases that spread rapidly across North America and decimated the Native American populat… […]

  8. HEADING TO SAN FRANCISCO | Towheeblog Says:

    […] Home page for this book: https://ecowise.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/sfnh/ […]

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