Nature in the City

Earth Island News

In addition to its natural beauty, San Francisco is well known for environmental activism, it is the headquarters to numerous Earth Island projects and other organizations on the cutting edge of global ecological advocacy. However, most of the city’s organizations focus on places other than San Francisco. When the average global citizen contemplates the city’s natural beauty, s/he likely considers the views of the ocean, or imagines a visit to Yosemite or Muir Woods.

photo of a path through a steep meadow, cityscape in the backgroundPeter Brastow

The fact is that San Francisco, the heavily urbanized northern tip of the peninsula itself, is resplendent with biodiversity and scenic natural areas. Nature in the City is dedicated to the conservation, restoration, and stewardship of the city’s indigenous natural heritage.

The Franciscan bioregion – the mostly urbanized landscape between the San Francisco International Airport and the Golden Gate Bridge – still contains upwards of 60 areas of native habitat. These truly special areas harbor well over a dozen different ecological communities, five federally listed endangered plants, and seven federally listed endangered animals. From the Presidio’s Raven’s manzanita (the location of which is kept secret because only one individual survives in the wild), to the Mission blue butterfly, whose habitat is confined to Twin Peaks, San Bruno Mountain, and just two other locations, San Francisco’s rare and endangered species are just barely hanging on in a fragmented network of urban natural areas.

San Francisco’s natural areas are also a chaotic patchwork of political jurisdictions. Some parks and preserves are better off, such as the Presidio, managed by the Presidio Trust and the National Park Service. Like other sites of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), the Presidio benefits from tremendous community involvement and a successful public-private partnership, the dedicated and supportive relationship between the nonprofit Golden National Parks Conservancy and the GGNRA. Within the City of San Francisco, the Recreation and Park Department has a Natural Areas Program (though underfunded), charged with management and stewardship of the biodiversity of 30 natural areas.

Other City-owned lands, however, have no dedicated natural resources management budget or funding and are in serious danger of further degra-
dation from invasive weeds, human uses, and a general lack of public awareness of the land’s natural value.

Nature in the City has been working with many jurisdictions to help these agencies engage the community in stewardship. In 2007, the organization will increase local ecological advocacy to include, for example, working with the San Francisco Fire Department (which owns rich natural lands on Twin Peaks) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (which owns the best coastal sage scrub habitat in the city). Finally, some parcels of San Francisco’s remnant natural lands are still in private or military ownership. These include parts of Bayview Hill, Twin Peaks, the Brotherhood Way native woodlands, Hunter’s Point, and Yerba Buena Island.

Nature in the City collaborates with many other local ecological organizations to work for the conservation of these special natural places. We recognize that the whole of the city is habitat. Our vision includes encouraging people to take care of their own little patch of San Francisco via backyard habitat conservation and restoration. We also want to the restore wildlife corridors in heavily urbanized districts, even when the full restoration of native habitat in such neighborhoods may be elusive.

But foremost, we must conserve, restore, and care for our 60-plus still-natural habitats. These special areas are the biological and ecological reserves, the local genetic memories, of San Francisco’s own original nature. If we don’t sustain this biodiversity and network of habitats, then we won’t have much left to restore in our backyards.

One might call our local urban natural area conservation campaign a type of “homeland security.” After all, the word “ecology” comes from the Greek oikos, meaning “home.” We need to secure our natural habitats for the local native flora, fauna, and fungi, as well as for ourselves, for our renewed connection to nature and deepened sense of place in the naturally beautiful City by the Bay.

For more information about our Franciscan Land Conservation Campaign, please call (415) 564-4107 or go to

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