Pump Track Makes Things Worse for Birds

Hello Jane,

I think the COMMON MERGANSERS must have known that something was amiss! Perhaps they somehow divined how upset I was about the January 26 City Council decision to accept a $25,000 check from the Rotary Club to install a noisy pump track right next to one of their favorite fishing spots on the San Lorenzo River (see photos below). When I walked out on the River the next day, nursing my wounds about the City’s actions, I found four Common Mergansers resting and fishing right next to the proposed site of the pump track! Their presence at that moment said to me, “You are right, Barbara. This is our spot. This is where we bring our kids to feed in the summer. Our numbers are diminishing. Why won’t the City listen to you? Take a photo and send it to the City Council! ” So I did! Unfortunately, your advocacy, and mine, and that of other environmentalists, hasn’t yet taken hold.

Below are two photos I sent to the City Council and City Staff.

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Close up of Common Mergansers near future pump track site near Water St. Bridge and Benchlands.
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Distant shot of same area.  Green area between County Building and River is site of future pump track. Same three mergansers barely discernible on spit of land in middle of River.

The Audubon Society predicts that Common Mergansers will lose 72% of their current summer range by the year 2080. It is listed as a species particularly vulnerable to climate change.  I stood on the footbridge into San Lorenzo Park last summer and saw the family pictured below as it was swimming by.  Will the merganser parents still want to bring their babies to the San Lorenzo River if the City continues to turn the area into an amusement park? We should not be creating projects that threaten the habitats of our precious local birds and other creatures. We should be moving in the other direction. We should be enhancing the area as a wildlife habitat. It all makes me very sad.

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Common Merganser family swimming past San Lorenzo Park footbridge,summer, 2015.  Photo by local birder and amazing photographer Jeff Bleam.

Why does the City want to build a pump track on the Benchlands? Representatives of the City are quite frank that the track is a strategy to maintain surveillance in the area and drive out ‘unwanted elements’.  The project is driven primarily by commercial rather than recreational interests. Not surprisingly, it is underwritten by the Rotary Club. City staff told me that other locations for the pump track were never considered. Is it right to enhance commercial growth by creating a threat to the environment?  That is the most urgent moral question that faces our world. The pump track is simply a microcosmic peep at this moral planetary challenge. Invisible to most, our city just took a step in the wrong direction.

What is a pump track exactly?  In this case it is a portable modular track that can be removed from the flood plain when necessary.  It is designed for children from pre-school years through high school.  Here are two photos of pump tracks similar to the one already purchased by the City.

Since the pump track project never came to the city council for approval, we environmentalists found out about it at a very late hour, mostly by accident.   I did my best to appeal to the City to change their minds about this. I had a rather long meeting with a staff member of Parks and Recreation before the City Council accepted the gift. (Naturally, he strongly supports the pump track, although he did express real interest in creating a bird-viewing platform.) I subsequently wrote the City Council three letters, detailing my concerns. In response to my first letter, Council member Richelle Noroyan managed to get the presentation of the gift postponed for two weeks, perhaps to raise the legal issue that I raised. Mayor Cynthia Mathews responded to my specific concerns with a long (though unpersuasive) letter. Council member Micah Posner expressed publicly, at the City Council meeting, his concern about the legality of accepting a $25,000 gift for a controversial project like this without first bringing it to the city council for a vote. Don Lane asked a question about how projects like these are processed in the Parks and Recreation Department, referring I presume to the question of why there was no environmental review of a project that was being installed in an environmentally sensitive area. In short, the City did not completely ignore the environmental (and legal) concerns. For this I am grateful.

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Black Phoebe Performing Mating Song, San Lorenzo Levee, February 6, 2016

On the delightful side of things, just a few days ago I saw and heard two of the ubiquitous BLACK PHOEBES singing to each other in a sycamore tree on the levee right behind my house. First one would trill it’s four-note combination of warbling and fluting notes, then the other would respond in kind, over and over again. I was enthralled. Phoebes are normally such solitary creatures, who usually produce only a one-note call. My bird bible (Birds of North America online) says that singing to each other is part of the courtship ritual.  I got a pretty good photo of one of them with its little beak wide open in song. The life force is strong.

May our world learn to love all species before it is too late.









5 thoughts on “Pump Track Makes Things Worse for Birds

  1. I so agree with you about the urgent need to steward/protect our natural resources. If we don’t then we will eliminate the enjoyment of Nature’s masterpieces & we’ll be left with less beauty. I always wonder how many of the policy makers have taken time to know the San Lorenzo River, have seen Mama Merganser with her brood on her back. Your questions about the Pump Track decision process are so important since they address the policy transparency as well as the environmental concerns. I am so impressed how you stood up for the San Lorenzo River habitat!! Thank you for keeping us in the Pump Track loop. jane

  2. Again you wow mw with your attentive watching, care and advocacy for this special, special ecosystem. We humans are part of it. But should we walk or rip through it? Let’s make it a slow place, a warching place, keep improving it to share by watching and learning from the pace of who lives there, these gorgeous bird you have photographed for us. Thank you for the update, opening your folding chair to witness the life going one….

    1. This is my blog topic for this week. I will post tomorrow. Thanks for writing. I hadn’t known it was installed!

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