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San Francisco Natural Areas Overview

Welcome to SF Natural Areas!! This site is for, by, and about the volunteers who work to preserve and protect the remnant habitats within San Francisco.

Unlike most other major urban areas, San Francisco’s steep topography has prevented the sort of torched-earth development that completely obliterated all traces of original landscapes elsewhere. In fact, 1100 acres (that’s 27%) of the San Francisco parks system are officially designated Significant Natural Resource Areas because they still contain irreplaceable biological communities. Other mostly-pristine remnant areas are owned by other public entities including the Public Utilities Commission and the Presidio Trust.

These public lands are under constant threat, however, from invasive weeds and over-use — and this is where volunteers come in. Volunteers with the Natural Areas Program of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD) contribute tens of thousands of hours each year pulling weeds, maintaining trails, and propagating and planting native plants.

In fact, Natural Areas Program volunteers constitute over 25% of all RPD volunteer hours even though the Natural Areas Program has only 2% of RPD staff and receives only 1% of the RPD budget. The Natural Areas Program is underfunded and understaffed by a factor of ten. Volunteers are what prevent these priceless biological assets in San Francisco from collapsing into weedy ruin.

Anyway, other natural areas managers besides the SFRPD include the Presidio Trust which runs its own volunteer program; the National Park Service, which runs the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; the SF Public Utilities Commission which owns important remnant areas near Laguna Honda; and UCSF, which owns and manages Mt Sutro. Plus, there are other important groups which play crucial roles in San Francisco’s preservation of its biological heritage.

However, what has been missing is a site where volunteers can post their photos and tell their stories about working in these remarkable areas. That need is what this site attempts to fill. This site also, over time, may become an integrated botanical guide to San Francisco’s native plants, though this be an over-ambitious goal.

Browse the Events, Photos, and Blogs to see what’s happening at all the various Natural Areas. To track quickly and easily the most recent contributions, check the general blog section and the general photo section. These combine all content from all the natural areas we cover in reverse chronological order, so the newest stuff is always the first you’ll see.

Additional Information

General Blog Posts

These posts concern general SF Natural Areas themes. For posts regarding an individual site, go to that site's main page. For all blog posts from all sites in chronological order, go here.

RPD's Non-enforcement of Leash Law Endangers Mt D Volunteers

05 April 2014 - 14:11, Tinman said:

An illegal off-leash dog bit me today while I walked up a trail on Mt Davidson for the monthly Natural Areas Program habitat restoration work party. I’d passed all three of the dogs that were running down the trail well ahead of their owner, when one of them turned, raced up behind me, and bit me on the back of the leg. The bite tore my pants and caused a minor wound that fortunately didn’t need medical attention; I was lucky that it was a small dog. But that’s not the big problem.

Frankly I’m surprised that this hadn’t happened long before, since the vast majority of the many dogs running on Mt D every day are off-leash and potential threats. But that’s not the big problem.

The dog owner quickly tossed out five $20 bills and hurried away. I didn’t get his name, address, or even a photo of him or his dogs; he was long gone. But that also is not the big problem.

I called 311, waited on hold for five minutes for an operator who then connected me to a Park Ranger dispatcher, who sent a ranger to my house a half hour later, since I’d returned there by then. The ranger took a report and advised me to file with the SFPD, since his report was merely “internal” and wouldn’t really amount to anything he said. He apologized for the fact that there are at most only two rangers for the entire park system in the City — except when there is only one.

And THAT is the big problem.

The Recreation and Parks Department specifically — and the City of San Francisco generally — has intentionally made enforcement of leash laws in the city parks — and thus the safety of park visitors — such a low priority that the laws have no real effect at all. They have made a careful calculation based on what demographic makes the most noise and gets nastiest in any public deliberation, and have decided to side with the dog people. This isn’t surprising, given the numbers, in a locale where people can be murdered by dogs in their own apartment buildings.

So what are the implications of the unwillingness of the City of San Francisco to protect its citizens by enforcing leash laws in city parks? I think there are several:

  • The Mt Davidson work party can no longer be recommended to any volunteer. It is simply too dangerous for volunteers to walk through Mt D’s narrow trails to the work parties given the high density of off-leash dogs there on any given morning. We will no longer list these work parties on this web site.
  • If you are attacked by an off-leash dog, try to get the owner’s information. If you are bitten, the owner is legally obligated to provide this information, and if they refuse, that is a felony. The ranger claims that such a refusal will result in a “prompt” intervention by SFPD if you call them. It’s 911 time.
  • If you are equipped, try to get photos of the perp owner and the dog(s), though this can be tricky since you never can tell what kind of individual you’re dealing with. If they’re happy violating leash laws, you have to assume that they’re unlikely to think other laws apply to them either. It’s completely legal for you to photograph him, but you can’t assume that he’s going to be happy letting you do so.
  • Park rangers say you should not follow the perp owner back to his house or car if they refuse to provide information, for the above reasons. Granted, that will probably mean that they’re long gone before rangers or SFPD show up, but you want to end up with only one wound from the dog, not a second one from the owner.


The Natural Areas Program has barely enough staff and budget to deal with the weeds they’re responsible for. They couldn’t possibly police the thirty-two Significant Natural Resource Areas, even if that was their remit. But if they were sufficiently empowered, maybe this could be fixed.

It’s regrettable that the only “resolution” of this situation at this time is simply to stay out of the parks, but unless something drastic happens with how the City of San Francisco runs things via the RPD — which has zero chance of happening — that’s about all there is. The off-leash dog people have won the parks.


2014-10-08 11:09:07 -0700, MaryK said:

Thanks for setting up this website, and making it easy to participate in keeping natural areas in the City healthy and beautiful!

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Send the Sharp Park Golf Course into GGNRA Receivership

29 April 2009 - 13:27, Tinman said:

This Thursday, April 30, at 1pm in Room 263 at City Hall, you’ll have your opportunity to tell the Board of Supervisors to stop wasting our tax dollars operating the money-losing Sharp Park golf course. The Government Audit and Oversight Committee will consider legislation “to develop a plan, schedule and budget for restoring Sharp Park habitat for the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake in conformance with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, and transferring Sharp Park to, or developing a joint management agreement with, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and making environmental findings”.

The reasons that the Sharp Park golf course is an expense that San Francisco can no longer maintain have been well exercised here. Check out this great perspective by Pacifica resident Ian Butler for another view.

Of all the potential fates of this golf course to be considered, incorporating it into the GGNRA makes by far the most sense — ecologically and financially. San Francisco residents and taxpayers need to come to tomorrow’s BOS meeting and push to make this happen!


2009-05-12 22:31:54 -0700, Golf Slut said:

You must be kidding. I understand that the environment must be protected and preserved to sustain a natural and healthy ecosystem, but to close this golf course in pursuit of that goal, absurd. I have had the opportunity to grow up in Pacifica and was fortunate enough to have had my first job, which I held through high school, at Sharp Park Golf Course. The lessons I have learned and relationships I have built at Sharps are invaluable. I would not be in the position I am in in my current career and life for that matter, have I hadn’t taken up the game of golf. Please do not proceed with this action, you are making a huge mistake.

2009-05-13 07:12:04 -0700, Tinman said:

Oh, no one is kidding here. The Board of Supervisors approved the legislation unanimously. Change is coming to Sharp Park.

2009-05-13 20:09:45 -0700, Golf Slut said:

It’s a crying shame. We sit back and complain of our children and future generations because they are inside playing video games, or chatting online, or texting. They need to be outside engaging with others, playing hide and seek beneath the street lights, kickball, golf. We’re going to find otherwise a future full of socially inept individuals attempting to lead communities, state governments and a nation. We are missing the point here my brothers and sisters, the importance of preserving and protecting this wonderful resource for outdoor activity and social interaction, face to face goes beyond a frog and a snake. “This land is your land, this land is my land…”

2009-05-13 21:32:03 -0700, Tinman said:

There are lots of places to golf on the peninsula where the courses don’t have all the “washing out to sea”, “flooding every winter”, and “killing endangered species” problems that the Sharp Park course does. The course is a toxic asset on the books of whoever has to pay for it, and it appears that finally San Francisco decision makers are figuring this out.

2015-03-22 12:14:26 -0700, MJang said:

SF taxpayer subsidized Sharp Park is a poor comparison to the equally low priced SF municipal course Harding: challenging golf, nicer amenities – a fun game in a better environment, it offers a much better experience for a similar fee. Sharp Park is taking habitat of endangered species: it make better public sense to transfer Sharp Park to the park system, and golf at Harding!

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