Letter to the California Department of Fish and Game
Robert W. Floerke, Regional Manager
Department of Fish and Game
Central Coast Region
Post Office Box 47, Yontville, CA 94599
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
Eastshore State Park and boating in the North Sailing Basin
California State Parks Commission
California Dept. of Parks and Recreation
January 31, 2003
Dear Mr. Floerke,
One of the issues that continues to be a source of controversy in the Eastshore State Park planning process, as well as in closely related Marina planning efforts, is the degree to which non-motorized waterborne recreation is compatible with wildlife in the North Sailing Basin. This is the area immediately to the north and east of the Berkeley Marina, a sheltered inlet between the northern part of the Berkeley Marina landfill and the strip of land along Interstate 80.
There is consensus that the Emeryville Crescent and the Albany tidal flats should remain free of human intrusion. There is also consensus that powered watercraft, including PWC, ski boats, and even low-power fishing boats, are not appropriate for any water areas of the Eastshore State Park.
The debate is limited to the status of the North Sailing Basin, and the use of kayaks, canoes, open water row boats, windsurfers and very small sailboats suitable for primary youth instruction. Advocates of these activities believe that there will be minimal effect on habitat, far below the "significant" threshold as usually defined, and point out that the North Sailing Basin is the only area on the entire East Bay waterfront with both an accessible shoreline and sufficient protection from the strong summer sea breeze for many of these activities. Others believe that paddling, sailing and rowing would do serious harm to wildlife, particularly to populations of certain diving duck species that use the North Sailing Basin during winter months, and claim that this body of water is critical habitat.
In my comments published in the "Final Environmental Impact Report, Responses to Comments" for the Eastshore State Park Project General Plan (letter A5), I make the case that 1) There is no clear evidence that the proposed level of wind and muscle-propelled boating will have a negative impact on duck populations; and 2) Nearby habitats such as the South Sailing Basin and Aquatic Park do not appear to be disrupted by year-round boating activity in those waters.
In their published response, the authors of the EIR assert the following:
"The observations of the EIR authors and substantial scientific evidence indicate that non-motorized watercraft can disturb waterfowl. Based on a review of several thousand scientific journal articles and books, Korschgen and Dahlgren (1992) identified four categories of human disturbance to waterfowl. The second most disruptive category was defined as overwater movement with little noise (sailing, windsurfing, rowing, and canoeing). Moreover, diving ducks such as ruddy duck and lesser scaup, both of which winter in large numbers on the North Basin, are especially vulnerable to disturbance (Korschgen and Dahlgren 1992)."
No other technical citations are given. If we look up the survey report cited, we see that the "second most disruptive category" is ranked not on the basis of the degree of disruption, but simply on the basis of the number of times the issue has been studied!
This paper is available online at:
Here is table 1 from the report, from which the "second most disruptive" ranking is apparently drawn:
The number of times each item in the Subject Index is cited.
Subject Number of citations
Anglers (See fishing)
Baiting/artificial feeding 7
Boating (boats, canoes, sculling, rowing, power,
airboats, sailing) 66
Breeding chronology 2
Brood breakup 14
Brood rearing 7
Development (industrial, petroleum, pollution,
urban, construction) 24
Energetic costs (flight) 23
Family breakup 6
Feeding (natural) 52
Nets (trammel) 2
Lead weights (fishing or angler's) 2
Sport (angling) 50
Hazing (scaring) 12
Human activity/disturbance, general 58
Family breakup 2
Nest disturbance 55
Increased predation 31
Native use 2
Nest (see Investigator/research-caused)
Refuge (restricting trespass, sanctuary--see Abatement) 36
Research (see Investigator/research)
Roads (also see Development)
"Sanded" dead 2
Shipping (see Barges/shipping)
Wariness (tameness, alert, tolerance distance) 43
We see that "hunting" is the most frequently cited, with 69 citations, and "boating" is in second place with 66. But this is simply the number of times that the subject is cited in the survey report. This metric has no direct relationship to the degree of disruption, and no direct relationship to the severity of the effect on habitat. Any activity receiving more study will automatically rank higher by this method of measurement, regardless of the outcome of the study.
An even more egregious error is portraying the general category of "boating" as representative of sailing, windsurfing, rowing, and canoeing. The category "boating" as used by Korschgen and Dahlgren includes all kinds of powerboats and airboats. AIRBOATS! These are probably the noisiest and most disruptive mode of transportation ever devised.
On looking at the actual research cited in this survey (and there are 211 articles surveyed, not "thousands") it is clear that most of the studies of bird disturbances by boats involve powerboats. The few that study non-powered vessels tend to deal mainly with near-shore fishing activity, which is generally concentrated in the most ecologically active area of any body of water and involves a much longer time of disturbance. And, when bird disturbance by non-powered vessels is found to be significant, it is usually on nesting behavior, not on transitory stops along a migration route. The North Sailing Basin is not a nesting area for the waterfowl species of concern.
Furthermore, one of the studies covered by the survey specifically states that the impact of sailboats on birds is insignificant. Birds and non-motorized boats have co-existed on the Brent Reservoir near London for many years, and despite the dire predictions by one researcher in 1977, the reservoir enjoyed its highest bird count ever in 1997.
One can only conclude that the so-called data implicating sailing, windsurfing, rowing, and canoeing in an area like the North Sailing Basin is mostly conjectural.
There is no question that a kayak and a duck cannot occupy the same space at the same time. But the effect of wind and muscle-powered boating on wildlife needs to be quantified by an objective and scientific process before we can use this fact to make policy decisions.
If the North Sailing Basin were the only habitat in the region, it would be appropriate to err on the side of extreme caution. But this is not the case.
Even within the confines of the Eastshore State Park, preliminary assessment by the environmental consultants on the ESP planning team, as published in the Eastshore Sate Park Resource Inventory, is that the North Sailing Basin is the least important area for bird habitat and the most appropriate water area for recreation. My own frequent observations support this evaluation. The highest concentrations and the largest rafts of diving ducks are in other nearby locations, as I believe an objective bird population survey will confirm.
In view of the positions taken by some local advocacy groups, I was surprised to learn, from the Ducks Unlimited California website (www.caducks.org) that "all five species of North American divers are hunted." I cannot personally assess the relative effect of a kayak versus a gun on duck population, but in that context it strikes me as somewhat unbalanced to restrict the kayak without some very solid scientific backing.
It is likely that the most important long-term environmental effect of non-motorized boating in the North Sailing Basin will be sociological. Kayakers, windsurfers and sailors are the people with the strongest personal stake in the continuing health of San Francisco Bay. Preservation and protection of the natural environment requires political will, and without the constituency that these activities will help sustain, the Bay and the shoreline will be in greater danger from destructive developments.
The Eastshore Sate Park enabling legislation calls for a park supporting "recreation harmonious with the natural setting." I believe there is no activity that is more harmonious with the natural setting of the North Sailing Basin waterfront than boating powered by wind and muscle. The recently adopted General Plan for the Eastshore State Park calls for "the appropriate State agency" to determine the nature and extent of geographic or seasonal restrictions on water-borne activities in the North Sailing Basin. I urge the California Department of Fish and Game, and all other public agencies involved in planning the Eastshore State Park, to use accurate and honest science when evaluating the effects of water-borne activities.
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission