Suit Seeks Protection for Threatened Snake and Frog in East Bay
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund with co-counsel Brendan Cummings, filed suit over the Blue Rock Country Club Project in federal district court today on behalf of the Hayward Area Planning Association and the Center for Biological Diversity. The suit challenges the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's failure to protect two species listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act - the Alameda whipsnake and California red-legged frog - from the effects of urban sprawl.
The proposed Blue Rock Country Club Project would be a 1,642-acre luxury home and golf course development that would destroy and fragment the existing oak woodland, grassland, and coastal scrub ecosystem on Walpert Ridge in the city of Hayward. Development on Walpert Ridge could spell doom for the whipsnake and the red-legged frog, and that raises concerns for the rest of the ecosystem.
"The project will destroy and fragment prime habitat for threatened species. Sensitive species like the whipsnake and red-legged frog are the East Bay's 'canary in the coal mine,' said Jeff Miller, a spokesman for CBD. "When they start to disappear, biologists know that something is seriously wrong."
California is losing thousands of acres of habitat and open space each year to low-density development, and Alameda and Contra Costa counties are among the fastest-growing areas in the state. Surrounded on all sides by growing cities and busy interstate highways, the Walpert-Sunol Ridge system is quite literally one of the few remaining islands of habitat for many species.
"The miracle of Walpert Ridge is its survival as a large, near-intact ecosystem so close to the urbanization of the East Bay. Most people don't know it's there," said Sherman Lewis, chairperson of HAPA. "But it needs protection. We should not destroy the place or its critters before we are even introduced properly."
Under the ESA, the Fish and Wildlife Service's duty is to care for threatened and endangered species. The Service reviewed the project and issued a biological opinion that the project would not "jeopardize" the survival of the whipsnake and the red-legged frog. "The 'no jeopardy' conclusion is unsupportable," said Earthjustice's Rebecca Bernard, a lead attorney on the suit. "Only five groups of whipsnakes remain, the Service says loss of any one group will lead to extinction and this project will unravel the group that lives on Walpert Ridge. By the Service's own reckoning, this project could push the whipsnake over the edge."
Plans call for the construction of an 18-hole golf course across the top of Walpert Ridge. The project will damage habitat for the whipsnake, red-legged frog, and the rest of the Ridge ecosystem, while doing little to alleviate the Bay Area housing crunch. It replaces essential habitat with an exclusive, private golf course.