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A 20-Mile Hike through the South Skyline Region

Skyline to Sea

A Mid-Summer Experience

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Access to the Popular Stanford "Dish" Area Restricted Under Conservation Plan

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to Limit Bicycle Access

Take a Volunteer Vacation this Summer

Book Review: Handbook for Forest and Ranch Roads

Pat Oren's Secret Trail Work Motivator - Revealed!

Wild Lit

Note from the Literary Editor

Meeting with Pan at Midnight - Rachel Oliver

Apogee - Brian Kunde


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Summer 2000

Access to the Popular Stanford "Dish" Area Restricted Under Conservation Plan

Access to the popular "Dish" area of the Stanford University campus will be restricted beginning Sept. 1, 2000. Stanford announced in early May that it would institute a three-part conservation and use plan for the Stanford Foothills area to protect and enhance native species habitat. Several hundred acres on the northeast (campus) side of the Dish will be designated as a preserve for long-term habitat conservation, although current and new academic uses may be permitted. Habitat restoration will be carried out in the preserve, including removal of unapproved structures, re-vegetation of compacted ground, and restoration of native biological communities. The third aspect will have the greatest impact on visitors - hiking and jogging will be limited to the service roads, picnics and other social events prohibited, dogs banned, and access limited from dawn until half an hour before sunset. At Stanford's request, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agreed to limit parking along Stanford Avenue and increase enforcement on streets leading to the Dish, although the Board rejected a request to eliminate parking altogether from the upper end of Stanford Ave.
      Dog owners have protested the plan most loudly - a large number of more than 1800 visitors each weekend come to walk or run with their dog, but Stanford argues that banning dogs is necessary to protect wildlife and habitat. Although few studies have been published on the impact of dogs on wildlife, the ban conforms to a general practice of excluding dogs from areas designated for biological conservation. As with any introduced species, dogs set off a cascade of effects in the ecosystem. Dogs at the Dish, especially when off leash (many dog owners have ignored leash requirements), can commonly be seen chasing birds (from ground-nesting species to great blue herons), amphibians, and reptiles, disrupting and discouraging sensitive species even when they don't actually catch them. And because dogs are in the same genus as coyotes, they may bring many shared pathogens which coyotes are not resistant to. Both dogs and coyotes are also highly territorial; the abundance of dogs leaving their scent around the Dish loop discourages our native canines. Anecdotal evidence shows a marked decrease in the number of large mammals in the Dish over the past two decades as the number of visitors has exploded. Fewer coyotes means, in turn, many more rodents (coyotes' main prey); more rodents mean fewer native oaks (pocket gophers eat their roots, voles girdle their trunks). The ban will also likely halve the number of human visitors - a major goal of the conservation plan.
      The plan does not, however, address the issue of cattle grazing on the remainder of the preserve, nor the fact that Stanford is facing severe restrictions on land use from US Fish & Wildlife due to the endangered California tiger salamander; one of the plan's unstated goals is to persuade the tiger salamander to breed in newly-created vernal pools rather than cross Junipero Serra Boulevard to breed in Lake Lagunita and surrounding areas in which Stanford hopes to construct new housing and other structures.
      Many miles of informal trails currently crisscross the area in addition to the four-mile service road loop - estimated at over 1.5 miles per 100 acres - well over a preferred ratio of half to one mile per 100 acres. The great number of trails has caused habitat fragmentation, soil compaction and the trampling of plants. Erosion is a serious problem on a number of these trails, most visibly on the steep trail leading up to the service road from the Stanford Avenue gate, which has grown as wide as thirty-five feet in places. Since none of the trails were formally laid out and much of the soil in the Dish area consists of heavy clays that become impassible in winter, trail users have tended to make ever-wider bypasses around boggy areas. The University hopes to close the informal trail network and restore the damaged areas, although they have not yet said whether any formal trails for researchers and others will be built except for a paved access trail from the Stanford Ave. gate to the service road loop. The access trail and service road loop will be fenced to prevent off-trail travel.
      The statement released in May gives little detail about how Stanford will address other land management challenges. Will cattle grazing continue? Can grazing be done in a way that enhances, rather than harms, native flora and fauna? (The use of cattle and other grazers to help native plants recover has become an increasingly accepted practice across the West - if they are very carefully managed; grazing is also seen as a way to reduce fire risk to nearby houses and other structures.) How will they protect the tiger salamander to meet stringent US Fish & Wildlife standards? Will they be able to persuade the tiger salamander to breed in newly-created vernal pools rather than cross Junipero Serra Boulevard to breed in Lake Lagunita and surrounding areas in which Stanford hopes to construct new housing?
      Magic, Inc., a Palo Alto based non-profit, has been contracting with Stanford to plant oak trees in the Dish area over the past fifteen years and has more recently expanded their efforts to include native grass plantings and invasive weed management. They will take part in the general habitat restoration program led by the University's Center for Population Biology and will provide an avenue for public access to the new preserve beyond the roads through regular volunteer opportunities.

Selected additional information about the California tiger salamander

Amphibians of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Fred McPherson. Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregion Electronic Almanac: Rich Seymour and Mike Westphal, presentation to the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council, Aug. 1, 1996)
Listing and brief description of SC Mountains amphibians; no photos.
California tiger salamander photos (CalPhotos: Amphibians, UC Berkeley Digital Library Project)
Photos of salamanders.
Tiger Pause: Golf courses displace the once-thriving California tiger salamander. By Jim Rendon (Metro, Nov. 24/Dec. 1, 1999)
History of shrinking range of salamander, includes photo.
Tiger Salamander (Chaffee Zoo (Fresno, CA): Animals)
Description of the salamander and habitat; no photos.

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