[fosc] Fwd: Gone to the Goats

Karen Paulsell kpaulsell at pacbell.net
Tue Aug 1 23:56:59 PDT 2006

I missed Rex Burress talk last Saturday about Joaquin Miller and the 
Park,  but heard that he was upset about the effects of goat grazing on 
Joaquin Miller Park. I talked to him yesterday by phone. When he said he 
planned to write a letter to express his concerns, I asked him to send me a 

To: <rlsieben at yahoo.com>, "Karen Paulsell" <kpaulsell at pacbell.net>
Subject: Gone to the Goats

August 1, 2006
Rex Burress

I was kindly invited to speak to the Alameda County Historical Society
in Joaquin Miller Park about Joaquin on July 29. What a joy to return to
my beloved Oakland and the Oakland Hills!

After the program at the Woodminster Theater, we had an auto tour of
Miller's Monuments. The quaint structures were made of field stone by
Joaquin a hundred years ago to honor some of his heroes, including
Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Moses, and John Fremont. There is also
the formidable stone platform "Pyre" where Joaquin had wanted to be
cremated Indian style. This had always been a picturesque part of the
park and an area Oakland Park Naturalists had treasured in giving public
nature walks.

As our caravan moved toward Browning Hill on Sanborn Drive (that had
been closed for a few years, evident by grass growing through asphalt
cracks,) I noticed a dry, brown condition along the roadside. I soon
realized there were no shrubs or other plants in places that I had known
as richly vegetated niches 13 years ago before I retired!

What was wrong here? There was no habitat for wildlife. Only a flattened
brown hillside with stark trunks of scattered trees groping upward.
Where was the honeysuckle on Honeysuckle Hill? Where was the lower-story
greenery that breathed freshness into the park?

It wasn't until I saw the goats at the crest of Browning hill that I
realized what had happened! The fenced herd of goats had wiped out all
shreds of vegetation! "What in God's name is going on here," I asked my
hostess. "This is Oakland's answer to fire control," was the numbing

I felt shockingly repulsed at such a drastic action. Where was the
"Mountain Lilac" Ceanothus that grew near the monument? Where was the
coyote brush that offered soft chaparral hideaways for animals? Where
was the toyon with its load of berries due to ripen red by Christmas?
Where were the buckbrush thickets that even the deer relish? There
should be late summer flowers blooming like gumweed and yellow
composites. But there was only a dead brown hell if you wish. All was
leveled as only a goat can, or maybe sheep. John Muir called them
"hoofed locusts" and worked diligently to stop their invasion of
Yosemite meadows.

This is a park, for God's sake, a protected area for flora and fauna.
Signs in California State Parks declare the habitat completely protected
and deny damaging any plant, rock, or animal. Run your goats on private
lands if you must, but keep them out of the park. Admittedly, I am
emotional about this destruction, but even in the name of fire
prevention, the all-encompassing, all-eating goats are not the answer if
we are to retain any integrity and pride in the wholesomeness of our
parks. We cannot destroy the habitat just to possibly prevent a fire
that might never happen. I never saw a fire happen in hallowed Joaquin
Miller Park in 32 years of employment with Oakland's Naturalist staff.
Maybe some spot fires were extinguished in the park by Oakland's
diligent fire crews, but they were at a minimum. I did see the Berkeley
Hill fire of the late eighties, but most of that was outside park

The lady associated with the Browning Monument, Elizabeth Browning,
wrote, "Earth's crammed full of heaven, and every common bush afire with
God..." There is no bush in the Browning Hill sector to burn with any
kind of flame, God or hell or earth, which the advocates of fire control
and vegetative management must relish.

You can't have a woodland without its complement of wildlife associates
and call it a balanced habitat.

Where were the California towhee's that used to dash from thicket to
thicket? Where were the wren-tits prone to pop out of the brush for a
look? Where were the scrub jays? Where were the spotted towhees? I
didn't see a bird because their habitat-home had been destroyed. I
didn't see a fence lizard dart from bush to bush. Of course, there were
no predators because there was nothing there on that bleak hill for them
to catch, except a mountain lion might like one of those goats.

I can just see Oakland's first naturalist, Paul F. Covel, moaning and
stomping over such a sight if he were suddenly returned from the great
beyond. Paul loved the shrubs of the woodland and sought to gather
samples for public display and interpetation at the Rotary Nature
Center. He grieved over the shrubs that were removed from Lakeside Park
when police wanted a better view through the park. "That's the end of
the quail population," he said, knowing full well that without
protective habitat wildlife will fade away.

I would suspect that super supervisor and landscape architect, William
Penn Mott, Jr, would not relish having goats level the landscape and
ruin the view and habitat for years. Fire fighters might want all the
flammable woody fuel cleared out, but it is illogical to rape the park
of its assets to supposedly prevent fires.

We haven't even begun to touch on the subject of annual and perennial
spring wildflowers and that many of those seeds and bulbs may be damaged
from those sharp goat hoofs and steel-rimmed mouths. Of course, the park
will rebound in time, such is the versatility of nature, even though
some species may never make it back, at least, in our time.

I say all this with full recognition of the concern and fear that
potential fire has generated in our society. I am grateful for fire
fighters who risk their lives to save homes, and yet know that there are
those who build in fire basins just as there are those who build in
flood basins without proper precautions. Fire preventive measures are a
good idea, especially around homes and lots. But give the parks a
chance. Maybe a few fire breaks, but not total goat ghoulishness in an
area as highly visible as the roadside in Joaquin Miller Park and
Browning Hill. There is no doubt that too many people have accumulated
together, and there is no doubt that wood will burn, even as we know
arsonists are among us. But there are only limited measures that can be
taken to prevent a fire...and Smokey is still a good idea, just as no
smoking is a good idea around the wildlands.

Rex Burress

Animal Keeper and Refuge Naturalist at Oakland's Rotary Nature Center
from Oct 1961 to December 1993

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