GGHP Natural History Evaluation
Located on one of the highest peaks in San Francisco, Golden Gate Heights Park is unique, with specialized conditions that host a diverse array of flora and fauna. At present most of the park is dominated by Monterey Pines, which at this elevation gather the incoming fog and become covered in thick moss and even ferns. Many of San Francisco’s hilltop parks are covered in trees, but relatively few are so dense with pines. Though not native to San Francisco, pines are native to the bioregion, found on the coast to the north and south, and thus support robust populations of native wildlife.
The mosses are an important nesting material to local birds and it supports specialized micro-invertebrates. These conditions seem to attract some wintering birds that are locally noteworthy include Golden-crowned Kinglet and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Conifer associated nesting birds of the park include Pygmy Nuthatch, Pacific Wren and Pine Siskin. The understory of the pines is largely overwhelmed by dead pine needles and very little grows there. With work in these areas, the beauty and productivity could be increased and the biodiversity enhanced.
Recently nature enthusiasts have also visiting this park to take in the rare flora and fauna including the Coastal Green Hairstreak Butterfly, which lives in only a few places. The Green Hairstreak Project, was formed about a decade ago by the non profit group Nature in The City. It has worked to increase habitat and awareness for this rare butterfly, gaining the support of hundreds of neighbors and thousands of volunteers. One major goal has been to create a corridor between Golden Gate Heights Park and Hawk Hill, which they have done by putting pollinator and larval food plants in the yards of local residents.
Another group working to preserve biodiversity at the park is the Significant Natural Areas Program. This division of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department tends rare native plant communities of Dune Scrub, Coastal Scrub and Coastal Grassland with the help of volunteers. The city has recently taken on a broader interest in habitat stewardship of late, with new sustainable gardening practices and biodiversity trainings for park gardeners among other things.
Invasive plants are a major issue here, as they are in all of San Francisco’s Parks. Among the worst is Algerian Ivy, which creates monocultures on the ground and reduces opportunities for other plants or native processes. Ivy also covers trees, weakening the tree while spreading seed from the highest spots. There are numerous invasive grasses on the hill, but Erharta erecta is probably the worst in this relatively moist hilltop locations. This perennial South African grass rapidly overtakes native plant communities and landscaped areas.