|Habitat under scrutiny
By JEANINE GORE
Half Moon Bay Review
Officials from the California Department
of Fish and Game visited Wavecrest property
Monday afternoon to document what at first
appeared to be a rare and exceptional find -
an endangered San Francisco garter snake
found lying dead on a clot of soil.
Looks can be deceiving.
Whether it is a San Francisco garter or
not remained unknown at press time.
"I think it's probably not a San
Francisco garter snake," said Fish and Game
biologist Dave Johnston. After looking at
the snake on the property, he explained that
it is more likely a relative - an
unprotected lookalike known as the Coast
The approximately 18-inch specimen was
found on the northeast corner of Wavecrest.
It was half buried in a deep brown stripe of
newly tilled earth. Though the snake was not
lacerated, its underbelly was scuffed,
possibly a result of the mowing and tilling
that occurred Nov. 12, said Serge Glushkoff,
an environmental scientist with the state
"The key thing will be to confirm what it
is," he said.
After taking numerous photographs, a Fish
and Game warden placed the snake in a brown
paper bag. The reptile was taken to Belmont
where, in the chilly confines of a locked
freezer, it awaits a positive
The two men continued to stroll over much
of the tilled land before leaving at about 3
Fish and Game Warden Rick Brunke said he
had good reason to comb the area.
"If there's one (snake) there's a strong
possibility that there may be more," he
said, though he did not find any.
With resplendent bands of electric blue,
red and black, the Coast garter snake
closely resembles its protected cousin with
one primary difference: The Coast garter has
a bluish-brownish head while the San
Francisco variety dons a strikingly
Fish and Game Patrol Lt. Don Kelly said
he could not estimate when the snake would
be examined, whether it would happen within
hours or days.
Either way, the find is important, he
With "the highly political nature of the
(Wavecrest) project," Kelly said, the
department wants to be sure everything's
done correctly and that no stone is left
On one hand, the snake may be nothing out
of the ordinary. On the other, it could be a
San Francisco garter meaning, "This could be
something that confirms everyone's worst
fears about why they can't develop," Kelly
The state Department of Fish and Game and
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently
designated Wavecrest as suitable habitat for
the San Francisco garter snake and the
California red-legged frog. Both are
Along with the California Coastal
Commission, the two government agencies are
currently determining how that new habitat
designation will affect the project, if at
all, Johnston said.
The recent discovery of a dead snake is
not the first of its kind on Wavecrest
Following the property owner's decision
Nov. 12 to allow a portion of Wavecrest to
be mowed and tilled - a legal act unless an
endangered species is injured in the process
- others have reported finding dead snakes
on the land.
None has been positively identified as a
San Francisco garter.
One of those reports came from the city
of Half Moon Bay itself, which forwarded two
photographs of a dead snake to the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service on Nov. 15.
The following day, on Nov. 16, a
Coastside resident found a shriveled up
snake on the property while walking her
Still, more rumors of snake discoveries
are trickling in. And the confusion over
their identities abounds.
Meanwhile, the property owner, Concar
Enterprises, maintains 24-hour surveillance
of the private property.
For Wavecrest developers who've spent six
years mired in environmental regulations,
struggling unsuccessfully for permitting
approval, the discovery of a common garter
snake would be the equivalent of a big
slithering sigh of relief.
Historically, endangered San Francisco
garters have been harbingers of trouble for
development projects across the Bay Area,
with the most recent and famous example
being the San Francisco International
In 2002 the grandiose project was stalled
for more than a year after the carcass of a
San Francisco garter was found. The project
was stalled, forcing developers to pay $1
million in analysis and amendment costs.