Environmentalists fight for Pescadero Marsh through courts


Sometimes, an image can be deceiving. That may be the case at the Pescadero Marsh Nature Preserve along the San Mateo County coast. It is peaceful and quiet.

"I think it is an ecological disaster," says Pete Congdon.

Congdon blames Fish and Game and state parks. This week, He and a group of concerned citizens have filed suit against those agencies charging that they have violated the very endangered species act they are mandated to protect. Friday, they asked a San Mateo County Superior Court judge to order immediate compliance.

"We are suing the state because they mismanaged this resource. It is devoid of wildlife," said Congdon.

In 1990, state parks expanded the wetlands, but in the process, that changed the quality of the water. Since then, gates which should regulate the flow of salt water have long-since rusted open, killing endangered, freshwater species in the northern lagoon. They include the San Francisco garter snake and red legged frog.

"The frog eggs need to be in these reeds. If it's tidal, they can't exist," says environmentalist Steve Simms.

It's not as if the group wanted to bring action against the state; they're paying for much of the lawsuit themselves. But after 15 years of complaints, they felt they weren't getting any solution.

Simms says they complained for a long time, but they said they were going to study it more.

The study would have included dead steelhead fish that the same group showed ABC7 in Dec. 2003. They say there has been a kill like this every year since 1996.

When Congdon hears that state needs more studies, he says, "Stonewalling. They're stonewalling us. They don't want to do anything because they don't want liability."

Roy Stearns, a spokesman for state parks, told ABC7 News, "We're not sure a suit will iron out the differences between experts. There seems to be no consensus as to a cause, or what solution will work. This is frustrating for all of us."

To Congdon and his group, that sounds like more of the same and a double standard. If a private citizen this on his land, they say. the state would be all over him.

"They'd be charging us, they'd be prosecuting us to the fullest, and fining, and most likely incarcerating us," says Congdon.

One of the problems is the state doesn't charge the state and Congdon thinks the state should be held to its own standard. And if not the state, then the courts.

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