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Re: “Knowland Park Advocates Launch Referendum to Block Oakland Zoo Expansion

Isn't this exactly what we heard over the Zoo's Measure A1, roundly defeated by Alameda County voters? That the Zoo needs taxpayer money to spend on its existing animals? If you can't take care of the animals that you already have, and the existing physical plant at the Zoo obviously needs plenty of work, then why, for heavens's sake, are you even attempting this expansion?

And do you only care about animals in your own cages, or perhaps those in far away countries? What about the ones that are already living next door in Knowland Park, and will be displaced, fenced out or crushed into paste? And of course, all animals need viable habitat. We already have prime examples of maritime chaparral and rare grasslands and ancient fairy rings of fungi living in Knowland Park, mature oak trees and red-barked manzanitas. The park is already full of life in its many manifestations. How will the bulldozers help that, exactly?

Bulldozers are not a known habitat enhancer, unless you are a developer. That certainly seems to be the advocacy position of the Oakland Zoo. Develop more land, the very best most valuable land remaining in Knowland Park, that already belongs to the people of Oakland, and then charge them big big bucks to get back in.

The Zoo sez it will cut prices for disadvantaged youth. But c'mon, folks, this ain't a charity project. Even the middle class is hurting these days. Somebody is gonna have to pay big for your expansion.

Wanna see those great views? That'll be xxx bucks for Zoo admission, and oh by the way, to see our brand new CA Endangered Animal exhibit and those great views, the gondola ride to the ridge is extra! But it's OK; we're ADA approved!
And you'll be able to see that beautiful land that you used to be able to walk on as you fly by in the air! Nature, at once remove!

What a cynical, cynical bunch. Do they really think that we are stupid?

We support the good work that the Zoo has done. I know that there are many great folks involved in animal care at the Zoo. But the administration is not shoveling that zoo doo and loving those captives on a daily basis with their blood sweat and tears ... nope, they want to fence off more wild land and bring in some pushed to extinction captives and pretend that's conservation.

I'm sorry, that's not conservation, that's a business plan.

And then, if those dedicated employees want to keep their low paying jobs, they'd better well get on that big chartered Zoo bus after work, and go to those City Council meetings and read their same old prepared speeches, about how wonderful the Zoo is and how much it cares about the people and animals of Oakland. Unless of course, you get in the way of their expansion plans.

REAL conservation is preserving what we already have, a rare and precious place that needs no human interference to be viable. It is already viable, and already full of life, no cages or keepers necessary.

Yup, we are gonna fight this. We, a caring coalition of ALL of the conservation organizations in the Bay Area, are doing it because it is the right thing to do, for everyone, except maybe your Zoo investors. But I am not handing over this land and those wild lives so that politicians and Zoo administrators can stick a feather in their caps, even if that feather falls from one of those aren't-we-so-wonderful-to-do-this Oakland Zoo chelated condors.

Let's see what the people of Alameda County think when presented with ALL of the facts, not just this ridiculous Zoo spin. And BTW, all praise to the East Bay Express, for doing cutting edge journalism. That seems to be a real rarity too, in this day and age.

We will get those signatures, and we will take it to the people to decide. No more back-room deals with OUR land and the callous disregard of the lives of rare creatures and plants and places that we care about, and that a conservation espousing organization like the Oakland Zoo certainly should care about.

If you find all of this "disappointing" Nik, well, all I gotta say is prepare to be disappointed, over and over and over again, until the PEOPLE of Alameda County have taken back their Park. Then maybe y'all can get back to some real conservation, not this sham that you are attempting to shove down our throats.

Debbie Viess

21 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Amanitarita on 12/16/2014 at 8:48 PM

Re: “Oakland Zoo Expansion Passes City Council, Knowland Park Project to Move Forward

Thanks again for your excellent reporting on this important issue.

I was there for the duration last night, and I wanted to counter Dr. Parrott's statement about his opponents "lying about a Zoo lawsuit." He was so full of indignation and anger as he spoke. But in fact, it was the Oakland City Council President Pat Kernighan who first mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit by the Zoo, when she asked for a final Council vote on the Zoo expansion just last week at City Hall. Parrott was sitting right next to me, so I am surprised that he didn't hear it, too. It is part of the public record. Maybe his PR guy could look it up for him?

Yeah Joel, we get it ... it isn't just about a snake! Nor about the Zoo expanding into property that doesn't belong to them. It is about the destruction of a viable and rare wild space, that is currently freely accessible to anyone, and bulldozing the best of it and then creating a pay wall to get back in. Thank god for that little snake, about to be ground into paste by Zoo bulldozers, that allowed the State and Federal Agencies to get into the mix. Otherwise, the very best open space in our beautiful Knowland Park would already be gone!

I was also amused, in a bitter, bitter way, by the Zoo's claims that they would have regularly spaced openings in their "keep 'em outta their own Park!" perimeter fence for wildlife ... so as not to also destroy that important wildlife corridor. We know the Zoo cares so much ... at least about captive animals and fundraising using the bad examples of habitat destruction and animal deaths in other places (how bout right here at home, Dr. Parrott?). But they neglected to say just which animals would be able to "pass thru" ... snakes? rabbits, coyotes? lions? deer?

And if those animals, why not human animals? And if big animals can get in, could they also get OUT? Some of those big caged kitties would not be so much fun to see in our backyards. For those with short memories like Dr. Parrott, there was an Oakland Zoo lioness who escaped from her enclosure into a Zoo full of visitors several years ago.

How noble to spend all of this money so that folks who cannot walk can finally see that extinct CA wildlife in a quasi-wild setting. Now picture all of those poor handicapped folks, having to travel by gondola in a wheelchair to that "ADA accessible" site, being stranded at the top during our next big quake! At least the more able bodied could walk down.

And speaking of gondolas, the proposed many thousands of feet of gondola wire, the many gondola towers and even the perimeter fence will be "thank you kindly" new perches for raptors, so that they could now more easily prey upon those going going GONE Alameda Whipsnakes. This not so rosy scenario was presented in a thoughtful critique by a PhD ecologist, Dr. Smallwood, who poked many holes in the overly optimistic paid biological assessment by the Zoo's whipsnake gal, Karen Swaim.

Here's the full report:…

Swaim, like Parrott, was also quite indignant and angry in council. "I am the expert here!!!" she thundered. For a price.

Yes, an EIR was necessary, and thank you to Councilmember Kalb for saying so.

This nature be damned land grab by the Zoo will not be forgotten. Our former beloved local institution is now wrapped in infamy.

I can't wait for their further pleas for public monies to feed their starving lions ... and maybe now grizzlies, too.

And BTW, after hearing this BS several times now, the Oakland Zoo is NOT the only institution doing lead chelation therapy on condors, not that that has anything to do with the Zoo destroying existing nature right here at home. It's merely a distraction. The LA Zoo has been doing lead chelation therapy on condors all along. The new Oakland Zoo vet hospital is now also able to do this, and that's very nice of them. But it came with a price ... having the Ventana Wilderness Society guy shill for the Zoo in Robocalls during the Measure A1 fiasco. The advantage to treating condors in Oakland is that it is a bit closer to where the condors live, so less transport time for these bizarrely micromanaged anachronisms from another era. That's another sad chapter in our checkered history of first driving animals to the edge of extinction, and then throwing a bunch of money and care and PR at them, to show how very much we care about wildlife.

Cue the crocodile tears.

Shame on all of them.

Debbie Viess

24 likes, 5 dislikes
Posted by Amanitarita on 11/19/2014 at 5:13 PM

Re: “Oakland Zoo's Proposed Expansion Into Knowland Park Heads to Final Council Vote

Well, my head is spinning from some of this Zoo double-speak. Let's see: This project will BENEFIT the Park and the Alameda whip snake, by bulldozing their best habitat. Really, Nik?

Somehow, despite the fact that the Zoo was already in charge of maintaining
the park against invasive plant species, they will really, now, no kidding, do it for real, because now it is part of a mitigation agreement.

The mitigation is mandated by the USFWS because the Zoo intends to destroy the very best habitat of this rare snake. But far more lives are at stake in Knowland Park than just one threatened reptile.

Current human impacts upon the ground are slight, and we have gotten along with the wildlife population and the plants and fungi just fine up until now. We walk with respect for the land and its inhabitants. Bulldozers on the other hand wreak destruction, and will forever ruin a unique and already perfectly viable habitat: no human input necessary, other than chasing that scotch broom, something the CNPS actually HAS been doing up there for years! Yeah, they actually walk their talk.

But the Zoo can't make any money offa wild and free Knowland Park. The great views (now free to all), the precious grasslands and rare maritime chaparral (now available, free, to all) and the rare plants and wildlife, including charismatic megafauna that some actually pay to see in Zoos, ALL already exist in that Park, right along with we East Bay hikers and bikers, dog walkers and botanists, kids and the elderly.

You don't destroy existing nature to create a nature fantasy, and THEN claim to be teaching conservation! Not by example, you sure aren't.

Do the right thing. Expand into your existing footprint, or closer to the new vet clinic. Take less, so that others can continue to walk freely in this special place, and the creatures and plants and fungi that already live there won't have their lives and homes destroyed.

Does the Oakland Zoo ONLY have empathy for captive animals?

This is about greed, not conservation. The Zoo can pay for a big bus for every public meeting on this issue, to bring in their many docents and zoo employees and consultants, who tell their various touching stories, none of which is relevant to the main issue here: building in the WRONG place!

NO ONE is saying don't expand. What we are saying is don't expand into the best part of Knowland Park when there are alternatives. Those alternatives have NOT been thoroughly investigated, because the Zoo already decided what it wanted: the very best land for themselves.

I am a former zoo supporter, a trained zoologist, a mycologist and an activist too, and I say shame on the Zoo for their hypocrisy.

We speak for the powerless and the voiceless, and we will NOT give up!

See you on the 18th at the Oakland City Council.

Debbie Viess

7 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Amanitarita on 11/16/2014 at 5:00 PM

Re: “Zoo Gone Wild

Hi Eric from Action for Animals,
Yup, I remember the old Oakland Zoo. And I also remember the very first change that Dr. Parrott made when he became director: creating a heavily vegetated habitat for the ocelots, that allowed them to get away from human eyes. Before this, they were living in a small, bare cage, exposed 24/7, and were very, very angry (and frightened) about it. I was a volunteer at the Children's Zoo at the time, and saw them suffer. Once the ocelots were placed in this new enclosure, multiple times larger than their old, they promptly took advantage of all that new cover to disappear from sight. It was a very compassionate priority on Parrott's part, which was made purely for the benefit of those animals, not Zoo visitors.

But where oh where is that idealism and compassion and conservation ethic now?

The fact that both Parrott and the current keepers do a very fine job with their current captives, they are not beaten or shocked or kept on bare concrete anymore ... and they are doing their best to provide "enrichment," which is certainly better than soul-killing, relentless boredom or continuous stresses, which makes animals angry and waiting for an opportunity to "get theirs" (and who can really blame them?) ... does not mean that every single decision made by the Zoo since then is the right one.

Kudos to the Zoo and Parrott for what they do well, but boo on them for ignoring the real conservation needs of Knowland Park itself to create a California of the Past Disneyland. Captive animals are a poor imitation of their wild brethren. Zoos are becoming an anachronism. Our treatment of other animal nations has been abysmal, and continues so to this day. Do not destroy what is real and good to create a money-making fantasy nature park. That is just WRONG.

Yup, the Zoo may have agreed to utilize their brand new vet center to chelate the lead out of those "feral" condors (who are not quite yet a "wild" population, but instead micro-managed, human-fed and caught up constantly), but that was just for the good Zoo PR, I do believe. In return, the head of Ventana Wilderness Society (folks in charge of the condor releases, at least in the Big Sur area) shilled for the Zoo in robo-calls during the battle over A1. What do you think that they promised Barbara Lee, a normally straight-shooting politician, to support this project? Or was the Zoo expansion as presented to her all positive spin and no substance?

Expanding into upper Knowland Park, restricting public access in a special place deeded to Oakland residents (not the Zoological Society) in perpetuity, and destroying important habitat for the magnificent animals that already live there and pass through there daily, not to mention killing threatened species (a take permit for Alameda Whipsnakes has already been obtained by the Zoo), and destroying some of the last intact, rare, maritime chaparral habitat, as well as destroying an ancient, century old Fairy Ring of puffball mushrooms, Calvatia pachyderma (ironically, named for being thick -skinned like an elephant!) in the upper grasslands, is not conservation, it is empire building!

If Dr. Parrott wishes to continue to be respected in the community for his past and future good works, he should seriously rethink these Zoo expansion plans.

Show me that conservation ethic, don't just mouth platitudes and then destroy
our precious wild places to boost your income or become the "biggest Zoo in North America." That's a recent quote from Parrott, and shows just how he views this expansion: a feather in his cap, for the price of the destruction of upper Knowland Park.

We who are real conservationists, from the tops of our heads down to the tips of our toes, just say NO! I would hope that your action for animals, Eric, also includes those still living in the wild.

Write your Oakland Councilperson today, and let them know how YOU feel.

Stop the Zoo's Land Grab of Upper Knowland Park. Speak up now, or weep later for what we all have lost, an irreplaceable chunk of real natural California.

Debbie Viess

19 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Amanitarita on 09/25/2014 at 3:58 PM

Re: “Zoo Gone Wild

What a great article! Kudos to the reporter and the Express for having the guts to tell it like it is.

Destroying native habitat and native organisms, from animals to plants to fungi, and restricting free public access to a park that was created for Oakland city residents IN PERPETUITY is not conservation, but commercialism.
The Zoological Society may be a non-profit in name, but it is behaving like any other unscrupulous business: increase the profit and damn the consequences!

I agree that the Oakland Zoo has vastly improved since Parrott became Zoo director, insofar as animal care and animal enclosures for their existing animals. But even the very best captive care just makes them benign jailors. Do we portray "nature" as soul-deadened, neurotic and angry creatures with no hope of release, or do we honor their lives by allowing them to live free? We know what the zoo proposes, and it is not conservation but acquisition.

I just returned from three weeks in Alaska, where I got to see the dramatic contrast between truly wild animals and those in a very well maintained conservation facility outside of Anchorage. Those semi-tame creatures, from brown bears to musk ox, were wholly thwarted in their lives, although they were being being taken care of most kindly and living in extensive enclosures. These once great and proud beings were a shadow of their wild brethren, bodies whole but spirits broken.

How would you like to live in unending public scrutiny, with no opportunity to get away from that maddening to the point of true insanity human crowd?

Leave OUR wild Knowland Park for those who already live there, and retain FREE public access to this truly wild and soulful place, for all of we Bay Areans who choose to walk it, not just for those with money for Zoo admission. Boots on the ground is the way to know a place, not sailing above it on a gondola ride.

Let our consciences and not our pocketbooks be our guides in protecting this irreplaceable space. Shame on the Zoo and the City Council for their actions up until now on this matter.

We beseech you, Oakland Zoo and City Council alike, to do the right thing and preserve these valuable lands. Build closer to the Zoo, improve what you already have. Make do, like so many of us are already doing in these trying financial times. Destroying existing nature to build a commercial vision of "nature past" is a most chillingly Orwellian vision.

This is the conservation conscious Bay Area, for heavens sake. We can do better. The plants, animals and people already living in and traveling freely throughout Knowland Park, as well as their many generations of descendants, will thank you.

Debbie Viess, Biologist, Naturalist, Mycologist and long-time Oakland Resident

35 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Amanitarita on 09/04/2014 at 11:34 AM

Re: “Questions Swirl Around Zoo Tax Measure

I am thoroughly disgusted by the incredibly expensive campaign of misinformation put out by the Oakland Zoo in their attempts to pass Measure A1. Today I got two robo-calls from Kelly Sorenson, head of the Ventano Wildlife Society (think Condor reintroductions). Kelly stated that we shouldn’t be swayed by “lies” from opponents, and that we should “join him” in voting for Measure A1. But Kelly isn’t an Alameda Co resident.

I returned the favor and called Kelly today. I informed him that he should have spent a bit more time educating himself before becoming a shill for the Zoo.

Last week, I received an expensive glossy flyer touting the support of Barbara Lee, who in this case does NOT speak for me, and the S.F. Chronicle, whose reporters received several behind the scenes zoo tours. Awww, lookit all the cute animals! And there goes journalistic integrity.

Buses have that “poor starving lion” cartoon on their sides, billboards around Oakland do, too. In fact, I would say hands down, the Oakland Zoo has spent more money locally than anyone on any other campaign.

When that kind of money and blanketing disinformation campaign is being waged, you have to wonder why. Over a million bucks and counting will buy a lotta ZooPreme for the lion. Perhaps the real reason is Zoo Director Joel Parrot’s megalomania…he hopes to have “the largest zoo in NA” by expanding the Zoo into pristine areas of upper Knowland Park.

Not on my dime.

Debbie Viess
Oakland and Alameda Co. resident

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Oakland N

3 likes, 2 dislikes
Posted by Amanitarita on 11/05/2012 at 8:01 PM

Re: “The Slow Death of Mushrooms

It was good to see some of these mycological (that's science talk for the study of fungi and mushrooms) topics addressed, especially the serious and ongoing problem of habitat destruction, whether through SOD or bulldozers.

Although feral pigs tear up (rototill, really) the ground under oaks, they do not actually eat the chanterelles; they much prefer acorns, as do most of our oak woodland wildlife.

I assure you that despite SOD's impacts on live oaks and tan oaks in some of our coastal forests, both David Campbell and David Rust still hunt porcini up in Sonoma and Mendocino County, where the porcini grows with pines, and the chanterelles grow with pines and fir.

The focus of this article was on the decline of edible species of fungi, so the burgeoning man-made habitat of wood chips is not gonna fill that gap, no matter how interesting or mind-bending some of those wood-chip fungi are.

Wood chip morels, no matter how lovely, are no flavor match for the wild versions. And yes, I have done a side by side taste test.

Overhunting, human competition, habitat destruction, etc., etc., all impact the amounts of fungi that get found by casual hunters. Oak trees provide far more than just fungi for gourmands...they are a vital part of the wild landscape, providing food and shelter for many, many California natives and even introduced wildlife (red squirrels, feral pigs, etc).

We will miss them when they're gone.

For an interesting synopsis of current SOD research, and a bit of hopeful news, check out the review of Dr. Brice McPehrson's talk to BAMS last fall, here on the Bay Area Mycological Society's yahoogroupslist:…

And although we appreciate his field prowess, Norm Andresen actually leads walks for the MSSF, not BAMS. For the record, both Norm and David Rust were also former MSSF Presidents.

Debbie Viess
BAMS Co-Founder

0 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Amanitarita on 04/29/2011 at 9:14 AM

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