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A conservation and use plan for the Stanford Dish area

This is the text of a statement issued Tuesday, May 2, by President Gerhard Casper.

In recent months, Stanford has reconsidered its approach to the area of the Stanford foothills known popularly as "The Dish." Increased use of this area by the public for recreational hiking and jogging off paved service roads have over time despoiled the environment and caused erosion of the hillsides. This not only has impaired the visual beauty of the area, it has threatened the habitat of many sensitive native species. The wildlife habitat has been further degraded by unleashed dogs.

Beyond these environmental concerns, other issues related to recreational use of the Dish area -- including parking, traffic congestion, and safety problems--have been raised, receiving attention in the press and in public hearings held by Santa Clara County.

For many months now, I have been involved in an intense review of policies related to the use of the Dish area, consulting with staff members from the Stanford's Planning Office, the Office of Public Safety, the Center for Conservation Biology, the Stanford Management Company, the Legal Office, and Facilities Operations and Maintenance. As a result of that review, I have concluded that we need the following three-part program for conservation and use of the Dish area.

Conservation and Use Policy for the Stanford Dish Area

1. Designation of the Dish Area as a Special Area for Habitat Conservation and Continued Academic Use

Stanford will designate several hundred acres of land in the Dish area as a preserve for long-term habitat conservation. Areas along Matadero and San Francisquito creeks near the Dish area will be included in conservation efforts. We are exploring an agreement with federal, state, and local agencies to assist in the survival of several species that are either listed as threatened, or are proposed for addition to the list of threatened species, under the Endangered Species Act. These include the red-legged frog, the steelhead trout, and the California tiger salamander. Details of any such agreement will be made public once these discussions are concluded.

In addition to the emphasis on conservation and environmental studies in the Dish area, existing academic uses will be continued. The Dish, itself, is a radio telescope that serves academic functions. New academic work may be permitted provided that it is consistent with operational rules for conservation.

2. Inauguration of a Program of Environmental Restoration and Maintenance

Under the direction of the Stanford Center for Conservation Biology, which is a unit of the Stanford University Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford will implement a program of environmental restoration. Stage one of the program will be carried out by Stanford Facilities and Operations, and will focus on initial stabilization of damaged areas. This will include re-vegetation and removal of unapproved structures. Stage two will focus on restoration of native biological communities to the extent possible and construction of vernal pools or other habitats necessary for sensitive species. Stage three will involve a long-term management program to support preservation of wildlife habitat and protect the natural visual beauty of the area.

All improvements will be consistent with any agreement reached with federal, state, and local agencies concerning the survival of listed or candidate threatened species.

3. Management of Recreational Use

The Dish area now serves as an important recreational hiking and jogging area for Stanford faculty, staff, and students, and the university wishes to maintain its use for those purposes. But such use must be compatible with our conservation and academic programs. To serve these recreational purposes, Stanford will, therefore, invest in repairing and clearly delineating hiking and jogging routes on approximately four miles of existing service roads.

We recognize that many of our nearby friends and neighbors also enjoy hiking and jogging in the Dish area, and it is the university's desire to accommodate this use as well.

Recreational access will be subject to a few simple rules:

  • Hiking and jogging will be permitted only on clearly delineated routes on existing service roads.

  • Picnics, games, and social events will not be permitted.

  • No dogs will be permitted. (This conforms to the general practice of excluding dogs from areas designated for biological conservation.)

  • Recreational access will be permitted from dawn until half an hour before sunset. Note: If overuse of the area or misuse of the recreational privileges occurs, access rules may have to be reconsidered.

Our three-part program for conservation and use of the Dish area recognizes the following priorities:

  • The need to preserve the area.

  • The need for existing and future academic uses.

  • The compatible recreational use for the Stanford community.

  • The compatible recreational use for our neighbors.

Stanford's representatives have stated publicly at numerous meetings and hearings that the Stanford foothills are not a public park. Nonetheless, we recognize the recreational value of the area. I have received many letters from members of the Stanford community and the public expressing their enjoyment of hiking or jogging in the Dish area and their appreciation that the university allows such use. Mindful of that, our management plan seeks to accommodate academic uses, sound conservation practices and recreational uses. Should these interests conflict, however, priority must be given to conservation and academic objectives.

Some have asked whether the university will provide additional parking for recreational users of the Dish area. Our consistent answer has been "no" for several reasons. Ample parking not far from the Dish area is available to the public on weekends and holidays in existing campus lots and spaces that are designated for faculty and staff employees during normal working hours on weekdays. The limited visitor parking during business hours is generally in full use by those visiting for academic or admission purposes or attending public lectures and programs. Those who wish to make recreational use of the Dish area during normal business hours on weekdays should plan to hike or bicycle to the entrance gates.

The parking issue is tied to an overall regional traffic problem that all local governments and Stanford are working to ameliorate. County and city governments have urged Stanford to take steps to reduce automobile trips, and new requirements are being considered that would hold Stanford more accountable for automobile trips it helps create. Providing parking for people who wish to drive to the Dish for their recreation will only invite new trips to the campus area. Instead, Stanford wishes to encourage recreational users of the Dish area to walk, bicycle or use public transportation and, thus, decrease automobile trips.

The implementation of this conservation and use plan will require a number of physical improvements, the preparation of explanatory materials and new signs, and the hiring and training of management staff. As with any serious conservation program, enforcement of management regulations is essential; accordingly, new enforcement responsibilities are being assigned to the Office of Public Safety.

I am directing that Stanford staff take the steps necessary to implement the new program by late summer or early autumn. Our current target date for full implementation is Sept. 1, 2000. Much of the work can be done while current recreational use continues, but closure of the Dish area for a two- to four-week period this summer may be required for road repairs and other work.

This new program will preserve the Dish area and restore its natural beauty while permitting continued recreational use in a manner compatible with our academic, conservation, and wildlife habitat protection programs. SR