Lake Merritt - an early January morning, ducks galore

The Refuge at 150

Back on this day, March 18th, in 1870, the California State Legislature created the countries first Wildlife Refuge. “An Act to prevent the destruction of fish and game in, upon, and around the waters of Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda.” (the full text is below).

It seems like there are various stories of the origin story, Samuel Merritt worried about his cows, wanting to protect birds and people from hunters guns, or wanting his real estate investments to be free of gun noise. He had purchased land around the lake, donated the lake edge to the city, and was building homes to sell. (source)

Dr. Samuel Merritt

The “lake” was created a couple years earlier by Dr. Merritt when it was first dammed, though I think there was still some tidal flow, since then the lake has undergone many changes, and avoided some other horrible fates (a bridge was proposed going across its middle, and I’m sure given half a chance, developers would have filled it in further).

Today, the bond Measure DD, has reversed some of those changes, bringing the lake closer to its original tidal sloughness. The bulk of this work was uncovering two sections of the channel at 10th and 12th streets, the current runs free instead of through small pipes.

There are still flood control gates between 10th street and 880. This flood control consists of a pump station and tidal gates, mainly to prevent floods in heavy rains, particularly where it might also meet a high tide. The only other time the gates are closed are for regattas on the lake.

Measure DD also improved how our storm drains worked to keep out some of the worst trash. But there are still many difficult issues to grapple with — our housing shortage, and the impact that has on our homeless population, and how that impacts our parks, ongoing issues of trash and treatment of our waterways, and how people of all stripes can use the park together.

I am hopeful in that I know a lot of great people are at work grappling with those issues. There are various plans to celebrate the anniversary — due to Covid-19, most of those are pushed off into the future — we hope you will join them.

California Wildlife Act: Eighteenth Session Chapter CCXXIV 
An Act to prevent the destruction of fish and game in, upon and around the waters of Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda. 

Approved March 18, 1870 
The People of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows: 

Section 1: From and after the passage of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person to take, catch, kill, capture, or in any manner destroy, any fish in the waters of Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda, except by the use of a hook and line; but it shall be unlawful to use any set lines, night lines or crawls in said lake. 

Section 2: And be it further enacted, that from and after the passage of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person to take, kill or destroy, in any manner whatever, the grouse, any species of wild duck, crane, heron, swan, pelican, snip, or any wild animal or game, of any kind or species whatever, upon, in or around Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda, and within one hundred rods from high water mark upon the land around said lake. 

Section 3: Any person violating any of the provisions of this Act shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof before any Justice of the Peace of said county, or Police Judge of any city within said county, shall be punished by a fine of not exceeding five hundred dollars, and in default of payment of such fine, shall be imprisoned in the county jail of said county, or within a city prison within said county, not more than six months nor less than one month. 

Section 4: The fines collected under this Act shall be paid into the county treasury, in all cases prosecuted before a Justice of the Peace, and into the city treasury in all cases of prosecution before a Police Judge of any city within the county. 

Section 5: This Act shall take effect and be in full force on and after its passage. 

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