East Bay Express: Guns Versus Birds at the Point, October 31, 2018


On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 6, an armored vehicle trundled up the dirt road of the Alameda Point Nature Preserve, a protected area of land owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The truck stopped, a loud explosion rang out, and armed people dressed in SWAT uniforms ran out toward the truck shooting blanks. Soon after, the loud process repeated. And then again and again.

All told, the exercise on the nature preserve took place as many as 35 times as part of the rotating simulation training at Urban Shield, the controversial weapons expo held annually by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Last March, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to end the event as “currently constituted.” In the event’s last year, the sheriff’s office’s decision to repeatedly stage a disruptive exercise on a nature preserve designated for endangered birds and other wildlife raised alarm bells with environmentalists and Alameda residents.

The preserve, which sits on 511 acres of land on Alameda Point, from May to August is a prime breeding ground for the California least tern, a federally listed endangered species. Though least tern breeding season is over, the preserve’s remote location and quiet atmosphere make it a favored destination for other migratory birds as well, like horned larks, meadowlarks, and killdeer. Some birds, like the western burrowing owl, winter at the site.