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- UPDATE: On 5 March 2014, UCSF apparently decided to suspend its plans for the present, saying that the planned new Environmental Impact Report could not be completed this spring as planned. Read the details HERE.
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(Photo credit: Paul Hudson; click on the name for more of his pictures)
IN THE HEART of the city, blanketing a steep hill, is one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets: its very own temperate cloud forest. It’s a century-old forest of eucalyptus trees as tall as 200 feet high, growing on 80 acres of mountainside.
When you’re in there, it’s hard to believe you’re still in a big city. You can follow narrow winding trails through the dense trees filled with birdsong and get lost without a map. At dusk, you may hear the Great Horned owls who nest there. And on a foggy day, it may be the most beautiful place in the whole city, a real cloud forest experience.
Not only is the cloud forest strikingly beautiful, it has a 125-year history in this city, and is part of San Francisco’s heritage. It also has characteristics of an old-growth forest. Its ecology has not been fully studied. According to a 2001 report, it has 93 plant species. But not everyone treasures this amazing place; instead of a life-filled complex ecosystem with huge trees, a dense understory, they see 80 acres of weeds. The forest is at risk.
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
- William Blake, The Letters, 1799
Sutro Cloud Forest is the single largest urban forest in San Francisco. Three-quarters (61 acres) of it is owned by UCSF, which officially calls it the Open Space Reserve. The contiguous 19-acre Interior Green Belt area to the east of it is city-owned.
(The map above is from the Free Association Design blog’s post: Constructed Forests and Contested Ecologies.)
THE FOREST AT RISK
UCSF has published its Draft Environmental Impact Report about what it plans to do to the forest. It includes “thinning of the forest, native plant restoration and enhancement, and conversion planting (removal of non‐native trees and plants and conversion to native species).
[Edited to Add, 28 June 2013: UCSF informed us that this will be delayed to late summer/ fall 2014.]
How much “thinning”? Well, the plans they outlined in February 2013 involve felling over 30,000 trees. That doesn’t count trees that will be damaged and killed when they’re exposed to wind after being protected by other trees for over a century; or damage to the trees from the heavy equipment that will be brought into the forest. They aim to remove up to 90% of the trees on 3/4 of the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, or 46 acres.
[UPDATE, Nov 2013: Progress! UCSF announced it has scaled back its plans. It will now cut around 5,000 trees - including the 1000 already cut in August 2013. They will only do around 25 more acres, or a total of about 36 acres instead of 46 acres. They still will cut down thousands of trees, gut the understory, and destroy habitat and the forest ecosystem. Details HERE.]
In addition, they plan to mow down around 90% of the understory habitat of the forest. [Update Nov 2013: The new plan avoids pesticide use.] (As pesticides would get into the interconnected roots of the trees, they could further damage plants and trees that haven’t already been destroyed.)
The plan will be implemented in two phases. [UPDATE Nov 2013: The new plan will be implemented after approval in one phase, most likely in August 2014.]
- In the first phase, they will fell trees in four “demonstration areas” totaling 7.5 acres. The goal is to space trees about 30 feet apart – the width of some roads. (In one of the demonstration areas, #4 on the map above, the trees will be spaced 60 feet apart – only 12 trees to an acre.)
- In the second phase, it will be extended to the entire forest, except for 15 acres on the Western slope, deemed too steep to be felled. The look will be more like a bare area with trees here and there than the dense forest that now exists.
In the aerial picture below, the tree-covered hill is Mount Sutro (the tall buildings at the lower edge are in UCSF’s Parnassus campus). For contrast, Twin Peaks, bare of trees, is visible just above it.