The Letter Objecting to the UCSF “Fire Mitigation” plan

Objections to the UCSF “Fire Mitigation” Plan (published with permission)

UCSF has circulated a plan to fell thousands of trees in two separate areas – South Ridge and Edgewood – as part of an ostensible “Fire Mitigation” project. FEMA funding for this plan is pending.

1. We believe this plan does not reduce the risk of fire in our area. The fire risk has been considerably overstated.
2. The plan actually appears to increase fire risk, possibly substantially.
3. Adverse Environmental Effects: Affects the microclimate in the forest as well as in neighboring areas by making it drier and windier. Use of toxic chemicals into a watershed area, and the destruction wildlife habitat.
4. Removing trees and undergrowth will increase the potential for dangerous landslides.
5. The historic 100-year-old forest is part of the character of the adjoining neighborhoods, and destroying them will adversely affect residents and property values.

None of the above are proper uses for Federal funding, including FEMA grants.

These points are discussed further below.

1. Overstated Fire Risk.
At the May 18th meeting, UCSF distributed a map showing “fire-danger” areas in red, giving the impression of great risk. It essentially covered all eucalyptus groves in the city, including Stern Grove. In fact, the Cal-Fire website indicates San Francisco forests to have a “moderate” risk, its lowest rating. There have been no major fires on Mount Sutro since the 1930s, when logging was halted. At present, the tall dense forest acts as a Cloud Forest, trapping and precipitating moisture which remains in the undergrowth and vegetation.

It seems that the opposition to eucalyptus as a species, and invidious comparisons with Oakland (which has a much different climate) is being used to greatly overstate the fire risk.

In fact, UCSF admitted it had done no studies of this particular cloud forest. To estimate fire danger, it is necessary to conduct humidity and wind studies, etc.

2. Increasing the Future Fire Risk.
The plan calls for removing 90% of the trees under 1 foot in diameter, and selectively removing others to leave a sparse canopy, removing undergrowth and all branches to 10 feet. The trees will be fed through a chipper and left on the ground, except for the larger ones that will be left as logs.
The result will be a drier, windier forest with increased fuel load on the ground – the very conditions that made for the historic fires (1930s and earlier) in Mount Sutro. The more open forest will also attract more traffic, and thus a higher risk of ignition.

Most native California vegetation is extremely flammable. Native trees generally only grow in protected canyon areas. Most SF trees are non-native, yet still provide great benefit.

3.Environmental Effects.
The plan calls for the use of Roundup and/or similar herbicides to prevent the re-sprouting of eucalyptus stumps and possibly to clear underbrush. (The representatives were not clear about this.) These pesticides would enter the water table, as well as wash down the streets and into the bay.

Furthermore, the forest is wildlife habitat, with Great Horned Owls nesting there, raccoons, skunks, hawks, opossums and a variety of other birds and animals, including the endangered San Francisco Garter Snake. Their habitat will be destroyed. Arguments that native vegetation will eventually lure these animals back are of little comfort to those who will be killed or displaced by this plan.

As the forest becomes more open, the wind from the ocean will blow more strongly through it. This will put at risk trees that have grown in a more sheltered forest. The areas protected from wind and fog by trees acting as a barrier will also become more vulnerable.

4. Changed microclimates, Increased Risk of Dangerous Slides.
Also, the terrain is very vulnerable to landslides – recent history will prove that this area is prone to dangerous slides when vegetation is removed. Slides are visible on nearby Twin Peaks; removing trees and undergrowth will put roads and houses at risk for mud slides.

5. Historic forest.

The forest was there before some of the neighborhoods around it were built. It is 100 years old. As such, it is a historic treasure of San Francisco, and its atmosphere, sound and fragrance an integral part of the character of Forest Knolls and other surrounding neighborhoods.

We think that UCSF decision-making has been unduly influenced by an otherwise laudable group of native plant enthusiasts, whose anti-eucalyptus stance colors their thinking. They have a UCSF advisory body, and no one apparently considers opposing points of view, except as obstacles to overcome. It appears as if the heads of the neighborhood associations signed on to this plan before calling for adequate public input, which is a backward way of doing things. Those of us who live by the forest, and would be directly affected by increased fire-risk and loss of the trees, believe that our point of view needs consideration before irretrievably losing large sections of this forest, and reverting it to a very fire-prone area.

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