Puzzled #5 – UCSF: Strange Objectives

Today’s discussion is about Objectives.

What are the objectives of the projects?” the Q&A asks, and proceeds to list the following:

“• To substantially reduce the amount of highly combustible fuels to prevent a fast-moving, high-intensity fire that could spread to adjacent residential areas.”

Well, we’ve talked about that one already. The proposed changes would increase the risk of a fast-moving high-intensity fire, not decrease it. Think of Angel Island, which had no wildland fires until chaparral was substituted for eucalyptus – and it’s had two, two years apart (2006, October 2008)
There’s an analysis in the latest newsletter at the Hills Conservation Network.

“• To improve the health and safety of the remaining trees”

The report on Mount Sutro makes it clear that thinning is likely to hurt the health and safety of the remaining trees, by exposing them to increasing wind. In fact, it advocates extreme caution in thinning the forest for precisely that reason.

“• To provide easier fire equipment and personnel access in the event of a wildfire

These two areas are already the most accessible in the forest.

Edgewood is actually bounded by a car park, and the loop of Medical Center Way. It’s probably the single most accessible area of the forest. South Ridge is accessible by paved road. There’s water at the summit. It seems rather that these areas have been chosen for their accessibility. Indeed, the original letter mentioned easy access by machinery as one of the reasons these lots were chosen.

“• To replace some of the highly flammable eucalyptus with more fire resistant species.”

Like what? The grass and native bushes mentioned are notoriously flammable and were directly involved in the two fires mentioned later in the letter, Angel Island and Mt Vision. It’s stuff that has *evolved* to burn.

“• To increase biodiversity, increase age diversity to better resist wind damage, reduce the potential for insect infestation, and attract wildlife.

The forest is already a habitat for wildlife. In fact, compared with the native garden at the summit, the forest has far more birds. (Research shows that eucalyptus forests support around as many bird species in the same or greater densities as oak forests… we’ll post more about that later.) Destroying proven habitat in order to create different habitat that might just attract wildlife seems… puzzling. We can identify the birds and animals that are there now, if we look closely. We can only guess at what may show up if we destroy it. The Native Garden doesn’t appear to have much.

As we mentioned before, wind damage is likely to increase with thinning, not decrease.

Reducing the potential for insect infestation sounds like “insects might destroy the forest, let’s get it before they do.” Trees with additional wind-stress and in a dryer environment will be more vulnerable to insects, not less.

Age diversity really isn’t an issue for eucalyptus. It regenerates like redwood (which is why they need to pour Roundup on it to kill it). As the trees die, they will naturally be followed by younger trees. Without doing anything.

“• To create a more attractive and less hazardous environment for the public.

UCSF Mount Sutro Proposed Vegetation Management Projects 2 July 2009

As Frost would have said: ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep…’
Only a confirmed eucalyptus-hater could find this beautiful forest unattractive. There is no evidence of any hazard other than the usual ones of walking a trail in the woods.

Article in Indybay: ‘It is a tragedy that this amazing forest has fallen into the hands of those who despise the very trees and bushes that comprise it.’

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One Response to Puzzled #5 – UCSF: Strange Objectives

  1. NatureLover says:

    Another great article from the savesutro webmaster. Both informed and informative. I can add little.

    The loss of the windbreak and the danger that it poses to the remaining trees is worth expanding upon a bit. As the webmaster has already noted, one of the reasons why there is profound opposition to this project is that UCSF has not completed any of the demonstration projects that it committed itself to in its 2001 management plan. As noted earlier, those demonstration projects were intended to determine whether or not it would be possible to grow native trees in a place where they have NEVER existed before.

    One of the demonstration projects was the creation of a “Cypress windbreak” on the windward side of Mt. Sutro, due west of the grant project area on the South Ridge. As an aside, I will note the irony of destroying all the non-native trees (not just eucalypts, but also acacia, etc), for the stated purpose of planting native species when the Monterey cypress IS NOT NATIVE TO SAN FRANCISCO! So, when convenient, the nativists happily stretch their definitions of native as needed to meet their objectives. In this case, they recognize that none of the trees that are native to San Francisco will provide a windbreak, partially because they don’t tolerate wind and also because they aren’t tall enough to provide any protection against the wind. In fact, the windier it is, the more prostrate the trees grow. In some cases, they are more accurately described as shrubs.

    So, back to my point, which is THE CYPRESS WINDBREAK HAS NOT BEEN PLANTED!! Yet, UCSF still intends to destroy all the trees on the South Ridge without providing any protection from the wind from the west to the trees that will remain east of them. This is a disaster waiting to happen. I have little doubt that FEMA will have the expertise needed to evaluate this environmental disaster waiting to happen.

    And one more little, interesting detail. The nativists frequently make absurd claims to support their fantasy of the superiority of their preferred plants. In this case, they make the baseless claim that there will be more birds in the Sutro forest after the trees are destroyed. This reminds me of an equally ridiculous claim made in the Chronicle by the head of the Natural Areas Program, one of the city’s leading nativists. She told the Chronicle that her crew had cleared thickets of Himalayan blackberries from one of the natural areas, and that “the birds just love it!” The Himalayan blackberries are one of the most productive food sources for the birds of San Francisco. The native blackberry is not nearly as productive. The birds could care less if the berries are native or non-native. What are they, bigots? The birds also make good use of the thickets to nest, roost, forage…do bird things. What bird prefers bare ground to a thicket? Bird myths…much like eucalyptus myths…

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