In the News: UCSF; Tree Planting; Native Herbicides

We’re starting a new feature here:
In The News. We plan to post summaries of relevant news items (or other pieces from the internet), and comment on them.


wwf-logoThis article in the newswletter of the World Wildlife Fund comes from its Swedish arm. It urges the Swedish government to protect forests, because it’s one of the most efficient climate remedies.

And here’s a great Youtube video from American Forests, promoting its Global ReLeaf 2 program – to plant trees.

We shouldn’t have to say that it applies as much to eucalyptus as to any other tree.


It’s a strange question to ask, in a world where forests and trees are one way to combat global warming. Trees take decades to grow to a decent size, and any time one is “removed” it stops sequestering carbon and starts to release it into the atmosphere.

In two articles on October 11, there were references to tree-removal that sounded almost jubilant. The first was in an article looking at Santa Cruz 20 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake. In the description of the rebuilt downtown, it says: “Gone are the overgrown trees that made the street dark by day and a druggy hangout at night.” And another, describing the work on Doyle Drive, talks casually of “removing trees for the new Doyle Drive approach.”

We’re not saying trees should never be chopped down. Some do have to go – when they’re a hazard, or when the space they occupy is urgently needed for road-building. But it’s a cost, and in more than money.

We’re sensitive about this, of course, because of the threat to the trees of Sutro’s Cloud Forest. Still, it does seem that with nativist thinking spreading, respect for trees and what they do for the environment has plummeted in favor of some kind of assessment of them as illegal aliens or something. It’s unlikely, though, that 1 acre of chaparral – or even 1 acre of a “sun-splashed sprawl of specialty stores” – equals 30 cars.


UCSF’s Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize yesterday (Oct 5, 2009), (with two others – Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins and Jack Szostak of Massachussets General) for her work on telomeres. It’s a proud moment for everyone associated with UCSF. This is hugely important work, and is part of what makes UCSF the marvelous institution it is. Congratulations, Dr Blackburn, and congratulations UCSF!

Which makes it so much more galling that this institution we respect so much is notably unscientific in its management of its facilities. Particularly Sutro Forest.


This isn’t a news item, but I thought people would be interested.

Roundup Quick Pro in Aldea

Roundup Quick Pro in Aldea

1. UCSF is using Roundup in the Aldea student housing area on the west side of Mt Sutro. Why they think this is a good idea in family housing where small children and pregnant women many be present, I am not sure. Aldea has naturalistic landscaping; I didn’t know they’re doing chemical maintenance. One of our Sutro neighbors has been providing UCSF with evidence about its dangers and trying to get them to stop – apparently to no avail.

[ETA: In November 2009, they did stop. Here’s the link.]

2. The mysterious holes along the trail in the forest have been puzzling a lot of people. UCSF eventually got back to me.

Posthole in the Native Garden

Posthole in the Native Garden

They’re post-holes. Mt Sutro Stewards are going to put up signposts because people have been getting lost. Also, they’re concerned that if someone is alone and injures themself, they would have no way of telling the emergency responders where to find them.


The SF Chronicle’s gardening section had a question from a local gardener, asking how to avoid using herbicides to remove bindweed. The expert, Pam Pierce, responded by suggesting various methods – and reinforcing the questioner’s decision not to use Roundup:

“Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is not registered for (meaning not legal to use around) food crops. It can last in soil for up to a year. While it isn’t highly lethal in an acute poisoning sense, it can have many ill effects on your health.”

While of course no one is planning to eat food from Mt Sutro (except maybe blackberries) it is quite disturbing to think of herbicides leaching into the watershed and getting onto us and our animals for a year after they have been applied.


The SF Chronicle carried a news item about how UC was going to raise its fees for undergrads not once, but twice for a total of over 30%…
They’ve laid off nearly 900 people, and will lay off another 1,000. They’re deferring hiring and purchasing.
And they’re planning on spending over $100,000 to gut 14 acres of forest in a project of no urgency (in addition to some $350,000 of taxpayer funds through FEMA).


The SF Chronicle newspaper noted that the city has exceeded its target of planting 25,000 trees in five years. (Click on the link and scroll down to see the item.) We’re very encouraged- that’s 5,000 trees annually. They look nice, and help sequester carbon. Now figure that UCSF’s plan will remove, according to their own estimate, over 3,000 trees. Well, they might argue, they are all under one foot in diameter (approximately 3 feet around). So the question is, are the trees San Francisco is planting any larger than that?

If not, and this misguided plan goes through, we hope UCSF is planning to fund the city to plant 3,000 trees to compensate.


The environmental organization The Nature Conservancy had an article on its blog entitled: No Spray Zone: Are Pesticides Really Controlling Invasives? We found it echoed many of our concerns about the planned use of herbicides on Mount Sutro.

Excerpts: “Spraying pesticides for invasives control has long struck me as one of those cases where “the cure is often worse than the disease.”

“Many pesticides have well-documented negative effects on fish and birds and humans. It would seem that we should apply them judiciously and only as a last resort.

“Perhaps the real issue here is humanity’s relationship with non-native species. Too often, conservationists appear content to label all non-native species as “bad” and thus seek to eradicate them by any means necessary.

“It’s time to face up to the reality of the “invasive species” issue: It’s complicated.

“The rapid spread of invasives may be a symptom of deeper ecological problems, not the problem itself. Thus, using chemicals is only treating the symptom, not addressing the real issues. I’ll refrain from making any comparisons to U.S. health care.

“In other instances, invasives may be so established on a landscape that we can only hope to manage them, and eradication attempts will be proven folly.”


In July, the San Francisco Chronicle published a citizen complaint about a city-maintained garden at Howard and Embarcadero, which he said “looked dead.”

The Chron investigated. In an article titled S.F. garden isn’t dead – just in transition, it reported no, the garden wasn’t dead, only the plants in it were. “At this stage of the year, most of the annual plants are in fact dead…” said a spokesperson.

It was a native-plant wildflower garden. The plants had bloomed in spring and was now were throwing seeds and dying (in July). When the rain came, the whole thing would green up again. The rain comes in … December? January? So there’s going to be an Undead Native Garden for six months of the year. There were a few comments there; the best one was the first, from someone who quoted the Monty Python ‘Dead Parrot’ skit:

“Mr. Praline : I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it.
Owner : No, no, ‘e’s ah… he’s resting.
Mr. Praline : Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.
Owner : No no, h-he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’!”

Is this what is planned for Mount Sutro? (The Native Garden on the summit already looks a bit like that, but without the trash.) Having a hillside that’s “resting” for six months of the year in a flammable and ugly condition doesn’t seem like a great idea.

Rotary native plant garden in June

Rotary native plant garden in June

Rotary Garden, September

Rotary Garden, September

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9 Responses to In the News: UCSF; Tree Planting; Native Herbicides

  1. Dirk says:

    Thanks so much for confirming that the holes on the hill are for posts. I remain aghast at this: at this rate of development, soon enough the hill will be all paved. In the last few years we have had increased trail “restoration” so that now we have hordes of people littering, leaving dog waste, and eroding the hill. UCSF must be very pleased; the way things are going, the forest will be gone soon and they won’t need to worry about managing it!

  2. The Garden Coach says:

    Posts and signs are for hiking directions. Sutro will not be paved. Period. People want hiking experiences in this city and the stewards have done a great job of keeping Himalayan blackberry (which has large thorns) off the trails so that they are usable for everyone. The trails they worked on with the Recreation and Park Dept. seem a lot more improved and usable now. Now all we need are safe trees to walk under!
    You will find every reason on this website to help postive change which benefits everyone, including wildlife. Last past the next 10 years of your life and leave something better!
    PS- Also Remember: grasslands are the auburn hills of California and the wildflowers of spring…raptors hunt them, grasshoppers eat them. Many of nature’s pollinators rest in them. Relax!

    • savesutro says:

      How do you know the trails will not be paved? It’s not on the agenda now, but it could be a next step. To facilitate emergency access…

      And what you say about the grasslands is all true. They’re also extremely flammable. Nature’s pollinators love the eucalyptus, too; its flowers have lots of pollen.

  3. Jimbo says:

    Nice picture of the rare San Francisco Gum Plant that is found on Sutro in the summit garden. I think we should remove it and plant more eucs there, since it is simply “ugly”. This post just proves that for you it’s all about what looks nice and what looks ugly. I’m sure you only date supermodels. Eucalyptus monoculture = beautiful. Any other plant = ugly. We really should eliminate all plants that don’t look pretty to you 365 days of the year.

    • savesutro says:

      The San Francisco Gum Plant.
      A.K.A Coastal Gumweed.

      It’s a variety of the quite common Hairy Gumweed, grindelia hirsutula, which is native to all the Lower 48 states. The Coastal Gumweed, v. Maritima, grows all along the California coastline (as its maritime name would suggest). It has bright yellow flowers in season, rather like sunflowers, because they’re related…

      I don’t object to Coastal Gumweeds, but can’t quite see the point of chopping down a tree to plant one.
      And I do have a preference for public spaces to look good, and preferably not be sprayed with toxic chemicals.

      On the supermodels, LOL!
      (But I wouldn’t restrict my dating to native people, either. Do you?)

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Jimbo.

  4. Jimbo says:

    the genus Maritime is, in fact, a rare and endangered plant, restricted to a local coastal zone. Hence the name San Francisco Gumplant. Not the same as its more common cousin.

    • savesutro says:

      The Genus is Grindelia, the species, Hirsutula, in the family Asteraceae. What you’re talking of is the “variety,” Maritima. (So the whole thing is written Grindelia Hirsutula var. Maritima.)

      That variety is called the Coastal Gumweed (except by the California Native Plant Society, which seems to have renamed it the San Francisco Gum Plant for some reason). According to their own site (which you linked), it’s reported from Marin to as far south as San Luis Obispo. It grows on Mt Sutro because you planted it there, but it’s not necessarily local to it.

      The California Native Plant Society is not exactly a disinterested party, since their mission is to preserve “Native” plants. I used the USDA website, which I presume is impartial.

  5. NatureLover says:

    Ah yes…Grindelia hirsutula var. maritima. I remember you well. This was one of my first experiences with the nativists’ strategy of planting endangered plants and/or reintroducing endangered animals where they haven’t existed for at least 100 years in order to invoke legal protections. In the case of the rare maritima, their strategy didn’t work. Nativists planted it on the shores of a lake, although they had been told that water would be pumped into the lake to raise the water level several feet. When we pointed that out to them, they quickly recovered their composure, and loudly claimed that the grindelia would FLOAT! An excellent example of how nativists dance around the facts in pursuit of their agenda. Of course it didn’t float and it was ultimately drowned. Alas, poor grindelia…a victim of ideology.

  6. Pingback: Trees: New York Times vs SF Chronicle « Save Mount Sutro Forest

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