The Appalling Example of Twin Peaks

We always love going up to Twin Peaks, the place for the iconic view of our magnificent city. Recently, though, we were on a different mission: To look at Twin Peaks, not from Twin Peaks.

This is a “native area” – one where the nativists are attempting to “restore” the habitat to what it might have been a couple of hundred years ago. It could be an example of what Mt Sutro would look like if the Stewards’ hopes for “restoration” are achieved and the eucalyptus felled.

What we saw (once we ripped our eyes from the view) wasn’t encouraging.



Rockslides and erosion. In many places around the peaks, rock had slid down the mountain onto the road. It looked like enough to bury a car or take down a garage if it landed against a house (which fortunately don’t exist right there). There could be more after this winter’s rains – there are many bare areas.



The trash. It was all over, but particularly visible in the tinder-dry plants. (Is that the native coyote bush? Not sure.) Some of it was the kind of trash people leave when they visit a place – cigarette butts, plastic bags, wrappers. Some was thrown there.

Edited to Add: Oh, and we forgot – graffiti. Some people just can’t resist leaving their mark…

Roundup Pro and Garlon

Roundup Pro Dry and Garlon 4

Roundup and Garlon toxic herbicides. The ammunition in the constant battle for native plants. It has to be dumped over large patches of the mountain to keep down the weeds and save the native plants.

butterfly 3

twin peaks 003Weeds, dry vegetation, and de-vegetation: bare rock.

Same place, a month later

Same place, a month later

There wasn’t much wildlife – some Brewer’s blackbirds, some white-crowned sparrows, and this impressive butterfly. We looked it up. It’s an Anise Swallowtail. Its caterpillars live on non-native fennel. Oops.

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28 Responses to The Appalling Example of Twin Peaks

  1. The Garden Coach says:

    Twin Peaks is gorgeous and has more cool plants and animals than Sutro will ever have again. Ever.
    So, count your blessings. I guess ignorance is bliss.
    Please discontinue poorly executed and such obviously biased “site assessments” of San Francisco’s natural areas. You could be directing your energy in working with people actually doing something in our parks instead of worrying “nativists” will clear-cut the eucalyptus! Even with FEMA money, there is no way we San Franciscans will be able to remove the current hazard trees.

    • savesutro says:

      If I’m missing some cool plants and animals, I’d love to know what to look out for.
      So far, the only species named are the white-crowned sparrow and the mission blue butterfly (which had died out but may come back after a dozen 22 pregnant females were released on Twin Peaks).

      I guess they need Garlon-resistant caterpillars. Okay, I’m being snarky. Sorry. But do we know that the recurrent rounds of herbicides aren’t harming the insects? Including caterpillars, ants and other inter-related species?

  2. NatureLover says:

    “Hazard trees?” This accusation from folks who are pouring Garlon on plants just because they are non-native? Thirty-one percent of Garlon is kerosene. The Material Safety Data Sheet for Garlon reports “This product is a Hazardous Chemical” as defined by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200″ The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) says that Garlon is an “Immediate (Acute) Health Hazard” and a “Delayed (Chronic) Health Hazard.” The National Fire Protection Association rating system rates Garlon a #2 Fire Hazard which means that its flash point point temperature is between 100 and 200 degree Faranheit. Now THAT’s a hazard…. But, as you say, “ignorance is bliss” so just spray away w/ your Garlon folks and Rest in Peace.

  3. The Garden Coach says:

    If Garlon is so hazardous, then why does the Department of the Environment allow city agencies to use it? Probably because either it needs to be banned or depending on how it is applied, does not pose a threat to the public or environment surrounding it’s application for specific exposures. I also believe kerosene has been excluded from what the county uses now which is registered as “Garlon Ultra”.

    Through my research Garlon for eucalyptus treatment is applied directly to a cut stump and is absorbed immediately by the direct application to the cambium, not sprayed but painted as a point application.
    Such application would cause exposure only to the person applying the herbicide. So, Garlon is NOT being sprayed everywhere! Make sense now?

    So, no “puddling” for liquid flash points and associated fire hazard and simply no spraying herbicide everywhere. I mean this honesty!

    It is clear to me you are not in anyway qualified to speak about park management or the associated “hazards” to which you speak. You seem to simply live in a bubble on these issues.

    If I were living next to the Sutro forest experiment, I’d be coming after YOU for roadblocking the much needed help and funding this failing forest needs! I certainly hope you are able to open up your thinking on this critical issue especially for the residents whose houses are nest door!

    • savesutro says:

      Garden Coach,

      If you check the photograph of “Notice of Pesticide Application” in this post, you’ll see it includes Garlon 4. The photo below shows where the notice is – and it’s not on eucalyptus stumps (Twin Peaks doesn’t have any). The actual notice suggested that it would be sprayed because the final section had two check boxes: ‘Job Completed’ and ‘Spray Postponed.’

      The DoE allows some very toxic substances to be used. The question really is where and when it’s wise to use them. Garlon 4 is powerful stuff. San Francisco Department of the Environment lists it as “High Priority to Find Alternative.”

      Dow’s own labeling (13 pages of it) suggests that it’s not a good idea to use it where it could drift into sensitive areas: residential areas, bodies of water, habitat for threatened or endangered species, non-target crops. It suggests generating smoke to track air-movements before spraying so it doesn’t get spread around. (Actually, I wonder how they actually do it. Do they close off Twin Peaks and warn all the neighbors?)

      I’m not sure what you mean by “coming after us.” I hope you mean, “making arguments against your position.”

  4. NatureLover says:

    If somebody “lives in a bubble” it isn’t ME! All this information is available to anyone who has a sincere interest in informing themselves. Look at Dow’s (the manufacturer of Garlon) website. Look at the description and photos of “Garlon 4 Ultra” (proving that Garlon 4 and Garlon Ultra are one and the same). You will see a photograph of someone applying Garlon to a tree stump. The person is using a spray gun. Here is the description of the application method: “Treat the exposed cambrium area and the root collar (exposed bark on the side of the stump) down to the soil line. Be sure to treat the entire circumference of the tree. To ensure effective control on large trees, also treat any exposed roots (knees) that surround the stump.”

    As savesutro says, Garlon was apparently used on Twin Peaks for another purpose, but in the case of preventing the resprouting of eucalypts, you cannot “honesty” (sic) claim that the Garlon will be “painted only on the stump” unless, of course, the people who are applying it do not know how it must be used to prevent resprouting, in which case their efforts are wasted. As for how quickly it will be absorbed, or how quickly it will dissipate, once again you are apparently unaware of the Material Safety Data Sheet for this chemical. It says, “Persistence and Degradability: Chemical degradation (hydrolysis) is expected in the environment. Material is expected to biodegrade only very slowly in the environment. Fails to pass OECD/EED tests for ready biodegradability.”

    So, you tell me. Who is ignorant here? If you are indeed more expert, why haven’t you read the Material Safety Data Sheet for this dangerous chemical? I wonder if you are one of the people applying the Garlon? In that case, you demonstrate that legal requirements for the use of this chemical are not being followed. Because OSHA deems this a hazardous chemical, anyone who uses it is supposed to be properly trained, which includes being given a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet which must be posted and available to anyone who is using this chemical.

    Who lives in a bubble? Sounds to me as though you are a victim of the incestuous amplification that perpetuates the myths of nativists. As for Dept of the Environment…I can’t imagine why an organization that has made a formal commitment to the Precautionary Principle doesn’t ban this substance. I suppose they live in your bubble.

  5. The Garden Coach says:

    I know how to use Garlon as stated within the parameters of the MSDS. And no, I have not applied it in S.F. county. And yes, the two versions of Garlon are relatively the same. I must say it is clear.

    It sounds as though your time would be better spent getting Garlon banned and not blaming “nativists”, those that are actually doing something to preserve biodiversity in our bio-region.

    I know! Let’s have the Napa Mustard Festival on Twin Peaks! It’ll be beautiful!

    You must not be from here. You certainly must not know what of our biological heritage has been lost in only the past twenty years. “NatureLover”. Help find a better way and stop polarizing the park community with your extremist labels.

  6. Nature Lover says:

    Listen to yourself:
    “with your extremist labels” Go back and read through our comments. Who is using extremist labels?

    “…two versions of Garlon are relatively the same” They ARE the SAME.

    “I know how to use Garlon…” Then why did you try to misinform us earlier about how to use it?

    “You must not be from here.” Yes, I am from here and I am well aware of the declining populations of native plants. However, I do not share your view that non-native plants are responsible for the loss of those populations. Nor do I believe that gallons of herbicide will restore them. Why? Because I have read the science that explains why this has occurred and why it will continue to occur. The soil, climate, and air quality conditions have changed such that they will no longer support the plants that were native here 200 years ago. They are no longer adapted to current conditions. Higher CO2 levels, higher temperatures, and lower precipitation are supporting plants that have been introduced. You can destroy the introduced plants, but that will not mean that the natives will magically reappear. I could supply you with a lengthy bibliography that would explain these principles to you. A recent example is an article in the latest edition of the magazine of the California Academy of Science about the projected changes in the ranges of native plants in California. For example, the scientist projects that by 2090 all redwoods will be gone from California except for two small areas in the far north.

    “Help find a better way…” That is good advice and I am taking it. I am working to save the trees in the Bay Area that sequester carbon that will be released into the atmosphere when they are destroyed and will continue to absorb CO2 if they are permitted to live. Deforestation is one of the primary sources of global warming. If we can halt global warming, perhaps we can save more native plants from extinction. We share that goal.

  7. The Garden Coach says:

    I meant labeling people within the environmental movement.
    I did not try to misinform you, and must apologize; as I certainly misspoke.The important thing is to follow the MSDS and not endanger folks and other life. I believe folks at Rec. and Park have strict conditions in which they could spray. After all, the goal is to help curb certain plants, not everything around them that is having a hard enough time surviving with all the intense urban disturbances. I sure they don’t want to be be exposed either. Quite a conundrum with so few staff in parks to at least try and do something to stop exponential de-evolution.

    So, being from San Francisco, and being a nature lover, you must agree how shocking the disappearance of our local wildlife from even 20 years ago is. Do you recommend just letting eucalyptus go into other vegetation communities as it has so quickly?

    On recent research: it is certainly helpful, but not very hopeful. Especially on the subject of carbon sequestration. It is quite overblown that you think native plants (in general?) are not adapting to climate change. Although I agree it is happening and species change is inevitable. I think you are quick to write off the current conditions eucalyptus are creating for example.

    Mr. Sutro has left quite a mess I don’t think he understood the magnitude of debris and environmental alteration they have caused to our Franciscan Bio-Region and Heritage. Although they are beautiful, and I grew up with their stateliness, we San Franciscans do have basic safety issues our parks department with slashed budgets cannot contend with. Look at the hell that is happening on Mt. Davidson as well.

    We obviously have to look at the big picture of sustainability and global warming with eucalyptus valued for such contributions to carbon sequestration, but I will continue the work of planting trees that are not such an overwhelming responsibility to manage in cities. I hope you end up supporting the UCSF Plan to broaden the tree palette. As a relative monoculture, eucalyptus are getting figured out by disease, insects etc. So, again, I urge you to support a more diverse and hopefully resilient woodland/forest it will help create. `

    I like your positive thinking and optimism: “I am working to save the trees in the Bay Area that sequester carbon that will be released into the atmosphere when they are destroyed and will continue to absorb CO2 if they are permitted to live. Deforestation is one of the primary sources of global warming. If we can halt global warming, perhaps we can save more native plants from extinction. We share that goal.”

    Indeed we do share our compassion for the natural world.

  8. savesutro says:

    Garden Coach,

    I’m not clear what you mean about eucalyptus “go[ing] into other vegetation communities” – The Sutro Forest is surrounded on all sides by roads and buildings.

    That eucalyptus is going nowhere but up. (Or down, of course, if these projects succeed.)

  9. NatureLover says:

    I am glad that we are trying to find common ground and I am glad that you are beginning to hear some of what I am saying. I hope you will permit me to build on the small foundation that we have created together.

    The pessimism about the sustainability of native plants in their native ranges is not my own. I am only reporting what I read in scientific journals. Don’t take my word for it. Read and inform yourself so that you can become a partner in finding a solution to this debate about the future of native plants in the Bay Area.

    Eucalypts–and particularly the Blue Gum–may not be the perfect tree, but they are here and despite the bad rap, they are healthy. They aren’t infested with insects because they came here as seeds, not seedlings so they left their natural predators behind. Again, don’t take my word for it. Ask Peter Ehrlich, certified arborist for the Presidio who knows the trees of San Francisco like the back of his good hands or read Doughty’s book on eucalyptus. Eucalypts live in Australia from 200 to 400 years and they aren’t subject to the same natural predators here, so they may live even longer here. In any case, our eucalypts are not near death and they are adapted to current dry, warm, windy conditions.

    If they could be destroyed without dousing them with herbicides annually for about 9 years, the case for removing them would not be nearly so controversial. Although they are accused of being fire hazards, the chemicals that are used to prevent them from resprouting are far more flammable than the eucalyptus.

    The reputation of the eucalyptus as flammable is based on conditions that are not applicable to San Francisco. The Blue Gum is not freeze tolerant. There was a rare, deep, lengthy freeze in the East Bay in the winter of 1991, that produced a great deal of dead leaf and bark litter that was a factor (but NOT the sole factor) in the fall 1991 fire. The climate of San Francisco is more moderate. Our summers are milder and our winters are warmer than the East Bay. Such freezes do not occur in San Francisco.

    Another reason why we are very reluctant to destroy the eucalyptus is because we know enough about the natural history of San Francisco to know that it will not be possible to grow native trees on Mt. Sutro. Look at historical photographs of San Francisco. You will not see trees on the hills because the trees that are native to San Francisco will not tolerate the wind on those hills. To the extent that there were trees, they existed only in sheltered places.

    So, we all might prefer other trees, but the fact is that it will not be possible to grow native trees in most locations currently occupied by eucalypts and we are reluctant to commit ourselves to years of poisoning stumps to prevent them from resprouting. And we do not see the point of releasing tons of sequestered carbon in order to plant native plants that are probably not sustainable here for the 100-200 years that the eucalypts are expected to live.

    I could go on and there is much more information on this website that repeats what I’m saying. I am repeating it only because I seem to have your ear and I’m going to take this rare opportunity to communicate with a nativist who has expressed a desire to listen.

    Thank you for listening.

  10. The Garden Coach says:

    I’m sorry. Not at Sutro, but everywhere else they border other vegetation communities they move in quick. More importantly is when you realize the ivy will not stop growing! There are PLENTY of examples at Mt. Davidson. I wonder when you think the ivy is going to stop growing?

    Again, it sure is clear at Mt. Davidson. The ivy is clearly the cause for major strain and fatal leaning. MANY eucalyptus were snapped in half! Especially on the west, windward. Quite a clearing of downed wood. Once the are down they really start to dry up! Who do you think is going to clean this up?

    As you say: “The Sutro Forest is surrounded on all sides by roads and buildings.” In the UCSF Plan it’s clear where they want to manage the groves is to help protect those buildings. Dry wood below and a crown fire is NOT an option in the designated places. The UCSF Plan is a reasonable idea that went through a rigorous community input process with many different stakeholders.

    You need to do the right thing and support the reasonable plans it outlines at the next meeting.

    Thanks for your consideration.

  11. savesutro says:

    We are doing the right thing by questioning a plan that will make things worse.

    The first rule of a cloud forest is, don’t open it up and dry it out. That’s what this misguided plan would do.

    Thanks for coming by to discuss this here.

  12. The Garden Coach says:

    There is certainly nothing wrong with questioning and finding the deeper understanding of our higher purposes; equally as well as stewards of our precious open spaces in this 7X7 peninsula we call home.

    I believe we will evolve the plan into a hybrid that works for the wind/fog “sheds” on the mountain. It seems possible and we will come to a place in the plan where in sheltered areas, previously indigenous woodland, coastal scrub and herbaceous vegetational communities, (hopefully with people and not herbicides) will co-exist through adaptive management zones: the Sutro Fog-Forests as wind breaks etc.

    One thing I can promise is that you don’t need a tall tree to catch and deposit ground-hugging fog. The Nutka-Reed Grass is doing it as we speak at the perfect intersections of only the most north-westerly faces of both Twin Peaks and Mt. Davidson.

    I thank you both for caring as much as you do.
    Sleep well.
    It is heartening!

  13. savesutro says:

    The forest traps moisture to a much greater extent than the reed grass. On a foggy day, it rains in the forest to the extent you need a raincoat, and puddles form. That doesn’t happen in the Native Garden, only steps away, nor anywhere on Twin Peaks.

    But yes, it’s good so many people care.

  14. The Garden Coach says:

    Of course the eucs. trap more, as they have more surface area and exposure. It was just another observation and not a comparison to say more water is better. Nutka Reed Grass is simply one of the hundreds of unique species on Twin Peaks and beautiful like sheep dotting those particular hill faces.

    It would be nice if you would take this peticular page down “The Appaulling Example of Twin Peaks”. It does not reflect well for anyone. Everyone knows Recreation and Parks is sorely underfunded and will probably receive even less as the war-machine budget turns. This page simply serves to irritate people and down play so much of what it is beautiful there.

    I will take you on a wildflower walk, especially in spring! It will make you proud that it is preserved the way it is.

    The “native” garden at the top of Sutro reminds me of Strybing’s Cailfornia and Mediterranean sections and has tons of bird life. I wish you were not be so down on it.

    Again, I am trying to help you a bit with your message. This page does not reflect well.
    Take care.

  15. savesutro says:

    Garden Coach, I’m sorry it annoys you, and it really wasn’t my intent. This page reports the reality, and it’s substantiated. Anyone can go up there and take a look. It’s not private.

    As to the “tons of bird life” in the Mt Sutro Native Garden, I keep hearing/ reading that. I hardly ever hear or see any birds there. Can anyone provide lists and photographs? I’ve seen a total of five birds over 4 months: A dove, a towhee, 2 juncos, and a hawk. There’s nothing much for them there, while the forest has blackberry and other berries, eucalyptus seeds (which grosbeaks especially like), and insect life. Also lots of cover, so the hawks don’t get them.

    I’ll probably be less down on the Native Garden in spring. They say it’s lovely then. And I’d love to know more about wildflowers.

    I’m not questioning the intent of the nativists. We all care about the environment. But sometimes even good intentions yield unintended consequences. And sometimes, the focus on the objective can obscure the real costs.

  16. NatureLover says:

    Dear Garden Coach,

    If you have not tuned us out by now, I will make one small addition. Yes, the native garden looks nice–except for what is dormant during the dry season. However, you must realize WHY it looks good. It has been irrigated for over 5 years. It is planted in 6 inches of eucalyptus chips from the trees that were destroyed to expand that garden. And it is sheltered from the wind by the trees that remain. Without that support, the native plant garden would not survive.

    Most people like native plants as well as any other plant, though many of us don’t see why other plants and trees deserve to be destroyed in their service. It is not a fair trade because after nearly 20 years of intensive native plant gardening there is little evidence that the loss has justified the gain. In my local park, I’ve seen native plants planted repeatedly only to fail repeatedly. And when you consider that much of the destruction was accomplished by repeated applications of toxic chemicals, surely you begin to understand why these “restorations” are controversial.

    If you folks could tend your native plants without destroying other plants and trees we could all live in peace.

  17. HarryEye says:

    Sutro Forest is the view I have from my home. I would hate to have a bald mountain, like what they’ve done to the side of Mt. Davidson, to look at.

    The weeds gather garbage and require all that nasty herbicide to control. The forest requires NO watering at all to remain wet and looks beautiful all year round.

    I can’t say that about the native garden, which looks horrible for at least 8 months of the year.

    And, I take the point of “naturelover” that the “native (not native to san francisco at all)” stuff they like to plant will surely die, as it died on Tank Hill when the ‘native’ garden died without the windbreak of the Eucalypts.

    So, we are to lose our beautiful forest for an ugly, dead, weedy patch that gathers garbage? I just don’t get it.

    The only explanation is that someone is taking money from Monsanto and Dow and misinforming the people who help them, making them think they’re doing something “environmental” – yet it’s all a sham.

    I hope Garden person is one of the innocent dupes, otherwise, it seems very evil to perpetuate this fantasy of “doing over” Sutro Forest as some kind of great accomplishment.

    Trees should be respected for the work they do for us and the whole planet. They are live beings, no one yet has been able to replicate a tree and the work it does. Killing trees because their ancestors came from somewhere else sounds like racism. It’s not rational and it’s not right.

    Again, trees release all the carbon they have stored during their lifetimes when they are killed. That means over 100 years of carbon re-entering the atmosphere, the local atmosphere, when these trees are killed.

    We need to plant more trees, not kill our existing trees. Climate change is upon us NOW, killing California’s forests as this fight to save Sutro forest goes on.

    Only money could twist reality so badly.

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