Low Fire Risk and the “Historic Trail”

I attended a meeting called by Parks and Rec this evening, to discuss opening access to the forest at 17th and Stanyan in Cole Valley. This the black dotted line in the map below. [ETA: The map was distributed at the meeting.] The trail would lead through the Interior Green Belt, and join existing trails in UCSF’s part of the forest. Access to the “historic trail” is from a space between two houses, about the size of a vacant lot. At present, it’s fenced off.

This was the second meeting on the issue. I didn’t attend the first, but this meeting was to deal with the issues raised in the first one (held in June or July, there were two dates reported).

Mt Sutro and proposed Historic Trail

Right now, the proposal is to ask the Parks Commission to allocate $50,000 for the purpose. The breakout is something like this (I didn’t keep precise notes, but I’ll make corrections later if needed):

Mt Sutro Stewards (for clearing the trail)  –      $ 6,500
Tree assessment (for hazardous trees)-             $ 5,650
Hazard tree removal                                                   $10,000
Reopening the trail (fences, staircase)                $10,000
Environmental investigation                                  $13,000  (<– not sure)
Contingency                                                                     $4,850

ETA: From the Rec and Parks document, I have a different set of figures:


Materials (erosion control, seeds, etc.) $6,500
Tree Assessment $5,560
Hazardous Tree Removal $10,000
Refurbish Trailhead & Remove Fences $7,000
Environmental Evaluation $15,000
Privacy Screen at Trailhead $10,000
215 LF of Chain Link Fence $16,125
CONTINGENCY (10%) $7,455
TOTAL $82,000


Ray Moritz, who we have met before as a forester, introduced himself as a Fire Ecologist. He said that fire danger was related to three things: The fuels; the topography; and the weather. He noted that the fire danger was mild, because though the terrain was steep, there was a low amount of fuel on the ground and the trees were so tall that the canopy was unlikely to catch from a ground fire. Most importantly, in San Francisco, the window of opportunity for a fire was very small; there were only a few days annually when the forest was dry. He also said cigarettes (which people had feared as an ignition source) are actually not a danger. [ETA: He made 16 practical experiments with oven-dried eucalyptus leaves and cigarettes; he did not achieve ignition even once.] The greatest danger, he suggested was when people did not clear debris from the roof area around fireplace chimneys. However, he pointed out that the fire station was nearby, with a response time of under two minutes, and a fire hydrant sat opposite the proposed trailhead.

Some neighbors were still concerned about fire, not just by the trail but in the context of the whole forest. (We’re guessing that UCSF’s position on the issue when seeking the FEMA grant has worried some people.) Mr Moritz said that while fire-risk varied at different spots on the mountain, the overall risk was low. If it is indeed a low risk, they replied, they would like to see confirmation in writing, and would like to see the report in writing. Craig Dawson, of Mt Sutro Stewards, later noted they had done some further research.


Another concern was with hazardous trees. One neighbor pointed out there were at least 15 hazard trees that had been marked but not trimmed or removed.

Other concerns were with traffic and parking, potential criminal activity and homeless camps, drunken teenagers at night; unleashed dogs, maintenance and operations. The presenters suggested that they greatest use of the trail would be by neighbors and people coming by public transport, as with the trail starting at Edgewood; that there would be joint patrols by UCSF and Parks; the park would close at 10 p.m. and anyway, opening up the forest reduced the likelihood of camping and crime by having more eyes watching; unleashed dogs were prohibited; and maintenance and operations would be provided by Mt Sutro Stewards and volunteers.


Lisa Wayne of the Parks and Recreation department made a presentation describing the project. She said that no environmental review was needed to open the trail; but that a later phase of the project, to remodel the trail-head, might require one.

Later, when someone else asked her specifically, she said there was no intent to introduce native plants along the trail. In fact, Marvin Yee, in his presentation, specifically mentioned leaving the blackberry bushes and other dense vegetation in place to discourage people from straying off the trail. (We think this will also be beneficial to birds and wildlife.)


We were pleased at the reassessment of the fire risk, particularly since the area of the forest we’re talking about is contiguous with the Edgewood cut zone.

This entry was posted in Environment, eucalyptus, Maps, Meetings, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, Neighborhood impact, Sutro Forest "Fire Risk" and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Low Fire Risk and the “Historic Trail”

  1. NatureLover says:

    Hmmm…very interesting that Mr. Moritz called himself a “fire ecologist” at this meeting. He is better known as a certified arborist from his regular column in the garden section of the SF Chronicle about tree care and issues.

    Whatever his qualifications, he confirmed what the neighbors of Mt. Sutro have been saying for months, namely that there is little fire risk on Mt. Sutro.

    This is consistent with the talk about the urban forest for Shaping San Francisco on January 27, 2010. The speaker representing Friends of the Urban Forest said that eucalypts are NOT a fire hazard in San Francisco. He also said that he did NOT advocate for the eradication of eucalypts in San Francisco.

    So that’s TWO qualified local arborists refuting the bogus claim that the eucalypts on Mt. Sutro must be destroyed to reduce fire risk. If UCSF isn’t capable of acknowledging this FACT, one hopes that FEMA will be able to do so.

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