Back in 2001, UCSF published a Plan for Sutro Forest, based on data that had been collected in previous years (including a 1999 report on the forest). One of the objections neighbors had to the so-called “FEMA Plan” – i.e. the actions proposed in the application to FEMA – was that it clashed with the 2001 plan. Now that UCSF has withdrawn its application to FEMA, it is planning its next steps for the forest.
UCSF’s email announcement that it is withdrawing the application to FEMA – and with it, the immediate plan to gut 14 acres of forest – was a sensible and rational move, in view of the questions the project raised.
While UCSF is considering next steps, we have some suggestions. The key one is that, instead of immediately investing the University’s funds in an environmental review, this is an opportunity to revisit the 2001 plan. We understand the process involved extensive public comment, and a survey of the forest. At the time, it was probably state of the art. However, now over ten years old, this plan is outdated.
Here’s why we suggest a new start:
- AB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, was passed in 2006. Global warming, and the Carbon sequestration value of the forest, wasn’t considered in the 2001 Plan.
- UCSF is just about to start putting together a new Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP), roughly 2012-2030. According to a presentation by UCSF at the February 25th Inner Sunset Park Neighbors meeting, one of the six key questions to be addressed is: How will the LRDP incorporate environmental sustainability and Climate Action Plan goals? We would suggest this provides a good context in which to re-evaluate the forest.
- Though the forest was studied for the 2001 plan, the study was essentially limited to the plant species, the topography, and the weather. The complexity of its ecosystem deserves a more thorough investigation. The entire plan was informed by the questionable assumption that the forest needed active management because it was failing, senescent, and if not actually infested with a fatal pest, very close to being so. In fact, much of the windthrow was due to a single bad season; such storms will inevitably cause tree-failures even of healthy trees, and short of the destruction of all tree-cover, is not easily prevented.
- Increasing evidence of the dangers of pesticides such as Roundup, Garlon, and Imazapyr is accumulating. This is particularly important on Mt Sutro since it is high ground and a watershed area, and surrounded by residential communities including the UCSF student housing. Yet the tree-felling attempts and native-plant restorations would require significant quantities of these chemicals to be used for years.
We would like to see UCSF reframe its view of the forest as a stable 125-year-old Cloud Forest with a potential 400-500 year life span and the characteristics of an old-growth forest. Not just “Open Space,” it is both a biological treasure and part of San Francisco’s Cultural Heritage – the remnant of a eucalyptus forest, one-fifteenth the size it once was. It is a miniature, San Francisco version Muir Woods. And though smaller than that iconic forest (and dominated by naturalized rather than by native trees) it is nevertheless home to a large number of bird and animal species.
We would urge a much more thorough study of this wonderful entity. In particular, we would like to see a study (a) all the bird species in the forest (b) all the animal species, including reptiles and insects (c) all the plant species – including fungi and mosses (d) a model for how its forest ecosystem works.
As usual, this is clear and excellent writing. I am cringing that I have not had time to try to help with the water system article I sent.
Thanks! (And thanks also for the water system article – it’ll be a useful post when we’ve researched it further. No one wants toxic chemicals in the watershed…)
These are all good reasons to revisit the 2001 plan to manage the Sutro forest. Here are a few more questions that should be answered by a revised plan:
Sudden Oak Death (SOD) has spread a great deal in the past 10 years since the original plan was written. SOD now exists in San Francisco. More is known about SOD. We now know that the disease spreads more readily in a moist environment. Mt. Sutro is such an environment. A revised management plan for the Sutro forest must answer the question, “Does it make sense to plant trees that are subject to a fatal disease in an environment that is conducive to the spread of that disease?”
Secondly, there is mounting scientific evidence that the ranges of native plants have changed and are expected to continue to change in response to climate change. For example, the quarterly magazine of the California Academy of Science in fall 2009, predicted that there will be no redwoods surviving in California in 2090 (except for a few isolated pockets near the Oregon border). Does it make sense to destroy plants and trees that are thriving in current conditions in order to plant native plants that may not be sustainable in their historic ranges?
Thirdly, the native plant garden on the summit of Mt. Sutro was irrigated (for how long?). Is UCSF prepared to install irrigation systems on the entire mountain in order to establish a native plant population? As water scarcity becomes more of an issue, does it make sense to make such a commitment of this scarce resource?
Science, experience, and the environment march forward. The Mt. Sutro plan is out of date and should be revised to reflect the progress and changes that have occurred in the past 10 years.
as a writer/biologist in Australia, I am intrigued by the Sutro Forest situation. Perhaps there is another aspect of the forest which may be worth considering. Recent work in Australia here about eucalypts have identified hybridization and suggestions of reticulate evolution. I wonder if the forest may have useful insights being what it is where it is. References to info available upon request. Or you can google the topic…
It would be interesting to get the references. Are you suggesting that the forest could act as a control since it was probably a single species with no close relatives with which to hybridize?
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