Dialogue with Sutro Biker

This conversation with Sutro Biker started in the Comments. We felt it was interesting enough to have it in a separate post instead of buried at the bottom of a page.


Sutro Biker (SB): I still can’t believe all the misinformation on this website. The fact is, this city cannot manage the the trees it has. San Francisco cannot allow endless seeding in of a truly unsustainable species – eucalyptus. Yet another just fell over the path the other day at Stern Grove.

“Save” Mt. Sutro needs to start finding some common ground with folks by putting forward a plan to prioritize management of the many hazardous eucalyptus trees existing right over trails and next to houses. Period. To defend anything beyond starting with a basic safety standpoint, stopping funding sources to manage the trees, puts this website in the careless category.

Webmaster (WM): Sutro Biker, we try to avoid misinformation on this site… if you have specifics, point them out and we can discuss them. If we’re wrong, we’ll correct it.

You say eucs are unsustainable, but the only evidence you offer is that a tree fell over in Stern Grove. Trees do fall occasionally, euc or not. Stern Grove has particular tree-management issues.

We would like to point out that we have no problem with the removal of hazardous trees.
(We wouldn’t be “stopping funding” for that, even if we had that power.  And as UCSF points out, it’s something they consider their responsibility.)

SB:  Furthermore: the biodiversity standpoints for eucalyptus are so bird-centric. I’ll bet you folks have no idea about how great the biodiversity for the total system WAS before Sutro hatched his tree-stand-tax incentive plan!
WE HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE IN HISTORY WITH THE LIFE-CYCLE OF EUCALYPTUS TREES – and now it has come home to roost; a forest we can’t manage for basic safety DIRECTLY because of the mis-info. and efforts of folks behind this extreme, do-nothing website! Bummer for San Francisco and Mt. Sutro users! Good luck neighbors!!!

WM:  Sutro Biker,  on bio-diversity – you have a point. We talk mostly about birds because we have that information – people watch birds. A 2001 report mentions 93 plant species. No one seems to have studied the insects, reptiles, or mammals using the forest, or the fungi on the trees and in the soil.   That’s why our recommendation to UCSF is to commission a study of the full eco-system before messing with it.

And as for pre-eucs biodiversity – perhaps Twin Peaks would be an example? It’s never been euc-covered as far as we know. Maybe Sutro Forest would have been the same – non-native grasses, oxalis, mustard, replanted native flowers, and regular Garlon spraying.

(Unless it was covered with buildings instead.)

SB:  Your view of Twin Peaks is clearly incomplete and skewed. Replanted natives only? And besides the usual manually managed aggressive introduced plants?

WM:  Well, what we’ve seen seemed predominantly grasses, mostly non-native, but with some recently-planted native bunchgrass on the hill above Midtown Terrace. A number of replanted natives, including poppy, lupin, Douglas Iris, checkerbloom. Flowering non-natives, including oxalis, mustard, sweet alyssum, dandelion, and calendula. Butterflies, including migrating red admirals, and anise swallowtails that breed on non-native fennel. Pocket gophers (native). If it’s incomplete, what would you add?

(We won’t talk about graffiti, rockslides, or trash.)

SB:  I researched how biocides are applied there, and as much I detest the chemical companies and becoming fully dependent on them, at least to the Parks Dept’s. credit, biocides are not broken out as a first line “defense“. Furthermore, I learned that the Dept. is careful in how they are applied, using primarily spot application.

WM: How do they manage spot applications? They’re using Garlon against oxalis, which covers the whole area in spring, intermingled with all the other plants. And the signs went up almost as soon as the oxalis came out – from end-Feb to end-March.

We  hope they are careful. Garlon’s not acutely poisonous, so you don’t get ill right away. But it’s insidious: its caused horrid birth defects in rats, and can poison kidneys, liver and blood. There are few long-term studies of chronic exposure. Garlon is inherently problematic, and there just isn’t enough information about its effects to feel safe. Also, it can be found for upto 2 years in dead vegetation, and has been found in waterways, too.

It’s cheap and easy and legal and lethal. But really, when the idea is to improve the environment, the tradeoff just doesn’t seem worth it.

SB: Studies have been done on eucalyptus under-stories and the general consensus is that they are more limited in species and species richness  in comparison to mixed forests.

WM:   We looked into it a bit. Here’s one report on eucalyptus forests – and it starts out by saying, “The wildlife in a Eucalyptus forest varies depending upon the geographic location of the grove.” It also says,  “Contrary to popular belief, many animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates, have adapted to life in the Eucalyptus groves. Moisture from the air condenses on the leaves and the drippage keeps the groves moist and cool even during the dry season. This is a suitable ground habitat for a wide variety of animal life.”

Also, are “mixed forests” the right comparison?

Many of California’s forests are dominated by one or two species: The redwood forest in Muir Woods; the oak-bay forests on some hillsides. No one wants to revise their vegetation.

Or should the comparison be with Twin Peaks?

SB:  Evident is the at least 75% Algerian ivy (euc. strangler) and Himalayan Black berry —

WM:  Not sure how you get the estimate of 75% Algerian ivy and Himalayan blackberry – and 75% of what? There’s actually quite a lot of diversity if you look carefully. If the eucs were going to be strangled, they would be gone by now. The ivy’s had a hundred years to take them out.

SB:   —  chronic homeless persons habitat —

WM: We’ve heard one homeless person has made a long-term camp somewhere around the Interior Green Belt, not UCSF land.

SB:  — and general trail maintenance and user nightmare.

WM:  It’s a forest, of course it has trees, shrubs, and undergrowth. The thorns and the lush growth make this safe animal and bird habitat. Those who find this annoying do have the choice of Twin Peaks, Tank Hill, or Golden Gate Park. It’s unclear why people who dislike the trees would want to walk or work in the forest. Or why anyone would want to reduce biodiversity in the area by removing a Cloud Forest ecosystem to substitute another similar to Tank Hill or Twin Peaks.

SB: Again, the safety issue for families as well is of paramount importance.

WM:  Quite so.

SB:  As a naturalist, I can tell you a study will be a waste of money and simply stalling positive processes allowing people to do the necessary work there doing fire mitigation, restoration etc. – relationships to the mountain diversifying it’s safety and future. I hope somehow through this process you realize that many positive things are happening on Sutro.

WM:  Surely, if you’re a naturalist, you understand the need to study of the existing ecosystem before changing it? Wouldn’t that be the scientific approach?

The fire risk is minimal because of the micro-climate. “Restoration” – by which I presume you mean felling trees and removing understory to replant with “native plants” can be destructive of this ecosystem, which we would not consider positive at all.

SB:  We humans have made blanket changes to the ecosystem there: “Sutro’s Plantation/Forest”;

WM:  Certainly we have, and it wasn’t just with the forest. There was a Rancho there before, and then a dairy farm with cattle (and thus, non-native grasses) in Cole Valley. There have been blanket changes all through San Francisco. Golden Gate Park is one example, and the city itself, another.

SB:  — and we will continue as a culture to diversify the forest with other species with far less harsh a hand than Sutro’s with a plantation forest. Realize that it will be okay and that is it a great idea to diversify the eucs.

WM:  Harsh a hand? We’d consider felling thousands of trees far harsher than planting them. Thanks, but no thanks. This “diversification” could destroy the integrity of a 120-year-old ecosystem.

SB:  Your fog will move over!

WM:  Yay! Do I get to be Fog Master, too?

SB:  Quit stalling this process and enable folks that want to be there, working there on the trails in nature, be there to enjoy it safely NOW!

Rock mulch on trail

WM: We could as fairly say, if you dislike the eucs, why be there at all? Twin Peaks, as you point out, could use some help.  We’re not objecting to trail-work or to the bikers – though Nature in the City apparently is.

Someone told us that  Josiah Clark (of Nature In the City) publicly declared that though bicycles are ‘green’ on the road, they have no place on Mount Sutro’s trails. We found this a bit odd, because we’re aware that bikers work to maintain them. We also think they do so sensitively – like mulching soggy areas of the trail with rocks, which gives a dry surface while allowing the moisture to remain beneath for plants and animals.

Moon and contrail over Sutro Forest

We think the Stewards, the Urban Riders, and the public could all share this place with safety and courtesy, and without damaging the beauty of the forest or the integrity of the eco-system.

This plan would give UCSF lower ongoing maintenance costs than if the forest were converted to a native plant garden, and avoid thousands of doses of toxic herbicides.

Is that a lot to strive for?

This entry was posted in Environment, eucalyptus, Herbicides, Herbicides: Roundup, Garlon, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, nativism, Sutro Forest "Fire Risk", UCSF and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Dialogue with Sutro Biker

  1. Nature Lover says:

    The SS webmaster has had a respectful, informative dialogue with SF Biker, so there is little to add.

    I have some knowledge about Stern Grove that might help to understand the issues. The Rec & Park Dept paid for a comprehensive assessment of all the trees in Stern Grove in 2003. Hundreds of trees were identified by a certified arborist as being hazardous. Many were recommended for removal or pruning. Unfortunately, the Rec & Park Dept removed only about half of the trees that were recommended for remedial action because they said they didn’t have enough money to take care of all of them. One wonders how they have enough money to hire an arborist to evaluate thousands of trees, but not enough money to then take care of them. What’s the point of a report if you ignore it?

    In any case, most of the hazardous (and some not hazardous, but removed because they shaded the native garden) trees were removed at the western end of the park which is the direction from which the wind enters the park. That made the trees at the eastern end of the park more vulnerable to the wind. Trees develop their defenses against the wind in a specific environment…that is, less wind, less defenses against the wind. Now that the remaining trees are exposed to more wind, they are failing at a much greater rate. Trees have been falling in Stern Grove at an alarming rate in the past few years.

    On April 14, 2008, a woman was killed in Stern Grove by one of the trees that had been identified as being hazardous. IT WAS A REDWOOD TREE! NOT A EUCALYPTUS! The nativists insist that only eucalypts are hazardous. That is entirely untrue. Try Googling “falling trees.” You will find stories of falling trees of every species….native and non-native alike.

    After Kathleen Bolton was killed by a REDWOOD tree in Stern Grove there were public hearings about the need for more tree maintenance in the city’s parks. And regular park visitors made personal appeals to the Rec & Park Dept. Yet, nothing has been done about this hazardous condition.

    As the webmaster says, no one objects to tree maintenance, that is, the removal or pruning of hazardous trees that have been identified as such by reputable arborists. That applies equally to Mt. Sutro. Nothing prevents UCSF from taking care of hazardous trees. [Note from WM: They have and are doing so.]

    However, that was not the purpose of the FEMA grant. The FEMA grant was for the expressed purpose of reducing fire hazard. FEMA does not have responsibility for maintaining trees. It is not an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money. There are serious, large-scale disasters all over the country for which FEMA is responsible. Their limited funding should be used to deal with the consequences of flood, fire, earthquakes, tornadoes….not for routine maintenance of individual trees. And the grant project proposed to remove most of the trees in the project area, whether or not they are hazardous.

    Unfortunately, SFBiker’s opinion that “naturalists” know what needs to be done, that they should be allowed to do what they believe is necessary without reference to science or scientific research, is rather typical of the nativist ideology. The difference between Savesutro and the nativists who consider Mt. Sutro theirs to do with as they wish, is that Savesutro defers to science. Every post contains scientific citations to support it. In contrast, the nativists quote one another, as though that establishes their veracity. They fall into the trap of “incestuous amplification” which is the sharing of misinformation within an isolated community that does not tolerate dissenting views.

  2. Sutro Biker says:

    I feel that your mind was made up a long time ago with the formulation of this website. Your policy of not allowing for the management of any eucalyptus and ivy, blackberry will eventually back fire. I do wish you luck for your best intentions. Although you research far reaching, it meets no one half way. This will not be enough to compromise on making Mt. Sutro’s future a balanced, evolving one. And yes one beyond simply beautiful, historic stands of eucalyptus (that stay standing) along with honoring the evolution so recently lost.

    Nature Lover: your social commentary exhausts itself in it’s own course of divisiveness to whom you think are simply “nativists”. You are not helping the cause of any environmental movement by putting folks in boxes and dividing them. There is far more in common than not. PS – two city staff, one a gardener was crushed by eucalyptus in Stern Grove, and again a recent widow maker branch came down across a popular path last week. We all know about the redwood and Mrs. Bolton.

    So, Garlon is not ideal and yes it seems as though spraying must occur in select areas of oxalis where apparently Twin Peaks (still the greatest number species in one open space, STILL EXIST!) I think you know the Garlon is not in anyone’s water. You fight is with the Dept. of the Environment who has declared it’s safe use in our watersheds. The applicator’s if anyone will be the effected.

    Save Mount Sutro says: This plan would give UCSF lower ongoing maintenance costs than if the forest were converted to a native plant garden, and avoid thousands of doses of toxic herbicides.
    Is that a lot to strive for?

    You are already railroading the hard won public consensus that took place with EVERYONE about EVERYTHING. You truly are disregarding and stalling for “plant-a-tree-feel-good-metrics that will not change global warming – we don’t need another study of a simplified euc. stand, we need selective, prioritized management for reasons I need not restate. Currently, all you seem to care about is not allowing for any change at the expense of extensive public review.
    We will continue all our community’s hard, well thought out work – we don’t need, nor can we afford another 10 -20 years of do nothing.
    See you on the Mountain!

  3. webmaster says:

    Sutro Biker, this website was built in response to what we felt was a poorly-conceived and possibly dangerous plan.

    Can you give any kind of reference for the Parks employees injured by eucalyptus? I researched tree accidents, and what I found was the accident with the redwood and Ms Bolton; another incident in Sonoma County involving an oak tree and cyclists during the Vineman Triathlon; and a 2003 accident involving a dead Monterey pine. A 2003 article mentioned two people killed in fifteen years in San Francisco tree-falls.

    As for Garlon – it’s not supposed to get in the water, but when they tested 227 water samples in California they did find triclopyr (active ingredient) in 11.5% of them. (That’s from the Marin Water Management District Draft report – see the comments to our post on Garlon.) Other organizations are trying to reduce pesticide use across the state. (Look under our Herbicide links.)

    You’re right it could harm the people applying it. That’s bad enough (and I hope none of them is pregnant). It could also harm the soils and soil fungi, other plants, insects, and birds. And dogs and people. It’s something where there’s been little independent research into the long-term effects.

    Thing is, going ahead without looking at these things could end up with unintended consequences that are negative all round – like favoring non-native grasses on Twin Peaks. We don’t know that is happening – but we don’t know that it is not. If it does, there’s no easy fix. What you’re left with is a garden and you have to start with amending the soil and planting and weeding. The ecosystem will take years to re-establish itself.

    In the same way, we think that just because the original plan for the forest was discussed a lot (and we recognize that it was) and negotiated hard, it doesn’t necessarily make it the right one. It could cause unintended consequences so you end up with more weeds, more fire danger, more chemicals, more erosion and landslides, and an ongoing need for more maintenance. Quite apart from destroying an ecosystem established over 120 years.

    And yes, see you on the mountain, and if you’re one of those who works to keep the trails open – thanks!

  4. Skeptic says:

    Sutro Biker: I have just read and reread your posts to this website, and I don’t understand your anger.

    1) Several times you refer to the Save Mount Sutro Forest website as a source of “misinformation,” but nowhere do you identify any misinformation or try to correct it.

    2) You accuse the site of being “no compromise,” but the Save Sutro has offered no objection to the removal and/or pruning of hazardous trees, the safety issue so important to you.

    3) Similarly, Save Sutro does not object to the trail work being done and acknowledges and appreciates the careful work that bikers do on the trails.

    4) Save Sutro has insisted that the claim of “fire mitigation” in the FEMA grant application is bogus, but nowhere do you say whether or not you believe that replacing mature eucalyptus with brush and grass will make the mountain more fire safe. Is there disagreement on this point?

    You accuse Nature Lover of “putting folks in boxes and dividing them,” but you are the one calling Save Sutro “extreme, do-nothing,” full of “misinformation,” and “plant-a-tree-feel-good.” Doesn’t that divide folks without dealing with issues?

    So, Sutro Biker, where’s the beef?

  5. Nature Lover says:

    Here are excerpts from an article from today’s Oakland Tribune about two oak trees that fell down in Danville, one “crashed through a home.”

    Danville family cleans up aftermath of tree that crashed into house
    By Cindi Christie (cchristie@bayareanewsgroup.com)

    DANVILLE — Crews on Monday removed a large oak tree that crashed through a home on Laurel Drive last week.

    Homeowners Lori and John Salamida watched as chunks of the nearly 300-year-old tree were hoisted over their red-tagged house by a large crane. Nobody was home when the trees fell about lunchtime Thursday…

    … Neighbor Andy Alfonso was home when he heard the tree fall. “I thought it was an explosion,” he said. He rushed down the street to see dust and leaves in the air, then knocked on the Salamidas’ door but got no answer. He said he then went to the rear of the house and rescued the family dog, Bailey, from one of the bedrooms where she was hiding.

    Joined by several people in the backyard, Alfonso said he felt the ground shudder about 45 minutes later. A second tree had fallen, this time going through a neighbor’s fence.

    It remained unknown Monday what caused the trees to fall.

    Lori Salamida said a third large oak tree still standing in the backyard will have to be removed because it shares a root system with the two that toppled…

    I repeat, we have no objection to the removal (or pruning if possible) of hazardous trees (if a qualified arborist has made the judgment). In fact, many of us have a track record of advocating for maintenance of trees in San Francisco parks. However, that applies to ALL trees, not just non-natives, because ALL trees require maintenance.

  6. Charlie says:

    If you look at that webpage that mentioned that some animals (mostly birds) can survive in invasive eucalyptus plantations… in that very website the next paragraph(s) describe all of the many problems/damage the Eucalyptus causes!

    • webmaster says:

      Charlie, thanks for commenting. You’re right; the next para mentions “Threats.” The most important is that with enough moisture, the forest can expand 10-20 feet annually. This is obviously not happening in Mt Sutro’s bounded forest – the trees cannot move into the roads and buildings surrounding them. It also mentions phyto-toxins poisoning other plants; but again, Sutro Forest has a dense understory clearly adapted to the phytotoxins. It also speaks of phyto-toxins getting into vernal pools, but Sutro Forest doesn’t have those. In areas of grazing, they encourage uneven grazing; but there are no cattle in Sutro Forest. They can produce unsafe fire conditions – but we’ve gone into that at great length elsewhere on this website, detailing the specific conditions in this forest.

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