We have been talking about the destruction of the forest’s understory in several areas. This is not an innocuous activity. Here are six reasons why:
- Creating a fire hazard. We have explained at length that the Cloud Forest, in its naturalized condition, is not a fire hazard because it is constantly damp and green. However, a fire hazard can be created. In the 1930s, when the area was being logged and the timber thinned, such conditions existed, and in fact logging was stopped after a major fire in 1934. Stripping out large areas of understory and duff dries out the forest, and recreates those conditions.
- Increasing water runoff. The Sutro Cloud Forest’s duff and understory holds water like a sponge. The runoff from the mountain is a fraction of the runoff from, say, Twin Peaks, where the road runs like a river on rainy days. Removing undergrowth and duff and getting down to the soil increases the runoff and could also increase erosion.
- Dry conditions could destabilize the forest. These trees have adapted to increasingly damp conditions as the trees gained height and the understory gained density. Opening it up and drying it out changes these conditions, with unpredictable effects on the forest.
- Changing the ecosystem. The forest – the trees, the duff, the understory of blackberry and ivy and other plants, all its plants and animals, are tied together in an ecosystem. Destroying sections of the understory changes this.
- Removing nutrient layers. As in many forests, the nutrients are tied up in the vegetation; the actual soil is thin and infertile. Removing vegetation from the mountain removes these nutrients instead of recycling them into the eco-system as happens naturally when leaves fall and bacteria break them down into compost in the duff layer.
- Changing the aesthetic experience of the forest. One of the most important characteristics of the Sutro Cloud Forest was its mysterious sense of seclusion, the blocking of the sights of a busy city and the damping of the sounds. This created an atmosphere of isolation, of being in the wild heart of a great forest. Opening it up trivializes this experience to one of being in a park, where people are visible on other trails and the sight and sounds of the city penetrate into the diminished forest.
All of these changes are very significant, especially in an ecosystem as fragile as a Cloud Forest. Making these changes ahead of the Environmental Review (ER) is not only destructive, it is unconscionable, and could invalidate the ER.