At the June 30 meeting, Ray Moritz, the forester hired by UCSF, presented the Demonstration projects. As we mentioned in the report on that meeting, we were surprised. We’d thought the areas discussed at the Agenda Planning meeting had been considered as alternatives. Here, they were being presented as a totality. The total area is three times as large.
- What’s planned;
- What’s being “demonstrated”;
- Safety issues;
- Habitat effects;
- Cost estimates.
The 2001 Plan called for 2 acres on South Ridge (Project #1), and a half acre in the area along the seasonal creek. This Plan calls for 3 acres on the South Ridge, does not include the creek-side project, but instead adds on three other projects, for a total of 7.5 acres.
- Cut down trees to space them 30 feet apart on Projects 1 & 2, i.e. 5 acres. This would be about the spacing of street trees (a two-lane road is 25-30 feet wide). You could run a road through there, or build a parking lot. Tree density would fall from over 740 trees per acre to about 40. In the Project 3 area, the plan is for 60-foot spacing, which would give about 10-20 trees per acre, depending on the shape of the plot.
- Mow down the entire understory, except for the native plants.
- Remove the bottom of vines growing on the trees, allowing the top parts to die.
- Use a combination of herbicides, tarps, and possibly goats to prevent resprouting.
We’ve been wondering what the “demonstration” projects are supposed to demonstrate. Though we’d expected a greater focus on the ecology there doesn’t seem to be one. It’s focused primarily on two things: How do they look; and how do we stop re-sprouting of eucalyptus and blackberry.
The focus is not on whether it makes that area of the forest more healthy. Indeed, it would be difficult to tell, because there would be so few trees left in the demonstration area (spaced 30-60 feet apart) that it would not even be a forest, it would be a clearing.
It’s not demonstrating improved safety. Nor is it about how the forest is adapting; that’s not in the metrics.
SAFER OR LESS SAFE?
Felling trees could make the forest less safe, but that’s not in the metrics either. The drying of the forest will add to the fire hazard, as will the dead vines in the trees. And while hazardous tree removal is mentioned, most of these Demonstration areas are not adjacent to homes.
In fact, thinning the forest could make the remnant trees *more* likely to fall, because they’ve adapted to the wind-sheltered conditions of the dense forest. Also, the roots of the trees are now inter-grafted into one forest-wide root mat, which also helps support the trees; but parts of this will start dying as trees are killed.
The Demonstration is certainly not about habitat, which doesn’t get a mention.
But it’s habitat improvement, right? It’s good for the wildlife?
Not so much.
This Plan doesn’t even give habitat issues a passing mention. But according to the 2001 plan, “birds are more likely to benefit from wildlife habitat improvements than mammals, reptiles and amphibians…” Then it goes on to say, “Many of the birds that will benefit are relatively urban species (e.g. American Robin, western scrub jay, European starling, Brewer’s blackbird, and house finch) but understory vegetation is intended to attract the following species…” Here it lists 16 species. But most of those (possibly all) already frequent the forest.
About animals, it says: “Develop a program to monitor nuisance species (e.g. skunks, raccoons, feral cats) since habitat enhancement may also increase these populations…”
In summary, it makes several recommendations to improve the habitat. But doesn’t really expect any improvement, and warns against possible deterioration. The birds it wants to attract are already there. The changes will favor “urban” species of birds, including starlings and Brewer’s blackbirds. The only other animals it seems it will favor are ones that it calls a nuisance.
WHAT’S THE BUDGET?
Several people, on both sides of the issue, wanted to know how much it would cost. Ray Moritz said that the estimates varied so much, he had no idea. He couldn’t even provide a range. Vice Chancellor Barbara French said UCSF probably had around $150 thousand available for this project, based mainly on what it would have spent had the FEMA project gone through.
Our own guesstimate (also based on the FEMA project) is that it would cost around $200-250 thousand, not including the in-house Environmental Review where costs would be implicit except for fees to outside consultants. Depending on what exactly is done, it could cost more: The Native Garden on the summit was built with $100 thousand from donors. It involved little or no tree-cutting, required several years of irrigation, and is maintained with a good deal of donated labor.