Native Plants, Chaparral: Conversation with ‘Charlie’

From time to time, people come by to comment and engage with the information on this website. We appreciate that. ‘Charlie’ commented on several posts, but this comment was long and complex enough that it deserved a separate post.


Charlie: Hmm, well as someone who is not part of your group, the way you are tossing around ‘nativist’ was a big put-off.

‘Nativist’ is a word – like so many in the English language – with multiple meanings: Linguists use it to describe supporters of the position that language acquisition is an inborn aptitude; Politicians use it to describe people who oppose immigration. Over here, we use it to refer to those who support Native Plants and ecosystems at the expense of naturalized ones, and we don’t think we’re confusing the word with its other meanings. We find it less clunky than “Native Plant Advocates” or “Native Plant Supporters.” (Nor were we the first to use it: Michael Pollan used it back in 1994 in a New York Times article, Against Nativism.)

Charlie: I think the idea of people who ‘want to kill every non-native plant’ is a myth. I am very interested in native plants and know a lot of others who are too and I have never met anyone who meets that description. I do think invasive plants should be removed when possible. People who want eucalyptus removed because it is invasive are more anti-invasive than anti-non-native.

Actually, eucalyptus is not invasive except possibly where there’s a lot of moisture. Sutro Forest harvests a lot of moisture, but there’s nowhere for it to invade; it’s a bounded forest. Those Native Plant Advocates who want to remove this eucalyptus refer to it as “California’s largest weed” and to the forest as a “plantation.” Sounds anti-non-native to us.

Charlie: I realize this particular grove of trees is in a very urban area and maybe the best use of the land is leaving it alone. I’m not sure exactly why people are trying to restore it to native plants.

Perhaps because it’s a group that highly values native plants and devalues non-native plants? And also tends to devalue trees?

Charlie: I am worried about what seems like biased/inaccurate science on this web page because people may use this web page to justify ‘protecting’ invasive Eucalyptus stands in places where they are actively displacing natural ecosystems. Our native ecosystems are so threatened, and being crowded out and destroyed in so many ways – do we really need to be promoting the spread of an invasive tree?

We support protecting existing natural ecosystems, whether native or not. “Natural” being what grows naturally without the use of herbicides or massive gardening efforts. This is not to say we don’t support gardens and parks; we do. Golden Gate Park is one of the city’s finest assets. But we don’t support the destruction of a natural (though non-native) ecosystem into a garden of native plants.

We do try not to have inaccurate science here; we mention our sources. We also base a lot of our statements on our own observations, often backed by photographs. If you find inaccuracies, you’re most welcome to say so in comments. But it’s more useful if you’re specific rather than saying ‘ur doing it wrong.’ As to bias – this website was started for a purpose, which is clearly stated.

Charlie: I think most pro-native-plant people want the same thing as you – vibrant, pleasant open space in the community for recreation, wildlife, and performing of ecological function. if you feel that Eucalyptus meets those goals… well maybe you are right. It is the reasoning behind it that I am hung up on.

We too feel that we should be allies rather than opponents. Yet one group that opposes our efforts, Nature in the City, clearly seeks to destroy the existing non-native ecosystem in order to promote the growth of native plants. Their goal is ecological restoration within San Francisco. Since no one is going to destroy buildings for “ecological restoration,” they must address open spaces – many of which already have established ecosystems.

Charlie: I agree that those eucalyptus trees are not likely to spread. But again, a website saying that needs to be very clear that you are only talking about *THOSE* trees. You mention Angel Island where the situation is very different.

Well, on Angel Island the eucalyptus was planted there, it hadn’t invaded the place.  It’s all but gone now, and there’s grassland instead. We don’t know much about the prior ecosystem, but in terms of fire-hazard? It’s had several wildland fires since the trees were felled, but none before. The last fire covered half the island.

In fact, there’s no evidence that eucs are actually invasive in any practical way. There’s an article about it on another website, citing research from Berkeley.

Charlie: Is the proposal to remove eucalyptus trees and plant a native plant garden, or to do habitat restoration? These are very different also.

The specific proposal for Sutro Forest is to remove thousands of eucalyptus trees leaving a sparse canopy and a drier environment, mowing down the non-native plants in the understory and encouraging native plants to grow there, and using Roundup and Garlon to prevent resprouting. A Native Plant Garden was in fact put in on the summit and is tended by volunteers from the Mount Sutro Stewards, a part of Nature in the City. It includes two [ETA: a few] oak trees, now about 10-15 feet tall.

Charlie: I agree also that before the eucalyptus was there, it was cleared/disturbed ranchland. However, before that, it probably had oaks. Every other intact hill along that coast has oaks, why would that one not? I’m not as sure about the redwoods.

Actually, there’s no evidence of oaks there at all. Prior to the non-native grasses, it may have been grassland or chaparral or a mix of the two. On the Western side, sand dunes reportedly came right to the foot of the mountain.

Charlie: Is the understory mainly ruderal plants or are there native plants there as well? I have never seen an eucalyptus grove with any sort of understory at all other than poison oak, thistle, maybe some ivy. If that stand is an exception, that is very interesting since I haven’t come across one like that before.

The understory is mainly blackberry, ivy, and acacia. But there are also a lot of others, including holly, cherry, plum, redwood, toyon, elderberry. A study conducted around 1999 mentions 93 plant species.

Charlie: 125 years is not very long in terms of ecology/natural selection. The genetics of the trees of course have not changed at all since they are the same trees! Has a plant survey been done? If a bunch of non-invasive plants, mosses, and lichens are present under that eucalyptus grove it is indeed an anomalous place and should be studied further. I admittedly have not been in that stand though I have been in other ones in the Bay Area – again the understories in those stands were very sparse.

No, 125 years is not a long time in terms of evolution (though evolution can move very quickly in fast-reproducing species). This is more a matter of adaptation and natural selection – a whole lot of plant species blew in or were bird-carried in from surrounding areas, and those that were adapted to the year-round damp cloud-forest conditions thrived. I’m not sure where you live, but it may be you haven’t seen a eucalyptus cloud forest. It looks very different from the drier inland eucalyptus forests. Possibly – and this is a conjecture – shading and water competition may be causing effects being attributed to phytotoxins. You sometimes see similar effects in redwood forests.

Charlie: I did fly around the area on Google Maps. it is neat to see that this much open space is even still present in the city. I am currently working in a similar open space in Pittsburgh (a forest with native and non-native trees). My first thought when I saw your mountain was ‘wow, what a monoculture of trees’ – if you scroll way north or south and find a place in the coastal mountains and look at one of those forests, you will see a lot more variety. However, I can’t see the understory and perhaps there is a lot more going on there. Certainly the area is better off as an eucalyptus forest than as a development.

The trees are about 80% eucalyptus. But it probably has as many species as say, a redwood forest or an oak/ bay-laurel forest. It’s not rare to have forests with a single dominant species even if they evolved naturally on a site without being planted there.

Fortunately, UCSF has committed to maintaining the 61 acres it owns as an Open Space Reserve, and the remaining 19 acres belongs to the City’s Rec and Parks department.

Charlie: Some constructive criticism: I think the ‘nativist’ stuff will alienate (no pun intended!) a lot of potential allies including scientists and ecologists who care about the area. Why not just say ‘these trees are an important part of the community, they are not harming native ecosystems, and we want them to stay’? That is a solid argument I’d have nothing to say against. After all, it is YOUR forest.

We wish. The Native Plant Advocates say that the “forest” is not a forest, it’s a plantation of California’s largest weed; they want to promote Native Plant biodiversity on the mountain. Unless people recognize it as a valuable ecosystem, they will want to change it, or not care if it’s destroyed. (This isn’t unique to eucalyptus forests. The defenders of old chaparral feel the same way.)

Charlie: I am more concerned, again, with what I see as biased information being used to justify allowing invasive species to ravage through my favorite canyons nearby. I’ve seen people rip the crap out of 100+ year old chaparral for ‘fire clearance’ and leave flammable Eucalyptus trees around their homes – when the fire comes they go up like torches. Chaparral is already a very misunderstood and maligned ecosystem and it breaks my heart to see it villainized again.

We don’t oppose chaparral at all. In fact, there’s an area of chaparral (Number 2 in the picture) below the forest on SF Public Utility Commission land which we would also defend if it were threatened; but so far, thankfully, it’s not.  (Incidentally, in the sixty years the forest grew contiguous to that land before the houses were built there, the eucalyptus did not invade the chaparral.)

We would like to promote the diversity of ecosystems in the western part of San Francisco (or for that matter, all of San Francisco). We think preserving the forest (number 1 in the picture) is important in this respect; there are only two patches of dense forest in the area (Mt Davidson, number 4, is the other), and this is both the largest and the densest of them. (Go to the original article for a key to all the numbers.)

On the flammability of eucs: We have a number of articles here suggesting its been overstated. Here’s one. And at Scripps Ranch, San Diego, they certainly didn’t go up like torches when fire came through. They stood when other vegetation – and homes – burned.

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62 Responses to Native Plants, Chaparral: Conversation with ‘Charlie’

  1. milliontrees says:

    Like Charlie I considered it rude to call native plant advocates “nativists” and for many years I avoided the use of that term. Then I noticed that some native plant advocates call themselves nativists (see comment from JMC on this SaveSutro post: . And I also noticed the anti-immigration (of humans) diatribes of one the most prominent members of the community of native plant advocates in his email newsletter. I concluded that it is both fair and appropriate to call native plant advocates “nativists” even though it probably does not apply uniformly to every native plant advocate.

    In any community of interest, one finds a range of opinions. Some nativists advocate for a “bioregional” approach, which we gather means that they wish to plant trees and plants that may not have existed historically in a specific location, but existed somewhere in California. At the opposite extreme, there are native plant advocates who frankly demand that all non-natives be destroyed and that only those natives that existed prior to the arrival of Europeans (1776) be planted in the same locations. And there are many positions between these extremes.

    Likewise, one finds a range of opinions amongst critics of the native plant movement. There are those who care most about saving healthy non-native trees from what we believe is needless destruction. There are those who are primarily concerned about the wildlife that needs the existing trees and vegetation for survival. Those who are opposed to use of herbicides in our public lands are another important contingent.

    I could go on. Charlie will surely get my point. He is quite knowledgeable about the issues and we thank him for this opportunity to discuss them.

  2. Charlie says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think you can just take a word that is often used to refer to racists and bigots, use it against people who you disagree with, and then just say ‘oh, but in THIS case it means something else”… it doesn’t work that way. You are using an inflammatory and insulting word and in my opinion it is uncalled for. It’s immature and silly. You know very well what the word means… i could make analogies with other words that are ‘just words’ but are still hurtful and wrong to use that way… but I won’t insult your intelligence.

    Honestly I think the trees should probably stay, if what I can gather about the site is correct. However, I really hope that whatever happens, you get rid of this website as soon as the situation is resolved. Us conservationists already have so many people against us, and it is ridiculous to go after people who are trying to preserve native plants. Period. You are doing more harm than good across the state, even if you save your trees. I also don’t believe that there is ANY person who wants to remove these trees “just because they aren’t native”. People want to remove them because they are a fire danger, because they are INVASIVE in some settings, or because they just don’t like eucalyptus. The whole ‘native nazi’ mythos is just that – a story made up by people who try to obstruct restoration. Native nazis or ‘nativists’ who try to kill all non-native plants… just don’t exist.

    Anyway, I’ve seen enough here. I hope people who visit this web page form their own opinions on these things and don’t spread any more hatred around the conservation field.

    • webmaster says:


      The only thing we hate is the destruction of this forest in particular and forests in general.

      We don’t describe anyone as Native Nazis. We respect individuals, even if we completely disagree with their plant philosophy. We hate the use of toxic herbicides in “natural” areas. And we’re happy to engage in respectful discussion with people who don’t subscribe to our views.

      And we also hope people who visit this website will indeed form their own opinions. We’ve tried to explain the reasoning behind ours.

  3. milliontrees says:

    If Charlies chooses to equate the word “nativist” with the word “Nazi” we can’t prevent him from doing so, although the distinction is clear in our minds.

    For my part, I will quit using the word “nativist” on the Million Trees blog, even though some native plant advocates describe themselves as such. If it offends some native plant advocates, it is easily avoided. The phrase “native plant advocate” is clunky, but until I find a synonym that doesn’t offend, I’ll stick with it.

    However, I don’t feel entirely sympathetic to Charlie’s complaint about “conservationists” being criticized. When I joined the Sierra Club and Audubon over 30 years ago, they were not advocating the destruction of healthy trees or the use of toxic herbicides to kill them. Their misanthropic agenda is worthy of criticism, in my opinion. They are now more interested in plants than in the health and safety of animals (unless they are endangered), including humans.

    Million Trees

  4. Charlie says:

    Hi! Lots here so just a few comments for now.

    I am sure there are native plant advocates (as in any other group) who also hold racist or anti-immigration views. I’m sure there are also pro-introduced plant people who hold these views. I personally care a lot about native ecosystems and support removal of invasive plants when possible, but my personal politics are rather liberal and most other people with my views are as well. I think it sets a really dangerous precedent to compare invasive species with different groups of humans. You just don’t want to go there. Eucalyptus trees have their inherent value, but they are VERY different from human social groups.

    Don’t even get me started on that Michael Pollan article. I’ve read it before, it is idiotic on many levels, and before you mention it to people I recommend you google ‘Godwin’s Law’. It’s too bad because I think he has a lot of good points on food production. [Webmaster: Idiotic? Maybe you could be more specific?]

    Most ecologists I know care about preserving complex, stable ecosystems that evolved over thousands of years. By definition, something that has been here 1000 years is ‘native’ but the reason we care about it isn’t where it was born, but that it has an amazing, beautiful, infinitely complex set of interactions with the other organisms in this area. I realize this is a value statement, but I think that is OK. If anything, the ‘nativists’ argue for MORE diversity while the pro-eucies argue for somewhat less diversity. There just isn’t any way any introduced plant has gotten to the same point as oaks and redwoods in CA, and it is really, to me, tragic to see these systems torn to shreds by invasive species. Again, I realize that does not ncessarily apply to your forest, but due to google and the wide range of the internet, I still feel that statements that are not applicable to the whole state need to be clearly stated as such.

    I can definitely tell you that eucalyptus *can* be invasive, I have both seen it invading intact habitat myself, and read scientific papers about it. Again, this doesn’t seem like an issue in Sutro Forest, but if there is a big website saying it is ‘not invasive in California’, it can cause harm elsewhere.

    You said ” Those Native Plant Advocates who want to remove this eucalyptus refer to it as “California’s largest weed” and to the forest as a “plantation.”

    Again, a WEED is an undesirable or invasive plant. Calling for removal of a ‘weed’ is not ‘nativism’. There are native plants that can be quite weedy at times, and many, many non-native plants that are not weeds These people are NOT OPPOSED TO PLANTS FROM OTHER PLACES, they just don’t want invasive plants around. A plantation is simply a grove of planted trees. This is a grove of planted trees so it IS a plantation. This doesn’t mean it is valueless or needs to be killed, but it IS a plantation!

    [Webmaster: Not actually. A plantation is a grove of trees planted primarily to provide products – like lumber or palm-oil or rubber – while afforestation is the planting of a forest where there wasn’t one before. The intent here, in context, is clearly to belittle its value.]

    RE: it is really hard for me to get past the obvious bias and confrontational nature of the URL to even read this article.

    “We support protecting existing natural ecosystems, whether native or not. ”
    Again, while all groupings of organisms can be called an ecosystem, *MOST* eucalyptus groves are much less diverse than native forests. I’m not just making this up. I spent about 8 years mapping different vegetation communities in California, the oak woodlands usually had 100+ species in an acre or so, while the Euc groves had maybe 10 to 20 species. Again, if your grove is special, that may be a reason to protect it, but your generalizations may be dangerous.

    You are ‘citing’ a lot of references that are also written by you. In science this would be considered a form of ‘double dipping’ and not really valid citations. [Webmaster: The intent is not to “double dip” but to refer to areas which we’ve already covered, since this website contains >100 articles. In those articles you will find the references or observations we used.]
    There IS literature about the invasive nature of eucalyptus and if you are really interested I can look it up. I am not on campus for the next few weeks so I can’t access the scientific papers that are not available to the general public (they should be available to everyone but that is another issue). As for personal observations and thoughts – totally valid but again remember they apply to only your forests. If you go to visit other eucalyptus groves and find elements of beauty and diversity that I have missed, by all means post about that too.

    “Yet one group that opposes our efforts, Nature in the City, clearly seeks to destroy the existing non-native ecosystem in order to promote the growth of native plants.”

    I don’t know much about this group so can’t say whether or not I agree with their approach. However I strongly disagree with the statement you also made that there is no space for native plants in the city. There is a LOT of space for native (and other non-invasive xeric) plants in the city, starting with every lawn we are stealing water from Hetch Hetchy to irrigate. My opinion is that people should be planting native plants in their yards, rain gardens, etc, before they go after the eucalyptus grove. You’d be amazed how much wildlife you attract with just a few native plants. I definitely notice more wildlife in oaks than eucs, though I have seen a really neat mating pair of barn owls use eucs as well.

    As for Angel Island, if the eucs were removed and non-native grasses invaded instead, then yeah the tree removal was probably a waste of time. However I don’t think there is a ‘natural’ occurrence of fires very often there, because as you know dry summer lightning is quite rare in SF. [Webmaster: Angel Island has resident staff and many visitors. It doesn’t take lightning.] Of course, the Native Americans did manage the land with fire, which is a really interesting subject I won’t talk about right now.

    Eucalyptus trees do harvest moisture from fog but remember they also use a LOT of water. It may be that they use a lot more water than they collect. [Webmaster: Not in this forest, they don’t.]

    Eucs have been known to dry up creeks they were planted by. Here is an article that mentions this and many other eucalyptus issues: and yeah, that one is ‘biased’ too but I have observed some of those things as well. Have you encountered birds having their beaks glued shut by eucalyptus flowers?

    [Webmaster: That’s a reproduction of the anti-eucalyptus article by Ted Williams; the beak-gumming myth has been debunked.]

    “It’s not rare to have forests with a single dominant species even if they evolved naturally on a site without being planted there.”

    This is true but the mixed evergreen forest community which includes bay and oak is highly diverse. There is also a mix of tree ages and sizes in these stands which allows for use by more sorts of animals. I was referring not only to the low species diversity of the overstory but also the lack of different tree sizes in that layer. [Webmaster: There’s a wealth of different tree sizes. In a 100 years, things shake out.]

    “I’m not sure where you live, but it may be you haven’t seen a eucalyptus cloud forest. It looks very different from the drier inland eucalyptus forests. Possibly – and this is a conjecture – shading and water competition may be causing effects being attributed to phytotoxins. You sometimes see similar effects in redwood forests.”

    There are a lot of different sorts of Euc stands. The ones I have seen around Montana De Oro get about the same amount of rain (~20 inches/yr) and abundant fog and wind. These stands are pretty homogenous with very little understory, though they certainly are very drippy. It isn’t a perfect analogy but it’s close. I agree that attributes claimed to be allelopathy are often actually due to water and shade competition and different herbivory regimes. But does it matter how the eucs kill the other plants, if they are doing it?

    Posting this now since it is so long, more to follow. Sorry it is disjointed.

    • webmaster says:

      On the matter of beak-gumming in birds: It’s a myth.

      (And when we make reference to other articles on this website, we’re not using them as a reference source – except for primary observations – but referring to topics that have been covered before, or to background on our opinions.)

      • Charlie says:

        Hmm, well that is valid except I am not always going to want to dig through every part of this web site to find a specific reference. [From webmaster:I’m afraid that’s the nature of information. Thousands of hours have gone into this website, because our contributors do look up references, and when possible, link to them. ]

        As for the bird thing I am not a bird expert and I have no evidence either way for the gumming thing but…

        [Webmaster: We’ve moved the rest of this comment to the relevant post.]

  5. Charlie says:

    Wow, that was really long. I will try to be more concise this time, sorry.

    Re: herbicides being used to remove invasives – this is a really really complicated issue and is hard to address in a short amount of space. I think it is good to be wary of chemicals. However, as someone who has taken pesticide application training but also is opposed to how pesticides are used in agriculture… I will tell you that I am surprised people even bother worrying about this subject with what is happening in agricultural areas. Glyphosate (round-up) has never been documented to harm humans, despite what you have heard, though I still wouldn’t expose myself to it just in case! Triclopyr (garlon) is a bit harsher but still pretty minor. The things they are putting on factory farms that then get in your water are insane – soil fumigants, KNOWN severe carcinogens and bioaccumulants – things that would kill you just if you got them on your skin. I am not saying that we should flippantly use round-up, but you are stomping on a campfire with 100 foot flames burning your house on the other side of the hill. Also Roundup and Garlon are just DUMPED on lawns, golf courses, and landscaping, way more so than any restoration area. That being said I dislike herbicides and think they should be used like chemotherapy – caringly and sparingly and only if necessary. Oftentimes it is possible to remove things without them. When it is needed it should be applied as sparingly and precisely as possible. I understand why people are wary of this being in their community, I am too, but before you worry about some cut-and-daub on a euc resprout, ask your neighbor what is going onto their lawn. My dad bought some weed killer and asked me about it – it contained 2-4-D – the active ingredient in AGENT ORANGE. This is being sprayed on lawns every day….

    • webmaster says:

      It’s no secret that the EPA’s rules for approving chemicals are more “favorable” than in most developed countries. As for Roundup, it has been linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma as well as other illnesses in humans, and it’s pretty poisonous to anything amphibious. Garlon is also pretty bad. (We have more information on our Herbicides page.) Both of these are used already by the “Natural Areas Program” of the city on other steep hills (where they can wash down and accumulate at lower levels); but Mt Sutro Forest has been free of herbicides since 2008 and the student housing beside it since September 2009. San Francisco’s not a city of expansive lawns and anyway, most of my neighbors prefer organic products. The City does use a lot more herbicides than we like. Fortunately, no one seems to be using 2,4 D. Garlon seems to be the toxin of choice.

      • Charlie says:

        I’m not going to specifically defend herbicide use because I agree Round-Up is overused in many situations, and I am not familiar with exactly what is proposed in this forest. I haven’t been able to find any peer-reviewed papers that have found a link between Round-Up and cancer, though I did read through your links and I think there is enough circumstantial concern to avoid direct contact with it! Hopefully I don’t get cancer for having it had touched my skin in the past 😦 However, I do think there is a lot of evidence that glyphosate is neutralized by soil and does not spread into the groundwater. The element of Round-Up that is highly toxic to amphibians/fish is the surfactant – basically a soap. All soaps, which contain surfactants, make it impossible for amphibians and fish to breathe. There is a formulation of glyphosate called aqua-master without this surfactant that is intended to be non-poisonous to amphibians and fish. I don’t trust Monsanto either but at this point, peer-reviewed science is the best thing we have. That being said, I understand why you don’t want it applied in your forest.

        SF does indeed have less lawns than most California cities, which is a good thing. I’d certainly rather see a self-watering urban Eucalyptus forest than a big lawn with imported water.

        • webmaster says:

          Yeah, the surfactant POEA. Takes out Amphibians, human embryonic cells, and who knows what else.

          As far as I know, all the research we’ve cited about herbicides comes from peer-reviewed journals (including the link to non-Hodgkins lymphoma) or from field data. The data we *don’t* have about pesticides is also considerable – particularly the effects of long-term low-dose exposure.

          I remember when we all thought asbestos was safe.

        • Charlie says:

          Yeah, there is still lots of DDT in the ocean off of Palos Verdes too. It was also supposed to be harmless. I definitely don’t support mindless or excessive use of herbicides, even glyphosate. I did see somewhere that it may have some disruptive effect on spider mating habits… in any event the cut and daub method is a lot less likely to cause problems. Totally uncalled for to use in landscaping on pullable weeds, though.

  6. Charlie says:

    Actually, there’s no evidence of oaks there at all. Prior to the non-native grasses, it may have been grassland or chaparral or a mix of the two. On the Western side, sand dunes reportedly came right to the foot of the mountain.

    I’d love to see your source – and I am not saying that to be obnoxious. Historic evidence of early California vegetation is really hard to come by. Actual coastal chaparral is very rare and I would more expect to see coastal sage scrub on this site, coastal prairie, and oaks. However it is of course possible that oaks weren’t on that hill, every place is different and it is somewhat isolated.

    [Webmaster: Good point- I don’t have a specific source. But early pictures and descriptions don’t include trees there.]

    The understory is mainly blackberry, ivy, and acacia. But there are also a lot of others, including holly, cherry, plum, redwood, toyon, elderberry. A study conducted around 1999 mentions 93 plant species.

    ouch! the invasive blackberry (Rubus armeniacus or Rubus discolor if that is what you have) is a NASTY NASTY plant that completely ruins a lot of sites. Trust me, you do not want that around! I don’t know if Ivy can kill a full grown Euc but I have seen it heartbreakingly destroy an alder forest – bad news too. Also remember, a plant list shows number of plants but not distribution or density. Having 1 toyon on the edge of a stand is different than a full toyon understory.

    [Webmaster: Blackberry may “ruin” a lot of sites, but this is a forest with a blackberry understory habitat. And if the ivy were going to kill these trees, it would have done so already. It’s been around for decades. I’m sorry about your alder forest, though. Unless people recognize it as a valuable ecosystem, they will want to change it, or not care if it’s destroyed.]

    I think this is a really valid point but I think it speaks to where I disagree with you too. This stand is valuable for a LOT of reasons… but preserving intact California ecosystems is not one of them. I don’t understand why you don’t just explain to people what you DO love about these trees. Values and gut feelings win over science every time anyway, even when this is not a good thing. [Webmaster: Political comment edited out.] And I’m glad you found that article in the chaparral site – I love that organization.

    [Webmaster: No, it’s not an “intact California ecosystem” and I don’t think there is one within the 47 square miles of San Francisco. It’s a special, even unique, ecosystem nonetheless. There’s nothing scientific about the Native Plant movement; it’s all about values.]

    In fact, there’s an area of chaparral (Number 2 in the picture) below the forest on SF Public Utility Commission land which we would also defend if it were threatened; but so far, thankfully, it’s not. (Incidentally, in the sixty years the forest grew contiguous to that land before the houses were built there, the eucalyptus did not invade the chaparral.)

    I think I see coyote brush, sagebrush, black sage, and poison oak there. Depending on your classification scheme it isn’t really chaparral (central coastal scrub per Holland) but your point is valid. I have seen eucs invade chaparral in some settings. I’m glad they aren’t here and since it is a small site if they do it should be possible to keep them out without the herbicides you don’t want to use anyway.

    [Webmaster: I’ve heard it called “soft chaparral, bit I’m okay with coastal scrub. Haven’t really researched it. Anyway it’s in no danger from the eucs now; it’s mainly bordered by homes on two sides and a PUC private road on another.]

    Euc flammability may be somewhat overstated, especially in this wet site, but it definitely burns like mad sometimes. Again, so does chaparral. It should mainly be an issue if there is lots of dead wood and dead trees, in this particular site. Was the picture you posted one of a house fire, or one of a wildfire when a house burned? I can’t tell from the picture.

    [Webmaster: Scripps Ranch? There was a wildfire that burned a number of homes – and hardly any of the eucs surrounding them. There’s an even better picture here that ran in the New York Times. And yes, in Mount Sutro forest, the wet conditions reduce the fire hazard. Even in dry conditions, the evidence is dubious. Milliontrees has a detailed article about this. ]

  7. webmaster says:

    Hi Charlie,

    As you say, lots here… we’ll try to answer, in several separate comments.

    As an old internet hand, of course I know Godwin’s Law! But it doesn’t apply when it’s an actual reference to historical Nazi Germany, as in Pollan’s article. It refers to random similes to Hitler or Nazis.

    As for weed and plantation – well, a weed is a plant in the ‘wrong’ place, which really is a matter of opinion, and encapsulates a pejorative value-judgment – as you accuse us of doing with nativist. So plantation doesn’t refer merely to the fact that the forest was planted – that’s commonly called afforestation. No one calls native plant restoration efforts native plant plantations even though by your definition, that’s what they would be. Plantation implies cropping, and a different management regime than a naturalized forest, which is why it is being used in this context by those who want to cut down trees in the forest.

    Incidentally, in the “tree huggers” post – the term tree-hugger was used, dismissively, by the speaker. And he did talk of getting rid non-native trees. (Another Native Plant Advocate did in fact kill trees illegally some years ago.) We felt justified in using the same terminology. His speech was confrontational, our response less so. (It’s online and linked from the article.)

  8. Charlie says:

    Webmaster: I know you didn’t say ‘native nazi’ and hopefully I didn’t imply that you did. Also you have been very good about letting me share my thoughts which is a good thing. Thanks!

    Milliontrees: I can’t speak for every native plant advocate. I found it confrontational and somewhat offensive. If others are using the name, I’m not sure what to tell you – but certainly sometimes groups use inflammatory words to describe themselves even when it isn’t appropriate for others to do so. (I also think JMC may have been being sarcastic). It is unfortunate that someone who likes native plants was ranting about ‘illegals’ but certainly he is an exception – also if he is Caucasian and the people he discussed were Mexican he is ridiculous since Mexicans have been in the SF area longer than Americans.

    At the opposite extreme, there are native plant advocates who frankly demand that all non-natives be destroyed and that only those natives that existed prior to the arrival of Europeans (1776) be planted in the same locations

    Have you honestly met anyone who advocated this? I’ve been in this ‘scene’ a long time and I never have. I suppose there are ridiculous extremists in any group… however they are by far the minority if they even exist. Also, most ecologists use 1492, not 1776, as their benchmark. Plants don’t care about the American Revolution and certainly some invasives, like mustard, were already here by then anyway.

    I think the herbicides issue should be kept separate from whether or not invasive plants should be removed. It is ridiculous to condemn an entire branch of land management because you don’t like ONE method of enacting it.

    Thanks for your respectful post!

  9. Charlie says:

    Oh, RE: environmental movements and their lack of accepting people as part of the ecosystem – I TOTALLY agree, it is something me and my group have been talking about and it is a real problem, one we may not be able to solve without tearing down and rebuilding the whole darn thing. However, I don’t agree that environmentalists spend too much time focusing on plants – quite the opposite I think. At first people tried just to preserve animals but in the end it is their HABITAT that is most important to their survival. That is a generalization and doesn’t apply specifically to Sutro.

    [Webmaster: Except, of course, that Mount Sutro Forest is home to a number of animals, birds, and insects. Incidentally – I apologize for answering in embedded comments like this, but the commentary is getting so lengthy that this is the only way to keep it accessible to readers.]

    To Webmaster: my reading of the Pollan article was that Hitler supported planting of German plants, therefore native plant people must be nazis. In a horrible parallel universe where Hitler invades and occupies California, do you think he would embark on a mission of invasive plant removal? I think in addition to other horrible things, he’d probably be trying to plant GERMAN plants here. What’s important is intent – not what Hitler may have done. Hitler also had a dog – is anyone with a dog a Nazi? It’s a ridiculous argument and one I would have thought Pollan would have been smart enough not to use. I think he was just mad because someone told him to get rid of a rose bush…

    [Webmaster: Pollan clearly says in his article that he is *not* implying that nativists are fascists or nazis. He is saying that this philosophy is not a new one, or a specifically American one.]

    Weed is indeed an extremely relative term with no definition. I don’t know if I’d exactly call it pejorative though obviously it belies that the person who wrote it thinks Eucalyptus doesn’t belong here. Again though, applying a term to a human is very different than applying one to a plant. [Webmaster: Of course it’s pejorative. A weed is a plant that deserves to be killed. How much more pejorative can you get? When we use the term ‘nativist’ we only refer to plant ideology. And we don’t have a problem with it except when it means destroying established ecosystems because they’re non-native.]

    A plantation is more than just a plant someone planted – it is a single aged, usually single species stand that is planted by humans for a specific reason (usually timber harvest). [Webmaster: This was planted to be beautiful. That doesn’t sound like a “plantation” which usually implies cropping. And Mount Sutro Forest has acquired a diverse understory in the century and a quarter of its existence.]

    Out east there are many plantations of native plants as well (often red pine), and just like the eucalyptus, these areas are less diverse in many ways than other types of woodland. [Webmaster: Depends on the type, doesn’t it? A redwood forest is dominated by redwood in much the same way, even though it hasn’t been planted.] I haven’t heard anyone say they stop being plantations when harvest of timber ceases, but if so, then it becomes a naturalized/feral plantation, not a native ecosystem. [Webmaster: Naturalized sounds right. Feral is again pejorative. And we’re far from claiming it to be a native ecosystem. What we’re arguing is that there’s no basis for valuing only native ecosystems and destroying naturalized ones to ‘restore’ native ones.]

    Habitat restoration attempts to reintroduce whole natural communities of many plant species. If I went and planted only Coast Live Oaks it might be considered an oak plantation. If I planted a bunch of other species that have evolved with these oaks and occur naturally with them, it wouldn’t be. [Webmaster: It would be a garden, then.]

    There are a lot of internal debates within restoration about this, and by no means do restoration ecologists agree as to exactly how restoration should be done. Again though, just because it is a plantation doesn’t mean it is valueless. [Webmaster: Though it was planted, it is not a plantation in any normal meaning of the term.] I personally do think opening up a plantation and planting other species is a good way to deal with it over time IF YOU ARE MANAGING for biological function/diversity, but in this case the community plantation/forest is being used for other things. Rather than trying to justify it as a functioning, diverse ecosystem, why not say the things you really like about the trees. [Webmaster: Actually, one of the things we like about it is that it clearly is behaving as a functioning, diverse ecosystem. It provides shelter to those birds, animals, and insects that prefer forested areas or damp understories. It’s part of a mosaic of different kinds of ecosystems in San Francisco.]

    When you are in this grove do you think about the ecological functions of the trees, or do you think of that strong pungent smell (yes even though I dislike California Eucs, I like the smell… it reminds me of my old home)… the sound of the wind in the trees, or the activities of a particular owl? This grove is a unique place with its own life and emergent properties. It isn’t, however, a natural ecosystem, nor are the organisms linked as intimately as they would be in an old growth oak forest (though restoration won’t bring that back any time soon either).

    [Webmaster: It’s a naturalized ecosystem. And without having visited or studied it, how can you say that the organisms aren’t intimately linked? What intimately linked organisms do you mean? How are such linkages studied? If you are referencing studies, could you cite them? Because we keep hearing this kind of generalization repeated as a truth, but without substantiation. One study of oak forest and euc forest showed an equal number of bird species using both sites.]

    I’ve literally hugged all sorts of trees and it is unfortunate that someone used that term negatively. It is also unfortunate that a native plant advocate was acting in a demeaning/rude way, but this doesn’t really say anything about the value or lack of value of native plants. It just means that person may have been communicating poorly due to being upset. My guess is like me, he/she has watched many of their favorite ecosystems being destroyed by invasive plants, and as such is emotional about it. [Webmaster: It was “he” and there’s a link to the speech on the website under the relevant post.]

  10. milliontrees says:

    The date selected by local native plant advocates to replicate is not arbitrary. It is the date of the establishment of the first mission by the Spanish in the Bay Area. It happens to coincide with the Declaration of Independence, but was not selected for that reason.

    We do not put words in the mouths of the native plant advocates when we describe their goals. There are elaborate written plans for most of these projects. We read them and we quote from them. Charlie can read them too, if he wishes. We provide links to them on our websites. When np advocates speak publicly we attend those meetings. When they have newsletters and websites, we visit those websites. We are not misrepresenting their intentions, although we know there is a range of opinions in that community as there is in ours.

    I selected the use of herbicides as the most obviously controversial management method used by restorationists. It is not the only management method that is controversial, nor is it a trivial matter. The list of issues is long and I won’t try to be exhaustive here, but here are a few: (1) The use of prescribed burns to replicate the natural fires that benefit native plants is controversial because these fires frequently cause major wildfires and even if they don’t they reduce air quality. (2) Many restorations have required access restrictions that have conflicted with recreational uses of public parks. (3) Many restorations have involved the eradication of animals that native plant advocates don’t consider “native”, such as feral cats, deer, red foxes, etc. (4) Many restorations destroy vegetation used by animals such as tall trees used by raptors, blackberry used by many birds, thickets used as cover by urban wildlife, such as coyotes.

    Charlie is at a disadvantage in this debate because he is viewing the local situation from afar. He isn’t in a position to know the local strategy of native plant advocates in the Bay Area unless he is willing to read several 500-page documents. Since “invasiveness” is a function of local conditions, he can’t generalize from experiences he has had in other locations. For example, native coyote brush is locally invasive and prescribed burns are used by some land managers in a fruitless attempt to prevent natural succession from grassland to chaparral. “Invasiveness” is not inherent to a specific plant. Depending upon soil, climate, etc., a plant that is invasive in one place, may not be in another.

    We have been respectful to Charlie and we ask for the same courtesy from him.

  11. Charlie says:


    I don’t personally agree with using any date to describe which plants aren’t native (not that it matters). The point is that some plants that humans brought from other continents during the age of European exploration invaded California and displaced species that were already here, causing vast changes to the ecosystem. Most of these are invasive herbs that probably were helped in their spread by lots of cattle. No, eucalyptus is not one of the worst invasive plants. Yes, it is a problem in some areas, not necessarily including Sutro Forest.

    I don’t understand why you assume i am ignorant of this process just because I don’t live in San Francisco. I lived in California for my whole life until a year ago. I’ve been very involved in native plant and invasive plant issues throughout all but the far northern part of the state. I of course can’t speak for everyone who supports conservation of native ecosystems, but I do feel that some posts and comments on this website describe only extremists in this group. I know this is not necessarily intentional on your part since those people are the ones you will notice and disagree with the most.

    Prescribed burns are not effective in restoring chaparral, coastal sage scrub, redwood, oak woodland, etc. The only place I have seen them used for restoration is in some bunchgrass prairies but I can’t imagine why anyone would light a hill in the middle of the city on fire. Has it actually been proposed?

    I can’t think of many ‘access restrictions’ more significant than Himalayan blackberry and yellow star thistle except maybe a farmer with a shotgun. I’m not sure what you are referring to re: this subject but it sounds like a restoration project was enacted that was not supported by the community. This is of course not a good thing, but this doesn’t mean all restoration projects are like this.

    It is silly to claim you care about songbirds, then later complain about removal of feral cats. I am not in favor of inhumane treatment of any animal but feral cats are a huge, huge songbird predator. A good solution to feral cat problems is to neuter and release them, and discourage people from feeding them. Or, just wait for coyotes to find them, I guess. Deer populations are often very high in urban parks, leading to starvation of deer and destruction of many plant species. Some cities have allowed some deer hunting with the meat harvested being donated to homeless shelters. I am not sure if this is an issue in SF.

    It is true that some impact to animals will occur if large trees are removed. I don’t think anyone proposed to remove all of the trees though, just some of them, right? If you cared only about hawks, you would probably support a more open woodland… though again, maybe this is not right for Sutro. As I am sure you will agree, managing for a single species is problematic.

    Just to reiterate, I am currently involved in this discussion because I feel that there are generalizations on this website that can and will be harmful if applied to other areas. I have worked on restoration projects involving very invasive plants that were opposed by communities because of reading information just like this. You are of course welcome to any opinion but I am posing a counter opinion, and I am grateful you have allowed me to do so.

    Again, coyote brush is a coastal sage scrub plant, not a chaparral plant. There are big differences between these plant communities. It is a successional species but can be persistent pretty much indefinitely in central California. I like coyote brush because in many settings it can outcompete invasive herbs, allowing other native plants to reestablish. Burning it away is a bad idea for a lot of reasons, but it sounds like you are on the same page here.

    I do thank you for being respectful (except the nativist thing but it could be worse) and I have tried to be respectful too. If I have been disrespectful (especially in my early posts – i can see how i may have been at first), I apologize. I strongly believe that acting that way is detrimental to finding solutions to this problem, and I will even re-read this entire post now to make sure it is as respectful as possible. (done – it is a bit shorter now too)

    • milliontrees says:

      “I don’t understand why you assume I am ignorant of this process just because I don’t live in San Francisco.”

      Your comments suggest that you are not familiar with the restoration plans that our websites discuss. For example, “Has it [prescribed burns] actually been proposed?” and “I’m not sure what [access restrictions] you are referring to.” Etc.

      “I do feel that some posts and comments on this website describe only extremists in this group.”

      Again, we are describing actual public documents, such as 500-page written restoration plans. If they seem extreme, it is because the plans are extreme.

      “…why anyone would light a hill in the middle of the city on fire. How it actually been proposed?”

      Prescribed burns are not a part of the plans for Mt. Sutro, as far as we know. They are, however, proposed—in written, official documents—for city-owned parks in San Francisco, for regional parks in the East Bay, and federal properties in the Bay Area (where they have already occurred).

      “I can’t think of many “access restrictions”…”

      Park visitors are fenced out of many restorations. Trails are closed that pass through what are considered “fragile areas.” Other forms of recreation are sometimes excluded from restorations in public parks, e.g., bicycles are restricted to paved roads, dogs are prohibited.

      “It is silly to claim you care about songbirds, than later complain about removal of feral cats….”

      I listed many controversial issues, but I did not say that the same people care about all of these issues. People have their priorities. Those who are very committed to the welfare of cats are not necessarily equally committed to the welfare of songbirds. Nor did I identify my own personal priorities, so these are not MY claims. It is not respectful to call people’s concerns “silly.”

      “…I feel that there are generalizations on this website…”

      I believe that you are mistaken. The Save Sutro website confines itself to the plans for Mt. Sutro. When they venture from that specific topic to other similar restorations, they say so. The Million Trees website covers many projects in the Bay Area. When covering a specific issue, such as prescribed burns, the Million Trees website says exactly which project conducts or plans to conduct them. And in each case, links are provided to the plans themselves so that you can verify that the plans are not being misrepresented.

      Many of your comments are generalizations, e.g., “The point is that some plants that humans brought from other continents during the age of European exploration invaded California and displaced species that were already here…” Which plants… in which specific locations…displaced which plants? If we are to avoid inflicting more harm than good on the environment, that’s how specific we must be.

  12. Charlie says:


    ok… as mentioned earlier, I am more worried about applications of this website to other areas than what happens in Sutro Forest.

    Again, we are describing actual public documents, such as 500-page written restoration plans. If they seem extreme, it is because the plans are extreme.

    I guess then we are just left with extreme on both sides Understandable, I guess, but unfortunate.

    RE: restoration and access issues, there is nothing inherent about native plants that excludes people – quite the opposite. It seems that this is a separate issue from whether or not restoration is a good idea. People want access to the native vegetation and it isn’t allowed, so of course they value these plants less than if they were able to touch, smell, run around near them. I think your point is valid.

    Nor did I identify my own personal priorities, so these are not MY claims. It is not respectful to call people’s concerns “silly.”

    Ok, that is valid but stems from misinterpretation. The ‘you’ doesn’t mean you personally. Let me rephrase: it is silly for a person to express concern about songbirds and also try to keep feral cats in a landscape. I stand by this. If you like chickens, you don’t put a fox in the chicken coop. Yes some people care about feral cats and not birds. They are welcome to that opinion, but it is arguably unfair to harbor animals that you cant keep on your land, that others do not want there.

    I feel that a lot of the views of the benefits/non invasive nature of eucalyptus don’t apply in all of California. My personal observations are not consistent with the observations here about eucalyptus. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valid to this forest but it does mean people may apply them to other areas as well.

    In looking at my response to this website, I was an ineffective communicator. If I had to do it again I’d do it differently. My intent wasn’t to alienate anyone.

    There are a lot of invasive plants and I can’t describe them all here, but at least 90% of the grassland vegetation in central and southern California consists of non-native plants. The original ecosystem is pretty much lost. Arundo and Tamarisk are invading many riparian areas. Chaparral is resilient if left alone, but if too many fires occur it can turn into non native grassland as mentioned above. A bit further away, vast stretches of the Great Basin are being converted from sagebrush to cheatgrass monocultures by a combination of cheatgrass and dry lightning-fed fires. This is a process that no one knows how to stop and it is possible in our lifetimes most sagebrush and (further south,) joshua trees may be gone. Similar issues exist with buffelgrass and Sajuaro cactus.

  13. Charlie says:

    You know, I didn’t even see a lot of the comments you made because they were embedded in my post. I understand why you are doing it but it makes it really hard to have a discussion on equal ground. I don’t get an email when my post gets edited, for instance.

    [Webmaster: I know, and I apologize. I didn’t have any other solution, and hopefully it won’t be a problem going forward. We have had long comments before, but not this extensively. If the comments are shorter and single-topic, it’s easier on readers; no one wants to read a very long multi-topic comment and a very long multi-topic response and then another lengthy rejoinder. If it’s just us having a dialogue, we should take it to email.]

    I don’t want to make another long post but a few things:

    Pollan SAYING he isn’t comparing native plant enthusiasts with Hitler is nice, but he clearly is trying to draw a parallel. I don’t agree with you or his assessment. I also think the article is nasty in general – any time Hitler is used for any analogy not related to genocide or WWII, it is out of line in my opinion.

    You talk a lot about birds. I think birds are valuable ecosystem components but they are also only one part of ecosystems. So eucalyptus is good for birds. It certainly isn’t good for plants, or for amphibians, probably not for reptiles or small mammals either. If birds are what you value I can see why you’d like the Eucalyptus but please remember that others may not consider them as the main desired species.

    Some people think eucalyptus is ‘beautiful’ while some enjoy coastal wildflowers or native prairie. I am glad you enjoy your forest and if the community most wants an eucalyptus forest, it should probably be left alone. But again I am worried much of this website is more generally anti-restoration and anti-native plants and these things may be applied to other places where eucalyptus IS displacing native plants. Please remember that even if *you* do not value shrubs or wildflowers very highly, others do. Eucalyptus is in no danger of going extinct but many native plants are. The second most important reason (behind development) is usually considered to be invasive plants though unfortunately climate change may bypass that if we don’t solve that problem.

    If I planted a bunch of other species that have evolved with these oaks and occur naturally with them, it wouldn’t be. [Webmaster: It would be a garden, then.]

    So you consider ALL restoration or plants planted or tended or affected by humans to be a ‘garden’? If so, everything is a garden, I guess. I don’t consider a native plant community growing on its own to be a garden, even if someone planted it. For that matter, I don’t really think these planted eucalyptus trees are a garden either. I understand why you don’t want to call it a plantation because it isn’t timber based. I don’t know what to call it then.

    Again, I haven’t walked through this grove but as stated above my main concern is how this website may be applied to other areas, and I HAVE done surveys of native vegetation and eucalyptus groves in other areas. If you are honestly interested in scientific papers about this I will gladly look for some in a week and a half when I am back home and have access to the academic community. Meanwhile I will direct you to the CAL-IPC site for a counterpoint – yes I realize this comes from what you would call a ‘nativist’ standpoint but it does offer scientific papers documenting issues with eucalyptus.

    Click to access Eucalyptus%20globulus.pdf

    and yes, I still do find ‘nativist’ offensive. There are a lot of things on the internet that are far, far worse, but I don’t think I am in the wrong for saying it could be interpreted very negatively.

    As always, thanks, and good luck. I hope you are enjoying your ‘fog forest’ during this very foggy summer.

  14. webmaster says:

    Gardens. Plantations. Crops. Orchards. As opposed to truly natural areas, where nature and chance are the only intervenors.

    We do know about the Cal-IPC website. About eucalyptus globulus, it has this information:

    “Blue gum aggressively invades neighboring plant communities from original plantings if adequate moisture is available for propagation by seed. Invasive in coastal locations, blue gum is rarely invasive in the Central Valley or in dry southern California locations. It is most invasive on sites subject to summer fog drip.”

    Mount Sutro Forest might qualify, because it harvests a great deal of fog-moisture; but it doesn’t invade, perhaps because there’s nowhere for it to go. So far as I know, neighbors aren’t pulling invasive euc seedlings from their yards.

    Euc forests can be refuges for wildlife other than birds, too, especially with a dense understory like this one.

    The fog forest is simply splendid this summer. Ethereal. Slushy. Mysterious.

    • Charlie says:

      I agree it isn’t likely to cause an invasiveness problem on Sutro Forest (unless part of it is cleared, then it may seed back in.) It definitely can spread in coastal areas where there is habitat available.. including in coastal southern California (Santa Barbara, Ventura, Malibu)… those areas are quite foggy and get as much rain as SF in places. I don’t think it is a problem inland, like you said. The Blackberry Cal-IPC page reads a not nastier though. I wish you guys would at least look at a non-herbicide method of removing that (cutting, then goats maybe?) That one really isn’t fair to keep in a place where it can spread, in my opinion.

  15. milliontrees says:

    [Webmaster: Edited to remove personal comments.]

    Charlie speculates that birds are the only type of animal that makes use of the eucalyptus, but without any supporting evidence such as citations of scientific studies.

    Monarch butterflies over-winter in the eucalyptus groves along the coast of California during their annual migration. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History provides this description of their visit there:

    We might also give some thought to why birds are frequently found in eucalyptus and what that implies about the existence of other animals. Several species of leaf gleaners (e.g., Ruby Crowned Kinglet) are commonly found in eucalyptus, which means they are finding insects or they wouldn’t be there. Hummingbirds are also found in eucalyptus, particularly in the winter when nectar is not found in native plants. That implies that bees are likely eating this nectar as well. Owls and raptors are found nesting and roosting in eucalyptus, which implies that they are finding rodents or other small prey in proximity.

    I won’t speculate beyond that because I can’t provide specific studies that would support that speculation. (I can do so for other species of non-native trees that are being eradicated by native plant advocates in other areas, such as the Tamarisk, but I don’t know of such inventories in eucalyptus.) However, unless without inventories of the various types of animals, I will not assume that those animals are not present in the eucalyptus forest.

    Evidence. That’s what is needed to support opinion.

    • Charlie says:

      [Webmaster: I am going to start editing out personal remarks. We welcome discussions, but we don’t do flame-wars. Sorry.]

      Milliontrees, If you had clicked on the link I posted from Cal-IPC, you will find links to a LOT of papers describing problems with Eucalyptus. A similar sheet describes even more problems associated with Himalayan Blackberry. I’m also aware that Monarchs used Eucalyptus. Obviously they used something else before the Eucalyptus was here, too. I am not saying we should remove these trees but I AM saying that a species that has been here for a million years is not dependent on something that has been here for 250 years. It doesn’t make sense.

      There is a very neutral page about Eucalyptus in California here: It indicates that some shrubs (including Toyon) can sometimes survive under eucalyptus but usually the understory contains weeds/invasive plants (including blackberry and ivy, which some of you seem to like…)

      Why are birds frequently found in Eucalyptus? Well, obviously they are nesting there… perhaps they are sheltering there and going elsewhere to feed. Are you actually sure the birds are feeding there? Maybe they are but their presence doesn’t mean they are. Hummingbirds and bees like very different types of flowers, and plants usually specialize in one or the other. So hummingbird presence does NOT indicate likelihood of bees, though I think bees do use blue gum.

      [Webmaster: Maybe the hummers and birds didn’t get the memo? A backyard red bottlebrush in flower has humming-birds, bees, and for good measure, bushtits and white-crowned sparrows. Right now, actually. The birds recorded in the eucs are probably feeding there. It’s also cover, but I don’t think small birds can afford to take a lot of time off food-search. Some may also nest there, but probably not all the 40 species.]

      If you were worried about owls and other raptors you would probably want to leave a few trees and have open space so they could hunt. These animals tend to adapt well to urban areas though and apparently they are fine. I’d be surprised if they hunt right in the grove (especially the hawks) but I could be wrong.

  16. Jonathan says:

    “What we’re arguing is that there’s no basis for valuing only native ecosystems and destroying naturalized ones to ‘restore’ native ones.”

    Yes there is. I’m a little shocked at the pro-introduced species attitude here – I usually spend my time talking to scientists and herpetology enthusiasts, and I’ve never, ever met one that expressed opinions like these. The support for native wildlife is a given. The simplest basis is that invasive species are most likely to be common, whereas native species are most likely to be rare. On a related note, the invasive species have plenty of places in the world to frequent, whereas there are fewer spots left for the native species to be found. The California Tiger Salamanders and red-legged frogs that probably lived there before aren’t invading new areas – they’re dying out. We have plenty of invasive eucalyptus and ivy and blackberry in the world. Our native species are the ones that we’re in danger of losing.

    If you’re a fan of the planet’s environment, then you should be a fan of ecological diversity. And invasive species almost always reduce overall ecological diversity.

    • webmaster says:

      OMG, we’re a really shocking website! 🙂


      If you’ve never heard opinions that differ from yours, perhaps you’ve come to the right place. While your opinions are your own, might you be interested in reading other viewpoints?

      Gutting Mount Sutro Cloud Forest definitely isn’t about saving salamanders or frogs. There’s no record that they lived there, and there’s no record they’re there now. (Though they may be – no one’s looked at reptiles in the forest, it’s very wet, and eucalyptus forest does support reptiles.

      Not all exotic species are invasive, nor are all invasive species exotic. And some of them are in decline where they originated: The house sparrow, considered an exotic invasive in the US, is on the endangered list in the UK.

      In any case, trying to “restore” every open space to Native Plants is unlikely to succeed without strenuous effort. The US runs on exotic species – nearly everything we eat is exotic in origin. Native animals also use introduced species of plants.

      And some scientists believe that exotic plants contribute to biodiversity, not reduce it.

      “Restorations” are difficult to achieve without a great deal of effort and herbicide; and even then, it can be an uphill battle. The problem is seldom just one or two “invasives” taking over a pristine habitat; it’s that everything around has changed. To try to maintain the native plant habitat in the face of that change require continued inputs of labor and chemicals. That’s why I likened it to gardening.

      • Charlie says:

        I think one of you is talking about ‘exotics’ and the other about ‘invasive’. Most invasives are exotic but very few (I think 1%?) of exotics are invasive. I suppose there may be people who ‘want to get rid of all exotic plants’ but they are silly. I can see how some exotic plants could lead to (alpha) diversity, but the really bad invasives very rarely if ever do this. Also, diversity is more than just a plant list. A hypothetical stand with 6000 eucalyptus trees, two toyons, two bay trees, and two oaks, is less diverse by many measurements than a stand with 500 eucalyptus trees, 500 toyons, 2000 bay trees, and 3000 oaks. I have seen it argued that some exotic species fill empty niches (for instance when wild horses were reintroduced to the west, some people think they filled the niche still there from when they went extinct 10,000 years ago). If an invasive is massively displacing natives though I wouldn’t say that.

        Restoration can be really easy in some settings – in some riparian areas if you get rid of the weeds, or even just restore a flood regime, you barely even need to plant. SOME restoration is difficult, if invasives are not eradicated properly or the wrong plants are planted, or things are planted at the wrong time.

        Example of an invasive being increased by other changes: the flood regime of the West has been altered, making mainstem tamarisk infestations worse. However, in those same uplands, cheatgrass is spreading even into undisturbed areas. Each species is different.

  17. Jonathan says:

    When you take an ecosystem that developed over tens of thousands of years and replace it with a new one within decades, the native organisms are not going to adapt as well. Yes, you may have certain species move in, but they are not going to be the exact same communities supported in the native ecosystem. Since many species are endemic to a limited area, reducing the number of native species in favor of invasive species reduces overall environmental diversity. You may still get some local species diversity, but if they’re the same species that are invading similar environments in other areas, while the native species that are mostly restricted to one area are losing out, then you’ve lost something important in the process.

    • webmaster says:

      Maybe we’re talking oranges and apples? (How Californian…)

      We’re completely behind preserving ecosystems developed over 10K years or more. But that’s not what we’re discussing here. We’re not talking of planting eucs in Yosemite or Yellowstone. The ecosystem has already been replaced; it’s in the heart of a *city* and so the conditions around it have also drastically altered (without even going into climate change).

      We think every situation is different. Restoration is not a blanket answer, especially when the resulting plants need continuing inputs of management and toxic chemicals, and no indication of anything beyond superficial success. Even that may make sense in some places, say if someone wants to convert their backyard to natives. But it’s not a universal solution, and one of the issues we have is that Native Plant Advocates often sound as though it is.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Even the article cited by the pro-eucalyptus crowd mentioned how detrimental eucalyptus can be to native birds:

    “But eucalyptus stands do not provide an equivalent trade off for the oak woodland and deciduous riparian that they have replaced. The breeding bird communities in these native habitats have much better representation by cavity nesting species, foliage-gleaning species, and those that nest on the ground or in understory vegetation.

    Many of the breeding species that are most representative of oak and riparian habitats make little or no use of eucalyptus in the Monterey Bay region. In live oak woodland these include Western Screech-Owl, Acorn and Nuttall’s woodpeckers, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hutton’s Vireo, Oak Titmouse, House Wren, Western Bluebird, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Lark and Chipping sparrows. Characteristic breeders in our local riparian woodland that do not nest in eucalyptus, or do so only rarely, include Downy Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Swainson’s Thrush, and Yellow, Orange-crowned, and Wilson’s warblers.”

    And that’s only birds – it doesn’t get into the negative effects that eucalyptus stands can have on vernal pools, amphibians, sunning reptiles, small mammals, and many native insect communities. I’m guessing the leaf toxins are harmful to stream fish as well, though I don’t know any specific examples.

    • webmaster says:

      Perhaps you’re quoting selectively too? The Suddjian article also points out that eucalyptus provides a preferred nesting space for cormorants, raptors, Great Horned Owls, and egrets. If there are other trees – such as Monterey Pine or Cypress mixed in – then there’s an even greater diversity of birds.

      I haven’t come across leaf toxins being harmful; in fact, the famous “allelopathy” seems to be overstated.

      (Other plants have it too, possibly even manzanita. There’s a paper by Van Dyke, Holl and Griffin about chaparral succession in the absence of fire where they mention it.)

      No vernal pools on Mount Sutro. But probably many happy small mammals amid its blackberry thickets.

      • Charlie says:

        Eucalyptus definitely is a strong competitor – whether it outcompetes other plants via chemicals or via taking all the water and light, the end result is the same.

        I have heard true allelopathy is rare. For instance some coastal sage scrub (or soft chaparral) plants were believed to be allelopathic because there was often a ‘dead zone’ surrounding them… but research revealed that in fact that area had few/no plants because the rabbits hiding in the brush or cactus would come just that far out to eat. Nature is infinitely complex (though sadly a bit less so in monocultures of invasive plants)

        • webmaster says:

          I didn’t know that about the rabbits. Fascinating. I think nature’s infinitely complex even in the despised “invasives” – wherever adaptation is called for. Maybe even ruderal species have much to offer.

      • Jonathan says:

        How many of the “happy small mammals” are the native ornate shrew, vagrant shrew, broad-footed mole, Botta’s pocket gopher, California vole, California pocket mouse, western harvest mouse, deer mouse, California mouse, pinyon mouse, dusky-footed woodrat, California ground squirrel, brush rabbit, desert cottontail, and jackrabbit that lived in the area before urban demolition and eucalyptus stands? Or is the area now dominated by the introduced Norway rats, black rats, house mice, and fox squirrels that you can find in nearly any urban area in the country?

        • Charlie says:

          I personally kind of think of invasive organisms as the Wal*Marts of the biology world. Some people don’t care if there is only one store in town – or in fact actually prefer that. Others would rather have lots of different businesses in town, and furthermore, businesses that are intimately linked to the culture and environment of the place they live, because they are owned by local people. You can probably tell which I prefer based on the biased language of that statement.

          It’s funny how closely ecology and economics parallel each other, but in a way it really makes sense. It is an imperfect analogy,but an often surprisingly valid one.

        • webmaster says:

          Actually, we agree. That’s why we want to preserve this forest as part of a mosaic of different ecosystems in the City, rather than making them all into Tank Hill type habitats.

        • Jonathan says:

          The problem is, the ecosystems you want to preserve are replicated tens of thousands of times across the country (even the world), whereas the ecosystems we want to restore are limited to the local area and continuing to disappear. To extend Charlie’s analogy, it’s like you’re fighting for Walmart #152147 because there’s only 4 of them in the San Fran area, which we’re trying to restore a local mom-and-pop shop because there’s only 6 left and they’re all in San Francisco.

        • webmaster says:

          Except that this isn’t replicated 10K times. It’s unique in San Fran, possibly in the US, maybe in the world.

          Whereas the ‘park-like’ setting that’s sought to be created wouldn’t be very different from the other parks in the area. As a Native Area, it probably would achieve nothing that Twin Peaks (or Golden Gate Park) doesn’t – and even that takes a substantial input of chemicals and labor. ‘Restoring’ ecosystems is a complicated and expensive business; what will be certain is the destruction that precedes it.

        • Charlie says:

          There are a LOT of eucalyptus groves throughout the world though, probably many with similar species compositions. The Franciscan plant community is nearly extinct. I don’t see why it shouldn’t get two hills in the world instead of just one. Also, I know there has been problems with that restoration project but they are definitely NOT always complicated and expensive projects! If I were still in California I’d show you some that worked out a lot better. If there was more community support/involvement, there probably would be no need for pesticides at all.

        • webmaster says:

          Perhaps you could cite examples, even though you’re not in California? The Twin Peaks work has support, besides being City land and thus publicly funded. It still needs Garlon. I don’t think the plant community there is unique, except that it’s an interesting mix of native and non-native.

          This eucalyptus forest is unique in being an urban-accessible wild dense cloud forest. Other eucalyptus groves would be different.

          (Charlie, I think we’re both starting to repeat ourselves. Let’s take this to email, or agree to disagree about the relative value of another potential restoration vs an established and wildly beautiful forest ecosystem.)

        • Charlie says:

          OK, I will try not to repeat myself! I think every individual place is unique including every eucalyptus stand. I guess my point is that naturalized eucalyptus stands/groves/forests are found all around the world.

          The Manual of California Vegetation, the main vegetation guide for all native and non native naturalized vegetation communities, lists Eucalyptus-dominated stands as occurring along most of the California coast, some coastal mountains, and parts of the Central Valley. On the project I worked on we mapped several stands in the Santa Monica mountains. I remember one very old one in particular that you’d probably like a lot. I know Eucalyptus has been planted in many areas of the world and introduced stands are found many places. Of course, it is also common in Australia. To my knowledge, California Coastal Sage Scrub (soft chaparral) does not occur anywhere in the world except coastal California and Baja California.

          If the stand is a quite rich one, as it sounds like, it would actually be neat to do CNPS type vegetation surveys in there. As I’m sure you agree though, interest in urban ecology is not as high as it could be. Some people argue against including the non-native vegetation communities in classification at all – even though I don’t like them I always thought they should be surveyed and studied. Since I’ve already overloaded this website with posts, I won’t say more about vegetation mapping/vegetation community ecology but feel free to ask if you want to know any of my thoughts about it.

        • webmaster says:

          Not really. That analogy doesn’t actually describe this situation. This forest is unique. Also, because eucalyptus has been the target of so much bad press – and many unfounded myths – there’s an effort to fell these forests everywhere in California. (Also, if that actually were the situation, wouldn’t it make sense to try to encourage the mom-and-pop shops elsewhere? Instead, the moment it moves out of its small space, it’s described as non-native. Like Monterey pine/ cypress.)

        • webmaster says:

          Wish we knew. No one’s done a study of the forest. It may come out of the study for UCSF’s environmental review, but then again, it may not. That’s not planned as a comprehensive multi-year study. Birds are easier because people watch them and so we have observations. No one seems to want to watch shrews, moles or gophers, so all we know is, there are animal burrows. It would be neat to set camera traps, but no one’s doing that either.

          But Mount Sutro Forest provides a damp wooded environment with a dense understory, distinct from the nearby grassland/ shrub environments of Tank Hill and Twin Peaks, which would be reasonable models for what Mount Sutro would look like without its trees. Both those places have some native plants and some native animals (gophers on Twin Peaks for sure); but they’re not exactly wildlife reserves. They have fewer bird species than the forest, and no one seems to be tracking mammals or insects (except butterflies).

          The way we see it, Sutro Forest is part of a mosaic of ecosystems within an urban setting.

  19. Jonathan says:

    [Note from Webmaster: Apologies for nesting responses into your comments, but the comment-thread has grown so long it’s the only way to be accessible to readers.]

    Those nesting birds that were mentioned as being helped by the eucalyptus were all fairly common, widespread species. Several of the birds listed as being unable to utilize the forests are not. The most important sentence is ““But eucalyptus stands do not provide an equivalent trade off for the oak woodland and deciduous riparian that they have replaced.”

    [Webmaster: Right. If we’re referring to the same paper (by David Suddjian) the point he makes is that euc forests have a pattern of bird-life closer to pine forests than oak forests. Also that most of the oak woodland fell to development, not eucalyptus. On Mount Sutro, there were no oak forests.]

    You say there’s “no record” of reptiles or amphibians having existed in the Mt. Sutro area, which is obvious because no one we know of looked. That piece of land, like every single other piece of vegetated land in pre-European colonist days, would have been loaded with native reptiles and amphibians.

    [Webmaster: We do have Twin Peaks as an analogy without eucalyptus. It doesn’t seem particularly rich in herps or amphibians. There may be some down in/ near Laguna Honda Reservoir, at the foot of Mount Sutro on PUC land. Preserving that habitat has a whole different set of challenges.]

    Which ones exactly would have depended on the habitat, but every San Fran habitat had a rich array of herp species. Now that it is no longer a native habitat, that is no longer a guarantee. It’s probable that some reptiles and amphibians live there, but they’re likely only the most common ones that already exist in ecologically diverse situations (like slender salamanders and alligator lizards).

    There are museum records for the federally endangered San Francisco Garter Snake and the federally threatened California Red-legged Frog all over that area.

    [Webmaster: On Mount Sutro? I thought they liked marshy terrain.]

    Pre-invasives it is pretty much a guarantee that they lived there, as they were found throughout the area that is now under San Francisco’s concrete. Populations of both still hang on within 5-10 miles of the site, but the number of such populations has been dramatically reduced. The preferred habitat of both species (small bodies of water in grassland) would have existed there before, but has been eliminated by the eucalyptus stands.

    [Webmaster: Perhaps you have a different forest in mind? This one is on a steep hill, and there are no records of small bodies of water. Google map Twin Peaks – that’s what the terrain would be without eucs. Not very wet.]

    Another federally threatened species, the California Tiger Salamander, also utilized such habitat, though it has been wiped out to the degree that the closest population you could find on the peninsula is at Stanford. Several California Species of Special Concern, such has western pond turtles, California legless lizards, and foothill yellow-legged frogs, almost certainly utilized the area as well (there are records of pond turtles in the immediate area and records of the others relatively close).

    [Webmaster: Where in the immediate area?]

    All of these species would be negatively effected by eucalyptus stands, due to the drying out of soil and the increase in shading, and possibly negative effects on the water.

    [Webmaster: Not much drying out under these eucs. They’re fog catchers. Where the forest hasn’t been opened, it ranges from damp to slushy.]

    My specialty is herpetology, so I can’t speak to the likely larger number of rare plants and invertebrates that may have utilized the native habitat but are struggling to survive in the few wild spaces left in the San Francisco Bay area.

    Where wiser heads have prevailed, eucalyptus groves such as this one have been clearer for native wildlife. That’s already happened in Santa Cruz, to open up waterways for Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamanders and California Tiger Salamanders (which couldn’t utilize the breeding pools within eucalyptus stands). The East Bay Legless Lizard Preserve has noted the detrimental effect of eucalyptus groves on that moisture-loving species.

    [Webmaster: Probably not groves “such as this one.” Removing a forest blanketing a steep hill is opening no waterways.]

    Why not trade in your manmade urban park for a wildlife sanctuary that could support critically endangered populations, teach your children about the native species that naturally existed in the area before we came, and still be a beautiful and wild place to get away from the concrete desert?

    [Webmaster: I don’t think that’s what we’d get. It would be more like Twin Peaks or Tank Hill, and it’s doubtful that any critically endangered animals would move in or survive there. Would you be recommending the same thing for Golden Gate Park or NY’s Central Park?]

  20. Charlie says:

    Hmm… I am no herp expert (though I love them) but I feel like the herps would have also required lowland areas to survive, right? That is probably why they aren’t on Twin Peaks, etc.

    Question about Twin Peaks: Is it an intact native ecosystem or an area dominated by invasive weeds? I have honestly never been on this mountain, though I’ve seen it from afar. It appears to be a mix to me, based on Google Earth. Is this where somewhat unsuccessful restoration occurred, or has it just been disturbed?

    [Webmaster: Not an expert on Twin Peaks, but there’s a major “restoration” effort under way, involving Garlon. It’s currently a mix. If you go to and put Twin Peaks in the search box, you’ll get some pics, observations, and opinions. Intact ecosystems are tough to find in a 47-sq mile city with a 200-year history.]

    Certainly it looks like any past vernal pool/riparian habitat on Sutro is under buildings not Eucs. My thoughts on coastal California and not Sutro: sprawl and development has displaced a huge amount of these habitats, invasive plants are ripping through what is left, and climate change may be just enough to finish them off completely. It’s an interesting but frustrating mix of issues and of course they interplay (what if climate change makes California better for invasives and worse for natives?) In any event, I am not convinced that these trees need to be removed if the community wants them (though I think blackberry should) but I AM convinced that Eucs are a problem in lots of areas and am still concerned that information here may be used to justify letting invasives kill native plants elsewhere. On the other hand, reading this site and having this discussion have also been productive in thinking about lots of stuff. [Webmaster: We oppose removing the blackberry. It’s part of the cloud forest mechanism, and taking it out will change the ecology, make the place much drier. It’s also habitat for insects/ birds/ animals – maybe not the ones favored by Native Flora and Fauna Advocates, but the ones which are there now.]

    I think Golden Gate Park could do with a bit less lawn and a bit more native plants/edible plants/xeric plants/biological runoff management infrastructure… but again, that is my bias.
    [Webmaster: Many agree with you… and others do not. Right now, the issue there is policing.]

  21. Jonathan says:

    I would love for a stronger effort to restore native habitats in those areas as well. Something like Tyron Creek State Natural Area in Portland, OR is a good example of where a truly diverse group of native plants and wildlife can be found in a natural setting right in the middle of a major metropolitan area. I’m not talking about converting all of Golden Gate Park though. That’s impractical, politically difficult, and would talk away a vital role it plays for the local community. But those parks can still remain multiuse areas for the public while the most “wild” portions are converted back into the natural habitats they once were. The wilderness would remain wilderness, and people could take advantage of it in the same manner, only it now would advantage San Francisco’s struggling wildlife species as well.

    As far as the suitability of Mt. Sutro’s habitat, it would not need to have a “marsh” to support those species, although they do like marshes. Many different types of water bodies in grassland suffice. I have twice seen successful California red-legged frog habitat that consisted of a small (6′ across) creek in otherwise dry grassland/scrub. The linked picture shows successful red legged-frog/aquatic garter snake habitat in a very small pond in otherwise dry grassland.

    We can’t know what the habitat looked like on Mt. Sutro before ranching, eucalyptus, and other human involvement changed it. Twin Peak is a poor comparison, since it is much smaller, appears limited to a ridgeline, has been altered by invasive species and human involvement itself, and looks to have very little contiguous habitat with roads disrupting the natural water flow. Mount Sutro appears to have the makings of a creek in the NE corner – how do you know that wasn’t a frog/snake/turtle sustaining creek before the landscape and water tables were altered? And with trees blanketing everything and root systems filling in the ground now, how do you know that small depressions didn’t exist that formed small wildlife-supporting ponds? And if these waterways were once directly adjacent to the land but have now been filled in by development, why not take advantage of the land we do have to recreate a habitat that was made for San Francisco and give those endangered species a chance to hold on so that we can still enjoy their presence?

    There are 8 historic California red-legged frog records, 2 western pond turtle records, and 4 San Francisco garter snake records marked in museum databases within 1500′ of the Mount Sutro forest. They are all in the general area between Twin Peaks and Tank Hill. However, since these are old (80+ year old) records, I wouldn’t place too much confidence in the GPS location accuracy. What those records tell us, along with a number of similar records within San Francisco, is that these three now endangered species were prevalent in the San Francisco area for habitat was altered and/or destroyed. Of course, we don’t have records for Mt. Sutro itself because the habitat there was messed up before any museums came around collecting specimens.

    California Tiger Salamanders are a much more difficult species to find, as they typically hide in burrows except when moving to and from breeding ponds in the dark in spring. Historic records are harder to come by than for the three conspicuous diurnal species I mentioned, but if there were any small depressions like the one I linked then the Tiger Salamanders likely would have been there as well.

    Even outside of the waterways, Mt. Sutro may have supported California Sensitive Species like Coast Horned Lizards and California Legless Lizards before the habitat was altered. Are either of those there now?

    And like I said, I’m focusing on herps because that’s what I know, even though the reptile and amphibian diversity doesn’t approach the plant, arthropod, and possibly even mammal diversity that once existed in the area. For each sensitive reptile/amphibian I list that utilized the habitat there are probably at least 3-4 other sensitive animals.

  22. Jonathan says:

    The Mission Blue Butterfly, federally listed as an endangered species, only has 6 remaining spots where it still exists. One of these is Twin Peaks, which makes it reasonably certain that they used to exist on Mt. Sutro as well. I would put a lot of value in giving it a 7th spot to hold onto.

    [Webmaster: Seeing how difficult it is to reintroduce it even on a site where it’s been know to occur, this seems like a stretch.]

    Mt. Sutro could possibly also become habitat for the federally endangered Myrtle’s Silverspot Butterfly, which is now completely gone from the San Francisco peninsula where it once existed, instead only hanging on in 4 localities in Marin/Sonoma County. Again, their grassland, dune, and scrub habitats have been almost completely wiped out in their range by development and the planting of invasive plants.

    It could possibly also support the San Bruno Elfin Butterfly, another federally endangered San Francisco native which is now left with only a few remaining populations.

    Then there’s the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly, a federally threatened grassland species formally native to San Francisco, but which has since been wiped out there and now is only found in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

    And then there’s the Callippe Silverspot Butterfly, yet ANOTHER federally endangered butterfly species that used to live in the San Francisco grasslands, but now can be found in only two localities. You could have a drought year or a couple fires wipe out those populations, and the species would be extinct.

    [Webmaster: It appears that this butterfly actually lives in/ needs a fire-prone habitat. Probably not the best idea in the middle of a city. ]

    Which is exactly what happened to the Xerces Blue butterfly, a former Mt. Sutro resident (almost certainly, due to confirmed 19th century descriptions from the western slope of Twin Peaks) that is now extinct. The Sthenele Satyr and Pheres Blue are both former San Francisco residents that are now extinct as well.

    Wouldn’t the preservation of at least a couple of these myriad species of critically endangered butterflies be reason enough to convert Mt. Sutro back to the habitat that used to support them?

    [Webmaster: Even if we agreed that sacrificing an urban cloud forest was worth it, there’s no evidence at all that it would work. The destruction would be assured, the butterfly reintroduction iffy. And the habitat described was fire-prone, and may even have required fires. San Bruno mountain, which is still mostly grassland/ shrubland and lies only a few miles south, had a quite extensive fire a few years ago. A more practical way to encourage these butterflies might be to get people to plant the yellow violets that are caterpillars’ food plant, and let caterpillars grow in a safe environment. The Monarch Butterfly project encourages people to plant milk-weed.]

  23. Jonathan says:

    Interestingly, this situation mirrors the situation of two other endangered species in my area – the Palos Verdes Blue and the El Segundo Blue. The PV Blue was thought to have gone extinct in the 1980’s until a single population was found 12 years later, which is still the only one. The ES Blue is limited to three remaining populations, one of which is barely viable. Both were driven this close to extinction by development and the replacement of native plants with non-native species, and there are currently efforts underway for both species that would rehabilitate habitat by removing invasives and planting natives. I’ve been lucky enough to watch one of these uprooting/planting operations in progress, though I haven’t participated.

  24. Charlie says:

    I am in a 250 year old city right now [Webmaster: Vermont? Pittsburgh?] that despite a lot of environmental issues DOES have some pretty intact, mostly native ecosystems within its boundaries. I don’t know if SF did a worse job protecting/restoring native habitat (perhaps because shrublands aren’t valued as much as forests) or if this native habitat is just more fragile than an eastern forest. I think both are probably true.

    As for ‘garlon-restoration’, I find the concern about Garlon totally understandable but I don’t agree that restoration is bad just because you don’t like Garlon. It is definitely possible to do restoration without Garlon, though it may be harder. Would you stop painting a house because lead paint is toxic? Why not just use different tools to do the same thing?

    [Webmaster: It boils down to cost from what we’ve heard. Herbicides are cheap and lethal. We don’t know of any “restorations” without them with the possible exception of the Native Garden on Mt Sutro where they have not been used since 2008. That garden is maintained by volunteers who weed and mulch regularly, and it had/ has an irrigation system installed.]

    As for the plants of Twin Peaks, I just found this indirectly through your page:
    Based on the plants in those really neat coyote pictures… it seems that most of the shrubs on Twin Peaks are native plants and most of the herbs are non-native. A lot of the time those sorts of non-native herbs can be outcompeted by properly chosen and planted native shrubs. I am not sure on why Garlon would be used on any of the species I see, rather than Round-up, but I don’t know the whole story of course.

    [Webmaster: It’s used on blackberry and oxalis, according to the notices.]

    Urban coyotes are really, really interesting. At least we know there are some native animals that definitely have adapted to modern society (and will probably outlast it!)

    I don’t understand how blackberry keeps water in the site… the Eucs certainly harvest fog water but I can’t imagine the blackberries harvest much more than they intercept from the canopy – and they also USE pretty much all of the water that gets on the soil probably.

    [Webmaster: They act as insulation from evaporation, and definitely do not use all the water in the Sutro Forest site.

    Again, my reason for thinking them should be removed isn’t what they are doing on THAT site, but their potential to spread to native habitats. In a hypothetical place with no connection to other open space, I don’t think a Eucalyptus grove with blackberry is worse than one without, because they are both invasive plant communities. However, I still feel that it isn’t fair to inflict it on others. I am not sure the maximum distance birds (and coyotes) can spread this plant but it is certainly much further than Eucs can spread.

    [Webmaster: This is quixotic. Blackberry is everywhere, and it’s habitat to birds, animals and insects. People, especially with the “foraging” movement, gather blackberries from patches all over the city. It’s one of the pleasures of summer.]

    I definitely don’t think the lawns will come out of Golden Gate Park until we run out of water. In any event the crime problems are probably a lot more immediate.

  25. Charlie says:

    It is a good thing that people are using the invasive blackberry for food, but I still say it’s going to be a disaster in the long run to let it spread to its maximum possible extent. I guess we’ll find out (after it is too late)

    • webmaster says:

      The real threat to any native area isn’t blackberry; it’s development. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to build on grassland/ chaparral than on forests.

  26. Charlie says:

    I agree that development is a greater threat than invasive species. I’d certainly rather see an eucalyptus grove than a strip mall. However, the many threats to native ecosystems ALL contribute, not just the greatest threat (development, or climate change).

    • webmaster says:

      Fortunately, there’s no threat of a strip mall on Mount Sutro Forest. People have been suspicious about potential parking lots and campus-related structures, but UCSF has said it will leave it as open space. If you look at the battles on San Bruno Mountain – where endangered butterflies already exist, and do not need to be laboriously reintroduced – the main issue has been home-building.

  27. Pingback: Endangered Butterflies | Save Mount Sutro Forest

  28. milliontrees says:

    Prescribed burns are also required to support the Mission Blue butterfly here in the Bay Area. There is a population of Mission Blue on San Bruno Mountain. Prescribed burns are done there to encourage germination of the lupine that is the Mission Blue’s host plant. One of these prescribed burns became a wildfire in 2003. That and other stories of prescribed burns that caused wildfires are told here:

    The Golden Gate National Recreation Area recently announced its intention to conduct three prescribed burns in August and/or September 2010. Two of those burns on the Marin Headlands and Milagra Ridge are for the stated purpose of encouraging germination of the lupine to support populations of Mission Blue butterflies.

    Even if prescribed burns do not cause wildfires, they release harmful particulates into the air, as well as carbon from the burned plant material, and the smoke reduces air quality,

    • Jonathan says:

      “Prescribed burns are also required to support the Mission Blue butterfly here in the Bay Area.”

      Goat/sheep grazing, mowing, and weeding have been used as alternatives to prescribed burns in several places, so it is not true that prescribed burns are “required”. In fact, in some spots (especially rocky ones) the habitat is such that lupines can grow without being threatened by the invasives and successors at all.

  29. Charlie says:

    I think stopping greenhouse warming is really, really important but i also think it is really important to look at real causes and solutions to this problem.

    CO2 emitted by grassland/shrubland fires makes no real difference to greenhouse warming. All of the carbon that is released had just been fixed by plants, and at least in the case of grasslands, was going to be released as decomposition anyway. The carbon storage of grasslands/coastal scrub isn’t enough to try to stop them from burning. Besides, as mentioned many times, vegetation in coastal California (native or not) is almost all fire-adapted and aside from small urban patches, is ‘supposed’ to burn. Fire suppression as a method of carbon sequestering just doesn’t make sense. (I’d also argue that particulates from fires are part of the natural baseline of the system and not a reason to not have prescribed burns, except in the city. It’s an understandable concern on Mt Sutro, though).

    Anyway, the reason we have global warming is because really old carbon is being dug up, that was buried during prehistoric times when the climate was warmer. Carbon from lost forests is a much smaller contributor. While it makes sense to preserve forests for a lot of reasons, I think using carbon sequestration as a reason to plant inappropriate trees in the wrong places is a losing proposition (note: this is in reference to New England not California eucalyptus).

    On the other hand, it makes sense to restore wetlands because peat in wetlands is the best way to naturally sequester carbon (they are mostly how it got turned into coal and oil in the first place). Basically we have too much carbon in the system in general (atmosphere + plants + ocean) because people dig it up and burn it. The real solutions are: STOP digging it up and burning it (use different energy sources) and restore a ton of wetlands so what is in the atmosphere can get buried again. If you want to get fancy you could toss tree trunks and such underground or in wetlands but in my opinion, it’s best to let nature fix the problem.

    Honestly, I don’t think it is relevant to Mt Sutro either way, as far as taking carbon out of the atmosphere. I do agree that chipping the trees and leaving them to rot would have a small negative impact, so if any trees need to be cut for whatever reason they should be used for something.

    • webmaster says:

      To clarify: No one is planning prescribed burns on Mount Sutro, at least for now! Or even AFAIK for Twin Peaks, which is actually has grass. However, the Marin Headlands are just across the bay from San Francisco.

  30. milliontrees says:

    Here is an article about the role of soot in climate change: “Scientists say soot a key factor in warming”

    And a few quotes from it:
    “Soot from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and burning wood is a bigger cause of global warming than previously thought, and is a major cause of the rapid melting of the Arctic’s sea ice…”

    “…soot [is] an even more powerful contributor to global warming than industrial emissions of methane, which until now have been considered the second most important cause of climate change…”

    “…soot emissions account for at least 1.5 million premature deaths each year around the world and lead to respiratory illness, heart disease and asthma…”

    It seems ironic that the same people who advocate for the destruction of non-native trees claiming that will reduce fire hazard, also advocate for the use of prescribed burns to support native plant restorations. That seems like a contradiction to me. Such prescribed burns may be a minor factor, but since they frequently cause huge wildfires, they should be avoided, particularly in the wildland-urban-interface.

  31. Charlie says:

    greenhouse warming is happening because of things humans add to the system. California grasslands and shrublands have naturally been burning for the past oh… few million years, without causing greenhouse warming. Though those fires (as well as many other natural processes) do emit greenhouse gases, they are part of the natural system and can’t really be considered part of anthropomorphic warming.

    That being said, due to localized health effects and human population density of the area, I agree that prescribed burns in San Francisco are probably not a good idea.

  32. Pingback: Sutro Forest, Native Plants, and Ideology: Debate between a Dutch scientist and Charlie – Part I | Save Mount Sutro Forest

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