The Murdered Tree on Mt Davidson

[Edited to Add:  This tree finally went down on April 8 or 9, 2013, following strong winds in the Bay Area.]

It’s visible for miles around, the dramatic dead tree high on the brow of Mt Davidson. That’s the Murdered Tree.

Only ten years ago, it was green and flourishing, a soft counterpoint to the splendid view of downtown San Francisco.

“We used to bring a rope swing up here and tie it to that branch,” someone told us, “Our son loved it.”

Well, someone didn’t love it. The tree didn’t die naturally, we learned on a tour with local historian Jacquie Proctor. It was girdled.


Though we’d heard of girdling, it’s only in the last two or three years that we’ve understood it’s being used as a deliberate technique to kill trees in San Francisco’s native areas. Before, we heard mostly of deer killing young trees in snowy winters, chewing tender bark when they run out of browse and girdling the trees in the process.

Never had we heard of anyone deliberately doing it to a tree.

So what is girdling, exactly?

If the bark of a tree is removed in a ring around the tree, it starves to death. This is because the living part of the tree is the area just under the bark. That’s what carries nutrients from the roots to the top of the tree. (The heart of the tree isn’t alive, which is why a tree can be hollow but still healthy.)

Supporters of Native Plants were deliberately killing trees in this way. The two beautiful trees above, at Bayview, are clearly girdled.

On Mount Davidson, the girdling was done more discreetly, just above the ground, with the wound hidden by undergrowth unless you actually looked for it.


Also on Mount Davidson is an area called The Boneyard, where tall eucalyptus trees lie dead and their stumps are bleached and gray by the trail. One stump has a nail driven in, possibly used to poison the tree.

The Natural Areas Program plans to fell 1600 trees on Mount Davidson. Of course, more will be lost as the wind pushes down trees that are not wind-hardened. And any tree under 15 feet is considered fair game for tree-killers; those don’t count as trees.

There’s a new organization we’ve written about before, the San Francisco Forest Alliance, that is trying to combat this. Their website is at – or click on the button below to go there. Please sign the petition there if you haven’t already.

This entry was posted in Environment, eucalyptus, nativism, Natural areas Program, Neighborhood impact and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Murdered Tree on Mt Davidson

  1. Skeptic says:

    Some of the girdled trees on Mt. Davidson are dead; some are not, yet. It’s heartbreaking to stand beneath a girdled tree and look up to see green leaves persisting on that tree. You know absolutely the tree is going to die—nothing you, or anyone, can do about it. “Dead Tree Standing”

    Native plant enthusiasts have been killing trees in San Francisco’s parks for at least 15 years. They are quieter about it now that the public has noticed. NAP explicitly denies any involvement. But at a meeting of the California Native Plant Society in 2001 the assembled were laughing and celebrating the exploits of a particularly active member who killed a lot of trees. They appreciated his “take no prisoners” approach. (That’s a direct quote—their words, not mine.)

  2. milliontrees says:

    A member of the Rec & Park Dept’s forestry division counted 50 girdled trees on Mt Davidson about 10 years ago. A certified arborist hired by one of NAP’s critics counted abour 1,000 girdled trees on Bayview Hill around the same time. There are also many girdled trees around Lake Merced, but no one has tried to count them all, to the best of my knowledge. About 5 of them are/were Monterey pines.

    The trees at Lake Merced were some of the last that were girdled before the Rec & Park Dept made a commitment to stop girdling trees about 10 years ago. When they were girdled, brush was piled up around the trunk in an effort to hide what had been done. Apparently, by then the “girdler” had figured out that the public was finally getting angry about all the trees that were being killed.

    I believe that native plant advocates have stopped girdling trees. They seem to understand that the PR cost of what they were doing wasn’t worth it, especially now that they have an approved “management plan” that commits the Rec & Park Department to destroying 18,500 trees over 15 feet tall and countless smaller trees that they are free to destroy without posting any notices.

  3. Pingback: Natural Areas Plan: SFFA comments on the DEIR (Pt 4: Restricting Recreation) « San Francisco Forest Alliance

  4. Pingback: Is Someone Poisoning Our Trees? « FOREST KNOLLS

  5. Dave says:

    Now that RPD is in the process of taking inventory of all trees (see the metal tag numbers throughout Glen Canyon) it would seem reasonable any new acts of girdling could be documented. And if the illegal acts continue there should be funds contributed for financial rewards for anyone who turns in the people responsible.

    [Webmaster: We’re really hoping that no more girdling is occurring – though we have seen suspicious situations in Sutro Forest. But now we’re concerned about illicit pesticide use, which can also be used to poison trees.]

  6. Pingback: Iconic tree at Mount Davidson topples over « Bay Nature

  7. InnerSunset says:

    Ken Frisch arrested for tree vandalism in Golden Gate Park. Anyone have a picture of Mr. Frisch?

  8. Sam Bowman says:

    So, what’s the alternative? I find it hard to see SF Parks/Rec as merciless killers, and preserving the last few postage stamps of habitat for endemic species seems like a pretty good cause, and easily worth some trail closures.

    [Webmaster: Thanks for commenting! We think SFRPD has strengths and weaknesses. We appreciate and support many of the things they do. (One good example: Bringing activities to McLaren Park and the stage there back into use.) But they have been cutting down an unconscionable number of trees. They “remove” substantial numbers for every park renovation. And another 18,500 trees are targeted under the Natural Areas Program (NAP).

    NAP is an anti-environmental program. They are not preserving postage-stamp sized habitats. There are no endemic species (i.e. species found nowhere else) in San Francisco. The city is just part of a much larger area with similar conditions, and so the same species are found North, South and often East of San Francisco.

    NAP destroys existing naturalized habitats used by birds and butterflies in a misguided attempt at “restoration” – which involves felling trees, killing shrubs, using powerful pesticides, and restricting access. This benefits no one. Birds and animals lose their habitat; people lose recreational spaces. Pesticides get in our watershed and persist in the environment (NAP uses some of the most persistent herbicides SF permits on its lands, and uses more pesticide than the rest of SFRPD put together.) Eventually, what’s left is a denuded area with “Stay on the Trails” signage.

    We don’t doubt that most NAP staff are dedicated and professional. If they focused on actually preserving existing areas of “native plants” – such as the eastern side of Mt Davidson or the hillside above Laguna Honda – we’d be supportive. But as it is, the program is based on the flawed premise that it’s worth destroying existing eco-systems to replace them with a different, idealized one from 1776.]

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