SF’s Natural Areas Program Uses Even More Pesticides

This article was reprinted from sffforest.net with minor changes and additions. Sutro Forest may be the only pesticide-free wild land in San Francisco – but that could change this year.


The 2012 final data are in, and it’s official: In 2012, the Natural Areas Program used more pesticides than in any year from 2008 (the first year for which we have data provided by the City). This is true by any measure, as the graphs below indicate.
pesticide use number n vol 2008 to 2012Depending on the measure you choose, usage has increased anywhere from 12% to 40% from 2011. It’s between 3 and 4 times the usage in 2008.


What pesticides have they been using?

The same as before: Tier II and Tier I pesticides, defined as more hazardous and most hazardous. (For a detailed discussion of these chemicals, click HERE:  Natural Areas Program’s Pesticides: Toxic and Toxic-er.)

  • Aquamaster/ Roundup (Glyphosate). (Tier II)  This is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, but in vitro research has linked these chemicals to changes to human cells, some of which are of the kind that could cause birth-defects. The EPA is studying whether it is an endocrine disruptor. The fact that it’s widely used gives us little comfort; a different widely-used class of herbicides – neocotinoids –  has just been declared unacceptably toxic to bees.
  • Garlon (Triclopyr). (Tier I) To NAP’s credit, they have reduced the use of this extremely toxic herbicide since the peak in 2010. It’s a Tier I pesticide, and associated with numerous diseases in humans, and potential kidney impacts on dogs.
  • Milestone (Amino-pyralid). This was a Tier I toxic chemical, but SF Dept of the Environment reclassified it as Tier II. It sticks around even more persistently than imazapyr. It was banned for a time in the UK because if animals eat and excrete it, the droppings are still poisonous – as is the manure made from it. It’s banned in New York state because they aren’t sure it won’t poison the water: “However, the Department does not consider products which have the potential to impact groundwater resources as “Reduced Risk” without acceptable environmental fate data.” (The PDF of the letter confirming that Dow is withdrawing its application is here: Aminopyralid  New York. ) NAP’s used Milestone in Lake Merced, Pine Lake, Glen Canyon, and Mount Davidson, all of which are areas where water contamination is possible.


Of course these chemicals are not good for people, and one would think that in a city that is so conscious of organic and green produce and products, wild lands would be one area that we’d try to keep organic. Not so. We even found evidence of blackberry bushes being sprayed – during the fruiting season when children and adults, birds and animals feast on the bonanza of berries.

Recent research indicates that both triclopyr and imazapyr are potentially toxic to butterflies – but NAP continues to use both Garlon and Polaris on Twin Peaks, where NAP are also struggling to re-introduce the endangered Mission Blue butterfly. (At a recent meeting, Chris Geiger, who heads Integrated Pest Management at SF Department of the Environment, questioned the methodology of the research since it was performed on captive caterpillars, not in field conditions.)

Glyphosate is known to be dangerous to amphibians; but NAP uses Aquamaster around Lake Merced, Pine Lake, and in Glen Canyon – all near water-courses.

Finally, we have another problem with this use: it may be glorifying chemical solutions. A few months ago, a “volunteer” in Glen Canyon was found applying an unapproved pesticide to an area near a trail, without posting any notices or keeping any record of amounts or conditions. He believed he was doing a good thing for the environment. We have heard since of many other instances of random herbicide application in Natural Areas.


Furthermore, the list of plants on which it’s used also keeps expanding. It’s currently around 30, up from under 2 dozen a year ago. Some of the plants being sprayed aren’t on the list of the California Invasive Plants Council or USDA noxious plants lists.

We ask SF Recreation and Parks Dept  to stop using Tier I and Tier II pesticides in the Natural Areas. An escalating use of herbicides is bad for the environment and the people, pets and wildlife using these parks;  sends a damaging message about priorities; and indicates a lack of success.



Sutro Forest may currently be the only pesticide-free wildland in San Francisco. In contrast with NAP’s rising use of herbicides, UCSF stopped using pesticides even in the Aldea student housing in 2009, and in the the forest in 2008.

The Sutro Forest Draft Environmental Impact Review is open for public comment. Here’s a link to a PDF of the DEIR:

If this report is certified, then tree-felling, understory removal, and vine removal could start this Fall. It will almost certainly herald a change in this no-pesticide policy.

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8 Responses to SF’s Natural Areas Program Uses Even More Pesticides

  1. dolan eargle says:

    Strange that UCSF, an institution devoted to health and wellness even considered the use of toxic substances. There must be someone within the higher ranks of UCSF who can stop this assault on the health of people and plants.
    [1. Or is this just another way to get “customers” to the front door? —and I’m not sorry for the implication. After all, I was on the staff of UCSF for 25 years.]

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