UCSF has been messaging their mailing list, claiming they have no plans to fell 30,000 trees. They only intend to fell trees on 7.5 acres, the four “Demonstration Projects.” After that, they’ll get community input to figure out how many more trees to cut down.
In their own words: “Before a management plan is designed for the entire Reserve, four demonstration projects totaling less than 7.5 acres were chosen–with substantial community involvement–to evaluate different land management techniques, such as appropriate tree spacing, undergrowth removal, and native plant restoration.” And from the FAQ that accompanied the memo: “While a large percentage of underbrush, including blackberry, ivy and poison oak, will be removed in the demonstration areas, the removal of trees, especially those larger than saplings, will be far more limited and selective, based primarily on their health, potential for long-term survival, and if they pose any falling or other hazard.”
[That FAQ is available here: UCSF Sutro FAQ 2013 0220]
1) WE DON’T KNOW WHY THEY WANT TO DO IT
UCSF claims the forest is unhealthy and a fire hazard. Neither claim is accurate, and they must be aware of challenges to that assessment. (We posted about that HERE.) But if they really do believe – however unrealistically – that there is such a hazard, and that felling trees will mitigate it, why is it reasonable for them to stop at the Demonstration Areas?
Unless we know why UCSF is so committed to this lengthy, expensive, and controversial process, the only parameter we can work with is what’s set down in the DEIR. And that comes out to over 30,000 trees.
2) THE DEMONSTRATION AREAS ARE NOT EXPERIMENTS
The description of the demonstration projects makes it sound as though they are experiments to “evaluate different land management techniques, such as appropriate tree spacing, undergrowth removal, and native plant restoration.” This is not true.
The “appropriate tree-spacing” has already been determined, as has the end-point. The DEIR does not say “limited and selective.” It says: “Removal of dead and unhealthy trees; Tree thinning of remaining trees to average spacing of about 30 feet between trunks.” (In Area #4, it’s 60 feet between trunks.)
3) EVEN THE DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS WILL FELL 3,000+ TREES
We estimate that the 7.5 acres of “Demonstration Areas” have around 3600 trees. The demonstration project will retain perhaps 170 of them, given the spacing described. They will be removing over 3,500 trees just for the Demonstration Projects.
If what’s left doesn’t sound like a forest, it’s not meant to. In earlier meetings, it was described as a “park-like setting.” Later, they changed the terminology to “Forest with open understory” – but they didn’t change the actual actions, which included the 30-foot spacing and the removal of understory habitat and vines. At the agenda-planning meeting in July 2010, the objectives for these areas was laid out. This is from our contemporaneous notes and our post made the same night:
“UCSF added new information about expected outcomes of the projects. For South Ridge and Edgewood (Projects #1 and #2), they seek a park-like setting, with an open understorey, and trees spaced, like street trees, an average of 30 feet apart. After the demonstration, they will seek community input, and then extend the same spacing to 40 acres of forest. This would imply that 47.5 acres of the 61 acres would be thinned, leaving very little forest as such.
“Project #3 (the small area near the summit) would be a grassy area with a view of the city. Afterward, more view corridors would be considered in other areas.
“Project #4 (the “redwood bowl”) would have trees spaced 60 feet apart, and a sunny meadow (or presumably, a foggy one).”
The only evaluative portion would be regarding pesticide use to prevent regrowth. In area #1, three methods will be used: Tarping of stumps; poisoning with pesticide; and manual removal. They expect to demonstrate that pesticides will be needed. Preventing regrowth is already accepted as an end-point.
We would also point out that “native plant restoration” has nothing to do with either safety or forest health – and also that the Demonstration Projects are not designed to show either increased forest health, or reduced fire hazard, the key project justifications.
4) COMMUNITY INPUT: LISTENING VS ACCEPTING
UCSF has been excellent at listening to community input; they have been very selective in accepting it. We have been active participants in meetings documented here from 2009 onward; some of us have been active since the year 2000. UCSF has held a large number of meetings, and we attended and reported on most of them: (19 Oct 2009), (Feb 2010), (May 2010), (26 May 2010), (8 June 2010), (June 2010), (13 July 2010), (July 2010), (Nov 2010), and EIR Scoping meeting Jan 2011.)
The only inputs that have actually been accepted have a strong bias to proponents of the plan – those who supported the “parklike environment” with native plants. UCSF essentially ignored opponents who want a dense forest with a lush understory and habitat, and a continuation of UCSF’s no-pesticide policy. We called it “The Opposites Game”; click HERE to see why.
The only “concession” UCSF made to those who want to conserve the Sutro Forest as a dense, lush, functional cloud forest was to add a “hands-off area” (#5) parallel to Demonstration Project #1. This is meaningless for several reasons:
- The whole forest – except for the four Demonstration Areas – is theoretically a “hands off” area during that time, according to UCSF’s own statements;
- It’s only for one year;
- Between the time the area was identified and the DEIR was published, a new trail had been driven through the “hands off” area.
5) CEQA HAS ITS REASONS
Here’s what UCSF says: “Contrary to rumors being circulated, there is no plan to cut down 30,000 trees in the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, and it is unfortunate that this misinformation continues to spread.” In the FAQ, they explain: “So where did the number 30,000 come from? The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires UCSF to examine what the maximum impact of the most aggressive management practice contemplated would be in its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of the Reserve, so someone may be confusing the report with a final forest management plan. Once the demonstration projects have been implemented and evaluated, a final forest management plan will be developed based on the effectiveness of the practices in the demonstration areas.”
However, in all the meetings, UCSF stated that the objective of the Plan is to extend the 30-foot spacing to the entire reserve, except for the areas too steep to access with machinery. Why does CEQA require an evaluation of the “worst-case” scenario? Perhaps because too often, the so-called worst case represents what will really be implemented.
In this case, the 30-foot spacing on 3/4ths of the reserve (which would require removing about 90% of the trees in that area) represents a maximum, the ceiling. UCSF has suggested that the actual plan may well be different, depending on “community input” – with the implication that the actual number would be much smaller.
The question is, why? If UCSF actually believes – however improbably – that the forest is an unhealthy fire-hazard and that felling trees to achieve a 30-foot spacing would remedy this problem, then we can assume they would indeed extend it to all the accessible areas of the forest. Would they look at the denuded “Demonstration Projects” and realize that 30 feet was too much? Or would they decide to go for a 60-foot spacing, as they are planning for one of the Demonstration Areas? Could UCSF change its mind?
It’s happened before.
- At the time the Open Space Reserve was created, UCSF also instituted a “space ceiling” that determined restricted the built space in the Parnassus campus to 3.55 million square feet. But UCSF exceeded the space ceiling years ago, and there’s no prospect of return.
- In January 2000, UCSF committed that it would demolish two old dormitories in the Aldea campus, and replant the pad to blend in with the forest. But when one dorm was demolished, it wasn’t planted to blend in. Instead, it was enclosed with a chain-link fence and the Sutro Stewards installed a Native Plant Nursery there. That story is HERE.
- In February 2010, when UCSF withdrew its funding applications to FEMA, here’s how it described the next steps: In keeping with the 2001 Plan, UCSF will work closely with neighbors to plan, implement, and evaluate a small (approximately 2 acres) demonstration area that would embrace best practices to ensure public safety (through fire mitigation) and improve the health of the forest while maintaining scenic quality. But the “small” demonstration area has more than tripled in size, to 4 areas totaling 7.5 acres.
For these reasons, we are concerned when UCSF says that it’s only felling trees (over 3,000 of them) on 7.5 acres, and it doesn’t really plan to extend it to 30,000 trees no matter what the DEIR says. Once the EIR is certified, and the project itself approved, what would stop UCSF from proceeding to the remaining area? If it’s “community input” – we would expect they could get whatever input they want.
Though UCSF suggests that opponents of the plan are spreading misinformation, we’d like to point out two items of misinformation in their FAQ.
- It’s referred to as “an aging eucalyptus forest.” This is often used to justify tree-felling. Here’s an example of a news item in the Chronicle about Sutro Forest. But it’s a myth. Eucalyptus in the tropical and arid areas of Northern Australia tend to get killed by termites and fire before they’re 200 years old. In temperate, rainy Southern Australia they live 400-500 years. San Francisco’s Sutro Forest is much closer to Southern Australia in climate, since it lacks wildfires and cyclones and receives rain as well as summer fog drip. [Reference: “Eucalypt ecology” by Jann Elizabeth Williams, John Woinarski (Cambridge University Press, 1997)]
- The forest is referred to as “comparatively dry” owing to eucalyptus draining the moisture. As anyone who has visited the forest regularly will know, it’s only “comparatively dry” if you compare it to the Bay. The only time the forest could dry out is in the Fall – and even then, rain and fog keep it damp.
However, in areas where the canopy has been opened up and the understory removed – the very conditions that the Plan seeks to create – the forest can indeed become dry. It’s not because of the eucalyptus, which create wet conditions by harvesting moisture from the clouds and fog. It’s because the duff, the understory, the subcanopy, and the canopy all help to prevent evaporation. This is one reason why the plan will raise the fire hazard, not reduce it.
[Click HERE to read how this forest functions as a Cloud Forest – and why opening it up decreases the moisture levels.]
We recognize this forest as unique, and a particularly San Francisco treasure. It’s a novel ecology, yet naturalized. In the heart of a world-class city, it’s a functional temperate cloud forest, only a thousand feet above sea level. We call on those who have stewardship of it to protect it, not destroy it.