Sutro Forest June 2013: Trails and Flammability

The summer evening was golden and lovely, and though it was getting late, the forest beckoned. We met a few others in the forest – a dog-walker, three joggers, and as we were leaving, three bicycle-riders, all out enjoying the weather.

It’s the first time we’ve been up to the forest since we learned that the felling will not start in August 2013, but has been delayed a year.

sutro forest 3The Plan is to:

  • Cut down up to 90% of the trees on each treated acre, to achieve a 30-60 foot spacing, chip the felled trees except for the larger logs, and leave them lying there;
  • To mow down 90% of the understory (blackberry, ivy, acacia, etc);
  • To amputate the vines between 0-10 feet so they die above that level; and
  • To use pesticides if necessary to prevent regrowth; the target is 85% regrowth prevention, which suggests that pesticides will indeed be needed.

It was something of a relief to know the immediate threat’s been postponed. Most of the trees in the picture above are in Demonstration Area #1, South Ridge. So is most of the understory habitat, as in the second picture down.

south ridge trailsutro forest 1The acacia sub-canopy (the shorter trees under the tall eucalyptus canopy) would also be targeted. It’s non-native, too.

acacia subcanopy in Sutro ForestAnyway, we’re happy to report that except for those that were cut down by mistake on the South Ridge, the orange-blobbed trees are still there. They give character to the trails and the forest. We hope that UCSF will rethink this and only remove those that are actually hazardous. Only recently, we heard that a [red-shafted] flicker (woodpecker) was nesting in a eucalyptus in the Presidio. These birds need snags and failing trees as habitat.

[Edited to Add: Go HERE for some great pictures of the flicker and chicks.]


Trail conditions are mixed, but generally good. We’re moving into a typical summer pattern – where the forest has been opened up, the trails are dry, even dusty; in more unspoiled areas, they’re damp.

trail with twisted treeThey aren’t actually muddy except for small patches here and there.

some trails are quite dampBut where the forest has been opened up and the understory removed, it’s dry and dusty.  Here’s the bottom end of the East Ridge trail, where it joins the Aldea campus. That pile of brush looks almost like someone’s stacked some kindling.

Sutro Forest East Ridge trail near Aldea campusHere’s a still-vegetated part of the same Trail.

East Ridge trail dampHOW DRY IS THIS FOREST?

We’ve been discussing Fire Hazards in various forums recently. Someone mentioned that with this remarkably rainless winter and spring we’ve had, the forest is quite dry. It’s true some bits of it *are* dry – and of course the worst is where it’s been opened out. The actual forest has a high moisture content; everything about it – including and especially the Cape Ivy – retains moisture. And even on hot days, there’s often a mist or fog in the night.

The native plant garden on the summit is past its prime. The meadows are brown. Most of the flowers are done, and the plants drying out. This one, still planted with orange flags, is tinder dry.

native plant garden meadow June 2013Even there, it’s not all so bad. Some shrub areas are green and thriving (especially if they’re close to eucalyptus trees that will water them with fog moisture), and the mock orange (I think) is still flowering.

mock orangeWe still don’t understand how anyone familiar with this forest could consider it a fire hazard – and more importantly, believe that the Management Plan  would actually reduce that hazard. It’s apparent that it would actually increase the risk by drying out the forest, and destroying the windbreak that slows the spread of fires even if they were to ignite.

Here’s another meadow in the Native Plant Garden, which is an open area, and planted with native plants.

native plant garden meadowAnd here’s a picture of an untreated, unmanaged area of forest, taken the same day.

unamanaged forestThe difference in moisture and flammability is apparent.


water tank 1 at Mt Sutro summitMoreover, as we pointed out in a previous post, this forest only appear inaccessible. It has paved roads (shown in blue) and water tanks. (There’s actually another water tank as well, not shown below.)

map usgs ed paved roads in Sutro ForestIf UCSF is so concerned with the dryness of the forest in extreme weather years, it could  could arrange for water to be sprayed from tankers to damp down the forest. It would only be needed once or twice in a very dry and fog-free year – which is extremely rare. Even after this dry winter and spring, the forest is lush and green. It would be a lot cheaper than the multi-million dollar Management Plan, and it would be a lot less destructive.

This entry was posted in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sutro Forest June 2013: Trails and Flammability

  1. Tony Holiday says:

    Wonderful post — easy enough for even the native plant [advocates] to understand if they would only open their tunnel-visioned so-called “minds” and look at the very clear evidence about what a bad idea multiple bald spots would be. Are they totally immune to the beauty of wildwoods and healthy green trees and other plants. WHAT are people like this doing declaring themselves experts and trying their best, apparently, to do as much *harm* to our beautiful mountaintops as they possibly can instead of to preserve and protect them and keep the moisture in instead of seemingly wanting to make the areas more susceptible to fire and endanger the wildlife who live here as well? How did they come UP with such bad ideas in the first place? How much do I long for them to somehow magically get some common sense and realize that their harmful agenda is one of the worst things that could happen to our city and the whole Bay Area. Thank you for all the work you’ve been doing to make others see the stupidity of these proposed plans so that we may save our forests and parks from future disastrous consequences.

    [Webmaster: Minimally edited to conform to our Comments Policy.]

Comments are closed.