Sutro Cloud Forest is Foggy while Fires Burn Elsewhere

The summer fog has rolled into San Francisco, and we’d been watching the forest hopefully while Life delayed our visit.

We finally made it on the kind of evening that makes you fall in love with Sutro Cloud Forest all over again. A few others apparently agreed; we encountered two riders on their bikes, and two joggers.

trail under treesThe understory was green and fresh with all the moisture, and the paths on the South Ridge damp. These trails haven’t been over-widened for some time, and are interesting and full of character.

trail under the beamLike this one that ducks under a tree that fell, but like most of Sutro Forest’s falling trees, never made it to the ground. Other trees catch them instead.

triple arches 2This is a particularly neat bit of the trail – vines have grown over thin branches and formed a triple archway.

ferns and blackberry and poison oakThe poison oak – some of which climbs the tree-trunks as vines – is turning red. There are Poison Oak warnings at every entrance to the forest.

flags in the Native MeadowThe fog was blowing in even as we climbed the trails, and by the time we reached the Native Plant garden with its crop of little orange flags in the restoration meadow, it was quite hazy.

trees in the fogThe trees appeared in soft shades of gray.

fog in the forest 3

fog in the forest 4In most places, the trail conditions are good – damp enough to give a good footing. In some areas, the trails are still dry, but not so much as to be slippery with dust.

imaginationSomeone had left a button on a log on the trail: It said Imagination. Was it left deliberately? It felt quite appropriate.

nasturtiums part of the food chainAlong the road to the water tank, nasturtiums were blooming, their orange flowers much brighter than the orange plastic flags in the Native Garden. This one was clearly part of the food chain – something had been munching on its leaves.

mock orange bloomingA mock orange (?) bloomed enthusiastically with its jasmine-like flowers.

The camera battery gave out 100 pictures into the hike. This was unfortunate, because for the first time, we saw two raccoons on the trail. The first politely moved off the trail as soon as it saw us; the second froze, as though it couldn’t believe its eyes. Had the camera been functional, it would have posed. Instead, we waved and yelled at it to make way; it disappeared into the understory.


damp inside the forestMost of area in these pictures will be directly affected by the earliest part of the UCSF Management Plan.

  • On three acres all along the South Ridge (above the Forest Knolls Neighborhood), 90% of the trees and 90% of the understory habitat is to be removed.
  • On the few remaining trees, all the vines will be cut off at the ten feet. This will kill the vines above that level and leave them to dry out.
  • One one acre, they will experiment with toxic herbicides – glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup) and the even more toxic triclopyr (active ingredient of Garlon). They will compare this with two other methods, ‘Tarping’ (i.e. covering stumps with tarpaulin) and manual removal. Since the target is 85% regrowth prevention, we expect that only pesticides will achieve that objective. This would be the cue to permit pesticide use on all treatment areas – initially, 7.5 acres of “Demonstration Areas” and later, 3/4 of the Reserve.
  • cardboard and mulch in Native Plant Garden on Mt Sutro 2At present, no pesticides have been used anywhere in the forest since 2008, and in the Student Housing since 2009. Even the Native Garden, which requires the kind of heavy maintenance that all gardens do, is being managed with cardboard and mulch.
  • The trail up to the South Ridge is to be reinvented as a sweeping hairpin trail, with another unnecessary trail running parallel to Christopher, the paved road in Forest Knolls. In building these trails, there’ll major disturbances to the forest. Trails are also used, in many cases, as an excuse to remove trees.

We are grateful that project implementation has been delayed for a year, and will not start until August 2014.


San Francisco’s marine layer that turns Sutro Forest into a de facto Cloud Forest makes this one of the dampest places in the city outside the actual bay. Meanwhile, it’s fire season elsewhere. A grass-fire burned 50 acres in San Jose. (Click HERE for details.)

Could this happen here? The forest is not a fire hazard now, but it could be made into one, by thinning the trees to dry it out and make it more windy.

Grass fires ignite relatively easily, and move fast. And they have been known to occur in San Francisco. The picture below is from a grass fire on Bernal Hill in May 2013, which slightly damaged two homes. According to our sources, the same area had a fire two years ago.

bernal grassfire May 2013 - Janet Kessler

In August 2009, firefighters battled a “grass and brush” fire in Glen Canyon Park. sprinkler system pipesAnd there had been another, smaller, fire in Glen Canyon earlier the same year, in May.

We’re glad that the Native Plant Garden on Mount Sutro is supplied with an irrigation system. We hope that UCSF ensures that it is functional and is ready to turn it on should a fire start in the dry grass of the meadow sections there.

dry grass in the Native Plant Garden

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1 Response to Sutro Cloud Forest is Foggy while Fires Burn Elsewhere

  1. Tony Holiday says:

    Excellent post and pix. Yeah, PLEASE don’t overwiden the trails! Love skinny overgrown trails with overhead growth. Like the button.

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