UCSF Surprise: Felling >1000 Trees On Mt Sutro in Aug 2013

We had thought that UCSF was not going to cut down trees this fall when we wrote One More Year for Sutro Forest.  We were wrong.

Yesterday, we received a surprise notification from UCSF. It plans to start felling trees for a “Urgent Fire Safety” project from August 26th.   This is separate from (and possibly in addition to) the Plan discussed in the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

Mt Sutro 'fire safety work' mapMORE THAN A THOUSAND TREES

They plan to do the following:

  • Cut down and chip 1,250 trees under 6 inches in diameter in the colored areas on the map. (This comes to over 15 acres, about one-quarter of the forest.)
  • Remove much of the understory bushes in those areas.
  • Remove an unspecified number of “hazardous” trees of any size through the forest. (Presumably those would be the orange-tagged trees.)
  • They will not use pesticides.

In addition, they note that PG&E will prune/remove trees on Clarendon Avenue, and the city will do so in the Interior Green Belt. So we can expect quite a lot of tree-felling in this area this Fall.


UCSF has indicated that work will start on August 26th and take 2 weeks.

ucsf letter abt 'fire safety' work

They also say that because this is “Emergency” work, it is not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and so is separate from the Plan in the Draft Environmental Impact Report and independent of it. Of course, from an actual environmental viewpoint, this would be an addition to everything in that Plan.

They have obtained a letter from San Francisco Fire Department supporting their proposed actions.

defensible spaceThis is a recent picture from Sutro Forest.

fog in the forest 4

Some see trees and understory; others see fuel.

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12 Responses to UCSF Surprise: Felling >1000 Trees On Mt Sutro in Aug 2013

  1. wally mcsorley says:

    So, the chancellor wants a better city view?
    What is the record for fires in this area?
    This is a culturally diverse city, where not all groups think trees are an asset.
    What an unfortunate place!

  2. Tony Holiday says:

    I am, of course, horrified. Sounds like they’re trying to get sooner tree-fellings by scaring people about “fire safety” issues.

  3. Thomas Lee says:

    The Fire Dept. letter incorrectly cites the regulation in question. It is Title 19, Section 3.07. The relevant portion follow.

    (b) Ground Previous TermClearanceNext Term. The space surrounding every building or structure shall be maintained in accordance with the following:

    Any person that owns, leases, controls, operates, or maintains any building or structure in, upon, or adjoining any mountainous area or forest-covered lands, brush covered lands, or grass-covered lands, or any land which is covered with flammable material, shall at all times do all of the following:

    (1) Maintain around and adjacent to such building or structure a firebreak made by removing and clearing away, for a distance of not less than 30 feet on each side thereof or to the property line, whichever is nearer, all flammable vegetation or other combustible growth. This section does not apply to single specimens of trees, ornamental shrubbery, or similar plants which are used as ground cover, if they do not form a means of rapidly transmitting fire from the native growth to any building or structure.

    (2) Maintain around and adjacent to any such building or structure additional fire protection or firebreak made by removing all bush, flammable vegetation, or combustible growth which is located from 30 feet to 100 feet from such building or structure or to the property line, whichever is nearer, as may be required by the enforcing agency if he finds that, because of extra hazardous conditions, a firebreak of only 30 feet around such building or structure is not sufficient to provide reasonable fire safety. Grass and other vegetation located more than 30 feet from such building or structure and less than 18 inches in height above the ground may be maintained where necessary to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.

  4. Diane says:

    this is so sad. I grew up there and love to return from time to time. wish it wasn’t so.

  5. Thomas Lee says:

    It is premature to concede that this pre-emptive action by UCSF must occur.

    * UCSF history of exaggerated concerns about fire, well-documented on this site.

    * Clearing in this manner may well increase fire risk, both short-term and long-term.

    * The regulation provides for an exception for erosion prevention. Given the geography of the forest, it can be argued that removing trees around the buildings increases erosion risks.

    * It seems odd that water tanks need ‘defensible space’. They are metallic, and not occupied by anyone or anything, except perhaps water.

    * It seems odd that the largest buildings in the defensible areas – Aldea Housing – should be built nestled into the forest, then some years later have a fire regulation applied that calls for removal of nearby trees.

    * At minimum the characterization of the conditions in the forest as “extra hazardous” regarding fire risk are incorrect. It is an “extra safe” area from the point of view of history and common sense.

  6. Julie Long Gallegos says:

    I just wrote to all 3 contact emails and told them that in all my 40+ years in the city, several of which were on Edgewood Ave which ends at the forest, I don’t recall any fire dangers alerts, let alone fires. And that they aren’t fooling anybody.

  7. They are [epithets] for doing this!!! That’s all!!!/

    [Webmaster: Slightly edited in line with comments policy.]

  8. Mike says:

    I live on Crestmont Drive and the only thing I would change about this is that Eucalyptus in excess of 6 inches in diameter should also be taken out in the residential adjacent strip. I love this forest but this is a small strip along the road front. Take a look at the map at the top. The statement that this covers a quarter of the forest is patently absurd.

    [Webmaster: Hi Mike, we sympathize with your interest in safety. In Forest Knolls, the 100 feet includes the width of the street. However, it *does* cover 1/4 of the forest; UCSF estimates the affected areas at 15 acres, out of the total 61 acres of the Open Space Reserve.]

    These trees are all up a steep hill from our houses and should all be cut back 100 feet from all residences. In my area alone, dozens of the large Eucalyptus have fallen during the 12 years I’ve been here (so far, luckily, only one has damaged a house) and many are large enough to demolish houses and kill the residents if they come down.

    [Webmaster: We support the removal of hazardous trees near peoples’ homes. UCSF has been pro-active in this respect, and have gotten tree removed when needed. However, all trees are not hazardous.]

    Taking out a strip of an invasive species and putting in natives is both ecologically sound and a more than reasonable safety precaution.

    [Webmaster: Eucalyptus aren’t actually invasive. They are there because they were planted there, and the Forest Knolls neighborhood was actually created on what was once part of the forest. From an ecological standpoint, eucalyptus is exceptionally valuable. And there’s no evidence that native plants will be fire-resistant. Many of them dry out after the spring, and become more flammable than plants that are green year-round.]

  9. Pingback: Sutro Forest Tree-felling Notices Posted | Save Mount Sutro Forest

  10. Jason Hemp says:

    Thomas can you provide a link to the correct regulation section that you posted?

  11. Shannon Rossiter says:

    Please, A fire hazard? It’s too foggy to even have a fire there. Just another excuse to urbanize more of SF. Just have to have more condos, etc. Who cares about the wild life there and a place in the city to enjoy nature. Shame on you UCSF, Shame On You!!!

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