The tree-felling and vegetation removal in and around Sutro Forest that we wrote about HERE is imminent. Notices have been posted on trees in the Forest Knolls neighborhood.
We have a number of concerns about this action, which is being done in the name of “urgent fire safety.”
SHORT NOTICE, NO PUBLIC MEETING
1) This action was planned with only ten days’ notice, and no public meetings, at a slack time of the year when many people are traveling. Especially in the context of the ongoing issues regarding the Plan for Sutro Forest, this gives the impression that UCSF has timed it to avoid community input.
We do not understand how, after so many years, there is suddenly an urgent need and an emergency situation within ten days that requires removing over 1,200 trees. (In the letter to neighbors, UCSF gave the impression that this action was prompted by the fire department; in fact, it is clear that they sought SFFD’s support for the action. The timing was within their control.)
INCREASING THE FIRE HAZARD?
2) We also have a concern that rather than reducing fire hazard, this will increase it. Sutro Forest lies within the Fog Belt, and even now, while much of California (and much of the Bay Area) has fire weather, San Francisco does not. In recent days, much of the Bay Area has had Red Flag warnings from Calfire – but San Francisco was excluded.
Even within San Francisco, this is one of the foggiest parts of the city, hence the Cloud Forest effect. Opening up the forest and removing vegetation decreases the ability of the forest to store moisture captured from the fog.
Removing even small trees decreases the canopy cover; removing bushes and shrubs will encourage the growth of finer fuels like grasses and such plants that dry out quickly. (Even now, the driest parts of the forest are those where the canopy has been opened and the understory thinned out.) This is particularly true in those areas inside the forest (around the water tanks and the Aldea campus). We can expect they will become much drier than they have been before, and that contiguous areas will also be affected.
INCREASE THE MOISTURE, NOT REDUCE IT!
3) Given the very limited window between fog moisture and rainy weather in San Francisco’s fog belt (estimated at 10-14 days annually) other, less destructive measures could be considered first.
All the sensitive areas (unlike distant wild lands elsewhere in California) have access to a water supply. Artificially increasing the humidity of these areas during such windows is likely to improve the hazard situation far more than measures that *reduce* humidity. It would probably be less expensive than the ongoing maintenance of the “zones.”
DESTRUCTIVE OF TREE CANOPY AND FOREST
4) The concept of vegetation-free zones may be appropriate for flammable wild-lands such as those that exist in Marin, East Bay, South Bay, and Southern California, but not for this micro-climate. We are concerned that if other land managers – such as SF Rec and Parks – follow UCSF’s lead in implementing this kind of procedure without considering the micro-climate of San Francisco in general and the Fog Belt in particular, it may destroy a great deal of our forest lands, reduce canopy cover and habitat, and decrease carbon storage – but not improve and possibly worsen the fire hazard.
5) Though trees with a 6-inch diameter may sound small, it takes *years* for newly-planted trees to reach that size. Many street trees are smaller. In the Mission, a property-owner has been fined $17, 540 for destroying only ten street trees not much larger than that. Removing 1,250 trees is not trivial. As it is, San Francisco has among the smallest tree canopy covers among major cities. Already, normal attrition destroys twice as many trees each year than can be replanted. Massive tree removals of hundreds or thousands of trees make the situation much worse.
6) According to UCSF, the planned actions in Sutro Forest cover over 15 acres. This is around one-quarter of the Open Space Reserve. Again, this is not a minor action. It will have the effect of shrinking the “forest” visually and functionally.
END-RUN AROUND CEQA
7) UCSF claims that this action is exempt from CEQA. However, it is *in addition* to the Plan, and makes it considerably more damaging. We don’t understand how a CEQA process can be underway, and then additional actions can be introduced for the same space but not be part of that action. It eviscerates the CEQA process, changing the base-line even before the process is completed.
We cannot support actions that are intended to make everyone safer, but are more likely to have the opposite effect. Substituting more-flammable grasses that dry out for trees and understory that are capable of retaining moisture is one of them.