Walking in Sutro Forest – June, July 2014

It’s a while since we posted about Sutro Forest conditions, so we’d like to record pictures and observations from the last few weeks. Much of the forest is still very beautiful, especially in the fog. But around 1200 trees have been removed in the last year to contain an “urgent fire hazard” that was not very credible; and to remove trees in poor condition, most of which were not hazardous. It shows.

sutro cloud forest and young tree

If you love the place as a forest, this would be a good time to visit. More tree removal is planned. The forest’s character is changing, with many gaps. The Sutro Stewards are planting these gaps not with trees but with native plants.


It’s summer in the forest now, with frequent overnight or daytime fog.

hiker in Sutro Cloud Forest June 2014Many of the trails are wet and some have puddles.

sutro cloud forest walkOn a recent visit, we started out with the mysteriously beautiful forest wrapped in fog.

fern epiphytes on eucalyptus in Sutro Cloud ForestBy the time we ended our hike, the fog had burned off and the forest was a luminous green with sunlight.

after the fog in Sutro ForestLower down – and in places where the forest has been opened up, it’s much more dry, even dusty. And the areas where the “urgent fire safety” work was performed last year by removing all the trees under 6 inches in diameter, all the ivy, and all the understory, are not able to hold as much moisture as they did before.

deforested area above and beneath medical center wayThe plum and cherry trees have fruit now, and they’re mostly ripe and edible. They don’t attract the same attention as the wild blackberries now ripening all over the city, they’re not as tasty.

plums are ripe in Sutro ForestPerhaps people don’t even know these are here. But we think coyotes may have been snacking on them – some scat along the trail was filled with the pits.

The Native Plant Garden is past its best, but the meadow of orange flags actually had flowers. It’s still got orange flags, but California poppies outdid them for sheer orange color.

the flag meadow in the native plant gardenOn the other side of the trail, the Rotary Meadow had grindelia blooming yellow amid a complex of non-native grasses. One of our group identified rye, wild oat, and wild barley.


Paradoxically, it’s become easier to see birds in the forest. Before, the forest was so dense that you could hear birds but not easily see them.

Juvenile American robin - sutro forestNow, they are not as many as before, going by the amount of birdsong, but you can spot them – and even a point-and-shoot camera can capture some photographs. The bird above is a juvenile American robin – perhaps a native Sutro Forester.

song sparrow - sutro forestThe bird above is a song sparrow, and below is a redtailed hawk sitting in an acacia tree.

hawkThis one below needs a bit of imagination: it’s a couple of band-tailed pigeons. There actually were four, but they didn’t pose.

bandtail pigeons in sutro forestIn addition to the 45 birds already on our list, there’s one more: A house wren we saw nibbling at the fluff of a dandelion plant. Unfortunately we didn’t get a photograph. We also heard a flyover of red-masked parakeets.


We removed a loose strip of bark from a tree, and found a nursery of pill-bugs. Bird food.

pill bugs under a strip of barkAnd beside the path – the heftiest banana slug we’ve seen in this forest!


white-dotted treeThe first round of tree-cutting is over, and as we feared, another round is likely. A lot of trees along the trails are marked with white dots. Though the marked trees are mostly in poor condition, those are the trees that offer superb habitat for birds and animals. In a forest setting, only those that are actually hazardous should be removed; the others should be saved for wildlife.

Also, removing even the snags (standing dead trees) opens up the forest, which dries it out. These trees are not being replaced; instead, the open areas created are being made into Native Plant gardens, currently full of plastic flags.

The worst-affected area is below Medical Center Way.

The path that joins the Historic Trail from Stanyan to the Fairy Gates trail is no longer the shady tree tunnel that it was before; it’s a full of logs instead.

logged area below medical center way

Deforested area below Medical Center Way

This is what the area looked like before – the picture below was taken in the same area in July 2012. Coincidentally, this area is one the Stewards have been seeking to open up as part of their “restoration” plans centering on the seasonal creek that runs down to Cole Valley.

sutro forest below medical center way july 2012 098

The same area in July 2012

chainsaw stump carvingSomeone with a sense of irony or art has memorialized it with a chainsaw carving resembling an Easter Island moai figure. It recalled an island that has become a symbol of ecological disaster from the loss of its trees. We thought it was appropriate.

The method that UCSF employs is to cut down the trees and leave the logs lying. The smaller branches may be chipped and used for mulch, but in this area they don’t seem to have done that; instead, they have left brush piles. It’s fortunate that fire hazard is low in this forest; otherwise these would be kindling.

One of the trees destroyed was a bee tree. The bees are still hanging around; we hope they can transition to another tree. Though with USCF’s vendetta against snags and other trees suitable for habitat, this may be only a temporary solution.

bee tree down

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8 Responses to Walking in Sutro Forest – June, July 2014

  1. ANV says:

    Good post. Hope it gets the attention it deserves

    • carolee1945 says:

      Thank you for this blog. It is so sad that people really think they are doing the right thing to tear down the trees. It is almost like a religion with them.

      • takebackthegreen says:

        YES YES YES ! It isn’t “almost” like a religion. It is EXACTLY like a religion. The language, the dogma, the reliance on feelings and faith over science, the branding of opponents as immoral… I could go on and on. I was raised in a very religious household in the Deep South, and the mindset of these people is all too familiar. It can’t be reasoned with, and brooks no compromise.

  2. milliontrees says:

    I walked in the forest last week. We were struck by the irony of the huge piles of dead brush, left lying around after the trees were destroyed. We wondered how people who claim to be concerned about fire hazard could be so foolish as to create fire hazard where none had existed in the past. Such hypocrites. How can anyone take them seriously?

  3. Tony Holiday says:

    Was just there. Muddy trails and shocked to see all the logs laying around on the Edgewood Trail — too open there now.

  4. takebackthegreen says:

    Note: please can we agree to stop using the word “native” in this context? It lends weight to the NAP arguments. For an essay’s worth of reasons, it is meaningless.


    Thank you so much for this update on the status of Mt. Sutro. Who can look at these pictures and still claim that the massive tree removal is anything but a tragedy? I’m sending my Supervisor a link to this post, and I hope he reads it.

    The pictures of the ugly, dead scrub grass patches speak for themselves. Something unique and spectacular is being destroyed. There is no scientific basis, no moral imperative, nothing other than the misguided feelings of a group of fanatics. The devastation will be irreversible and the responsible people will never have to answer for it when their pointless experiment fails and we have to live with the result. What makes this grass or that bush so vitally important? Nothing except human desire.

    I’ll say it again: 99.9% of species that have ever lived on Earth have gone extinct. Without the help of humans. THAT is the Natural order. It is the grossest kind of hubris to think of humans as separate from nature. We are animals with bigger tools. Because humans planted Mt. Sutro doesn’t make it some kind of religious abomination. THEY PLANTED TREES, drastically increasing the amount of plant life. And now, a group of humans want to, once again, impose their will on the mountain.

    How is it possible that tree-starved San Francisco has become home to people who want to REDUCE the number of trees? What insanity has taken hold? Again: a unique and beautiful and thriving ecosystem will be changed FOREVER, because charismatic charlatans have decided it is “sinful.”

    I blame myself for not paying attention while these NAP fools gained influence with “green” sounding rhetoric. I’m too disgusted to attempt calm dialogue anymore, so, here it is: I don’t give a damn about their delusional gardening fetishes, and neither should you.

    This is despicable. I just hope the perpetrators names are preserved for posterity.

    I cannot thank this website enough for documenting this sad chapter in SF history.

    • carolee1945 says:

      I am wondering what do Friends of the Urban Forest, those people who encourage neighborhoods to plant trees, what do they think? I have not seen anything from them about this issue. Does anyone know?

      [Webmaster: We believe that FUF does good work, and we support their efforts to expand the number of street trees in San Francisco. However, it tries to avoid controversy. This issue has become contentious.]

  5. Pingback: UCSF Meeting: Sutro Forest Notes | Save Mount Sutro Forest

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