Report: UCSF Second Sutro Forest TAC Meeting

UCSF held its second Planning Meeting for Sutro Forest on 28 April 2016. The two hired arborists, Jim Clark of Hort Science and Matt Greene, presented the direction they were taking the Plan, and their evaluation of the forest. The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) offered comments, and then later, so did the public.


Moderator Daniel Iacafano noted that this was just the start of the process, and more inputs would be sought from the TAC and the public. This means things could change, but it indicates the current thinking.

  • They will plan to retain a eucalyptus forest on Mount Sutro, and encourage regeneration to have a continuous tree canopy. They accept the Cal-IPC designation of eucalyptus as having “limited” invasiveness.
  • Though the main priority is safety, as UCSF has stated since 2013, it is clear that native plant restoration is a key objective. They are once again talking in terms of invasive species, and we suspect they are using “biodiversity” as a dog-whistle term for native plant restoration. (However, Peter Ehrlich and Dr Joe McBride of the TAC suggested introducing other species of eucalyptus like Mountain Gum and Spotted Gum to increase biodiversity while keeping the character of the forest.)
  • The canopy objective will make an exception for “remnant” areas of native plants, or places native plants could grow. To assess this, they will depend on the Sutro Stewards. At this meeting, Craig Dawson, Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards, said that the entire area was a remnant landscape, and once other vegetation was removed, native plants sprouted.  What this implies is that any group of trees could be removed anywhere in the forest.
  • Our overall impression is that the plan as it is being developed resembles the 2001 Plan – substantial tree removal including clear-cutting in some areas – and planting with native plants. We can expect a major change in the character of the forest.
  • The general time-line plans for tree removal to start in Fall of 2017.
  • However, they may do more tree removals before that – as they did last winter – with the excuse of safety.
  • march 2013 Euc and Acacia regenerating in GashThey said regeneration was not occurring because young trees were not being recruited into the canopy. This is likely because they do not get enough light – meaning that the canopy is, essentially, full. Matt Greene said that the lack of trees in the Gash opened up over the water line showed a lack of regeneration. (However, we know the saplings did regenerate many times over as in this March 2013 picture – and were removed legally or otherwise.).
  • Avoiding the Nesting Season. They promised to do no unnecessary tree work during the nesting season, March through August. (Peter Ehrlich, of the Technical Advisory Committee, pointed out that some birds large and small start nesting in January – for instance, Great Horned Owls and Anna’s Hummingbirds. He recommended avoiding forest work for the entire period from January through August.) Our recent post shows how difficult it is to find nests of small birds, because they are very well hidden.
  • UCSF committed to not using herbicides in the Reserve (i.e., their part of the forest – though they are used in the city-owned portion).


For anyone who is interested in delving into details, here are photographs of the presentation. Daniel Iacafano, who has moderated Sutro Forest meetings for years, also moderated this one. As usual, they took notes on a huge board. They need to update their technology with audio and/ or video recordings. It’s so easily done now there’s no reason not to.

The members of the TAC are:

  • Peter Brastow, Senior Environmental Specialist for Nature, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, San Francisco Department of the Environment. Mr Brastow was previously the director of Nature In the City, a native-species organization that was the original parent entity of the Sutro Stewards.
  • Peter Ehrlich, Forester, Presidio Trust. Mr. Ehrlich is experienced with eucalyptus groves from his Presidio experience.
  • Joe McBride, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, University of California Berkeley. Dr McBride is probably the foremost expert on eucalyptus in the Bay Area. Notes from a presentation he made at the Commonwealth Club are HERE.
  • Richard Sampson, Forester/Division Chief, CAL FIRE.
  • Lew Stringer, Restoration Ecologist, Presidio Trust.

(Our thoughts on all the participants are HERE: Who’s Who.)

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The goals were defined as:

  • Visual design and aesthetics;
  • Reserve and ecosystem health;
  • Public safety; and
  • Public access.

The key assumptions were that the Plan would improve safety, protecting lives and structures; addresses hazard reduction and promotes a sustainable ecosystem; includes a replanting strategy to promote biodiversity; and utilizes a phased-in approach. Safety of people and structures would be the top priority.

They also committed to transparency and community planning principles, and to encourage public access via the trail network they partnered with the Sutro Stewards to build. (This makes the Sutro Stewards officially partners of UCSF.)

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The two consultants evaluated around 600 trees in four main areas of the forest. They looked at how many trees were dead, and how many had crowns of 20% or less.

Joe McBride of the TAC asked what benchmarks they were using. Why did a 20% crown matter? And Peter Ehrlich pointed out that dead crowns don’t necessarily mean the tree is dying; crown retrenchment was a protective mechanism in eucalyptus during droughts, and didn’t mean a tree needed to be condemned. In some places, they saw trees declining where tree removals took place upwind, exposing the remaining trees. Lew Stringer suggested the understory should also be monitored.

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Richard Sampson asked about the basal area of the dead trees. Matt Greene said they were mostly small, as the forest was self-thinning. (We think this is actually the best kind of thinning – the trees best suited to the site will thrive, the others will die out.)

They pcloud forest diagramlanned to remove most of the dead trees, leaving perhaps 3-4 per acre as habitat. Some dead trees would be felled and left in the forest. They also wanted to come up with a plan for tree removal – whether individual trees, or groups of half an acre.

Peter Brastow asked if Area 4 got more moisture. Matt Greene said yes, and thought they should consider ways to get more moisture to other areas – like opening up corridors for the fog.

(We think the best way would be to retain the density of the forest, so the moisture caught by the trees is retained.)

He also wondered if the last three years were a window into the future with global warming. More fog or less? Matt Greene said his experience was with coast redwoods, also fog dependent, and they were actually doing pretty well. He emphasized the importance of monitoring the forest.

Richard Sampson said that there were a lot of dead trees up and down the coast, so he was concerned about the eucalyptus canopy. (In comments, a member of the public pointed out that eucalyptus forests were not fire hazards, and provided extensive references. She suggested getting David Maloney to talk about this.)


A number of the public made comments, some in support of the Plan and others concerned about some of the directions.

On the general direction and process:

  • Morley Singer, who has been active in the fight for Sutro Cloud Forest since 1999, said that this has been going on for 17 years, and there are trust issues with UCSF. Trees are cut down for a variety of excuses. He is from UCSF, worked there for ten years, and loves the institution. But don’t confuse its excellence and fantastic medical reputation with infallibility. For instance, some years ago, there was a merger planned with Stanford. It was a disaster. We will monitor this Plan very carefully.
  • How was the TAC formed: By invitation or recruitment, and if so, by whom? What are their qualifications?
  • How much will this Plan cost? I hope the consultants will provide an estimate of the economics of the plan. Resource issues are important.
  • Jake Sigg said herbicide use will be essential, especially against oxalis and erhata as the area is opened up. There were 56 native species of plants 25 years ago, probably fewer now. [Actually, there is no evidence for this.]
  • Amy Kaiser, Ecology Manager for Sutro Stewards, believes that “restoration” on Mount Sutro can be achieved without herbicides because the Stewards get a lot of volunteers.
  • Burning up to the Eucalyptus

    Burning up to the Eucalyptus

    Fire hazard is still being used as an excuse, even though forests are not as hazardous as grassland or shrublands – or the actual homes and buildings.  Thinning could increase the fire hazard by reducing moisture retention. Recommended reading Dave Maloney’s report.

scripps-ranch-nytimesOn directions for the forest:

muir woods monoculture

Muir Woods monoculture?

  • Why the concern with monocultures? There are monocultures all over the world. Is Muir Woods a monoculture?
  • The concept of “native” should be removed from the discussion. Why pick 250 years as the cut-off for native? Dr Morley Singer did a thought-experiment: How many here are native Californians? (Some raised their hands.) Sorry, we’ll have to ask the rest of you to leave, or you’ll have to be killed.
  • Pat Greene, (a birder who was identified as a source by Jim Clark), said that birders have seen 75 species of birds in  Sutro Forest but twice that number in Mt Davidson. [However, Mt Davidson is much more intensively followed by the birding community, and this is the most likely reason.]
  • Craig Dawson, Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards said, “If you build it they will come.” The first pipevine swallowtail butterfly was seen on Mt Sutro. The entire area is a remnant. The seed bank still exists. Along trails, with no planting, the native plants are coming back. [So are forget-me-nots and oxalis. The idea of the entire area being a remnant provides an excuse for destruction of any part of the forest.]
  • Even though it’s been a forest for more than 120 years, it was originally grass and shrub with a 360-degree view from Mt Sutro. [And there was no city, either, originally.]
  • A neighbor from Cole Valley lives on edge of Surge parking lot and *hates* eucalyptus and would like them all cut down and no new ones planted.
  • One aesthetic value has not been discussed: the dense, lush, untamed forest that visitors found so surprising and magical in the heart of the city.
  • Another neighbor was glad to hear that the healthy trees will be retained and more will be planted, and hopes density will be maintained. Fog catching and keeping moisture is important.

On “thinning” the forest”

  • Thinning is risky –  it can weaken the remaining trees.  When PGE cut down trees, other trees were impacted and died.
  • Eucs are drought resistant – other trees died in the drought too.
  • The continuous thinning of the understory and tree removals since around 2010 has already made the forest more dry, and may have damaged some of the trees.
Mount sutro forest greenery - June 2011

Mount Sutro Forest greenery – June 2011

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