We attended the UCSF community meeting about the new draft plan for Sutro Forest. On this rainy evening, only about 6-8 people came, outnumbered by the UCSFers present. Unlike previous meetings, there were no presentations, just stations that were set up with posters, and UCSF staff and consultants to discuss them. We spent most of the time explaining the forest’s micro-ecosystem to various people. More of that later.
Our assessment, based on what we know so far: This 2016 Plan is better than the previous ones in February and November 2013, with favorable goals and policies. However, it’s possible to damage the forest unless UCSF takes great care in tree and understory removal.
(You can read the 2016 Draft Plan here: Sutro-Management-Plan-TAC-Draft-081216
In fact, the tree and plant removal for “safety” has already affected the ability of parts of the forest to store moisture – and the subsequent damage is being blamed on the drought. But if UCSF and the Sutro Stewards had not removed the understory and small trees, the forest would have been able to retain more moisture and withstood dry conditions better.
PRETTY GOOD GOALS AND POLICIES
The first poster about the new Plan was UCSF’s Goals and Policies. On the whole, they’re pretty good. Safety, public access, no herbicides, respect the nesting season… and most importantly, “The beauty of the Reserve will be preserved and its novel ecosystem maintained as a public resource.”
We hope this means that they will go past the obfuscation that has been put out in the past to actually recognize how this novel ecosystem works. Unfortunately, the specifics of the plan suggest we’re not quite there yet.
Here’s the proposed timeline, which suggests that implementation will begin in the Fall of 2017. We are glad to see a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be made.
We asked Christine Gasparac of UCSF about funding. She said that the actual Plan process (including, presumably, the new EIR) has been budgeted for, as has the first three years of implementation. She wasn’t able to provide any actual numbers. The Plan for subsequent years is to try to get grants or partnerships.
The foresters retained to write the plan divided the forest into four areas, counted trees and evaluated their condition. These are color-coded in the map below. The area they – and we, for different reasons – are most concerned about is the green space, Type 1.
The four “types” are:
- Type 1, which at 24 acres comprises the largest section, cutting right through the heart of the forest. This also has the greatest density of trees per acre, and includes many of the snags (standing dead trees) so invaluable for wildlife.
- Type 2, a now thinly-populated area below Medical Center Way where a lot of trees were removed in 2013 and 2014 as part of the so-called “safety” treatment.
- Type 3, another quite small area that lies above the Regenerative Medicine building, next to the parking lot.
- Type 4, a relatively steep area of the forest where it’s been allowed to grow more or less unhampered.
In this assessment, UCSF has also sharply revised downward its figure for the total number of trees in its forest. Earlier, it used a figure of 45,000 trees on 61 acres. Now, it estimates there are only 10,500 trees. Since it’s unlikely that 34,500 trees have died since 2013, either its earlier plans were based on erroneous figures, or the new estimate isn’t accurate either.
The 2013 plan called for removing around 30,000 of the 45,000 trees (see “Message to UCSF, Do the Math“). It seems, from these revised figures, more than 30,000 trees have vanished at the stroke of a pen! Nevertheless, UCSF still intends to cut down trees in Sutro Forest.
The Type 1 area is where there has already been the most interference in the forest – Sutro Stewards clearing or broadening trails, the tree-cutting in the name of safety, and the removal of understory and small trees for “fire hazard reduction” that actually functioned to reduce the moisture retention ability of the forest, especially during the dry years when the fog would have been most important. As we predicted, this has harmed the forest by drying it out and damaging the trees. Most of the dead and dying trees are in this area.
SUTRO FOREST 2016 PLAN, PHASE 1
Phase 1 looks straightforward enough – except that there’s a lot of tree removal embedded in it, not to mention habitat destruction. UCSF has been interpreting “hazardous trees” liberally. Quite coincidentally, the areas of removal coincide with those where the February 2013 Plan was going to remove trees in four “demonstration areas” to plant native plants instead. (Those are the yellow areas on the map on the right.) It’s a series of spaces that run through the heart of the forest. In some cases, trees have already been cut down as “hazardous tree” work, or as “defensible space.”
We asked how many trees would be cut down, but they didn’t have an answer for us. We will try to get some better figures and publish them here.
We are encouraged that the replanting will include blue-gum eucalyptus, a species that has proven successful at this site. We would suggest boosting it with an acacia understory. Not only does this pairing occur naturally, the acacia also fixes nitrogen and feeds the other trees. Acacia and eucalyptus together are superb at sequestering carbon. Eucalyptus, with its dense wood, large size, fast growth and long life is one of the best carbon-sinks there is, and acacia turbo-charges this effect.
Actually, though you would not know it from the lush green forest thriving here for over a century, this is a very difficult site. It’s very windy and the rocky base is close to the surface so the soils are thin. Until the fast-growing eucalyptus provided both shelter from the wind and a self-watering mechanism because it captures summer fog-moisture, very little could grow there other than some scrub that was dead nine months of the year. It took the flexible and adaptive eucalyptus to anchor the lush ecosystem that has naturalized here in 120 years. But every plant plays its part in creating this ecosystem and habitat – the blackberry, the ivy, the blackwood acacia, the ferns and grasses and small plants. (Read more about that here: Sutro Forest Ecosystem and Wildlife Habitat.)
SUTRO FOREST PLAN 2016, PHASE 2 AND 3
After the first five years, there’ll be more tree removal and replanting until the whole forest is done. It will shift from being a naturalized forest to a heavily managed one. However, if UCSF stands by its plan to respect the Novel Ecosystem, perhaps it will be allowed to thrive again.
Sutro Forest is a cloud forest, and the greatest enemy of a cloud forest is opening it up. This forest lies in the fog belt, and summer fog moisture captured by the tall trees and keeps it damp until winter rains start.
Opening up the forest, though, dries it out. It also increases the airflow in this windy area, and thus makes it even more dry. Removing understory – including blackberry and ivy – and small trees reduces the forest’s ability to retain this moisture.
We are concerned that a failure to understand how this micro-ecosystem works will lead to actions that will decrease the forest’s healthy, and increase safety risks.
We are already seeing the negative impacts of the aggressive understory removal in 2013 and 2014. We hope the new management plan will consider these factors, instead of dubbing it all “invasive” and mowing it down.