When UCSF surprisingly announced there would be a 4th Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting after the original three, we suspected adverse changes to the Draft Plan. That meeting was held this evening, and we were right to be concerned. Significant changes have been made to the Draft Plan, nearly all of them to expand the impact of native plants. This last minute change is adverse for the forest.
First, our procedural concerns.
- Though we inquired what changes were being made that necessitated an extra meeting, we got no useful information.
- We first saw the Revised Draft Plan only at Jan 23rd, 2017 meeting. The timeline below doesn’t have any TAC meeting scheduled after August 2016.
- This is really at the last minute. The initial study for the EIR is due to be published Feb 6th, 2017, which means it’s already under way.
WHAT CHANGES? MAINLY, A STRONG NATIVE PLANT FOCUS
It’s all about native plants.
- More than doubles native plant areas from 2 acres to 5 acres.
- In Phase 2, when they were going to plant eucalyptus to maintain the forest, they now plan planting “both eucalyptus and native species.” Since those native species will include very few large trees, this means fewer trees planted.
- They recommend monitoring should concentrate on native plants and birds – even though this is essentially a non-native forest.
- There will be no irrigation when new trees are planted. Destruction is easy, but clearly the replanting will be difficult. (When the native garden at the summit was planted, it was irrigated for years.)
- “The result will be a two-tiered woodland with a high tree canopy composed of tall trees and an understory of shrubs, groundcovers and vines.” The forest at present is much more complex, with sub-canopy of acacia, plum, and other medium sized trees.
- “The Plan recommends the removal of competing vegetation species that are non-native and invasive, including but not limited to acacia, erharta, blackberry, ivy and other vine species.”
- They’ve added a sub-objective: “The University should focus on native plant stewardship by preserving existing populations and restoring native plant communities where appropriate.”
- About 14 acres of trees (out of 61 acres) will be removed to “enhance a defensible space.” These will also be planted with native plants.
- They’ve added a whole new appendix of native plants that they may introduce into the forest.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH NATIVE PLANTS?
With the earlier draft, though we were opposed the amount of tree destruction planned, we did have a sense that it was a compromise. This draft brings us much closer to the earlier unpopular plans. We like all plants, but this emphasis on native plants is misplaced in a forest whose ecology depends on plants from elsewhere. We wrote about Sutro Forest’s ecosystem in 2011: It’s 80% eucalyptus, which forms the tall canopy trees; it has a subcanopy of acacia, plum and other smaller trees; an understory of blackberry and other bushes; and a herbaceous layer of small plants and grasses. The forest, like most of San Francisco’s population, is “non-native.”
UCSF should not be promoting a xenophobic plant preference, especially in a novel ecosystem like this one.
(At that time of the earlier plan, UCSF estimated that the forest had 45,000 trees of which 32,000 were slated for removal, leaving 13,000 trees. Now UCSF has a revised estimate of only 10,500 trees – not 45,000 trees – but it’s nevertheless looking to fell a lot of trees. We’re still trying to get a good estimate.)
ACACIA IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE SUTRO FOREST ECOSYSTEM
The revised plan adds acacia to the list of invasive plants for removal. Dr Joe McBride of the TAC explained that he meant it to refer only to new acacia sprouts invading areas that had been replanted, not to the removal of existing acacia trees. We hope this change is incorporated.
Blackwood acacia occurs naturally as an understorey tree in the wet eucalyptus forests of Australia, and so it does here, too, in Sutro Forest, where it forms the sub-canopy in some areas. It tolerates a wide range of conditions, including fog and wind.
- This is a leguminous tree, and fixes nitrogen — thus providing food to surrounding plants and making the thin mountain soil more fertile. In an experiment in Hawaii, researchers found eucalyptus planted with acacia grew 25-28% larger than plantings that were only eucalyptus. (The link is to a PDF describing the experiments.)
- Blackwood acacia blooms with pale yellow flowers in the spring, attracting insects of all kinds and the birds that feed on them. (It’s relatively non-allergenic because of its heavy pollen though of course some people do react to it.) Bees like acacia flowers, and acacia honey is valued.
- Its dense foliage provides cover to nesting and foraging birds, which eat insects that live in its leaves and densely-scored bark.
- The seeds, which form in pods like twisted peas, have a reddish “eril” or stalk, which contains energy-rich lipids that attract and feed both insects — especially ants — and birds.
- Unlike the eucalyptus, the acacia is relatively short-lived (though some specimens have lived hundreds of years). Dead and dying trees provide important habitat for insects that feed on decaying wood, and birds and animals that prey on those insects: woodpeckers; sapsuckers; raccoons; skunks. The logs provide shelter for insects and reptiles including skinks.
The only positive is that UCSF has reiterated that no herbicides will be used.
The meeting was moderately well attended. Only five people made comments. One person was from Sutro Stewards and pushed the nativist agenda; another opposed eucalyptus. Three commenters questioned the plan. Some of the points made:
- Acacia has ecosystem value and shouldn’t be on the invasive species list.
- The lack of irrigation will likely doom replanting efforts. It’s easy to destroy trees, more difficult to replace them.
- Removing trees has the danger of drying out the forest and weakening the remaining trees.
- Removing trees on steep slopes increases the risk of landslides, as we saw when O’Shaughnessy Drive was closed for several days.
- A “monoculture” is negatively portrayed when it’s Sutro Forest and eucalyptus, but Muir Woods is equally a monoculture and is celebrated as a redwood forest. This shows a clear bias.
We have not had the time to analyze the revised draft Plan in detail, but hope to do so shortly. We also could not find the electronic copy of the Revised Plan, but have requested one from UCSF. When we get it, we will publish it here.
[Edited to Add: Here is the revised Plan: mount_sutro_vegetation_management_plan_revised_1-23-17
(All the changes are highlighted in yellow.)]