Bad News from Sutro Forest – Clearcuts in Interior Green Belt

A forest lover alerted us to some serious tree destruction on the Cole Valley side of Sutro Forest – the Interior Green Belt. This is the city-owned side of the forest.

We knew that some tree-cutting was planned. Some months ago, a storm blew a tree down onto a house at night, causing damage and putting the occupants at risk. (Fortunately, they were not harmed.) After that, we heard that 11 trees were removed along the forest edge.

What’s happening now is much more – some 40-90 trees. They are pushing the forest back along its Eastern edge. A lot of trees are already down, and some beautiful old ones have notices and orange dots showing they’re slated for destruction. This will happen within the next week.  [We understand from later correspondence that the number is 55 trees. That’s a lot of beautiful, mature trees.]

Again, “safety” is being used as an excuse for tree destruction well beyond the need to remove hazardous trees that threaten homes and buildings.

This forest, nestled in the heart of the city and surrounded by neighborhoods, is headed for destruction. First, the whole area will be shrunk for the purpose of creating a “defensible space” – even though that is probably the worst thing that could be done in terms of safety of a forest that garners moisture from the fog. Then tree cutting in the forest’s interior will increasingly dry it out.  And more trees will be cut down as wind-hardened trees from the forest edge are removed.

BACK IN 1958

This strip, the Interior Green Belt, was saved when the then-expansive forest was felled for development. It’s ironic that the trees preserved 60 years ago with so much difficulty are casually being cut down now. Here’s what the newscopy was back then:

Newscopy: “Once a quiet wilderness area, now Sutro Forest is becoming thoroughly developed.”

Newscopy: “This is the story of Sutro forest – and how the city has laid it waste. It is a story of trees versus concrete. Of green glades gobbled up for houses, eave-to-eave, row on row. Maybe it is the story of our way of life, inevitable in the push of population. But in many ways it is a tragedy. For Sutro Forest was once an 1100-acre spread of foliage within the vast Adolph Sutro-owned San Miguel ranch, and its trees were man-grown, hand-planted in a painstaking effort to provide beauty for San Francisco. But the march of the city is trampling the forest down, plucking it out by roots. Sutro was near as our sandy hills came to having ‘the forest primeval.’ But it’s now ‘the vanishing pine and hemlocks…’ Only a few people care. Some Twin Peaks home-owners have protested. Only one city agency – the Planning Commission – has sought to preserve at least leafy fragments, snatching an acre here, two acres there almost from the bulldozers. Now it is trying to salvage one parcel of 12.5 acres…”.


People saved it then; perhaps people can still save it from the forces nibbling away at its borders and heart.


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14 Responses to Bad News from Sutro Forest – Clearcuts in Interior Green Belt

  1. Tony Holiday says:

    Have you guys been following the heated debate on the San Francisco Current Events site on Facebook? Jump in, forest lovers, and add anything I may have left out to further help our cause against the eucalyptus haters and nativists !!!

    • takebackthegreen says:

      This is an unfortunate modern dilemma: those of us who will not join Facebook are left out.

  2. Matthew D Davis says:

    Allow me to provide a different point of view.

    We live near this area. Our lot abuts the forest. The Sutro Forest was planted by man. It has beauty and an interesting history, but it is not a natural forest. It is uniformly aged – all the trees were planted at the same time – which is a bad thing from a forestry point of view. Especially because they are now in senescence – the end of their natural life span. The forest has also been neglected. The trees are literally choked with English ivy. Many of the trees have rotten structural root systems. They are almost all dying and are starting to fall.

    When a tree almost fell on our house four years ago I had a certified arborist evaluate the remaining trees behind our home. He identified 14 that were almost dead and at risk of falling and striking our home. Arborists have a rigorous protocol for assessing and identifying potentially hazardous trees. He identified these 14 as extreme hazards to humans and recommended their immediate removal.

    I sent that report to the City. It did NOTHING about it, despite many warnings by my neighbors and me. Then last year one of the trees directly behind my home and identified in my report did exactly what was predicted. It fell. If it had fallen toward our home then it would have likely killed my wife and I, and maybe our kids. It fell at an angle on top of our neighbor’s bedroom. It crushed the ceiling to just above their bed. They were almost killed. They had to move out of their house for a year while the repairs were made.

    The above post is filled with romantic fantasy about this very poorly managed forest. Trees in an urban setting are great and wonderful, but they must be managed. Trees near homes, schools, sidewalks and people must be inspected and maintained. Sometimes they have to be removed. The trees that were recently removed were all at the end of their lifespan and at great risk of falling onto abutting homes and killing people.

    Rather than object and gripe about this sensible response to a hazardous condition, I would urge people to support replanting appropriate trees and maintaining the forest in a responsible manner going forward.

    [Webmaster: Thank you for this comment. If they were removing only the 14 hazardous trees, no one would object, least of all SaveSutro. Safety is important. However, this is 55 trees (in addition to the 11 removed earlier).

    There is no plan, as far as we know, to replant anything. It’s a difficult site, with thin soils and high winds. Eucalyptus is one of the few trees that thrives there – and provides a wind-break in which other species of trees also grow. ]

    • How sad will you be when erosion sets in – the trees were anchoring all that soil. The net of their root structure will not rot away. By the way, eucalyptus lifespan is 400’ish years.

      Death by tree is pretty rare – much more rare than death by car accident, heart disease, gun violence, etc. The hysteria about death-by-tree must have to do with the fact that this “menace” can’t fight back. Shame.

      So, in the prime of their mature life as great carbon stores; drought resistant, oxygen producing, shelter and food for birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife – unsubstantiated human paranoia is causing them to be destroyed.

      The culture of fear wins while the rest of us lose.

    • takebackthegreen says:


      I realize it is difficult to separate one’s self from a personal situation enough to evaluate it objectively. And fear causes a hardening of perspective with often regrettable results.

      As the webmaster pointed out, “dangerous trees” should of course be removed. What monster would oppose ensuring the safety of your family?

      However, there are a couple points you mention that I would ask you to reconsider. First, as a part-time arborist, I can confidently state that all arborists are humans. Some are objective, some aren’t. If you consult a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you consult an arborist, everything looks like work that needs doing. Just a possibility.

      More importantly: there is the almost indecipherably complex issue of statistical analysis. The simple version: you state many “IFs.” But, as statistics predict, none of them happened. It is not logical to argue on tragic outcomes that are hypothetical. How many people die in a year from trees falling on houses? Divided by the world population that lives in range of treefall =infinitesimally small probability. If you wish to use that probability to argue for the removal of every tree around your house, I wouldn’t try to change your mind. But it is categorically NOT relevant to the issue at hand.

      Finally, regarding nature: NOTHING about San Francisco is “natural.” (Actually everything is, because humans are a part of nature; but that is a different discussion…) That ship sailed long ago. Trees fall. Lightning strikes. Nature happens.

      But you should heed the warning: soil erodes and destroys homes FAR more often than trees or lightning.

  3. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you for this excellent article, and including the past history. It’s just enraging and heart-breaking. I have to accept that some people actually love killing trees. I know money is most of it, but something else evil is going on. We need every tree we can get. It’s as bad as seeing human bodies piled up.

    San Francisco will have a firestorm only if there is a massive earthquake. And at that time, probably the safest place to run to would be this wet dense forest or Golden Gate Park, because we know Eucalyptus not only ward off fire with their extensive fog drip, but they shield from wind spreading fire. We’ve seen enough photos of houses gone, while those magnificent trees aren’t even singed.

    • takebackthegreen says:

      Bev: I wonder if this might be a rare example where money isn’t the primary driving force. The money makers here are the tree companies that do the removal.

      The primary drivers of this insane, slow-motion tragedy don’t seem to be motivated by greed (I could certainly be wrong here.), but by other human weaknesses: blind adherence to unscientific ideology; the desire to impose that ideology on others; the need to remake the landscape according to our own desire…

      It seems like the usual “But we had to destroy the place in order to make it better” kind of thinking that litters human history. And the perpetrators always convince themselves are doing good work.

  4. VC says:

    It seems that the ivy is choking the trees. Cut ivy, not trees.

    [Webmaster: Actually, the ivy is okay and may actually strengthen the trees. It doesn’t get into the canopy, where it could block sunlight. The point is to remove only hazardous trees, not all the trees along the base of the forest, which in turn will weaken remaining trees.]

  5. Tony Holiday says:

    Well said, Bev Jo. I am calling them “plant suprematists” now. Why can’t we get some decent politicians in SF/CA to make destroying the environment/trees a criminal offense. This is rampant destruction, apparently just because they CAN. Trees do so much for the environment and our mental health besides. The GGNRA does tree-felling too and I suspect some of it is mainly to improve the views for the tourists. But the wreck-the-parks people are worse by far.

  6. Mather_Matters says:
  7. takebackthegreen says:


    1. I feel confident that if every San Francisco voter were given an objective summary of the issue they would absolutely oppose the process. The problem is there IS no more common news source, as in the past. Facebook, for many many reasons, is NOT equivalent.

    2. The issue is too complex for soundbites. Politicians have limited time and attention.

    3. While those of us who don’t want to be engaged in politics full time weren’t looking, the Eucaplyptus haters took over Parks and Rec and UCSF land use bureaucracy. Probably not fixable.

    4. This very valuable and hard-working website, and others, have been doing their part for YEARS now, with diligence and commitment to science-based reasoning. But the citizens are mostly still unaware and the destruction is still in progress.


    Something bigger and louder needs to bring attention to what is happening. Why has no one chained themselves to a tree, or got some pickets together, or done something (legal) big enough to grab some attention? Are there no PR people who read this blog? No professional protestors to get something rolling?

    I hate that I am so late to the game here. I want to make it up by doing something I hate to do: volunter to help something loud and obnoxious happen.

    While we are politely using reason and logic, the Eucalyptus haters are winning (have already won?)


    Even if I just got a flyer that said “UCSF TO CLEAR CUT RARE CLOUD FOREST IN HEART OF SAN FRANCISCO” I’d pay attention.

    I give permission for the Webmaster of this site to give my email address to anyone with a legitimate plan of action. No commission meetings. No hearings. Not interested, because that isn’t working.

    Sorry to hog the comment section. Happy Holidays!

  8. Megan Lehmer says:

    I am the person whose house was hit by the 100’ Cypress tree last February at 4 am. Another tree fell on our deck a few years ago, missing the house by a couple of feet. Although this time the tree fell on the bedroom in which we were sleeping, we were both unharmed. We are now back in our house which is still under construction. There appears to be no need for such massive devastation to the forest.

    [Webmaster: Thank you, Megan. We’re grateful that you were both unharmed, and hope your home will be better than before. SaveSutro supports the removal of hazardous trees, but as you say – this appears to greatly exceed requirements.]

    • takebackthegreen says:

      Wow. Ms. Lehmer, that’s an impressive paragraph; and I applaud you. It takes a strong intellect to be able to put one’s own (extremely frightening and traumatic) experience in perspective, and objectively evaluate a situation that affects the community as a whole.

      I don’t know you, but I suspect public discourse would be a lot more productive and fair if there were more people like you engaged in it.

  9. Please leave the woods as intact as possible. No other city in America has their equivalent; they are a national treasure. I lived in San Francisco 1957-1968, and my two older children were born there. I now live far away, and I did not walk the trails until 2015 and then 2016, but their existence makes me proud to think of myself as a San Franciscan.

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