A Forest Being Destroyed

Sutro Forest is being cut down. As a consequence of both UCSF’s “Vegetation Management Plan” and the new Comprehensive Plan for Parnassus, we expect that the forest will be gone within 2-3 years. The felling is happening now, and trees are being fed into the BANDIT Intimidator.

To understand what is being lost, scroll down for an essay on the forest that we wrote in 2009 when this website was originally set up to inform the public and advocate for the forest. There are more photographs in our Blog, as well as HERE

Sutro Forest Tree Destruction - Bandit Intimidator Jan 2021 600pxContact us: You can email us at fk94131@yahoo.com


Mount Sutro Cloud Forest(Photo credit: Paul Hudson; click on the name for more of his pictures) 

IN THE HEART of the city, blanketing a steep hill, is one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets: its very own temperate cloud forest. It’s a century-old forest of eucalyptus trees as tall as 200 feet high, growing on 80 acres of mountainside.

When you’re in there, it’s hard to believe you’re still in a big city. You can follow narrow winding trails through the dense trees filled with birdsong and get lost without a map. At dusk, you may hear the Great Horned owls who nest there. And on a foggy day, it may be the most beautiful place in the whole city, a real cloud forest experience.

Not only is the cloud forest strikingly beautiful, it has a 125-year history in this city, and is part of San Francisco’s heritage. It also has characteristics of an old-growth forest. Its ecology has not been fully studied. According to a 2001 report, it has 93 plant species. But not everyone treasures this amazing place; instead of a life-filled complex ecosystem with huge trees, a dense understory, they see 80 acres of weeds. The forest is at risk.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799

Sutro Cloud Forest is the single largest urban forest in San Francisco. Three-quarters (61 acres) of it is owned by UCSF, which officially calls it the Open Space Reserve. The contiguous 19-acre Interior Green Belt area to the east of it is city-owned.

We invited those with the stewardship of this Cloud Forest to value it, and care for it as an old-growth cloud forest. (It did not happen.)

(The map above is from the Free Association Design blog’s post: Constructed Forests and Contested Ecologies.)


Since 2002, UCSF has been attempting to put in place a plan that would effectively destroy the forest and replace it with “native plants.”  The excuses have ranged from fire danger (which is minimal, owing to summer fog) to “forest health”, but the underlying story has always been cutting down trees and putting in native plants.

Public opposition has slowed the process. This website was set up in 2009, when UCSF sought FEMA funding to cut down thousands of trees – an attempt that did not go through.

Since then, there have been several iterations of the Plan.  Originally, it estimated that there were 45,000 trees in the UCSF portion of the forest, and planned to cut down 30,000 of them, leaving 15,000 trees. In 2016, there was a surprise revision of the tree-numbers: They estimated there were only 13,500 trees instead of 45,000. But they still planned to cut down most of them: All the dead/dying trees and 6-7,000 of the healthy ones, for a total of 10,000 or so trees.

That doesn’t count trees that will be damaged and killed when they’re exposed to wind after being protected by other trees for over a century; or damage to the trees from the heavy equipment that will be brought into the forest.

In addition, they plan to mow down nearly all the understory habitat of the forest.
The Plan that is currently being implemented is some variant of this – a reduction in the size of the forest, and the removal of most of its trees.

In the aerial picture below, the tree-covered hill is Mount Sutro (the tall buildings at the lower edge are in UCSF’s Parnassus campus). For contrast, Twin Peaks, bare of trees, is visible just above it.

sutro forest with approaching cloudsThis beautiful aerial view of San Francisco, taken by Fiona Fay and used here with permission, shows just how important our urban forests are.

Photo credit: @FionaFaytv of the IRN- NutritionHub.org

159 Responses to A Forest Being Destroyed

  1. Bill Sieper says:

    I am against the tree removal project.

    • Mary Baxter says:

      Pretty basic: solid science isn’t working very well anymore in a world that is clearly governed more by quantum physics relationships than 3rd dimensional limitations of the 17th century. That dogmatic scientism had its place, but it is pretty silly now. Science needs to catch up!!!

      These trees are far older than any of the people stating that they are not native. If the trees’ consciousness were in charge, would most humans be around? It seems more likely that UCSF has future economic development goals in mind, which is how most trees of the world are cut down.

      So if you want hard science, you probably need to move into the new scientific paradigm. This is the 21st century. Let the trees stand. It’s good for your breathing 😉

      • Richard Crooks says:

        This is such a great statement. Why is UCSF really so determine to remove these trees. Could future development be in their plans and to hell with the trees. This is so disgusting.

      • takebackthegreen says:

        Very delayed response. Some friendly corrections:

        While I agree with you that the Bay Area’s Eucalypts should be left alone and not even considered “exotic” anymore, you are wrong to believe that science has something to do with this issue.

        Actual science is working very well.

        It doesn’t need to “catch up” to any aspect of the issue at hand. If you are experiencing dogmatic science, you aren’t experiencing real science. Further, as you demonstrate, quantum theory is rarely discussed accurately by non-physicists.

        Don’t let the euc-haters bait you into believing this is a scientific issue. That leads to distraction and confusion because almost no one knows what they are talking about in that arena.

        This is an argument about preference. Simple. Easy. Winnable.

        Note: Most non-plantation trees in the world are cut down to clear land for agriculture and to provide a (very harmful) fuel source for cooking and heating by the world’s poor.

    • For everyone here who is against the removal of thousands of trees on Mount Sutro – please sign the petition if you have not done so already…

      • Kathy says:

        Hello SaveSutro Webmaster,

        Please amend, or encourage the petition owner to amend, the SaveSutro petition addressees to reflect the July 2014 change in chancellorship at UCSF from Susan Desmond-Hellmann to Sam Hawgood.

        Good job with this website.


        [Webmaster: Kathy, thanks for the heads up. It’s been done. We’re also trying to ensure we make the same change everywhere on this website.]

      • Richard Crooks says:

        Save the Sutro Forest.

    • Shantay MELLOR says:

      Sign the petition to stop the tree removal !!

      [Webmaster – Yes, please do: It crossed 3,000 signatures before the end of May.
      http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/save-30000-trees-in-sutro?source=c.fwd&r_by=6957696 ]

  2. Alma Hecht says:

    Mount Sutro Forest is a thriving urban forest in the middle of our city supporting valuable habitat, providing cloud cover, pollution and erosion control, as well as beauty. There is no justification for its destruction. I oppose its removal.

  3. katherine says:

    I oppose the destruction of Mount Sutro Forest.

    Trees are as integral a part of the ecosystem as the human species is. Thus, humanity has an inherent responsibility to protect and care for trees.
    I oppose the removal of Mount Sutro Forest.

  4. Benito Noyola says:

    The reference above (“In fact, this area, according to Cal Fire,”) mentions Cal Fire. I’m unable to locate the listing in the ATT phone book. Please provide a phone number for this institution. Many thanks.

    • Lawrence says:

      From their web site: http://calfire.ca.gov/communications/communications.php

      The CAL FIRE Communications office mission is to provide information and education to people of all ages, in public forums, through the media and worldwide web, and the distribution and display of printed material. At every opportunity our best and brightest will represent the Communications Division and the Department in a manner that is professional and responsive.

      Our commitment to this mission will mirror our commitment and dedication to the department and our constituents.

      Office hours are Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. For inquiries during these hours contact us at (916) 653-5123

      If you are a member of the media, and need information or comment, you can call (916) 651- FIRE (3473).

  5. savesutro says:

    Benito, It’s the California Dept of Forestry and Fire Protection. I got this from their website, which shows fire-hazard maps. http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_prevention/fhsz_maps/fhsz_maps_sanfrancisco.php
    For some reason, they don’t list a phone number, but as a government department, I presume they have one.

  6. Rajiv says:

    It needs to stopped and evaluated. who is native and non native? what happens when we punish the ‘non natives’ and who are we to decide? these decisions take time and must be evaluated before we make any hard decisions.

  7. Peter S says:

    I support saving Sutro forest.
    I am a neighbor.

  8. john says:

    ok, i live on the slopes of mt sutro and consider it my backyard so i have a solid opinion on this…

    i think they should rip out those ugly creaky and invasive eucalyptus and replant with the tree that belongs on the california coast in the cloud-forest — Sequoia sempervirens aka california coastal redwood trees.

    euc is:

    a: non-native
    b: flammable as heck
    c: grows uncontrolled and like a weed and
    d: is frankly not attractive
    e: the density blocks what would be epic city views from vistas that existed before sutro built his vanity park.

    redwood is:

    a: beautiful
    b: resilient
    c: fire retardant
    d: long-lasting
    e: creates lovely trails

    yes mt. sutro is a treasure, but an artificial one that can be improved upon. 100 years old is not a virtue if it’s just 100 years of neglect and overgrowth — which is what it was. the original sutro vision had views and was not an overgrown thatch of creaking, flaking, aussie weeds.

    replant with Redwood trees! who’s with me?

    • savesutro says:

      I think if we could wave a magic wand and convert it to redwood, some of us at SaveSutro would be with you. But that’s not the plan. The plan is wildflowers and native grasses – which are as flammable as heck.

      According to the UCSF report, redwood will only grow in certain areas of the mountain. It would also take a long time to grow, even where it can grow. It’s the tenacity and ‘uncontrolled’ growth of eucalyptus that makes this forest viable. It’s a natural space (though artificially planted). It doesn’t need much control. There’s such a thing as benign neglect.
      Incidentally, eucs are not flammable as heck in our climate. Check out the letter on grass fires.

      For epic city views, there’s Twin Peaks. And Tank Hill. Every mountain doesn’t have to be about views. What we’d almost certainly have is a lot more wind. (Have you been up to Twin Peaks on a windy day?) Cutting down the eucs would reduce the apparent height of the mountain around 10%. Even the oak trees carefully planted in the Native Garden on the summit might not survive if the eucs were gone.

      And I don’t have anything against Aussies, either. Quite like them, actually.

      • Brian says:

        I don’t have anything against Aussies either.. not the PEOPLE.. and here at least. However I don’t feel that way for the invasive aussie eucalyptus tree tho. Now as far as eucaylptus being less flamable then grass. yes that is pretty true statement, but only if the grasses are the invasive annual mediterranean grasses brought over in the fur of cows imported here by the Spanish back in the 1700’s. Now as for the Native grasses that they have decided to replace the eucalyptus with, those are perrenial bunch grasses that have been known to stay greener longer and control erosion better then non-native annual grasses, AND they help to fix plant supporting nitrogen into the soil so that other native plants and wildlife may thrive and help carry on the legacy of the wildlife that has evolved and once flourished here locally over many millenia. Lets restore and preserve the true heritage of our land. Restore the native habitat of Mt. Sutro

      • Derek says:

        I’m there with you- Redwoods are great- but even San Francisco is beyond their normal range. They can get very windswept.

        Although Eucalyptus (and Monterey Cypress) are not native to this area, they serve as a windbreak and when mature, allow a variety of species to live in their understory (including oaks and toyons).

        If anything, the forest might need a little thinning, but not clear cutting.

  9. john says:

    aussies are great, it’s their weed-like import i dont like so much. i hope can ascribe origin to a species without offending anyone.

    if you look at the current makeup of the forest up there, you can see a few struggling pines here and there… clearing out the eucs would give them sun (ok “sun” lol) and even if it took 50 years it would be a wonderful legacy to leave.

    whether the hill is 50 feet higher looking is totally unimportant to me, but if that’s a concern the redwoods will somedy add even more mass and then we can finally win the ‘looks like the highest hill in SF award’.

    dunno, seems like the argument for eucalyptus is one of taste, and certainly so far has won out over other options. i’ve never worried about the fire in the woods up there nearly as much as i worry about our old wood houses going up in a big quake.

    i agree that “fire reduction” is probably a red herring and there may be some ulterior motives yet.

    my ulterior motive is having more places like muir woods.

    • savesutro says:

      even if it took 50 years it would be a wonderful legacy to leave

      Yeah. That’s what Adolf Sutro thought, too. He figured he was leaving a legacy for future generations. Who knows but the legatees won’t look at it and say “Which idiot would put a jungle on the best building site in the city? Do you know the value of that land? If we sell it we can build a whole new hospital/ dormitory/ campus….”

      I personally adore Muir Woods. But that’s not what we’d get. It would be Tank Hill or Twin Peaks. Which we already have. It seems a pity to sacrifice a forest for that. These trees average 120 feet high. Some are over 200 feet high. Once they’re gone, that’s it.

      And yes, I agree it’s a matter of taste. I love this forest, and the density of the eco-system it’s become. To me, the creaking of the eucs in the wind is part of its music, like the birdsong and the drumming of the woodpeckers.

  10. john says:

    by the way thanks for putting together the nice website and for caring about the forest, even if we don’t agree on tree options.

    i am certainly in favor of having “a forest” up there, i guess i’m just real partial to redwoods.


    • savesutro says:

      I’m real partial to redwoods, too. Thought I was dreaming the first time I looked up into one.
      You get a little bit of the same sense when you look straight up into a 100-foot eucalyptus. ETA: Some of the trees are 200 feet tall. For reference, the tallest tree in Muir Woods is 250 feet.

      Thanks for the compliment about the website. Hope you’ll enjoy browsing through it – and share your comments. (You can comment on each page and post separately, if you wish.) And thanks for the civil discussion.

  11. Roger T. says:

    I live on Mt. Sutro as well and am very much opposed to anyone messing with the forest here.

    At first I really hated the creaking of the Eucalyptus trees, how they’re covered in a tangle of vines, the cats roaming the forest, etc…But I really think it’s the most beautiful part of San Francisco now.

    However, it seems that UCSF has temporarily halted plans to do anything with the forest. So I guess this counts as success!

  12. savesutro says:

    I guess it depends on how temporary ‘temporarily’ is…

  13. The Garden Coach says:

    The neighbors abutting the forest should really be concerned about the many literally hazard-state trees that are currently growing behind and beside their homes. I am a local arborist that deals with smaller trees, however it is clearly not looking pretty for many homes with these neglected large Eucalyptus growing immediately next to their properties.
    If I had a house here I would be hiring a forester (one should be hired by UCSF) quick to get a second opinion and to prevent some serious damage. Call UCSF now and make them accountable! There is so much to do forestry wise that I must say it is a shame that folks are halting any energies (especially free labor) being put into this beautiful but currently dangerous place. Winter is coming quick and there is talk of an El Nino year. Those in San Francisco may recall what happened in our parks and neighborhoods our to trees during those storms.I pray that resources are prioritized with the ivy-ridden eucs. especially. They cannot withstand that extra water weight and wind resistance. Best of luck to the neighbors.

    • webmaster says:

      This project isn’t about hazardous trees, which are already being dealt with separately. In recent months, dangerous trees both in Forest Knolls and in Cole Valley have been identified for trimming or removal. It’s a separate and ongoing process.

      It also isn’t about individual neglected trees of any species, or about storm damage.

      Have you visited the forest? You keep iterating that the place is dangerous, when it clearly is not. The “ivy-ridden” eucs have stood for a hundred years. The ivy climbs the trunks, but it isn’t in the canopies. The forest in total acts as a windbreak.

      Your vision of the entire forest crashing is … well, let’s say, imaginative.

  14. The Garden Coach says:

    Imagine reality. All the LEANING, ivy-to-the-tops eucalyptus. It does not have to be in their now stranggled and meager canopies. Ivy has increased wind-resistance and immense water weight.
    Imagine reality: Actually having to clear those that have fallen. Yes. Fallen. An unfortunately common occurrence for Rec. and Park employees I know. It is clear you have NOT worked on the ground within these parks or their management. In other words, someone who does not do the work. It’s a bummer to see you are misguiding folks from your armchair with your ideas of beauty and nature. A very single-minded ideology which is showing your obsession with the trees. What have you actually done to improve your parks?
    Get with it and help!

  15. HarryEye says:

    There are a few trees that are inundated with ivy, mostly on one side of the forest. Most of the trees look healthy.

    Also, this plan will not help AT ALL with defensible space or “problem” trees! It’s a big sham to do a very expensive gardening project.

    My beef is lying and calling it fire mitigation when clearly, not clearing leaves and brush near homes, not dealing with leaning/sick trees near homes is NO kind of plan.

    Trying for FEMA funding, half million dollars, to do a gardening project that could cause serious slides and change the neighborhood weather (windbreak GONE), not to mention pour toxic herbicides all over our neighborhood (the hallmark of people calling themselves nativists, who are funded by monsanto/dow to promote herbicide use on “invasives and exotics”) is NOT in any way helpful to our neighborhood.

    I’m against it. Leave the forest be, it’s not a perfect world, and nothing on earth is lovelier than Muir Woods. But Sutro’s cloud forest is a very wet forest and not a fire danger where they want to cut.

    We moved here because of the forest and we do love it.

    • takebackthegreen says:

      The discussions here are interesting, mostly civil, and more complex than those found in any other medium I’m aware of.

      Still, at the end of the day, it is a matter of simple human preference, if we allow only facts into the discussion.


      1) The portion of the planet currently defined as Mt. Sutro Forest has changed drastically over the last 4.5 billion years. The word “Native” is meaningless in this context.
      2) The current ecosystem of Mt. Sutro thrives with very little human intervention. It is biologically successful.
      3) There is no “need” to alter Mt. Sutro. No species would be saved by such action.
      3a) Humans “created” the current ecosystem. Humans would “create” whatever
      replaced it. The two situations cannot be differentiated on the basis of agency.
      4) It is unknowable what the outcome of a restoration (NOT “preservation”) experiment would be.
      5) Some number of people love, and want to keep, the Mt. Sutro Eucalyptus forest the way it is.
      6) Some number of people do not love, and want to remove, the Eucalypts from Mt. Sutro.
      7) This is not an issue of morality. So neither side can be “right” or “wrong.”
      8) The decision is one of preference:
      A) Leave Mt. Sutro as it is; or
      B) Alter it to some degree, with unknowable results.
      9) As a matter of preference, each choice is equally valid.
      Therefore, when I say “I love Mt. Sutro the way it is” it is no less–and no more–important and relevant than any other statement that can be made about the issue.

      So have a referendum, pressure UCSF (and the losing side) to abide by the outcome, and call it a day.

      PS–I’ve lived on Bernal Hill for 20 years. I am pretty familiar with the concept of a grass-covered hilltop devoid of trees.

      • milliontrees says:

        That seems a logical analysis of this controversy which can be summarized as “it’s just a matter of horticultural preference.” Since you seem to be familiar with the Sutro Forest and you live near Bernal Hill, you are in a better position than most San Franciscans to understand the alternatives. Therefore, I would be very interested to know how you would vote, if you were given the opportunity. Will you tell us?

        • takebackthegreen says:

          I’m stumped (pun intended) about how to feel that my own preference wasn’t clear. But thanks for asking. I would enthusiastically vote to keep the Mt. Sutro Forest exactly as it is. Why would anyone want to cut down a thriving, beautiful forest and make it into an experimental vanity project for scrub grass fetishists?

          No thing and no one is “native.” Why is that so hard to understand? People move plants to new places. So do birds and squirrels and the wind.

        • webmaster says:

          I agree w/ you completely. Thanks for clarifying your opinion.

  16. Jimbo says:

    I support the UCSF plan. The forest will not be removed or destroyed. A portion of the trees will be cut on 23% of the land. The areas where trees are removed will be planted with a variety of other trees and plants like oak, toyon and bee plant to diversify the habitat. It represents sensible management and enhancement of the resource.

    • savesutro says:

      It calls for chopping down 3000 trees on 14 acres, and planting around 250. Oak was the main candidate for planting, which is foolhardy in light of the fact that it doesn’t like wind, it grows slowly, and Sudden Oak Death has already arrived in San Francisco. (Toyon is a bush – California holly – and bee plant is just a plant. Neither is any replacement for trees 100-200 feet high.)

      The plan’s increasing the fire-hazard, decreasing the carbon sequestration and air-cleaning effect of the forest, raising the landslide risk (both the cut zones are in landslide-prone areas) and will result in toxic herbicides being poured on both areas for years afterward. I don’t see much that’s either sensible or enhancement there.

      I understand you do support it; your other comments suggest you’re a Mt Sutro Steward and generally favor Native plants. I respect that, but do not think it should be at the expense of the Sutro Cloud Forest.

      • takebackthegreen says:

        It is good of you to be so civil to Jimbo, but please do not legitimize the use of the word “Native.” It is a nonsense word used by people who have no grasp of the age and chaotic history of the Earth, and who vastly overestimate the power of humans to affect it.

  17. HarryEye says:

    There is NO plan to plant redwoods.
    Redwoods are also in danger from climate change. Do you not read the science about California’s endangered forests?

    Deforestation and killing trees unnecessarily is also killing precious natives.

    Eucalyptus trees also take in carbon emissions and give out fresh, clean oxygen. They PROTECT the natives by combating global warming.

    Can you not see that killing eucalyptus, which have adapted and are healthy, is helping to bring native plants to extinction?

    The eucalyptus trees are on everybody’s side. They are unfairly demonized. Those trees have had a home on Mt. Sutro for over a hundred years. They are older than any of us writing here…can they not earn the right to exist?

    The really stupid thing is, somewhere in Australia, some people are pouring herbicides on some California plant. The whole world is being poisoned in the name of NATIVES – can someone smell the money trail here? The whole thing is engineered by the chemical companies to promote their products. And calling it native environmentalism.

    How stupid is that? You’re polluting your own nest, your own groundwater, your own body, because someone whipped you up against a particular tree.

    Then YOU are angry. We who have figured out that we’re being poisoned and losing our healthy trees to this ridiculous cause are justly angry.

    • Jimbo says:

      The climate change argument is a straw man. Making land use policy based on an overarching goal of carbon sequestration is not based in reality. If such goals were put into place, then we should be replacing every piece of non-developed land with monoculture forest containing trees most efficient in absorbing carbon. I’m assuming you continue to own and operate an automobile and use electric appliances and continue to emit carbon dioxide. It may help you assuage your guilt over man’s unchecked burning of fossil fuels, but 3,000 trees have negligible effect. 3,000 forests containing 3,000 trees would have negligible effect.

      Actually your argument that “calling it fire mitigation when clearly, not clearing leaves and brush near homes, not dealing with leaning/sick trees near homes is no kind of plan”, is the one of the best counter-arguments presented here. This statement you make is actually a starting point for compromise. I think that many (myself included) would be willing to accept a reduction in the scale of the tree removal in the interior and divert some of the FEMA resources toward activities like clearing brush near homes and removing danger trees near homes, if that were presented as an option. If you SaveSutro folks could formulate a compromise like the one I outlined above, there would be room for common ground. You seem to be the ones whipped up about a particular tree, with a hard line stance about not removing any eucalyptus period, not the other way around. Diversifying the forest and the expense of some eucalyptus is moderate, in my opinion.

      Please stop perpetuating incorrect information. The windbreak will not be gone. Some trees will be removed in a small portion of UCSF land. The larger trees will remain intact and the windbreak will be intact. I’m assuming that you want the windbreak in the first place because it shelters your own house. The forest will still exist, it will not be removed. Stop lying and saying your ‘old-growth cloud forest’ will be razed. And saying, “Pour toxic herbicides all over our neighborhood”, is completely farciacal hyperbole. Herbicide is spot applied only to the specific points it’s needed in small quantity, not dumped from the top of a hill from a cauldron. The vast majority of tree and brush removal is done by hand; I know because I’ve contributed over 100 volunteer hours working to build trails for you to use on Sutro. The oil dripped from your car that runs into the drains is an actual pollutant to our local environment but, again, I doubt you’ll be turning your car in anytime soon.

      Harryeye, I’m still waiting for my checks from Dow to start rolling in. Do you even know the amount of herbicide that would be purchased? I’m sure the chemical companies are falling all over themselves to get to those dozens of dollars. The conspiracy card is always a great one to pull, it really adds credibility to your arguments.

    • Brian says:

      Hey there Harry hows it going? Well here. I just wanted to respond and say that I can certainly see how you can appreciate the uniqueness and splendor of the Australian Eucalyptus tree. However I seriously doubt that the plight of Native habitats worldwide or locally is caused by or will be caused by the planned demise of the eucalyptus forest up on Mt. Sutro. If this proposal goes thru I seriously hope it’s not done with herbacides cause yes, It that would be hazerdous to our environment and as a consequence our health. However I am more in the leaning of Helping to restore and preserve our native wildlife that experienced almost wholesale destruction during the conquest and ultimate settling of this land during the times of the imperialist conquests, because ultimately this our natural heritage as Californians (native or not), don’t you think that’s worth preserving? I have nothing against eucalyptus trees, But they do little to support native wildlife and therefore are not as useful over all (to anyone except those who like to look at them and/or as a windbreak to those who live on the eastern slope of the Hill) I would love to go walk amongst a grove of eucalyptus trees sometime.. but only In Australia.

      • webmaster says:

        Brian, thanks for coming by to comment. Actually, this forest supports a great deal of native wildlife – more than bunch-grass would. Wildlife of all kinds tend to adapt and make use of environmental resources. The forest is full of birds. Native ones. Take a look at this list: over 40 species of birds use this forest.

        Or read this description of the rich habitat of this forest.

        Bunch grass is not that great for animals or birds. They need places to hide and nest and eat.

        • Charlie Hohn says:

          While I will concede that the eucalyptus does provide bird habitat I have to object to the idea that the native vegetation is ‘not that great’ for native wildlife. There is absolutely no grounds to this statement, and it doesn’t make sense. The native birds and wildlife evolved for literally millions of years with the native plants, and to say that native habitat is bad for native organisms simply does not make any sense. You yourself said in another post that the diversity of birds was about the same in the eucalyptus as in native habitat.

          Bunchgrasses support different animals than trees, no doubt. But, bunchgrass habitat has been destroyed at a much higher rate than woodland (though both have been destroyed). Remember that the animals that use the eucalyptus also can use the redwoods, the mixed evergreen forest, or any of the other eucalyptus groves in the area. Bunchgrass-reliant species just have nowhere left to go 😦

        • webmaster says:

          Hi Charlie! Welcome back here. I’d suggest another way of thinking about it. Forest habitats tend to support certain wildlife… whether they’re dense eucalyptus or dense oak. That’s what we’re getting here. Grassland habitats support a different type of life. In the context of San Francisco, there seems to be (a) a reasonable amount of grassland, (more than forest, especially forest with dense understory); (b) a limited number of grassland species — maybe rabbits, coyotes, hawks, a few butterflies, meadowlarks. Everyone talks about how native plants are great for wildlife here, but no one seems to actually look at what species use any of these habitats. So, I guess I’d like to know: Which bunchgrass-reliant species?

          Also: wildlife is adaptable. Though it may have evolved over millions of years, it doesn’t mean that it’s tied to that specific habitat, because those change, too. Anise swallowtail butterflies (native) are adapted to non-native fennel… and it’s the same story with a number of other insects. Coyotes (native) use non-native bushes for cover, and hunt native gophers and non-native rats. Bandtail pigeons (native) happily eat non-native seeds and berries and dine on non-native grains at (non-native) bird feeders. Gophers (native) feed on the bulbils of yellow oxalis (non-native). Hawks and owls eat gophers (native) and rats and mice (some native, some not). And so on.

          The reason I say that native vegetation is not that great: The reason why “weeds” get ahead in the competitive race is because they’re more prolific. They make more seed and fruit or they grow for a longer period or they can deal with more variation in soils and growing conditions. All this also makes them better habitat and better as a food source. The only exception are a few specific organisms (e.g. the Mission Blue butterfly) that is tied to a specific plant (lupine, in this case) for reproduction — though even those butterflies use non-native flowers as a nectar source.

        • Charlie Hohn says:

          Hmm, it won’t let me reply to your latest post, Webmaster, I guess the thread got too long…

          Anyway, we don’t honestly know every species that lived in bunchgrass stands because most of them were destroyed before people were paying attention. Certainly they didn’t support birds that live in tree habitat (except maybe some in oak savannahs). They did support a unique ecosystem that is now almost completely gone. I am not saying Sutro is the best place to restore this habitat type, but I think it is really sad if you aren’t valuing it as a unique and complex ecosystem, just beacuse it doesn’t have as much charismatic megafauna (well, coastal prairie did have lots of elk and antelope, but not anymore and no room in SF for them anyway…) If every part of the world had habitat with 50 species of birds, but it was the same 50 species of birds across the whole world, then we are still left with less biodiversity than if we have 1000s of habitat types, each with 20 species of bird.

          The anise swallowtails are a neat story, and hopefully the fact that fennel has a new predator will help it move from invasive to a normal part of the ecosystem. As for coyotes, I love them, they are one of the most amazing and adaptable species on Earth, but they certainly don’t need our help. They will be fine regardless of what we do, even if we paved everything we’d still have coyotes. So they aren’t really an indicator of a healthy ecosystem per se.

          The reason invasive plants produce more seed or plant material is probably largely because they don’t have as many predators. This in turn means they are contributing LESS to the trophic web, not more. Like you said, animals are more adaptable than us humans think, and they are adapting to use these invasive plants. Unfortunately the less adaptable animals – the specialists – may go extinct or severely decline rather than adapting. You are still left with a complex natural system, but less so if extinctions don’t occur.

          Anyway, I hope you are enjoying the spring. I was just in CA and did enjoy being out in the canyons, even the ones with eucalyptus. Fog season is coming, make sure to get out there and enjoy the fog drip!

        • webmaster says:

          Hi Charlie,

          Your reply came through fine, but we moderate comments here because like any popular and active site, it gets tons of spam. We don’t really want this website carrying ads for performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals… Sometimes comments take a while to show up. Especially because we do try to respond to comments here. So if there are a lot of them, it may take a few days.

          I’ve come across the no-predator theory, but I’m not sure how accurate it is in this context. It may also be that the more successful plants evolved in a predator-rich environment, and responded by out-producing them. (Have you read Guns Germs and Steel?) A plant with a million seeds will have a better chance of passing on genes than a plant with only a thousand. And a plant that erupts early and stays longer will also have a better chance at populating the place. I haven’t heard that SF’s native plants do worse because they’re victims of predation. (Except the lupine – it got hit by a fungus one year. But then, the non-native fuchsia got hit by a mite and we can hardly grown them in SF any more. Fungal predators and mites seem to be more of a problem than megafauna — butterflies upward. Consider Sudden Oak Death.) I think the trophic web is a *lot* more complex than we suppose.

          Spring has been lovely and rainy (which is also lovely!) by turns. If you come by SF any time, I’d love to show you the forest. If it still exists.

        • Charlie Hohn says:

          Hi again!

          The moderation definitely makes sense but there is no reply link at all on the messages with a lot of replies. I think it is just so they don’t get too squished to the right side of the page.

          ‘Invasion ecology’ is still a very poorly understood thing, so of course I can’t say that the lack of predators thing is certainly true. I have also heard the theory that invasive plants either don’t connect to the mycorrhizal network, or connect to ‘steal’ resources without contributing. It would be very interesting to see if the plants at Sutro have developed a similar mycorrhizal network to native habitat, since it has been there so long. Of course, it is extremely hard to study since it consists of tiny threadlike mycelium in the earth. It might be fun to see which fungi are in Sutro though. (On a side note, have you tried any of the new mobile citizen science programs like Project Noah? Pretty neat stuff)…

          My gut feeling is that if plants with a million seeds always did better than plants with a thousand seeds, the former would be everywhere and the latter would not exist. There must be some evolutionary process that gives advantages to plants that produce less seed. Some say that stress-tolerant plants produce less seed than ruderals, and are in it for the ‘long run’. Perhaps the increase in human disturbance and impacts is why the ‘ruderal’ (‘weedy’) plants are doing so well near the city. In any event as it turns out evolution involves a lot more symbiosis, and a lot less direct ‘battling’ and competition, than originally thought. You’ve probably already noticed this intuitively since you’ve commented on the connectivity of the organisms of Sutro. And, like you said, the trophic web is just extremely complex. So much we don’t understand! It’s too bad people weren’t interested in doing science when they introduced the weeds. Of course the Native Americans had tremendous cultural ecological knowledge but alas most of that is now lost because they were either killed off or removed from the land.

          I’ll look you up if I am out your way! After all this discussion, I am really curious about your forest now, I must admit.

        • webmaster says:

          I think you’re right about squished comments.

          I don’t know if I’d call introduced plants “weeds.” Humankind — in fact all migrating creatures — deliberately or inadvertently move plants around. Plants use that dispersal mechanism. Of course, the plants probably didn’t count on jet planes… but they probably did use the jet stream. I do think that one of the things many ignore is natural succession, as well as natural population booms and busts. Stable states are an exception rather than a rule. And our entire way of life depends on introduced plants, from the stuff we wear to the food we eat to the things we grow in our gardens or the lawns our kids play on. We couldn’t live in tepees of hide and poles, or eat acorn flour and fish as a staple diet. Some of the plants that were food — “Pigweed” for instance — are no longer edible in nitrogen-rich environments.

          I would imagine that what stress-tolerant plants need is flexibility — the ability to withstand drought, temperature fluctuations, animal predation. It may be that ones that thrive in very marginal conditions invest in fewer seeds but make them hardier. If they are indeed more competitive, then they would not need our help. They would be around, and come right back when the population of the ruderals crashed. It’s interesting, though, that some of the native plants also need disturbed conditions — lupine is one.

          Do you have a reference for the non-connection to the myco network? From what I could discover, it’s certainly not true of eucalyptus. I can’t imagine why that would happen, but if it does, I’d be interested. And yes, I’d love to know what’s happening in the century-old forest. (And if it were indeed “my forest” I would try to find out. It would be an amazing place for citizen science.)

        • Charlie says:

          Yay, this one is reply-to-able!

          Although I am not always successful, I try to draw a distinction between ‘introduced’ and ‘invasive’. Certainly not all introduced plants are invasive. As you point out, we use a lot of them and in fact rely on introduced plants for most of our food and many other things. No one really understand why some plants become invasive in an ecosystem and others don’t. Or, at least, no one I know or have talked to understands it. Maybe someone does, or did in the past. It seems to me very similar to what is happening in the economy with a few large corporations gobbling up or outcompeting the small ones… or a bit like a disease that does not necessarily kill its host.

          Obviously we can’t go back to hunter-gatherer ways with our current lifestyle. We seem to be ‘stuck’ with a lifestyle that is unsustainable in the long term, and hoping technology fixes things and moves us on to something new… hopefully that works out. Some days I think it will, others I don’t. I also think that around our cities, many areas are kept in a state of early succession… especially fire clearance areas and introduced native grasslands. Some of the chaparral, oak woodlands, and perhaps some eucalyptus forests have reached a more stable state (the ones I have seen less so, it will be interesting to someday see Sutro which sounds like it has a diverse understory!). Maybe there are ways we can live in cities to reduce our disturbance that sends ecosystems to early successional states, and perhaps invite more of nature into our cities. I think it is ‘crashing’ ecosystems to early successional states that bothers me, rather than which plants are native and which aren’t. I do, on a personal level, really love the CA native plants though. Somehow I feel more of a connection to them than most of the introduced plants…

          I glanced at the mycorrhizal issue and it sure looks complex and poorly understood:

          It seems that by definition early seral plants steal from or ignore the fungal network… From my brief glance though, many eucs are mycorrhizal too at least in their natural habitat. Maybe one day they will even form symbiotic veg communities with the oaks. I tend to think they won’t but i may be too pessimistic. Indeed there is so much we don’t understand, which is why it is so hard trying to make management decisions. In the end people try to use science, and it’s a good tool, but a lot of times our gut feelings end up giving better answers.

          The stress tolerants have survived the many years of droughts, floods, heat waves, etc. They are not adapted to modern human society and with their slow generation times may die off before they can adapt to deal with urban disturbance and introduced plants. But like I said I am a pessimist. We’ll see…

        • webmaster says:

          Thanks for the cool link about non-native plants and mycorhizzae. I had a quick browse through, and it looks like every situation is unique. Which I suppose may be expected.

          Can you give some examples of the stress tolerant plants you mean? I’m thinking if they can tolerate stress, but not disturbance, they must have interesting adaptations.

      • Charlie Hohn says:


        Stress-tolerant plants that are less tolerant of disturbance usually occur in really harsh areas like deserts and alpine areas. For instance, sajuaro cactus, joshua trees, and creosote bush are VERY tolerant of heat and drought stress. However, they do not tolerate fire, soil disturbance, or competition with weedy plants because they didn’t have to before modern humans came around. In fact, one creosote bush clone is over 10,000 years old! Soil disturbances can take years to recover in habitats dominated by these plants… sometimes even centuries. Combinations of invasive grasses and increased fire frequency are threatening the dominance or even existence of these species in many cases.

        Another example of ‘stress tolerant’ plants is the ‘cushion’ plants that occur in alpine areas. These are extremely tough against cold, drought, wind, etc, but one stomp can kill a plant that is centuries old. Fast changes in climate can also do that.

        Some of the chaparral plants act a bit like stress tolerants, albeit adapted to some types of disturbance (fire). Coast live partially fit the description, but not completely because they produce so many seeds. i’ll bet some Eucalyptus trees meet the characteristics too although the ones naturalized around Sutro and other parts of CA seem more like ‘competitive’ life strategy. The idea has been around in a while and I think was first proposed in this paper that is unfortunately unviewable if you don’t have a journal subscription:

  18. savesutro says:

    A few large trees don’t constitute a windbreak. The UCSF application talks of a “sparse canopy of dominant trees.” The wind will go right around them, and in fact, if they have grown in forest conditions, could knock them over – as the original report said when it urged caution in thinning the forest and recommended a trial area of 2.5 acres. A dense forest of tall trees is a windbreak.

    You accuse us of lying?
    We have not said the “old-growth” cloud forest is to be razed. We have reported what UCSF has said: that on nearly a quarter of the forest, 90% of the vegetation and the trees under 3 feet in girth are to be removed. That was 3000 trees. The paperwork specifically says they do not intend to reduce the amount of vegetation to be removed based on public comment.

    That plan will gut those areas of the forest and prevent them from functioning as a cloud forest.

    As for old-growth, I don’t know who said that (except you). We said 100-year-old cloud forest, which is demonstrably true. It’s older than much of San Francisco, and as historical. [Edited to add: Actually, it does have many of the characteristics of an old-growth forest.]

    We do support the removal of hazardous trees near peoples’ homes where the home-owners want them removed. But we don’t support the removal of eucalyptus trees inside the forest in order to add native plants.

    In my opinion, moderation would suggest that other areas would be preferable for Native Plant gardens, rather than an existing century-old forest in which surrounding communities have strong stakes. Stewards should be protecting the forest, not despising the “non-native” plants that constitute it.

  19. NatureLover says:

    Jimbo says, “…but 3,000 trees have negligible effect.”

    If only 3,000 trees were in jeopardy of being destroyed to support native plants you might have a point. The project on Sutro is only one of many such projects. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of trees in the bay area.

    On the city’s parkland, hundreds of healthy trees have already been destroyed by nativists and tens of thousands more are planned for removal. Officially, they admit to only 18,500, but since they define trees as those over 15 feet tall, we are actually talking about thousands more.

    In the East Bay tens of thousands of trees have been clear-cut from the Oakland-Berkeley hills. And YES, in this case the term clear-cut is entirely appropriate.

    The East Bay Regional Park District has already destroyed tens of thousands of trees from 278 acres of the parks and they have announced their intention to remove hundreds of thousands more on over 1,000 acres of parkland.

    You folks can pretend that this is a “tiny” project, but some of us have the big picture. None of these trees will be replaced because the native ecology in all of these areas is chaparral, scrub, and grassland. All highly flammable vegetation. Far more flammable than ANY tree, including the eucalyptus.

    You might believe your own hype. Those who have witnessed the destruction you have wrought in the past 10 years know better.

    Jimbo also says, “3,000 forests containing 3,000 trees would have negligible effect.” In this statement he reveals a profound ignorance of the very real threat of climate change. Deforestation is one of the primary causes. Yes, there are other causes and they must be addressed as well. That doesn’t give you license to ignore one of the few causes over which we have any immediate control, if we have an ounce of sense.

    Reminds me of the argument used by a nativist to justify the use of toxic chemicals in our parks. In her opinion, if you use dish soap, shampoo, cleaning products, etc., then you have no right to complain about the use of toxic herbicides. Probably makes sense to Jimbo. Doesn’t make sense to me!

    • savesutro says:

      Sort of like equating Motor Oil with Roundup and Garlon?

      I don’t see people being told to wear protective clothing to handle motor oil, or being told to use smoke columns to ensure the spray doesn’t contaminate homes, people and other plants, or the linkages to non-Hodgkins lymphoma or DNA disruptors in the “inert” parts of it. All true of the toxic herbicides planned for Sutro Unsuspecting Forest.

      Motor oil is designed as a lubricant. Herbicides are meant to be poisons.

      If it can all be done by hand, why does Twin Peaks need spraying with herbicides? Right across from a row of houses?

      And Jimbo, the budget for toxic chemical application only for Edgewood is $22,500. This includes getting licensed specialists to apply it. And it doesn’t include reapplications from time to time.

      Roundup =/= motor oil.

  20. NatureLover says:

    Jimbo, If you are a volunteer, you are surely NOT using herbicides, which require specific training and protective gear, in some cases by law. So, one wonders if you realize just how much is being used.

    In 2007, East Bay Regional Park District used 154 gallons and 20 lbs of herbicides. At that time they had removed non-native vegetation from less than 300 acres. Now they plan to destroy non-native trees and vegetation from about 1,500 additional acres. How much herbicide do you think that will take? It boggles the mind.

    If you are a volunteer and you are being asked to use herbicides, you owe it to yourself to read the Material Safety Data Sheets for these products to inform yourself of how to protect yourself from harm.

  21. Steven says:

    Very well done. Do you allow guest posts? Nicely done, Steven.

  22. Carolyn Blair says:

    Did anyone see this important article?

    Sunday’s New York Times – Clear-Cutting the Truth About Trees / Global Warming / Copenhagen Summit Meeting By BERND HEINRICH, Burlington, Vt.

    Also, the San Francisco Chronicle had a story by Dan Kammen.

    Carolyn Blair, Executive Director
    2310 Powell Street, #305
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    sftreecouncil at dslextreme.com
    415 982 8793

    [Note from the webmaster: A post about the NYT article, and the story by Dan Kammen (of UC Berkeley) in the San Francisco Chronicle, is here. ]

  23. Mt Sutro Resident says:

    Just found this site and see that posts are rather old – anything to update on the situation?

    I am very glad to see that there are others opposed to UCSF’s plans, the questionable basis for it and real motives need a closer look to say the least. The results of their plans could have serious and long term detrimental impacts – various ramifications they are unable or unwilling to anticipate from the cutting of trees to the mulch they apparently intend to leave as well as the pesticides they want to employ – this plan is not what is best for the ecosystem, the many birds that exist or migrate through here, or the human residents.

    I truly hope that due to their connections and power UCSF does not win out on this.. once it is done there is no going back. Native or not this forest of trees plays important roles for the environment, the birds/wildlife and the people living here.

  24. Sutro Biker says:

    Your view of Twin Peaks is clearly incomplete and skewed. Replanted natives only? And besides the usual manually managed aggressive introduced plants? …

    Conversation moved to the post ‘Dialogue with Sutro Biker.’

  25. Cipoletto says:

    Mount Sutro is a fantastic forest wonderland. To hew down trees according to their plan would be a tragedy. I hope to see it stand for eternity.

  26. Ecotopia says:

    Very interesting debate here, thank you. A small demonstration project is a good compromise. Let the nativists give it a try. Can the landscape actually be successfully returned to the species composition that evolved here prior to the introduction of eucalyptus, ivy, etc.? Personally, I doubt it, but it would be lovely. Sadly, although there are nature lovers on both sides of the argument, the nativists want to stop the tide of evolution in their zeal to protect the native species they love. Perhaps we can “garden” the entire area in perpetuity, thereby holding in check the natural processes that have clearly welcomed the newcomers. If only humans could learn from nature. Nature is our greatest teacher, if we would only look and listen. Evolution has brought us both the eucalyptus and the redwood…and will bring many more species into the fold unless we, the humans, do not succeed in destroying everything in our supreme stupidity.

    • webmaster says:

      Ecotopia, thanks for stopping by to comment. The 7.5 acres of “demonstration projects” now planned are supposed only to demonstrate how the area will look after the trees are thinned and the understory removed. They will also be used to experiment with methods of “regrowth control.”

  27. Charlie says:

    A few things

    -There is no way that a planted plantation can qualify as ‘old growth forest’ under the current definition of the word. However, if the trees are mature, they are not taking in any more net CO2 than is being released from the forest. If we were concerned with only CO2 we should cut down all the trees, bury them or otherwise remove the carbon from the system, and then let something else regrow.

    -When comparing fire danger between eucalyptus and ‘grass fires’ you are comparing two non-native plant groupings because the grasses you see around the bay area that are tall and dry are also mostly invasive grasses.

    -Redwood forests with their diverse dangly lichens and such are much better at gathering fog than eucalyptus. Oak forest probably is too. I don’t think an eucalyptus plantation can qualify as a ‘cloud forest’ either.

    I think there are valid reasons for saving some of these trees – they are pretty, and they probably aren’t spreading into intact native ecosystems. Isn’t that enough? Why make up questionable scientific claims too?

    Sorry, this probably won’t be a popular post, but I wanted to share my thoughts.

  28. webmaster says:

    Charlie, thanks for your comments. We welcome all comments here, “popular” or not, and we try to respond.

    In terms of “old growth” – it’s a matter of definition. This forest meets many of the conditions for Old Growth (large live trees, layered structure, dead trees, and interdependent communities). Obviously it’s not native, but unless you view it through a Nativist lens, that doesn’t detract from its beauty, or the fact that it’s an ecosystem. And we do know exactly how old it is: 125 years.

    Redwoods might be better at harvesting fog, but they don’t do well in windy conditions, and this hill is very windy – and would be much more so without the eucalyptus. These do an *excellent job* – I was just up in the forest, and except in areas where it’s been opened up (broad trail areas with little understory or tree cover), it was actually slushy even though it hasn’t rained in months.

    We don’t need to go into whether it’s technically a “Cloud Forest” because then we end up with chopping logic on definitions. What we do know is that it harvests moisture, and creates a very damp, even wet ecosystem within itself, and one adapted to these conditions.

    In terms of fire-hazard – if you look at the Native Garden on the summit, you’ll see dry grass that is presumably native. We haven’t really discussed the flammability of native plants, but they are indeed flammable. Here’s a reference.

    And frankly, unless someone is weeding and tending continuously, non-native grasses do grow in areas opened up to sunlight. That may well be what happened on Angel Island.

  29. Charlie says:


    I don’t really understand why you throw around the word ‘Nativist’ like you do. You make it sound like some sort of slur. I love California native plants, and it makes me sad that they are being displaced by ruderal weed species that have no natural predators. I am not a native purists who never plants non-native plants. However, I don’t understand the hatred towards native plants. People (who are reasonable) don’t dislike Eucalyptus because it isn’t NATIVE, but because it is INVASIVE. There is a big difference and they aren’t always the same thing. I would love it if an entire ecosystem from Australia were stuck on that hill, as full and complex as any ecosystem that had many thousands of years to evolve. However, you only have one species from an ecosystem, so you are left with a ‘skeleton’ with one plant component, and other native or naturalized organisms trying to survive under it. True, this is in and of itself a sort of ecosystem, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare it to something that took thousands or even millions of years to form.

    Again this doesn’t mean the trees don’t have value. I just take issue with saying it is as valuable to natural processes as an actual native ecosystem.

    I think it is totally valid to call it a grove of old and magnificent trees, to point out that animals use the trees, and to say you want it to stay there. If it is cut down and half-hearted restoration occurs and is then abandoned, it will just turn into invasive grasses and forbs, which just about everyone agrees is ‘worse’ than Eucalyptus OR native plants. I just don’t think it should be called an Old Growth Forest. I moved from California to Vermont last year and there are many forests in Vermont that are well over 100 years old (and very valuable to humans and wildlife) that still aren’t old growth forests. It sounds like just semantics but it isn’t. There is a lot you can’t see in old growth forests. The many mycorrhizal fungi, soil microbes, tiny insects, lichens, etc, that come with an old growth forest may take hundreds of years to return after it is cut down. In the case of this eucalyptus, they CAN’T get there, because they are in Australia. Again this is not an intact Australian forest, it is one species. It will take many thousands of years for fungi, liichens, and soil microbes to evolve to be symbiotic with Eucalyptus in California.

    Harvest of fog by trees (including Eucalyptus) is indeed important and valuable, and removing all the trees at once would decrease the amount of water available. That is a totally valid point. As for wind resistance, I have seen Eucs be torn to shreds by wind and I don’t consider them to be a particularly wind resistant tree – nor are Redwoods as you said. If the hillside faces south or west, it probably used to have mostly oaks anyway. Remember that usually in this area only north-facing slopes and drainages have redwoods in them anyway. I also recall that water that seeps through eucalyptus leaf litter can concentrate toxins (again may also be true with redwood) and it may not be as valuable to other species.

    I don’t mean to pick apart definitions because I know that is frustrating and not always productive… however, I think scientific words with set definitions can be deceptive if not used by their set definitions. As stated earlier the trees almost certainly rely on fog for much of their moisture. I have trouble calling any single-aged planted grove a ‘forest’ even to be honest, though I guess that is even more an issue of semantics. Humans just can’t create forests the way time and nature do, though we certainly can affect them positively or negatively.

    That website about fire you linked seems very biased. Chaparral is indeed very flammable and I have been far, far too close to chaparral fires. However, I have also seen 200 foot flames off of eucalyptus trees. Most plants that will grow in California, native or not, will burn in hot winds. The least flammable tree I know of is Coast Live Oak but with 75 MPH hot winds those will of course burn too. As for the grasses – most native grasses are perennial grasses that are much lower growing than invasive grasses and stay green much longer. They can carry fire but at a much lower intensity than most vegetation types, It is hard to even find evidence of most native wildflowers by the time fire season comes. If you send me a picture of the grasses in question I can probably identify them. Non’native grasses DO come in to poorly tended gardens, but the idea that eucalyptus is somehow better from a fire standpoint is silly. Eucalyptus, chaparral, native pines, non-native pines, invasive grasses – all very flammable. native bunchgrasses and oaks – less so, but like i said anything will burn. If you are actually interested in this topic google Jon Keeley. There is a lot of evidence that chaparral used to burn a lot less than it does now – and invasive plants are a lot of teh reason why.

  30. webmaster says:

    Actually, we have nothing at all against California native plants. They’re wonderful to have, and some of them are very beautiful. What we do object to is an established century-old forest, adapted to its situation, being damaged to “restore” native plants. The term “nativist” is used here to mean the group who are working to change the forest as it is into something more like a garden of native plants for no other reason than that the eucalyptus are non-native.

    As I pointed out elsewhere, the eucalyptus here is not invasive, because there’s no where for it to go. It is surrounded by roads and homes.

    This hill (Mount Sutro) was not oak trees (the records are available and the history of the forest is documented) or redwoods. The eucalyptus is growing there, and it’s windy. They clearly are less affected by the wind.

    If you would like to understand where the hill is (it’s a whole hill, not a hillside), take a look at the map. It covers 80 acres, so I guess it’s somewhere between a “grove” and a “forest” – it *feels” like a forest. It is very dense (averaging 740 trees per acre, with a lush understory).

    There is clearly a functional ecosystem in place, including lichens and mosses. There probably are mycorrhizae as well, but so far no one has studied them. Some species have clearly adapted to the current conditions. “Trying to survive” I think understates the situation; if the forest is 125 years old, what’s under it has indeed survived, even thrived. (The understory is very lush.)

    I know the “accepted wisdom” is that because eucs were imported only about 150 years ago, any ecosystem under them must be impoverished. I don’t think that can be demonstrated, except by specifying “impoverished” as what you get in a eucalyptus ecosystem. It looks to have as many species or more than a redwood ecosystem.

    In any case, there is no plan to reafforest this into a native woodland. The plan is to open it up, space the trees 30 feet apart, try to reintroduce native plants into a much drier, sunnier environment, and use herbicides to prevent the felled trees and undergrowth from returning.

  31. webmaster says:


    If you want to see Sutro Forest on Google maps, here’s a link. (If it doesn’t work, search for 1 Christopher Drive, San Francisco on Google maps.) You can also look at the topography. It’s the forested area above “Forest Knolls.”

  32. Charlie says:

    Hmm, well as someone who is not part of your group…

    (Note from webmaster: Charlie, thanks for staying to talk. The rest of this comment has been moved to its own post, Native Plants, Chaparral: Conversation with ‘Charlie’.)

  33. Charlie says:

    Please note that ‘nativism’ is also a somewhat racist political term:


    I think it is really unfair to compare conservationists who want to protect intact ecosystems with a racist group. Please find another term to describe the people you don’t agree with!

    • webmaster says:

      As we said somewhere else: Nativist is a word – like many in the English language – with multiple meanings. Linguists use it to describe supporters of the position that language acquisition is an inborn aptitude. Politicians use it to describe people who oppose immigration. Over here, we use it to refer to those who support Native Plants and ecosystems at the expense of naturalized ones, and we’ve been quite clear in our use of the term and don’t confuse it with other uses. (We also support protection of intact ecosystems.) We find it less clunky than “Native Plant Advocates” or “Native Plant Supporters.”

      But it *is* a philosophy, an ideology. We respect that, but dislike the consequence: The tearing down of an established eco-system to promote that “restoration.”

  34. Jon Sumby says:

    I am an Australian, living in Tasmania where there are real old-growth eucalypt forests.

    As a trained ecologist, I would not call this forest ‘old-growth’, nor would I describe it as a ‘cloud forest’. As someone familiar with invasion ecology theory and practise, I regard the eucalypts in the Sutro as not part of the ecosystem of the landscape.

    Having said that, I fully support your endeavour to protect the Sutro; it has cultural history; it is a great example of colonisation by a non-native species and would be an ideal teaching lab for conservation biology (I really strongly suggest you push this education value – there are probably few places nearby that offer such an opportunity! You could build a strong scientific argument for it’s retention.)

    It seems that an attempt is being considered for ‘restoration ecology’, removing the eucs (local Aussie slang, pronounced ‘ewks’), and trying to bring back what once was…

    I support your campaign to protect the Sutro, the eucs may be invasive and non-native; but that is no reason to remove this little isolated patch. First and foremost is the scientific value this forest has for a variety of ecological disciplines, from conservation biology to forest ecology. Second is the important cultural history and the direct link to the cities beginnings and development. The third is the beauty and wildness that is offered to visitors, a chance for the urban to experience forest.

    I wish you luck and best wishes and success in protecting the Sutro Forest!


    PS I agree with the people advancing the argument about not linking protecting this forest and climate change – not relevant and insignificant in this issue.

  35. webmaster says:

    Jon, thanks for commenting. I envy you your experience of old-growth euc forests in Tasmania. What I’ve seen from photographs look wonderful. And thanks also for your good wishes!

    We recognize that Sutro Forest is 125 years old, and the result of afforestation, not a primeval forest that moved in of its own accord. We also recognize that most people associate cloud forests with Brazil/ South America. Having said that, this forest is functionally both.

    It’s very wet all through the year because it harvests water from the “marine layer” – the coastal fog which moves inland at low altitudes here.

    And it has many of the characteristics of an old-growth forest, including the tall trees, and the layered structure of the understory adapted to the site-specific conditions.

    Finally, on carbon sequestration: We agree this one forest wouldn’t make any significant global difference, just like a thousand more cars wouldn’t make a difference. But decisions are taken at a small-scale level; and this forest has a huge amount of biomass per acre. The Nature Conservancy estimates sequestration at 1 forest-acre being equivalent to 30 cars; we’d guess this forest would probably come in higher.

  36. Mycorrhizal says:

    Really it is the most beautiful place in San Francisco.. According to me this is the heaven of the earth.. Thanks..

  37. Beautiful place and pictures.. Thanks for sharing with us..

  38. chemmastr says:

    These trees are are non-native. cut them all down and plant redwoods.

  39. Jonathan says:

    If we’re lucky, then the native plants will take hold and they’ll be able to cut down the rest of the trees too. Too many wonderful and rare species are barely hanging on in the San Fran Peninsula to waste land on eucalyptus, ivy, blackberries, and rats.

    • webmaster says:

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for commenting. I see (and respect) your strong preference for native plants.

      What we love here is the whole amazing 125-year-old ecosystem, the dense cloud forest in an urban area and the wildlife — birds, insects, reptiles, mammals — that live there. (Ironically, in a comparison of oak-bay forest and eucalyptus forest near Berkeley, the biodiversity was equal in the two areas except that the eucalyptus forest had fewer rodents…)

  40. Gov Pavlicek says:

    The problem of this lies within the remark of the Australian ecologist:
    As a trained ecologist, I would not call this forest ‘old-growth’, nor would I describe it as a ‘cloud forest’. As someone familiar with invasion ecology theory and practise, I regard the eucalypts in the Sutro as not part of the ecosystem of the landscape.”

    This is the basis of all clearcutting of so called nonnative trees. Ecology, conservation biology, restoration ecology and invasion ecology are all different from most if not all scientific fields in the way that they have become an ideology themselves rather than used as support for (nativist) nature organisations only. Of course many ecologists actively support, or better, work within Nature conservation groups.
    Just pick up 5 books on invasion ecology that are readily used on Universities and you understand how this will not change any time soon: they are full of value-laden words, constantly negative about newcomers in local natural reserves or even gardens. These books are also filled with assumptions rather than facts.

    I have experience with climate change research, and you can imagine that climatologists have their own strong morals (at times) about the rising temperatures. Simply think of a polar bear drowning because he can’t find the next ice-shelf. It evokes a strong, emotional response. However, in the scientific literature you will not find remarks that the current warming is somehow unnatural. It is anthropogenic (caused by humans). And no peer-reviewed research that is about the rate of warming etc also tells us what we should think about it and what we should do. That is up to the society, not the personal preference of a climatologist who can never prove that his personal preference is somehow more valid than anyone else because he has studied climatology.

    In ecology, the story is quite different. Apart from constant negative terminology about newcomers (invaders, pests, plagues, unnatural, deviant, prolific, overcrowding) and many more that cannot be proven in a unbiased, sound scientific way, they also tell us what we should do. The word “eradication” seems on the tip of the tongue constantly and is used constantly in many books for scholars.

    In this way, students themselves get the same vision on newcomers in nature. They are indoctrinated and it is difficult not to talk to them (I have done so) without judgmental wording on their side. In my view, it is highly unscientific and much more ideologic. The basis seems to be fear of change and they experience a personal loss when something becomes extinct. It is their goal to go back in time instead of moving along and going with the flow.

    The words of the Australian ecologist do not prove that the Eucalyptus is not a part of the ecosystem. It clearly is as it is growing there and indeed facilitating life of both old- and newcomers. It doesn’t fit his view of what an ecosystem should be. And that is: not influenced by man (I think). Or not heavily influenced by man. The name for these ecosystems you find mostly is that what conservation biologists seem to hate the most: novel ecosystems. Because with this new name comes credibility. If you read the scientific literature you’ll find they have big problems accepting these systems and it is really causing them to choke when it turns out that these new assemblages are more biodiverse than their “native” counterparts.

    They constantly say that plants outcompete others. The question is: if this has never lead to any extinction (and on continents they never did), please tell us the scale. I rarely find the scale on which something is “outcompeted.” I rarely find clear numbers of the drop in percentage of cover of some native plant compared to some invasive. I rarely see any model that can predict on what will. What I see most is assumptions. Like “if this continues at this rate, the species will be extinct within x years”. So the key is: will it continue that way and why? No answer there.

    It is just another term to evoke fear. The fear is of course that it finally will become extinct. But in plants, it never happened once…

    I think most ecologists et al. should get rid of their strong moralistic and single-sided views and develop a more rational open mind to what happens to species in the world. So new ecologists can have their own views and new insights rahter than the same all over again.

    Also they should change their terminology. So no more invaders, but neophytes (if it is a plant), pests: cannot be defined as it is personal. One calls a Eucalyptus a pest, the other calls it a beautiful and desirable tree, unnatural- anthropogenic. It is caused by humans but not therefore “unnatural”. And that is what you can prove: you can prove humans did something, of course. You cannot prove this is right or wrong in anyway. Biodiversity: applies to all species. So not only counting native species.
    It would be as counting only true Native Americans as the people of the US and then saying that the population of the US is dwindling and the culture is impoverished, omitting the fact that there are almost 300 million Americans with a very diverse cultural life albeit not Native American.

    And that is how I like to finish my long essay (sorry): do not fall into the trap of their wording, their ideologic views they call science, their extremely conservative view of the countryside. I’d say: be consistent and rephrase there words. Unnatural=anthropogenic etc.

    Their view in general is rather similar to extreme conservative views in culture and the result is the same: killing things, eradicate things and trying to install a black-white thought-pattern in general towards newcomers. That is the mainstream in ecology. The people themselves BTW are not bad and I can get along very well actually. For instance: when it comes to humans they are not xenophobic at all and really hate the comparison. But the comparison is valid and Mount Sutro is not the only part of the world where this becomes clear. And like politicians they use soft words to cover up extreme things. In The Netherlands, there are loads of examples of that.

    Good luck!

    • Charlie says:

      [Edited to avoid flame-wars] You mention global warming and think that ecologists, unlike climate scientists, have some racism-based bias and are secretly conservatives. In fact the story is very similar to that of climate change and with a few words changed, these sorts of comments look like something right off of a global warming denialist’s computer. As with climate change, the science is very clear. CO2 warms the climate. Smoking causes lung cancer. Coal mining pollutes watersheds. INVASIVE (not necessarily non-native) species are very, very clearly linked with ecosystem service loss and decreased biodiversity during initial invasion.

      This is not true for Sutro anymore because it is a very old introduced forest and the ecosystem it replaced is already lost forever. I believe it was a mistake to plant the Eucs but the damage is already long done. Sutro is very different from most other invaded ecosystems.

      There are a few conflicting studies but you can’t build a compelling argument that invasive plants don’t reduce biodiversity and alter ecosystems without heavily cherrypicking data. If you have anecdotal evidence, by all means share that. Science isn’t the answer to anything. My anectotal evidence in pretty much every case strongly supports the science.

      [Webmaster: Actually, there are studies showing that biodiversity can increase with the introduction of exotic species… and there’s another showing that a eucalyptus forest and an oak forest in Berkeley California had the same number of species. “Invasive” plants are not invasive in all contexts. If you view ecosystems as static, then it may make sense to try to prevent the flora in a particular area from changing. If you view them as dynamic, then today’s invader may be tomorrow’s hanging-on-by-its-fingernails (or equivalent part) while something else takes over.]

      Of course scientists are biased – they usually care about what they study. Those linking tobacco with cancer may have an anti-cigarette ‘bias’ because people they love are at risk of getting a horrible disease. Climate scientists are biased because they don’t want climate change to starve or drown people. Conservation biologists care about functioning ecosystems and are biased towards their protection. It is impossible to be completely unbiased but I would argue it is also silly.

      There are plenty of valid arguments to be made against restoration of Sutro to native habitat, and most of them have already been gone over here. Sutro is a very established and complex forest, and even if it has replaced a unique ecosystem that is now mostly gone, it does have inherent value. It is a cultural resource used by people who live in the area. It does offer habitat value, filter rainfall, collect fog and reduce erosion. It may be impossible to recreate an ecosystem that has already been destroyed. Urban areas do not necessarily have anything ‘native’ to them except pigeons. The Eucs can’t spread to and destroy other habitat. Some feel that scrubland is not as appropriate or aesthetically desirable as euc forest. Some rightfully are concerned that some forms of conservation exclude humans as part of an ecosystem. Some people believe evolution and formation of ecosystems happens much faster than we think, a view I partially also agree with.

      Yes there are issues with monsanto and herbicide, and it is understandable to be opposed to using these tools. In invasion biology, like in medicine, we are faced with ‘cures’ that also have negative side effects, and we have to balance the negatives with the positive.

      • Charlie says:

        [Comment from Webmaster: Actually, there are studies showing that biodiversity can increase with the introduction of exotic species… and there’s another showing that a eucalyptus forest and an oak forest in Berkeley California had the same number of species. “Invasive” plants are not invasive in all contexts. If you view ecosystems as static, then it may make sense to try to prevent the flora in a particular area from changing. If you view them as dynamic, then today’s invader may be tomorrow’s hanging-on-by-its-fingernails (or equivalent part) while something else takes over.]

        Again, diversity may increase with some ‘exotic’ species but does it ever increase with ‘invasive’ species? I doubt it.

        [Webmaster: How is “invasive” defined?
        Even if you define it tautologically as a plant that expands into areas where it’s not planted so as to reduce diversity, all sorts of broader possibilities exist. A species could invade, and reduce plant diversity but if it provides a good habitat, increase fauna diversity. It could reduce plant diversity temporarily, but then die back and make space for other plant species, possibly more than existed in the first place.

        Really the issue of natives seems not so much the species-count of diversity, but the whole idea or “restoring” one of the earlier ecosystems.]

        Sutro and the other euc forests are indeed complex and diverse right now, but we won’t ever know what they replaced because it was destroyed when the trees are planted. So, perhaps the trees shouldn’t be cut down, but there’s no need to deny that they replaced something else.

        [Webmaster: Of course this ecosystem did replace another one. I expect that’s true of every ecosystem, except a few in very extreme stable climates. There’s disease, there’s predation on plants, there’s natural succession, and in a disturbed land of fire and earthquakes and storms, there are dynamic changes to the ecosystem.]

        Also I wonder what was in the understory of the oak forest in Berkeley. Blackberry?

        [Webmaster: Quite a few species, actually. Here’s the story on another website, Death of a Million Trees.]

        • Charlie says:

          [slightly edited] Ok, I admit a bit of confusion in this exchange… I am getting mixed up with the inserted ‘webmaster’ comments because I can’t tell which ones I am quoting and which ones are new…

          [Webmaster: Okay, I’ll try to make it clearer… It’s easier on readers to do it this way with very long comments.]

          To me the issue is not change in ecosystems, which is of course a constant, but loss of biodiversity by one ‘viral’ species that quickly outcompetes everything else because its natural controls are not present. This is not limited to species introductions, it also happens when a predator or other control is removed from an ecosystem. Either way, one species is thrown vastly out of equilibrium and takes off. Again I don’t like the human-ecosystem comparisons but in some ways it is a bit like a tumor… one component acting in its ‘short term best interest’ and not acting like an ecosystem component. As with chemotherapy, invasive species control is only treating the symptom, and it would be better to figure out why invasions are happening in the first place, but sometimes we can’t.

          That’s all for now. I find that I get into long debates online when I am putting off working on my paper… but I need to get some work done.

  41. Gov Pavlicek says:

    [Slightly edited]
    Hey Charlie,

    Thanks for the thorough reply. You know I was astonished by the ecologists I know. I’d say they are not secretly conservative on this issue, they don’t seem to know it or acknowledge it. Now I don’t want to play word games, but the term “conservation ecology” should at least be a clue. In all other aspects, like me, they are progressive and do not seem to have these traits when it comes to people and most of the time not culture. Otoh, I have read some comparisons between the homogenisation of nature and culture in a sense that the latter is also “bad”. McDonalds in Nepal would be awful. Like in nature, the locals seem to enjoy it. In The Netherlands the Uni of Wageningen did research on which woodland forests were liked the most in NL. These were all visitors of several forests. Out of 150 different pictures two clearly emerged as top favourites: one had beech in it, the other oak and both had a Douglas fir clearly visible. They concluded that people do not reject and indeed like these trees.

    Another research by the same University asked the same visitors what they thought of exotic trees like Sitka spruce and Doug fir and other trees (native). Again these trees were highly valued. The idea of eradicating them because they somehow did not belong here was rejected. Even after an explanation of why they were removed in some woods, this idea again was rejected. People felt these trees had every right to be there.

    In short: 65% of the people favour these trees, 20% was neutral and 15% was in favour. Not unlike McDonalds in Nepal or Mount Sutro forest in San Francisco. Should we get rid of things because 15% of a population thinks that is good?

    I am not the only one finding the the resemblance between ecological and cultural xenophobia striking. Researchers like Dov Sax, James Brown, Steve Gaines and Mark King note the same thing. Kate Rawles, a British philosopher, notes the same xenophobic and illogical thinking within [some] large British conservation groups.

    It is also quite obvious that someone can (and sometimes does) say the same thing about immigrants; and in both cases they base themselves on the exceptions and use examples to support their views. It just shows that (extreme) conservatism is not simply a rightwing thing. I have also found that the remark that it is xenophobic is rejected with anger by ecologists. But we can easily compare the two and come to that conclusion.

    First: what is conservatism? It comes from conservare which means “to preserve”. In general we can say that most ecologist see it as a good thing to preserve global biodiversity, to preserve as many species as possible and reject the thought of extinctions and it is clear they want to preserve all kinds of habitats. Moreover, habitats that have changed over the last centuries are “restored” to how they supposedly looked. In what sense is this not conservative? How is that different from people who long for the good old days in culture?

    Racist..I never used that word. Xenophobic. Never used it either, but indeed I find it xenophobic or at least [tending] to it. Simply because there are a lot of organisations, lead by ecologists who strongly are:
    – against globalisation of nature
    – against introduction of species by man (all other factors seem to be fine)
    – where possible, the are strongly in favour of eradication of plants and species whenever they feel [it suitable].
    – They, like you, feel that new trees are not members of a certain ecosystem and fail to acknowledge the fact that these species form a new kind of ecosystem.

    That is the “xeno” part of it. Something that has entered at some randomly used point in time will always be a stranger. Everything before that time is no problem in general. There is no place for this stranger. He will always be a stranger. Sometimes they tolerate the stranger, but they wil rarely accept him.

    The phobia (fear) comes from the many assumptions, demonisations and exaggerations we find in scientific and other literature by those ecologists. It is also clear in the value-laden wording [often considered okay]: Many words that tell us they see them as not belonging somewhere and causing harm simply by being there. Alien, pests, plagues, prolific etc to name a few.

    Or the assumption that a new plant outcrowds another plant and will lead to extinctions. That competition is a major factor for extinctions. While research has shown this has never happened on a continent (Sax and Gaines, 2008, PNAS). Earlier research by others have noted the same. Other research by the University of Wageningen has shown that 1 of 1000 immigrant species become invasive. 999 do not. I see no difference in talking about Muslims as evil, threatening people when less than 1% has the potential of becoming a terrorist. BTW: how the newcomer enters the new habitat does not matter. So whether it is spread by itself or by man has no influence on the outcome.

    Now the comparison between climatologists and ecologists is ill-chosen, I feel. You’ll find no peer-reviewed research over the last ten or fifteen years challenging the theory that a rise in CO2 causes a rise in global temperatures. The same is true for the cigarette comparison. In ecology, this is not the case. Like global warming denialists, it [is] ecologists who revert to examples, assumptions and who actively seek media attention to tell us how evil immigrant species are. They are vocal like climate change denialists while not giving us any proof for an “invasional meltdown”.

    Climatologists in general are not nearly as vocal, even though their science is unchallanged. They also are quite clear where the uncertanties are and how uncertain these factors are and what their total influence is on global warming (for instance: cloudcover).

    Conservation biology is not a science if it tells others what they seem to think of right and wrong. It is an ideology. It remains a science if it tells how you can restore somethings. Like some architects can tell you how to restore monumental buildings.

    The biologists however on many occasions tell us why we should restore all sorts of habitats. In the end, it is for themselves and their personal and not scientific views.

    But this scientific field is more than just conservation ecology. You can research all sorts of developments and changes without attributing any value to any change. In doing so, you also prevent others [from becoming] opiniated before they do research on their own, or becoming indoctrinated with some views on these changes. I think scientists should do everything not to be biased. If you become biased, the chance of your research being coloured by your personal preferences rather than scientific facts becomes quite large.

    A final point is that ecology deals with life. And if we talk about life and death, certainly on a massive scale as is proposed by ecologists just like that in their work, we talk about ethics. And ethics are not defined by some gropup of scientists with some view on how the Earth should look like. This is done by a society as a whole and this is where ecology sometimes clashes with layman, animal right groups and others. Which is why the Grey Squirrel was not eradicated in Lombardia.

    When we talk about our landscape this concerns all people who live in it. Who venture in it (or not). This is clear in Mount Sutro, but I can give you loads of examples from Europe as well. The best thing for ecology to do is not tell those what they should think, they are perfectly capable to decide for themselves. What ecology should do is just to give us sound science, science facts about these changes and let society decide.

    • Charlie says:


      I guess I don’t understand your point here. Are you saying you support globalization of ecosystems? I don’t understand why anyone would support converting every ecosystem with similar conditions across the world, into the same thing. That’s what happens if you mix up all the plants… the opportunistic ones take over, because their predators aren’t there also, and you lose a lot of diversity.

      I understand there is a division between invasive and exotic. I try to be very clear: I am not talking about ‘exotic’ plants but about invasive plants. Only 1 in 1000 introduced plants (or whatever) are invasive… this is true. How does this justify not doing anything about the [0.1%] that cause a problem?

      The thing is, you seem to equate ecosystems of plants with human culture. I reject this as completely unvalid. It is unfair to compare invasive plants with Muslims, or otherwise draw connections between human societies and botany. All humans are the same species, and biologically we are even all the same race. We diverged less than 100,000 years ago and since we have long lifetimes, we haven’t diverged enough to form seperate species. Also, human societies do not act like plants. It is unfair to compare invasive plant ecology with xenophobia or racism.

      If you ask 100 people if they like a tree, of course 60 will say they like it. If they understood that having this one species of tree means a loss of 40 other species [of plants], maybe they wouldn’t feel the same way. I don’t see how it is relevant anyway.

      Yes, conservation has conservative characteristics and it is a bit odd that in the US it is perceived as a liberal cause. This has more to do with struggles over wilderness designation and regulation of access in the American West than anything. When I objected to being called a conservative, I should have been more specific. I do not support or want anything to do with the Republican Party in the United States.

      Again, climatologists DO have emotional and personal responses to their findings. I don’t see the difference between them and ecologists. Both are dealing with complex systems that are difficult to define, but both have come to very overwhelming conclusions. The connection between INVASIVE species and biodiversity loss is really, really strongly established. I can’t find the list (many pages) of references on CAL-IPC that show this connection. I don’t know why you keep prodding the discussion towards ‘hatred of non-natives’ which is a straw man discussion you are creating… I am talking about INVASIVE organisms, most of which are introduced by humans.

      [Webmaster: The CAL-IPC is not exactly unbiased in this matter; the fear of invasives is exactly why they exist. But perhaps you could link to one or two species relevant to Sutro Forest, like blackberry or black acacia?]

      This is a personal issue for me because I have watched too many ecosystems in California be basically ‘crashed’ (like a computer freezing, or an economic collapse of sorts) from diverse, self sustaining ecosystems, to monocultures of 1 or 2 plants. I realize that in 10,000 years the ecosystems will organize into a much more complex form again, but me and anyone I know will be long, long dead before then.

      [Webmaster: I think you underestimate nature, myself. Within a year, insects, birds and animals will find new niches within that habitat, and start to change it. Other plants will enter and compete. I don’t think it’s going to take 10,000 years to get there. There’s change on a human scale, and change on a scale that’s too small, too fast, too large, too slow. But creating stasis in an inherently dynamic system takes work.]

      Essentially the ecosystems I love are being destroyed, and when I try to protect them I am compared to racists and xenophobes and the Tea Party. Why not recognize they [native plant advocates] are trying to protect places they love?

      [Webmaster: Not the Tea Party!]

      • Gov Pavlicek says:

        [Slightly edited]

        Okey Charlie, thanks again. I do understand that you feel a loss of what you love in nature and I wish, for you, things were different. I have stated on many other fora about this subject that the feeling of losing something is one of the things that seems to influence people. I understand it.

        Of course our discussion does not have to be scientific solely although I feel that many of the things being said by nature-adepts come from the current ecological mainstream as can be seen in many organisations turning nativist. I’ll try to separate them.

        You say: “I guess I don’t understand your point here. Are you saying you support globalization of ecosystems? I don’t understand why anyone would support converting every ecosystem with similar conditions across the world, into the same thing. That’s what happens if you mix up all the plants… the opportunistic ones take over, because their predators aren’t there also, and you lose a lot of diversity.”

        I have no problem with it. Mankind to me is just a relative new dispersal factor, like the wind, landbridges etc. Regionally, biodiversity sharply rises, with the loss of almost no species. We are talking about thousands of new species at the expense of nearly zero….

        So the homogenisation of biota. That is aesthetic. Are New York, Bangkok and Paris boring or the same because of cultural homogenisation? Because opportunists like McDonalds, Starbucks but also pizzerias etc can be found everywhere? I have never heard anyone who visits them complain. They remain unique, though they have changed and share more similarities than before.

        For the locals, are they losing something with the addition of Starbucks and Mac? Could be. But most like them, otherwise they would not be there. I bring up this example because ecologists themselves bring it up regularly as to show how “bad” this is. They call it the “McDonaldisation” of nature. And as I said: this of course is presented as something we shouldn’t like, otherwise they wouldn’t bring it up. To who do they think they are talking? Not to the majority of people I am sure.

        Now in nature there are no plants or animals that can establish themselves in any climate, unlike McDonalds. So this won’t happen, but some can be seen in more places. But like cities, these places will remain unique. Marine ecosystems are much more alike because dispersal is easier. Are these systems less interesting?? I don’t think so either.

        Do you see the difference between the Russian and the Canadian Taiga? Or Tundra? The spruce trees are different but look much alike. Many animals are shared already; like the brown bear, the wolverine, the beaver, the wolf, the fox, the seal etc etc. Only a connoisseur would see the difference. Is any one complaining? Siberia is still very different from Canada, despite the similarities. Anyway: this is not a scientific argument. It is preference.

        Who is going to notice the similarities? The lucky few. Others now have to travel 10,000 km instead of 100 to see a Sitka spruce forest….So for local people, [preserving native ecosystems means that] they lose biodiversity instead of winning anything.

        You say: “I understand there is a division between invasive and exotic. I try to be very clear: I am not talking about ‘exotic’ plants but about invasive plants. Only 1 in 1000 introduced plants (or whatever) are invasive… this is true. How does this justify not doing anything about the [0.1%] that cause a problem?”
        Because ‘invasion’ does not equal ‘problem.’ It equals ‘change.’ To you they are a problem, to me they are not, in general.

        [Charlie:] “The thing is, you seem to equate ecosystems of plants with human culture. I reject this as completely unvalid. It is unfair to compare invasive plants with Muslims, or otherwise draw connections between human societies and botany. All humans are the same species, and biologically we are even all the same race. We diverged less than 100,000 years ago and since we have long lifetimes, we haven’t diverged enough to form separate species. Also, human societies do not act like plants. It is unfair to compare invasive plant ecology with xenophobia or racism.”
        I have tried to explain that the way we think about these newcomers is similar. It is not based on science, it is based on our prejudice, fears etc. You fail to see the comparison, may be I am not clear also. Let me cite Dov Sax in a discussion with ecologists (and he himself does peer-reviewed research on invasions and extinction, and is not disputed by his collegues). I could not say it better myself:

        “So the impacts of exotic species on native biodiversity and ecosystem processes vary widely in kind and magnitude. Whether these are considered to be positive or negative, good or bad is a subjective value judgement rather than an objective scientific finding.

        “Scientists are no more uniquely qualified to make such ethical decisions than lay people. Scientists are uniquely qualified to collect the facts and interpret their consequences. It is entirely proper for private citizens, including scientists, to be advocates for positions that promote some combination of self-interest
        and societal welfare. These positions may be based in part on scientific information, such as the documented
        extent and likely consequences of global warming or a biological invasion. In their professional roles, however, scientists have the obligation to collect, analyse and communicate such information accurately and objectively. When scientists go further and try to impose their own ethical and moral imperatives on society as a whole, they embark on a slippery slope. They risk compromising the principles of unbiased, objective inquiry that are the essence of the scientific method – and the primary reason why society should support and pay attention to scientists.

        “Don’t get us wrong. As private citizens we authors are enthusiastic supporters of actions and policies to reduce the ongoing loss of global biodiversity and homogenization of the earth’s biota. We also stand by
        our comment, however, that many scientists, managers, policy makers and lay people have a deep-seated prejudice against exotic species that comes close to xenophobia. This is apparent in the adjectives used to describe non-native species and their impacts – invasive, alien, plague, foreign, aggressive, catastrophic, insidious, destructive, decimating, devastating, damaging,threatening, assaulting and flooding – to mention
        just a few. But worse than such words are the unsubstantiated, unscientific tales, too often promulgated by scientists themselves, that biological invasions are somehow unnatural and that as a general rule invading species dominate ecosystems and cause economic losses, wholesale ecological changes and extinctions of native species. Sometimes they do, but the impacts vary enormously with the species of invader
        and the environmental setting.

        “Moreover, whether these impacts are perceived as positive or negative, good or bad, varies with the moral beliefs of societies and individuals. When scientists claim that their professional credentials uniquely qualify them to make such moral judgements, they exceed their special, time-honoured roles as unbiased collectors, interpreters and communicators of scientific information.”

        Sax is not the only one. By myself, I came to almost the same conclusions.

        You said: “If you ask 100 people if they like a tree, of course 60 will say they like it. If they understood that having this one species of tree means a loss of 40 other species [of plants], maybe they wouldn’t feel the same way. I don’t see how it is relevant anyway.”

        Read again: they were told why [the trees] were cut down. This was rejected by 65%. Only 15% agreed. BTW exactly the same percentage of people support nativist politicians BTW…

        You said: “I do not support or want anything to do with the Republican Party in the United States.”

        Well, I can understand that! 🙂

        [Charlie:] “Again, climatologists DO have emotional and personal responses to their findings. I don’t see the difference between them and ecologists. Both are dealing with complex systems that are difficult to define, but both have come to very overwhelming conclusions. The connection between INVASIVE species and biodiversity loss is really, really strongly established. I can’t find the list (many pages) of references on CAL-IPC that show this connection.”

        Climatologists do so in private and not in papers nor in books for scholars. It ain’t so and I know so. I have done research myself on this matter…I know climatologists and I know those who had to testify for our government. They have not said the development is bad or good. It’s a scientific fact that the Earth warms. What politicans should think about it was up to them.

        Climatologists in general behave like Dov Sax thinks ecologists should behave, and I agree.

        • Charlie says:

          [Slightly edited]

          [Note from the Webmaster: Charlie notes he doesn’t wish to be referred to as a ‘nativist’ because it usually references people with anti-immigration views.]

          Have you ever been to California? I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, but unless you have spent a lot of time in California you aren’t going to understand how the ecosystems work. Europe has been occupied by agriculturalist humans for a really long time, and it is true that diversity there is a bit lower. It may very well be that introduced plants fill lost niches there and add diversity without any real loss. That just isn’t true in California. We are in the process of watching everything unravel… well, the end stages of that.

          You say invasions rarely cause extinction.. well, I say extinction is not everything. Much of interior California was once covered in a bunchgrass and wildflower prairie. This is all gone. Granted much of this is due to factory farming but even in unfarmed areas, the bunchgrasses are quite rare now as are their wildflower cohort. In their place are just a few species: ripgut brome, yellow star thistle, wild oats, black mustard… There are millions of acres covered predominatly by those species and the bunchgrasses are now confined to a few places that the invasive plants can’t tolerate the soil – mostly clay or serpentine soils. They aren’t extinct but they are no longer a meaningful part of the landscape. They weren’t replaced by an equally diverse multicultural tapestry of prairie grasses and forbs selected from around the world. They were replaced by a handful of agricultural weeds. See, when invaders are introduced, we don’t introduce their whole ecosystem. If we plunked an intact California ecosystem and an intact South African ecosystem of a similar climate together, next to each other, on a space colony or something, you’d probably get some really neat mixes, the kind you are describing. Maybe that is even what you are getting in Europe and I could buy something similar happening in Sutro on a small scale. But, on the grasslands, what you have is the ruderal plants from several ecosystems completely crowding out the normal ecosystem process.

          So you see what I mean about extinction not being everything? Having a bunchgrass clinging to life on a rock is not the same as a million acres of bunchgrass prairie.

          A few more examples:

          American chestnut was once the dominant tree in much of eastern North America. This huge, beautiful tree provided food for humans and wildlife, was a centerpiece of the ecosystem, and also had very nice wood. You are probably guessing they were all cut down but they weren’t. The chestnut blight, introduced from Europe, top-killed every chestnut with VERY few exceptions. The chestnut still exists as a coppiced shrub in a few places, so it isn’t extinct. But, the chestnut forest is gone.

          American elm was decimated by Dutch Elm Disease in much the same way as the chestnut. Woolly adelgids, an insect, are currently killing off most of the Eastern Hemlocks in the same area, and the emerald ash borer may do in most of the ash trees.

          [Webmaster: And for another example, Sudden Oak Death is killing California’s oak trees. But how is this an argument for preventing those plants that can survive from doing so? These blights are almost impossible to stop, except by quarantines; we can’t chop them down or garden them out. So if the oak goes, and we fell the eucalyptus, we have no forests?]

          Sound like a diverse globalized ecosystem to you? To me it sounds like a collapsing ecosystem – that is exactly what it is.

          Similarly, Joshua trees and sajuaro cactus will probably be banished to a few rocky outcroppings in the next 50 years because two grasses – buffelgrass and cheatgrass – are completely dismantling the desert ecosystems of the American Southwest by changing fire regimes.

          The idea of blended ecosystems might sound nice when you write it down (though to me it sounds horrible because we lose the uniqueness of place!) but nonwithstanding that, it won’t work. There is no way to transport an entire ecosystem, with all of the insects, bacteria, fungi, etc, etc, to a new continent. You will only transfer a few plants.. some become invasive, most die off.

          So, it seems like you are pushing for McDonalds and star thistle on every hill. I’m hoping we can retain some of the rich ecosystem diversity on the planet instead.

          As for blurring of ecosystems and land managers, maybe sometimes that is true but all too often the opposite is true, they don’t talk, and poor management decisions are made. Again maybe in Europe it is different… but here in the US, it just isn’t a problem.

  42. Steve says:

    What would be the benefit of cutting the Eucs down? A bald mountain with some native shrubbery replanted? I can think of nothing worse for Mount Sutro then to experience the cutting down of the grand eucalyptus trees. It would be a travesty. An ecosystem is in place now and it should not be disturbed because some people think it should revert back to a native state. After all, what isn’t native in San Francisco? The peninsula has been transformed totally from its original state. Cutting down the eucs on Sutro would be a trivial drop in the bucket as far as bringing the city back to a more native form. We might as well then tear up Golden Gate Park in order to bring back the sand dunes. After that demolish Inner and Out Sunset/Richmond. Then when we have the sand dunes back, we can move east and demolish everything in our path in order to bring back the native species.
    In other words, Mount Sutro is beautiful as it is, and serving a wonderful purpose. To disturb it now to appease a few is folly.

    • Gov Pavlicek says:

      That does not seem to matter. In The Netherlands, forests of spruce which harbour over 400 red list species (most of all fungi, lichens and birds) are chopped down to make way for….heath. Heath cannot exist on its own, so it is constantly invaded by birch, pine and spruce trees. So you need to constantly keep it in check (and I guess then [the response would be]: look how much invasive species cost to control!). [To] what purpose??

      Or how about sand dunes? These are just as good and natural as are sand dunes where once a rainforest grew in the Amazon or Africa. In The NL we have 800-1000 mm of rain per year. [Our] climate is a more continental variety of the Pacific North West in the US. Not a place for impoverished sand dunes. Or heath. As is clear if it’s let go: it would become a forest in a matter of decades.

      Now Scots pine is native, Norway spruce is not considered native even though this is highly debatable. And indeed these forests as mentioned are full of rare species. They are as species-rich as other native forests, but have different species in them. So the best preserved spruce forest over here is considered a goldmine for mycologists who begged the Staats Bosbeheer (State forest service, which is all into getting rid of nonnatives), to save this forest (1000 ha on a scale of 10,000s). Okay, they said they would only thin it….End result: there are still some trees left. But not a forest. They destroyed it completely. The moist atmosphere is gone, because too much sun now penetrates the floor. This is not just an example. This is consistently done. The Dutch Mycological Society commented that this is one of many examples that show the blind hatred these Services and organisations have for non-native species.

      Another one: Sitka spruce forests. Instead of fungi (although some now grow there since 2008 after becoming extinct in the NL), they are extremely rich in fern species. Compared to any native forest, the number of ferns and the number of species are literally off the scale –100 times more rich in places. Also it is full of lichens. Long story short: it didn’t matter. Even 400*400 metres of Sitka spruce had to leave to make way for….well…I don’t know what they wanted but I am positive they did not want it to become one big chunk of blackberry, which it is now….And some Sitka spruce seedlings in it. The ferns are gone. Thank you very much.

      This also goes on despite uproar by the locals, who are proud of their forests. Not all policy makers are like that, but over here the extremists always seem to have the upper hand….

    • Tony Holiday says:

      Excellent post. Makes a lot of sense.

  43. Gov Pavlicek says:

    [Slightly edited]

    [Well, this is really] about Mount Sutro and its value and, in a broader sense, about more of these kinds of habitats (let’s call them novel ecosystems) that are threatened because some people have an ideology. They use some scientific facts with personal preferences to come to sometimes some dogmatic (religious) views.

    Charlie, you mention some facts (diseases spread and kill many trees — which is true), but add your personal preferences and views on what is a functioning ecosystem and what isn’t. Like, the Chestnut IS beautiful. Or that some species have been extirpated and are not a meaningful part of the landscape. Or that the ecosystem is collapsing.

    Chestnut blight….no one likes it. But what does it prove? [Native organisms can also be invasive.] We know that the native Mountain Pine Beetle currently wreaks havoc from Colorado to British Columbia and Alberta. The current outbreak of mountain pine beetles is ten times larger than previous outbreaks. Huge swaths of central British Columbia and parts of Alberta have been hit badly, with over 40 million acres (160,000 km2) of BC’s forests affected. And that is just British Columbia. Some experts have predicted that if the problem is not eradicated, many of Colorado’s mature lodgepole pine forests will be killed within three to five years. Regeneration of decimated forests has begun as the US Forest Service hires loggers to remove the dead trees….

    In Europe we have native badgers carrying Bovine TB, causing losses to farmers because cows are infected. We have Birch and Pine constantly invading heath and fields, and thereby limiting the number of red list species that cannot survive in forests…Etc etc…

    You extrapolate to say that some species will almost become extinct in the next 50-100 years. First of all: extinction like you mention isn’t everything. You are right: it simply happens as long as there is life on this Earth. So the occasional extinction here and there, for whatever reason, is not that much of a deal. Most of all if you consider the current extinction rate because of us in a more direct sense (habitat loss for agriculture — which you mention as a side note).

    But how sure are you that the current trend will continue? Can’t local species adapt? Can ecologists predict which species will become invasive and which won’t? No. Have they been able to predict the outcome of an ongoing invasion? Rarely. Many times, they have the same anwer if some asks if some species have become extinct: “Not yet.” As if it is inevitable….An example is the Argentinian ant that started to dominate all other ant species in Texas somewhere in the 1980s. It had the upper hand. 15 years later, you had to look for it, according to researchers. The ant is there, but behaves like every other ant….

    You note the differences. Any chance of things getting back to how they were? At what cost? Who is going to pay that? Is it for the public good or is it to please the few? In The Netherlands, they have started campaigns to convince people their views are the right ones because currently people, as I have mentioned, do not support it.

    How come ecologists (among others) do this? Is that something for a scientist to do? Seems again more like a religion.

    Finally: in many cases the restoration of landscapes will become dependent on money. If the invaders are present, but kept at bay, they won’t be kept at bay once there is no money. At least in NL this is very much the case because with much rain and snow, you [naturally] get a forest in a rather cool climate. It could be broad-leaved, it could be coniferous or a mix. [Thus, keeping areas as open heaths requires human intervention.] I think that if this is the case, it is yet another reason to simply accept the reality.

  44. Charlie says:

    Hi Gov,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    I feel like we are in some ways on the same page. But, one of my most important points is one of the ones I seem to be having the most trouble communicating. I have been trying to say the whole time that I strongly believe the native vs non native dichotomy is not what we should be looking at…. but that you are going too far the other way and saying that invasive species should not be managed/dealt with either, because you feel most people want to get rid of them because they are often non-native… There are DEFINITELY native species that are invasive (though Chestnut blight is introduced to North America). Native species most frequently become invasive when something changes in the landscape that throws off the previous balance. When this happens, a native invasive acts the same was as a non-native invasive. I think we should manage/control ANY invasive species if we find that it is feasible. That was my whole point the whole time… I am not (to my knowledge) a xenophobe and am not opposed to ‘non-native’ organisms (I plant plenty in my yard though I avoid invasive ones or those inappropriate to a site) and my entire point was that I think we need to look at species (and people, if you want to continue that analogy) based on what they do, not where they are from.

    The unusual assemblage of plants on Mt Sutro have obviously formed a complex ecosystem, despite the fact that they are from all over the world. I DO think it is really neat, and people should be spending more time studying ecosystems like this. How can an equilibrium form in just a century? Are the fungi, bacteria, etc, implemented and connected as strongly as a native ecosystem that has been similar for 100,000 years?

    [Webmaster: Interrupting the conversation to say, maybe yes, maybe no. But if it were removed, the replacement ecology would not even be a century old. It would be brand new, and while it might mimic an older ecosystem, it wouldn’t *be* a 100 thousand year old ecosystem. It would be a representation of one, maintained that way with ongoing effort.]

    If so, what makes Sutro different from some of the other Euc groves I have seen with little diversity in the understory, or worse, an arundo or tamarisk stand with essentially NO diversity. There’s a lot we don’t understand here, and it’s really worth a closer look. I initially came to this site because I was concerned that the blackberry, etc, in the understory might infect other areas with more natural ecosystems, and cause ecosystem collapse. I think I do agree though that because it is in the center of a city, and because there is already blackberry all around the greater area, this may not be justification for removing the blackberry.

    The native bark beetle problem is often blamed on climate change and I think that is a factor but it seems that the main reason is due to alteration of fire regimes. The trees are too dense, and in some cases too old, so they are more vulnerable to drought and beetle attack. So, they are all dying at once. In this case it is probably too late to solve this problem.

    This brings up the point that many invasive organisms are that way due to larger scale management issues that need to be addressed. All land on Earth is being managed by humans (no-action is a management choice at this point) and most places have been managed by humans for at least 15,000 years. In Europe this history is much older. But, while we figure out the best way to manage the land, to allow the more complex ecosystems to persist, a variety of invasive species are causing extinctions all over California and other areas.

    We may ultimately realize that if we use a more appropriate management regime the invasives will go away or ‘behave properly’ as an ecosystem component. But, it could take many decades to figure this out and if we do nothing about the symptom, by the time we figure out what to do about overall management of an ecosystem, most of the components will be extinct or reduced to such a small population size and genetic diversity that they are essentially lost together. What I propose is that we learn the systems, but we also deal with the symptoms before we lose too much to recover. It’s much like holistic medicine… eating well, exercise, mental/spiritual health, etc, etc, are essential to not getting sick, but if you have a potentially fatal disease caused by poor overall practices, it’s better for the patient to take a medicine with somewhat harmful side effects than to die. After we save the patient we can figure out what they can do to avoid getting sick again.

    In any event, I apologize for any overdramatic or inflammatory contents that I may have made on this website. I also apologize that you have run across so-called ecologists who were racists, bigots, or xenophobes. I also, however, assure you that while we all have our own biases and shortcomings and irrational fears, mine are not the basis of the ecological management regimes I am advocating.

    [Webmaster: Speaking for myself, I find your viewpoints interesting even in cases where we disagree. Thanks both to you and to Gov for stopping by here.]

    • Gov Pavlicek says:

      [slightly edited]


      We are on the same page when it comes to our personal preferences and so are the people here. You like what you see (or saw 😉 ), like those people over here who love the forest for their reasons.

      On to invasiveness. If I read what you say, I get the feeling you base your discussion on a lot of theory on imigrant species, neophytes in this case. In short, these are the facts:
      – The most biodiverse indigenous systems in general carry the most neophytes, which totally goes against the theory that niches are occupied. This does not seem to be the case at all.
      – Nonnative ecosystems all over the world (US, UK, NL, SPain+Portugal, South Africa, Hawaii and Puerto Rico to name a few) are as biodiverse and in some case MORE biodiverse than the local native ecosystems.
      – 50% of all species around us are not locally-evolved, but invasions
      – Large invasions in the past have never led to mass extinctions

      Apparently this is also true for Euc forests in California, not just the one on Mount Sutro. Exactly the same story is told in Spain and Portugal about Euc forests [i.e., that invasive eucalyptus is supplanting native species], and again it is not true. Especially in the Atlantic NW of Iberia, these forests are very lush. The limiting factor there seems to be not the species, but the rain or lack of it.

      So how come we hear these stories over and over again? Well if you repeat something long enough, it becomes the accepted reality. How this develops in ecology is studied at the University of Leiden. Two nonnative birdspecies were (and are) perceived to be very invasive, aggresive and prolific; and a threat to local bird diversity. This is accepted by ecologists in the Netherlands as fact. But study revealed that there were no studies done (so they did one), and that in the various scientific works the same subjective material (from observations, not checked with any statistics) was used. At first, it was displayed correctly; but from the fifth scientific paper onwards, exactly the same observation was now cited as a scientific fact and used as such.

      [Webmaster: I think we have an analogy for this in the “beak-gumming” myth — the belief that birds’ nostrils get blocked when they forage in eucalyptus.]

      In reality, the nonnative species did not affect avian societies at all — or even supported it! Now I have had some discussions with ecologist on this, but they fail to acknowledge it. In one case a researcher who again found the same conclusions (i.e., the introduced species of birds had no negative effects at all) was approached aggressively. I was in this discussion and it was clear some ecologists could not deal with this information at all.

      The same is true for research on forests in Puerto Rico. Nonnative trees supported a more diverse ecosystem than the native one. This peer-reviewed research did not get through the review system at first. Not because it was erroneous, but because of the conclusion. The peers, of course, were ecologists who said it was “difficult to make lemonade out of these lemons.”

      I think the problem is that people who are interested in nature venture into it, see things and are told some things about them. Like in NL where little kids are brought with parents to rip out [“weeds”?] first because they do not belong here. They study things; some become ecologists/ biologists and read these value-laden, indoctrinating wording in their books. Then they go back and tell these things to the new generation. Etc etc…It is so firm in their minds that, on numerous occasions (which is my unsubstantiated view, but supported by some ecologists themselves) they cannot deal with another reality. And in the end, we see people like those over here, who have to fight for what they like [nonnative species] against a dogma that it is something that should be disliked…

      Some points to restorations and our future:
      – restorations just do not turn a nonnative based forest into a native one.
      – What is “native” in 560 ppm world? As I said: the climate change moves zones northward at 7 km/year. Virtually no tree can keep up with that pace, which leads to the following problem: we want the world to be very biodiverse AND we do not want to introduce any species anywhere (many ecologists think that way). These might very well not get together.

      Most of all that 560 ppm (3 K temperature rise) is not where it stops if the current trend of emission continues. On another side note: 21 Gigatons of emission instead of the current 7-8 is perfectly acceptable in 2050 (!). So temps will rise after 2100 too.

      So habitats will change and many species will be unable to cope with their new climate. If you do not use translocation because of one dogma you won’t reach the other ideal…Many species will become extinct because of a dogmatic view on things.

      I do not think man is a steward of nature. So our human view, for instance that invasives should be kept at bay, are only valid if it directly hurts us (economically). Well, personally I do not mind that much about economy, but it will go that way. If something directly hurts the economy people are willing to act. If not, they just have less interest.

  45. Charlie says:

    [Slightly edited]

    You said “On to invasiveness. If I read what you say, I get the feeling you base your discussion on a lot of theory on imigrant species, neophytes in this case. ”

    No, that is not what i am saying. I am saying that INVASIVE species cause damage to ecosystems, regardless to where they come from or why they are invasive. I do NOT dislike species because of where they are from, or advocate removal of species due to xenophobia. I ONLY advocate the management and removal of INVASIVE species.

    “- The most biodiverse indigenous systems in general carry the most neophytes, which totally goes against the theory that niches are occupied. This does not seem to be the case at all.
    – Nonnative ecosystems all over the world (US, UK, NL, SPain+Portugal, South Africa, Hawaii and Puerto Rico to name a few) are as biodiverse and in some case MORE biodiverse than the local native ecosystems.
    – 50% of all species around us are not locally-evolved, but invasions
    – Large invasions in the past have never led to mass extinctions”

    Can you provide cites? Some of these go directly against what I have observed!

    By a ‘nonnative ecosystem’ is – do you mean an ecosystem dominated by one plant? Or do you mean an ecosystem that contains at least one non-native plants? (that includes almost every ecosystem!) Are you sure that non-native ecosystems (whatever they are) facilitate more diversity? What if more diverse ecosystems are more likely to be invaded? Correlation does not imply causation. There is a difference between a species expanding in range, and an invasive species.

    Lastly, you say that no species invasion has ‘ever’ lead to an extinction, which you have not backed up with any science. It seems patently false but even if it can’t be disproven, there is no way you can prove anything like that. Major extinction events occurred when vast numbers of new species were introduced, in South America by the connection of South America with North America; and Australia by human intervention. North America itself had mass extinctions when the land bridge connected it with Asia, though it may be due to humans. Finally, even if a species is not completely extinct, if an important species becomes rare, it still is a great loss to the ecosystem in general.

    “Apparently this is also true for Euc forests in California, not just the one on Mount Sutro.”

    Have you ever been to a Euc forest in California? Have you ever BEEN to California? I freely admit that I’ve never been to mainland Europe and don’t know much about the ecology there. It seems like you are taking what you know about the ecology of Europe and applying it to California which may be why it isn’t accurate.

    You bring up some valid points about problems with the current scientific/peer review system. I don’t disagree with those points at all. The thing is though that my personal observations strongly back up what the scientists here are saying about invasive plants, in most cases. All science has the potential for bias but what you are saying is that science you disagree with is biased but science you agree with is not.

    “In one case a researcher who again found the same conclusions (i.e., the introduced species of birds had no negative effects at all) was approached aggressively.”

    Obviously this is unprofessional and totally uncalled for and that ecologist should not have acted that way! But, you seem to be assuming that every ecologist will act the same way. Please give me the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming I am a xenophobic racist in the guise of a biologist who secretly wants to commit ethnic cleansing on plants.

    “I think the problem is that people who are interested in nature venture into it, see things and are told some things about them. Like in NL where little kids are brought with parents to rip out [“weeds”?] first because they do not belong here. They study things; some become ecologists/ biologists and read these value-laden, indoctrinating wording in their books. Then they go back and tell these things to the new generation. Etc etc…It is so firm in their minds that, on numerous occasions (which is my unsubstantiated view, but supported by some ecologists themselves) they cannot deal with another reality. And in the end, we see people like those over here, who have to fight for what they like [nonnative species] against a dogma that it is something that should be disliked…”

    This describes a basic human problem, but it isn’t limited to people who want to remove invasive species. I’ve heard some pretty pro-invasive- species dogma also.

    “- What is “native” in 560 ppm world? As I said: the climate change moves zones northward at 7 km/year. Virtually no tree can keep up with that pace, which leads to the following problem: we want the world to be very biodiverse AND we do not want to introduce any species anywhere (many ecologists think that way). These might very well not get together.”

    This is a valid point… species are moving and maybe we do need to move species along. But, you said you were opposed to restoration earlier. Are you only in favor of introducing non-native species? This just doesn’t make sense at all.

    [Webmaster: I read that to mean that plants that do well in a particular area should be allowed to continue in it, rather than being battled. Not that they should be introduced. ]

    Also, while temperatures globally are going to warm, there is a LOT of variation in precipitation and temperature effects as well as a variety of positive and negative feedback loops we don’t understand yet. I fully agree that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and that our doing so will harm us as well as natural ecosystems. But, I don’t think it is yet time to move plants and animals around to the extent you seem to be proposing.

    “I do not think man is a steward of nature.”

    I don’t think we act that way right now . But many different cultures have done different things in the past… and we need to do something differently in the future. Hopefully we choose correctly!

  46. Gov Pavlicek says:

    [slightly edited]

    Hi Charlie,

    Thanks again for the thorough response. It is much appreciated!

    My question: what is “damage”? Give me a description that only is confined to invasive species, and why this IS damage, (and a scientific truth rather than a personal view).

    You said: Can you provide cites? Some of these go directly against what I have observed!

    Of course! 😉 In these papers or articles about papers you’ll find many, many of the assumptions and sometimes dismay of ecologists reading the new research.
    They cannot cope with the thought that nonnative ecosystems are functioning very well, from an ecological point of view.

    1) First, very on topic. Research from 2002 on species diversity in Euc forests in California. It says species richness is comparable at least with native forests [Webmaster: The provided link did not work, but the one substituted should be okay. This is Dov Sax’s research in Berkeley, presumably.]

    2) Conservation Magazine, “The New Normal”: http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2010/06/the-new-normal/
    and from Nature News: http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090722/full/460450a.html

    These links are essentially the same. They describe findings in Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

    3) Glasgow Natural History: – http://www.glasgownaturalhistory.org.uk/abstracts.html
    Somewhere in the middle of this, you’ll find that [non-native] Sitka spruce forests in Scotland, as it matures, provides more and more habitat for native wildlife…Also read that only 1-2% of SEMI natural
    woodland has been preserved…So what is the problem here (again)? Not the neophytes.

    4) From Reason.com, an article making the case that introduced species increase net biodiversity, even when they lead to some local extinctions.
    This is a compilation of short interviews with Dov Sax and Mark King.

    5) – http://www.springerlink.com/content/4ku835810464h57g/
    Not that spectacular but again it notes that nonnative Pine forests in Patagonia provide valuable habitat for native birdspecies

    There are others, but this is enough for now.

    Charles said: “By a ‘nonnative ecosystem’ is – do you mean an ecosystem dominated by one plant? Or do you mean an ecosystem that contains at least one non-native plants? (that includes almost every ecosystem!) Are you sure that non-native ecosystems (whatever they are) facilitate more diversity?”

    Let’s call them novel ecosystems, as there are no ecosystems that solely consist of neophytes either. Indeed these are in general more species rich. There is ample evidence of that readily found on the internet.

    Charlie said: “What if more diverse ecosystems are more likely to be invaded? Lastly, you say that no species invasion has ‘ever’ lead to an extinction, which you have not backed up with any science.”

    I don’t believe I said that. I have stated that New Zealand lost 4 species of plants out of 2,069 and got 2,065 naturalised species in return, thus doubling the biodiversity.

    It was meant in this discussion so let me clarify: no plants have outcompeted others to extinction on any continent. [Extinctions caused by invasive species are] still very rare, as can be seen in New Zealand on Island like habitats (which includes large inland lakes). Most extinctions by invasives are caused by predators or pathogens in those habitats. They still are exceptional, and pale in comparison to the current overall extinction rate. As we were constantly talking about plants in either the US or Europe, that’s what I referred to.

    Charlie: “It seems patently false but even if it can’t be disproven, there is no way you can prove anything like that. Major extinction events occurred when vast numbers of new species were introduced, in South America by the connection of South America with North America; and Australia by human intervention.”

    [Surely, the onus of proof is on the other side?] The assumption is that competition leads to extinctions and that this is a big cause of global extinctions. The ones that assert that need to prove it. Not vice versa. The extinctions that HAVE happened have been researched, and competition in general does not lead to extinctions. Not on continents, anyway.

    According to the research I know of, by James Brown, the fossil record does not support large mass extinctions through land-bridges either. Humans are exceptions on the rule of course, we know that. But scientists are excluding humans from the equation when talking about invasive species…. We have caused many extinctions. But this is about nonnative species.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/science/09inva.html?pagewanted=2 It notes that there is a net increase in biodiversity after historical invasions, not a decrease. It is not there in the historical record.

    Whether extirpation constitutes a gross loss depends. If the indigenous Lyme disease causing bacteria (Borrelia I believe) is wiped out by one that does not cause any disease, how is this a loss? Or the malaria in the third world? Less extreme: if I do not like the local weed, how is this a loss for me? I don’t like it and it is gone: to me we have gained a nicer ecosystems without the troublesome weed…You seem to imply that every native species is of value to the ecosystem. I can mention a few that add virtually nothing over here. Like English Holly or the Yew. If a newcomer provides more services to the ecosystem but is also the most abundant, does this constitute a valuable addition or is it still an invasive weed? Who can determine that? It is all based on what we see as value or not. It is again subjective.

    Gov: “Apparently this is also true for Euc forests in California, not just the one on Mount Sutro.”

    Charlie: “Have you ever been to a Euc forest in California? Have you ever BEEN to California? It seems like you are taking what you know about the ecology of Europe and applying it to California which may be why it isn’t accurate.”

    We have been over this one. I read papers on the topic. I need not be there.

    Charlie: “You bring up some valid points about problems with the current scientific/peer review system. I don’t disagree with those points at all. The thing is though that my personal observations strongly back up what the scientists here are saying about invasive plants, in most cases. All science has the potential for bias but what you are saying is that science you disagree with is biased but science you agree with is not.”

    No, what I am saying is that there are no scientific works that have examined all the extinctions, but one. And that one was done by Dov Sax. It is clear and contradicts what ecologists have said (and still say over and over again). Meanwhile, [that study] is undisputed while it itself disputes the many assumptions about invasive species and extinctions.

    Apart from that, I have read those invasion ecology books. They themselves, without reference to the Sax paper/s, say invasive plants haven’t caused any extinctions, nor are they expected to (for instance in germany)…

    I have also read biased, value-laden words so many times — that is clearly not the way to get a student doing impartial research on neophytes and other immigrant species. It is quite obvious one leads to another…

    I do not want to get into a personal argument, so let’s not go there. Let’s stick to the points we raise instead.

    On climate change and translocation of species: there are many feedback effects, but there is no doubt that in many temperate zones on continents the 7 km/ year drift northwards of the isotherms is already real. No reason to think it will slow. The implication will be that a number of species (trees) cannot keep up. We can see that from the recolonisation of trees after the ice age. They travel at about 1/10 of that speed at most.

    I am not against nonnative species at all, so I am not against translocation. However: if you consider introductions harmful, and yet consider global biodiversity extremely important — you will have a problem with climate change. [Because the trees that “belong” will no longer survive, and yet you cannot introduce species that *will* survive.]

  47. Jeannie Zukav says:

    There are so few trees in this city, why would anyone want to take away the few remaining trees we have? This is simple….protect Sutro’s trees.

    • webmaster says:

      Jeannie, thanks for your comment. That’s what we feel, too. Mt Sutro Cloud Forest is a very special treasure in itself. If you’re interested in saving trees across the city, please do look at the website of the San Francisco Forest Alliance at http://www.sfforest.net where they’re trying to protect the thousands of trees planned to be cut down in parks all across San Francisco.

      • Charlie says:

        There are so few cacti growing here in Vermont, why would you want to chop down the few that were planted by some confused person last week? The cold will kill them anyway 😉

        just rabble rousing… on a more serious note I hope El Nino brings Sutro and the rest of CA some good rain this winter.


        • webmaster says:

          Hi Charlie! Are you chopping down cacti in Vermont? Thanks for the rain wishes. Mt Sutro Cloud Forest doesn’t need it – it’s wet in there, it’s a century-old Cloud Forest and we get lots of summer fog. But inland California certainly does.

    • Tony Holiday says:

      Well said. What the ##&% are these guys thinking? I got blocked from anymore posts on Sutro Stewards. Was just blown off – the guy said I was “misinformed” but didn’t bother to explain his side of it. So what’s a concerned person to think if treated like this when they are concerned enough to post questions? It’s like he’s saying something like, “Because I’m the dad – that’s why” to a little kid that he doesn’t want to take the time to bother with.

  48. Charlie says:

    I was just talking about fog drip earlier today… it sure does produce a lot of water!

  49. Dennis Matsunaga says:

    In general I would support getting rid of the Eucalyptus and replacing it with native scrubbiness and redwood and/or oak groves, but I do not trust the long term expansionist goals of the University. As a resident of 50+ years, I know what will happen. For that reason, I am opposed to removal.

    [Webmaster: Though we don’t agree on the eucalyptus, we recognize that there are indeed trust issues with UCSF. Neighbors don’t believe UCSF will adhere to its commitments, even those in writing, except under pressure. One example is the chain-link-fenced nursery, described HERE.]

  50. Sutro Resident says:

    There was recently an entry about bats in Glen Canyon and how they are protected here – http://sfforest.net/2013/01/07/bats-about-glen-canyon-park/

    Sutro forest absolutely has bats inhabiting on top of all the raptors, songbirds, owls and other residents in the ecosystem. Can you use this fact to fight the deforestation UCSF has planned?

    Also is there any recent news? They don’t seem to care at all how it will impact neighbors or the animals relying on the established environment

  51. dolan eargle says:

    From: dolan eargle [mailto:dolaneargle@yahoo.com]
    Sent: Tuesday, February 05, 2013 2:26 PM
    To: Campus Planning – EIR
    Subject: Sutro Forest

    Ms. Diane Wong;

    I am a retired member of the Dept. of Pharmaceutical Chemistry (1972-96).
    For many years I lived quite near the Parnassus Campus, walking to work and returning through Mt. Sutro forest. In fact, I cleared one path over a formerly overgrown route. I have ever since enjoyed the feeling of the forest–its relatively unspoiled wildness, the summer drippings of condensed fog, the hooting of owls, the chirping of birds.
    Then there was a day when someone decided to remove a few eucalyptus trees, so that a pine tree might be more easily seen. Within 2 weeks, a great storm arose –the no-longer-supported pine tree was blown over, causing its removal. So here went 4 or 5 trees for no good reason.
    Lately, a thoughtful group has improved the existing path of the “Topo Trail” (my name given it because it is nearly level) down to an entrance on the adjoining street. This was a worthy cause, improving experiences of the ancient forest for all comers. As always, the summer fog is condensed from the eucalypt leaves, dripping as much as 8 inches of moisture onto the earth surface every summer. This occurs throughout the forest, allowing it to survive. Thinning the forest could be very dangerous.

    Now comes a terrific shock: For reasons totally unclear, there is this huge push to “thin” the forest. There has been in San Francisco a group of fanatically-inclined persons who are convinced that any “non-native” tree or shrub or bush should be removed from this city. They have dogmatically adopted a “non-native” cant that must be stopped. They do not realize that this city looked like the Marin Headlands before anything was ever planted here. Yes, Adolph Sutro wanted some wood for his silver mines, planted eucalyptus, then gave up the effort for his own good reasons.

    Eucalyptus thrives very well in this city and along the coast. I am familiar with other forests like ours–primarily on the Portuguese coast where they are revered, not destroyed. Our forest is NOT flammable, but some would object, having witnessed the flames of some of some dry eucalypts above Berkeley some years ago. Our situation is not at all the same, but the persons convinced by a few fanatics are about to cause significant damage to our campus and our city. Already they have decimated the historic and stately eucs in Glen Canyon Park for no other reason than to move a tennis court!

    Please do not be swayed by the ugly opinions of uneducated persons. Turn them away. Have them leave our forests alone!

    I hesitate to add, in a suspicious note–someone is out to try to make a lot of money by persuading the uninformed and those who do not appreciate the spots of wilderness within our city. I attended an earlier concoction of this plan about 12 years ago presented in Millberry Union. A Berkeley bunch came to our campus with a multi-million-dollar plan to try to convince us to do pretty much the same as this new assault. Their scheme was rejected after the folly and outrageous cost of it was seen.

    Dolan H. Eargle, Jr., PhD
    Dept, of Pharmaceutical Chemistry (ret.)
    University of California San Francisco

    • Million Trees says:

      Mr. Eargle, That is an eloquent and informative letter that you have written in support of our beautiful Sutro forest and I thank you for it.

      One small quibble, the stupid plan that was presented to the public 12 years ago is the same plan that is now inching closer to implementation. And the same native plant cult is behind it. Fortunately for the forest and its fans, bureaucracies move very slowly.

      I didn’t attend that public meeting 12 years ago, but it is famous amongst those who aren’t a part of the native plant cult. Critics of the plan were many and noisy, yet UCSF chose to ignore you. It will forever be a mystery how a major scientific institution has managed to get themselves entangled with this cult.

      Thanks again for your spirited defense of the forest.

      • Charlie says:

        While most of you would probably still consider me part of the native plant cult, I’ve brought you a fun challenge this time instead of debate. You think your eucalyptus forest is really diverse? Why not document it via citizen science on iNaturalist? http://www.inaturalist.org/ Set up a project and then anyone with a smartphone or a digital camera can join in and help each other ID stuff. Maybe we can find some native plant nerds to go document a coast live oak forest too, see which is more diverse! All of the Euc forests in California I have been in are pretty dead in the understory and bland diversitywise, but it sounds like your forest is different, and if it is truly a novel natural community emerged from plants from all over the world it is worth documenting. Data cuts through dogma, either way.

        Webmaster: Hi Charlie! Glad you’re still reading, and agree: Data cuts through dogma. Not sure anyone will take up that challenge, and if they gut Sutro Forest it’ll be moot anyway. (Come see it before that happens!) Already there’s a lot of tearing out of understory. In the mean time there’s the research by Dov Sax ( http://milliontrees.me/2011/02/04/biodiversity-another-myth-busted-2/ ) showing oak woodland and euc forest to have similar levels of biodiversity.

  52. Tony Holiday says:

    I finally heard from one of the Sutro Stewards on the Facebook site after inquiring several times as to what was going on.


    I then tried to post on his personal page but it apparently went to an “other” folder. Apparently he doesn’t want to communicate with me about this.

    This right here suggests to me they are hiding something and do not think the public deserves to know what’s going on. And do not think that I deserve to know after I have expressed my concerns several times.

    The person said I was misinformed but he did not bother to tell me what IS going on.

    This is exactly what one other dude did when I wrote on his blog (not the Stewards) about my concerns regarding Glen Canyon’s use of poisons and overdone tree-fellings. So naturally I don’t trust him anymore either. Why can’t they be more upfront with those of us who are concerned about certain things?

    If it were me, I would put out a rebuttal to the public and tell MY side of things to try to get it straightened out, if indeed people are being so misinformed.


    Webmaster: The Sutro Stewards support the tree-felling project. If they were indeed to write about their side of the issue, we would be happy to publish it here. We are willing to publish and discuss opposing opinions.

  53. Tony Holiday says:

    BTW everytime I post, I check the two boxes so I can be informed of others’ comments. But this doesn’t work. I do not get any notices.

  54. Tony Holiday says:

    They also got me removed from the Sutro Stewards group for my inquiries re this topic that got no answer, just a “you’re wrong” kind of short comment but no explanation of their own. I imagine they will also now remove all my blogs and pix I posted to the sites. Say, how long does it take for the “your comment is awaiting moderation” message to disappear? Also, if I try to log in with FB, this does not work. I get an error message.

    Webmaster: The Sutro Stewards are major supporters of the project, and are in fact mentioned in the DEIR. Perhaps they did not want comments questioning the project. As for comments: We do try to clear comments within 24 hours, but sometimes we run out of time. Apologies. We’ll check into the “logging in with Facebook”, too.

    • Million Trees says:

      Tony, Thanks so much for trying to engage the Sutro Stewards in a dialogue about their plans for the forest. I have tried to discuss the issues with native plant advocates for over 15 years, so I am very familiar with their refusal to consider any opinions that do not conform to their vision for a native landscape of grassland and dune scrub.

      Please don’t take it personally. They ignore all dissenting views regardless of the source. They also refuse to read any of the science that refutes their assumptions about the superiority of native plants or the harm they believe is done by non-native plants. They live in the dark.

      Thank you for your support of our urban forest.

  55. I have to say, I’m kind of on the side of replacement with native species (eucalyptus are profoundly non-native, and a fire hazard) – but can we afford it, and how long will it take to establish a new forest? I believe the project to do this sort of thing is moving ahead in Glen Canyon – perhaps this project should simply be put on hold until we can assess the results of that. The Golden Gate Recreational Area is quite gung-ho about replacing non-native with native plantings, and not without good reason. As long as there are no plans for anything but a forest on Mt. Sutro, this might not be the horrible idea it’s being made out as.

    Webmaster: Thanks for your comment! The eucalyptus are certainly non-native (as are most trees in San Francisco, since the place was essentially treeless two hundred years ago). But this forest is not a fire-hazard; it’s in the fog belt, and one of the wettest places in the city – until it’s opened out, which dries it out. In any case, eucalyptus in California is much less of a fire hazard than the native plants that replace them. https://sutroforest.com/eucalyptus-myths/native-plants-are-more-fire-prone-than-eucalyptus/

  56. Marilyn says:

    It is strange to hear that another tree falling project has befallen SF. The native and non-native argument is just such a laughable false front. There are plenty of non-native people roaming around and I propose to have them all round up and send them back to where they come from. Let re-populate SF with Native Americans who are more sustainable and have less carbon impact then those other people. Yes, if we can do that then we will revert all the history we have in this city. The re-planting sounds as crazy as my joke. Yes, I was kidding. You get the idea.

    As a member of USCF’s staff, I am ashamed of what is planned for the trees. The campus will not look the same and the environmental impact will be huge.
    I think the lawyers will have to explore CEQA. The California Environmental Quality Act is the cornerstone of California’s environmental protection policies. A public agency must determine whether a proposed project would have a significant environmental impact. If so, the project becomes the subject of an environmental impact report, on which the public can comment. Those comments must be addressed, and the report must include ways to mitigate impacts on the environment.

    So is UCSF will pay for the report and increase student tuition again??? and UC have to pay for every challenging law sue raised by anyone who will be effected by this project. Neighbors can challenge the environmental impact to their homes. I think this tree cutting project is a very bad idea and wasteful use of UCSF funds.

    Webmaster: UCSF has undertaken the Environmental Impact Review under CEQA. Public institutions are allowed to self-certify – they don’t have to call an outside party. (The information and a link to the Draft Environmental Impact Report is HERE ) It’s open for public comments until March 19th.

    • Million Trees says:

      Marilyn, Thanks so much for your support of the Sutro forest. There are many mysteries associated with this pointless project, but you identify perhaps the biggest mystery. Where are they getting the money to do this? How can they justify spending money on this project at a time when they have increased tuition to the point that they are impoverishing students and burdening them with crippling debt? It is extremely irreponsible.

      I am UCB alumnus and UCSF retired staff, so I share your pain that this proud institution is engaging in such a pointless, wasteful project. I’m embarrassed for them.

  57. Dorothy says:

    In the EIR, I did not see concrete reasons for why UCSF is doing this. Only showing the impact of your intended activities is not enough. Show us WHY you are doing it, back-up with solid, scientific evidence. If you cannot show why this forest is bad for us (not in general terms like fire hazard, native grass and bushes are more fire prone, I come from LA, where native plants burn all the time!), you cannot take down our forest.

  58. M Scott says:

    For those of you that don’t think blue gum eucalyptus is flammable or a fire hazard I’m sure our neighbors in Aromas, CA would disagree. This was just two weeks ago… (Link to Video)

    As a neighbor I have actually followed this process for several years and recall a member of the SFFD attending one of the first community meetings and clearly stating that if a fire were to take place on Mt. Sutro the SFFD would not be equipped to handle it. I’m sure the webmaster would say that there is no fire danger on Mt. Sutro, but there are dry days there and it doesn’t take much to get a flame moving under the right conditions. Earthquakes are pretty rare out here as well, but does that mean we don’t prepare for them?

    [Webmaster: Scott, thanks for your comment, and for taking an interest in the forest. Aromas CA, which is South of Watsonville and inland, has a much dryer climate than San Francisco, and the 2-acre Aromas fire was a backyard “controlled burn” that became uncontrolled.

    Here in the Fog Belt, the fog and the Cloud Forest conditions reduce the fire hazard to Calfire’s lowest rating, “Moderate.” We kept a Fog Log in 2009, a dry year, and found 7 dry days. (That post is HERE.) In fact, fire was only considered as an issue from 2008, when there was an application to FEMA for funds to fell trees. FEMA noted that the UCSF application’s assessment of fire hazard was based on an “INACCURATE INTERPRETATION” of a fire-map, and included the rebuttal by a CalFire Fire Scientist. (That’s HERE.)

    Our fear is that the planned changes will raise the fire hazard by drying out the forest and encouraging the growth of summer-dry vegetation, recreating the conditions that existed in the era when the forest was being logged. We’ve addressed this issue HERE . We certainly agree with being prepared, but this is not the way to do it. There are far more effective measures possible, especially since we know there is water availability at the summit of the mountain.]

  59. Robin Perry says:

    I think before “they” remove the non-native trees and plants, “they” should remove all the non-native people. This action I believe would eventually lead to the whole bay area being more native in people as well as a more beautiful land.

    [Webmaster: We assume you’re not serious…]

  60. Practical Romantic says:

    I live a stone’s throw from Sutro. It was one of the main reasons I chose to live and raise my daughter in this part of the City. What a treasure: at the doorstep of urbanity with a forest in your “backyard”? Come on! Want views? Tank Hill – a short walk away. Want “pure native habitats”? Plan a trip to a national park. I’m all for sequoias and native plants, but part of the beauty of Sutro is that it’s a beautiful accident dropped right in our urban laps. So tinker here, tinker there, and let it be. Then thank your personal god we’re not arguing about housing or lab space here.

    I am not a scientist, and frankly, the whole native vs non-native debate is a non-starter for me – very little of who and what we live among is truly, purely “native”. How many of us reading these posts are truly native to this land? Very, very, very few. We’re all “eucalyptus” transplants for the most part.

    I’m raising a daughter (4 years old) in this City and every time she enters Sutro her eyes widen with wonder and her finger points straight up to the tree tops. Pardon the shameless sentimentality, but that’s good enough for me. Let’s set aside any purist ideology on this one and just appreciate what we have here. It’s not perfect and needs reasonable management (safety) just like any living space – but what exists now is pretty damn good. And if it ain’t broke, don’t over-fix it. Massive clearing just doesn’t pass the sniff test. Reasonable management does.

    I don’t look forward to telling my daughter, “When you were a kid there used to be a wonderful forest here. We decided to clear it and plant native species here on principle in 2013. I know we don’t come up here much anymore, but we were really trying to do the right thing at the time.”

    Keep the trails clear, trim the hedges, and let it be…..see you all at the hearing.

  61. We lived on Warren Drive at the base of Mt. Sutro when I was a kid. I remember playing in the forest with all my friends. We invented “Wolfman Rock” where you had to make a wish before climbing up to the top, the “Hot and Cold Caves” where if you went to the left the caves were super hot, and if you went right, they were super cold. We found an old rug once and pulled on the yarns. They came out in such long pieces that we made spider webs in the trees and tried to coax our dog in to see if he would get stuck (he didn’t). We were 8 years old. Those and more great memories are still with me today half a century later. (that sounds old, doesn’t it?) Forests are more than a debate over this or that species of trees- they are a treasure- the sum of more than their parts. This one in particular gave me an appreciation of nature growing up right in the middle of a city- an appreciation that has lasted a lifetime. A forest is different than a managed, planned park. A forest at its best is wild and free and a place to let your imagination soar. How many kids have had this experience on Mt. Sutro? A lot I’d guess. A lot of quality of life there. It’s one of the places that makes San Francisco such a special place to live. It takes generations to grow a forest like this but they can be ruined quickly by those with limited appreciation of such things. There are precious few wild urban forests anymore, let’s protect them so that future kids (of all ages) can have great wild places to play.

  62. June cubacubb says:

    Please save MT. SUTRO. Its there for a reason leave it alone.

  63. Steve Heilig says:

    From today’s Chronicle; This fellow seems to know what he is talking about: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Dear-UCSF-Sutro-Forest-is-off-limits-4301650.php

  64. t. booth haley says:

    I live at the foot of mt sutro and often hike up there via the stair case on the west slope. I love forests and i love the eucalyptus. Thank goodness UCSF is just thinning the forest, not trying to remove it. I also like views, so I support this plan. We can, in fact, have both a thick old euc forest AND views from a thinned out top! I hope the city one day will cut down the trees on the summit of buena vista too and restore what once must have actually been a buena vista. . .

    [Webmaster: We think UCSF is being disingenuous. Removing 90% of trees isn’t “thinning.” However, depending on where on the West slope you are, it may be that you’re below the 15 acres that will be left alone even in the next Phase of this Plan.]

  65. Jennifer Wall says:


  66. I’m going to the meeting tonight. I live in Fairfax and can take up to 3 passengers. Leaving Fairfax at 6pm and returning after meeting. You can reach me at mcvendetti@gmail.com ~ Marc

  67. Peter says:

    I can’t believe that San Francisco is going to let UCSF kill 30,000 trees in a time when most cities are trying to combat climate change by planting more trees! If UCSF is going to be in the business of restoring things to the way they were 125 years ago, then maybe they should dig up their Mission Bay campus and let fish swim there again. Sutro forest may not be native, but neither are 99 percent of us. Nothing about San Francisco is native. It’s a city! If Mt. Sutro is deforested, it will become another bald vista point for people to trample, break beer bottles on, and smoke pot while staring at all the unnatural things below them. Just visit Twin Peaks, Turtle Hill, Tank Hill, Bernal Hill and you will see exactly how bald hills are treated. People don’t respect native grass or butterflies, they trample them, have picnics on them, rumble tour busses to the top of them, break bottles, make shortcuts and paths everywhere. Mt. Sutro is beautiful and wild and tranquil and it should be celebrated for that.

    • Brendan says:

      It’s fine if you want to preserve Sutro forest because of its aesthetic beauty or its recreation opportunities, but can the argument about climate change please be dropped? It really isn’t scientifically founded upon to claim Sutro forest has any effect on carbon sequestration in any scale significant enough to influence climate change.

      [Webmaster: Thanks for coming by to comment, Brendan! Of course we do love the beauty of the forest, but we also see it as providing important eco-system services, including carbon sequestration. (Also such things as being a windbreak, slowing water runoff, stabilizing the hillside, absorbing sound, and having a calming effect.) You’re right that nothing on a small scale will influence climate change. But cumulatively, it can make a difference, and tree preservation and planting is probably one of the most important ways to do it. San Francisco is actually planting fruit trees with carbon-sequestering money… and those trees will store only a fraction of the carbon these Sutro Forest trees already keep out of the air. We believe that every tree counts.]

      Trees like eucalyptus sequester very little carbon, and, in fact, the best way to maintain carbon sequestration would be to cut the trees down and turn them into furniture, which would mitigate decomposition. Living trees store carbon like a bucket with a hole in the bottom stores water.

      [Webmaster: Actually, living trees store millions of tons of carbon. Here is a Nature Conservancy video on the subject. And – eucalyptus is one of the best trees in the world for sequestering carbon. It grows fast and large, lives for hundreds of years, and has dense wood. Carbon sequestered is proportional to the dry weight of the tree. From a group that is trying to plant trees to stop climate change, “Which trees stack carbon faster than any other trees on Earth? That answer is simple: First is the eucalyptus, second is the giant sequoia…”]

      Young trees sequester, when adjusted for size, a far greater amount of carbon than old ones, so having a diversity of age and size within the forest would be incredibly beneficial.

      [Webmaster: Young trees sequester carbon at a greater rate, but older trees sequester larger absolute amounts, because it’s a smaller percentage of a bigger number. Also, Sutro Forest does have a wide variety of sizes and ages, from trees that are under 5 inches in diameter to ones that are 3 feet or more.]

      Also, early-seral habitats (which some of Mt. Sutro would become) are by far more diverse (with regards to flora and fauna) than a mature forest.

      [Webmaster: That sounds like an argument for continually disrupting habitats. The plan is to rip out most of the understory and put down a layer of mulch. It sounds like destruction of habitat to us, removing the vegetation that existing fauna – already pretty diverse – depend on. If you consider the whole area, this is the only dense forest remaining. Preserving it would increase biodiversity.]

      If you want to mitigate climate change by planting trees, you’ll have to head to the tropics and plant quite a few trees down there, as the long growing season allows for maximum carbon sequestration. Also, eucalyptus trees are allelopathic, which means they create an environment in their immediate area that isn’t particularly conducive to growth of understory shrubs and plants.

      [Webmaster: Have you been in the forest? If it were not for the Sutro Stewards ripping out the understory, it would be really dense, with an understory about 6-8 feet high. That’s how it was when we first started this website in 2009. Look at our header photo. The understory was blackberry, the herbaceous layer was grasses and small plants both native and non-native, and the subcanopy was acaccia, a nitrogen-fixing tree. There’s an ecosystem that’s being destroyed.]

      This also means that direct neighbors of Sutro forest (meaning your backyard backs up against the forest) have trouble keeping gardens as the soil is very acidic. The simple fix is to have raised flower beds, but come on, San Francisco isn’t about protecting things that don’t allow others to flourish.
      I’m sorry for the tangent there, but if you want to save Sutro forest, stop talking about climate change and carbon sequestration. It really discounts the arguments made by those that oppose UCSF’s plan.

      [Webmaster: We do sympathize with the frustration of the gardeners, but have seen some exquisite gardens. Soil amendment may be the answer. As for carbon sequestration, we understand this forest does it exceptionally well, and hope to publish an article about it soon. We’re refining the calculations with input from a professional ecologist who works in this field.]

  68. Joshua says:

    People need to take action before its too late! Isn’t the city allowed to seize private property (under Eminent Domain) if the land is being misused? SF leaders need to push an emergency hold on this project and look and the possiblity of taking this fragile ecosystem away from UCSF as they are clearly not fit to take care of it. Time is of the essence to block this insane idea. Its like demolishing the Golden gate Bridge! I pray this doesn’t happen.

  69. Joseph Zakrzewski says:

    If the present growth is a hazard then they should be replaced with native TREES. No more building on Mt. Sutro!

    [Webmaster: The problem is that few native trees will grow in the foggy and windy conditions of Mount Sutro. Only 83% of the trees are eucalyptus – there are others, like acacia, prunus, Monterey pines and cypress, oaks, redwood, and even a casuarina. But only the oak and redwood are native, and neither species likes wind. The oaks are in the Native Garden on the summit, where, ironically, they are doing reasonably well because they are protected by the eucalyptus trees acting as a windbreak. The redwood in some sheltered areas (including the Aldea campus) are doing well; where it’s windy – like down near Farnsworth – not so much. Anyway, the plan is to take down thousands of trees and mulch them, not to plant trees.

    As to building: UCSF has said it is retaining this as Open Space, as committed by UC Regents in 1976.]

  70. Kelsey says:

    Leave the trees alone.

  71. patrick says:

    The land belongs to UCSF. They should be able to manage it as they see fit. As for the nasty, dank, dark, poison oak, ivy, and blackberry vine choked eucalyptus overgrowth that passes for a “forest” on Mt. Sutro, take a chain saw to it. It’s not worth saving. The hills were bare and beautiful with just some oak scrub in the canyons like the Marin Headlands. That’s how it should be again.

    [Webmaster: Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment. UCSF is a public institution, and responsible to the public. Anyway, property rights are not abolute. In a city, everyone takes other people into consideration; if you want to expand or change your house, you need approval and must inform your neighbors. The city will consider neighbors’ opinions before granting a permit. If you want to cut down a tree on your own property, if its within ten feet of a road, you need permission. UCSF set up the Open Space Reserve because of the demands of neighbors; until the 1970s, there was an experimental animal facility where the Native Garden is now.

    As for the forest – perhaps when you look at the mountain, you see Fimrite’s Forest. We have no objection to bare hills, but we cannot agree with destroying existing ecosystems and habitats to achieve them.]

  72. Dan Keller says:

    UCSF is doing the right thing. Those Eucalyptus trees never should have been planted; they are an “exotic”, from Australia, chosen by an earlier, less enlightened generation, because they grow fast. The leaves they drop are toxic to native plants that get squeezed out. Their wood is oily and creates a fire hazard. They create an environment that is not suitable for native birds or other species. By replacing them with natives, UCSF will give us a forest that will be much healthier, more beautiful, and safe for humans and the wonderful creatures we love.

    [Dan, thanks for stopping by to comment. We’ll try to respond to the points you make.

    The vast majority of trees and plants in San Francisco are “exotic” and many come from Australia or South Africa. San Francisco used to be a place of wind and sand and chapparal – and silicosis. Eucalyptus grows well here, but native trees like redwoods don’t like wind and can only grow where they are protected. And there are a lot of myths about eucalyptus. Native plants can grow in a eucalyptus forest, if they are forest plants. If it’s planted with species that need full sun, like many chaparral species, they will not survive.

    Opening up the forest raises the fire hazard by making what is essentially a cloud forest much drier and windier.

    Over 40 species of (native) birds already use the forest as habitat; again, it’s not whether eucalyptus is native or not, but whether they are birds of the forest (like woodpeckers and kinglets), or meadow birds like larks. There’s another myth that eucalyptus trees kill birds; it’s widespread and widely believed – but it’s a myth.

    CSF doesn’t – according to its DEIR – plan to replace them with native trees; it plans to mulch the trees and spread them on the ground.

    We think the forest is already healthy, beautiful, and safe. Though many people agree with us – we know not everyone sees it this way. Our fear is that the Plan will make it less healthy, less beautiful, and less safe for everyone.


    P.S. That’s a great single sentence in your website.]

  73. Alex lee says:

    Don’t eliminate sutro!!!

  74. John says:

    Had a beautiful hike in Mount Sutro Forest today and saw a bushtit, a bunch of ravens, an Allen’s Hummingbird, a couple of feral cats warming up in the sun, and lots of animal trails. What a precious thing to have in the middle of a metropolitan city! UCSF’s arguments for doing this are dis-ingenuous, which suggests to me that they have developmental plans for this area.

    [Webmaster: UCSF has said they will keep the area as an Open Space Reserve.]

  75. Hazel sizemore says:

    Save the Trees, Pleeeeze!!!

  76. Brendan says:

    I just wish your group could provide some science to back up their beliefs. I have been unable to gather any solid scientific findings the base the movement upon. I think it would be great to remove non-native trees (eucalyptus), and allow the forest to naturally propagate. It would also increase diversity tremendously, since early-seral ecosystems are by far the the most divers. Also, if SF were to not exist, a fire would have come through and destroyed Sutro forest. A managed thinning operation would be tremendously beneficial to the ecosystem. Also, the beautiful thing about forests is that when trees are remove, via natural or human causes, they grow back.

    Webmaster: Hi Brendan, thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure what you mean about providing science, though – we try to provide links everywhere. Since the forest is largely eucalyptus, if you removed it, you would have no forest and it would not propagate naturally. (Early San Francisco had mostly grass and bushes, not trees.)

    Would you provide the solid science backing your thought that a managed thinning operation (presumably the one UCSF plans, removing 90% of the trees and understory on the “thinned” acreage, leaving it as mulch on the ground, with the use of pesticides for 5 years to prevent regrowth) would be beneficial? Why is the temporary biodiversity of an early-seral forest (even assuming an early-seral forest would occur with pesticides and mulch) a higher value than retaining a functioning cloud-forest eco-system that’s adapted to the environment over 120 years?

    As for fire: This is functionally a cloud forest, and damp year-round except where it’s been opened up. The fires that happened here were in the early days when the forest was barely a forest, or when it had actually been thinned by logging. These fire-hazard conditions are what this “thinning” would replicate.

  77. A complex issue: leaving aside the subjective issue of whether or not you like eucs, it’s a decision between preserving a rare urban forest vs. the good native species restoration movement. But in our current era of global warming, I lean in favor of keeping thousands of mature trees on Mt. Sutro doing all they do for so many people and critters: producing oxygen, scrubbing the air, sequestering carbon, providing animal habitat. The other option, clear cutting to recreate a largely native plants habitat would create another of several relatively barren, mostly tree-free hills in San Francisco.

    Few advocate restoring man-made Golden Gate Park to its original state: sand dunes and seaside vegetation because so many love and enjoy its current fanciful incarnation.

    So why cut down an entire forest to adhere to a principle?

    One more reason for leaving Sutro a Forest is the increasingly rare and unusual entity in American: an urban forest our people, our children can PLAY in. Experiencing the joy of wild (or sort of wild) nature is of value beyond words. Only those who grew up with this pleasure will find meaning in these words.

  78. Auntie BS says:

    Leave it alone! This is clearly just a power grab for those who would run the project.

  79. John Cate says:

    As the deadline for tree removal nears, has anyone brought up the subject of legal action? It would be expensive, but I, for one, would be happy to contribute according to my means to a defense fund. A preliminary injunction to stop the cutting would at least give some breathing space. Saving this forest is critical, and once the cutting begins, even on a test plot, it will be almost impossible to stop.

  80. Stop this right now. Let the forest live.

    [Webmaster: Slightly edited to delete expletives – sorry!]

  81. Jon says:

    I’m definitely in favor of replacing the Australian eucalyptus with native plants.

    If you really care about saving trees, there are thousands of times more trees in actual native habitats being cut down every day. Native species suffer due to that clear-cutting, as opposed to benefiting here. That’s a worthwhile fight.

    [Webmaster: Thanks for your comment, Jon…

    We don’t discriminate between native and non-native.

    We support those who are trying to save Redwood trees in California and we Stand with Miranda, an activist who is opposing clear-cutting of eucalyptus in Tasmania, and with those who are trying to save eucalyptus forests in California.

    We recognize some people are willing to destroy an existing ecosystem and treasured resource because they favor native plants. We recognize it, but we don’t agree.]

    • Jon says:

      You may also recognize that if native plants and wildlife aren’t protected, then in many cases the massive alteration of habitat by humans will cause native species to die out while the same non-native species spread all over. We’ll end up with a world where Norway rats, black rats, raccoons, English house sparrows, pigeons, ivy, Himalayan blackberry, and eucalyptus trees are all over, but the native wildlife and natural diversity that used to fill the globe is reduced. Not only will that cause the sad loss and reduction of so many native species, but it will make us globally that much more susceptible to catastrophic disease events, both among wild animals and in animal-human transmitted vectors.

      [Webmaster: Jon, welcome back! We know this is the fear, but really, it doesn’t happen. We suggest “Rambunctious Garden” by Emma Marris as counter to such concerns. In any case, there’s no way to protect all of nature everywhere. And we don’t think sacrificing a treasured forest like this is going to achieve anything positive.]

      San Francisco used to have a lot of beautiful endemic butterflies that populated its hills. How are those doing? I doubt that any could be found on Mount Sutro as it currently stands.

      [Webmaster: We think we discussed this back in August 2010… San Francisco still has many different species of butterflies, a few of which are found on Mount Sutro. In any case, we value the beautiful forest we have here now. Twin Peaks, near Mount Sutro, is where SFRPD is trying to reintroduce the Mission Blue butterfly.]

  82. Benjamin Madison says:

    There must be a way to stop this? What is our progress so far?

    [Webmaster: UCSF is in the process of reviewing and responding to the comments, which it will need to do before publishing the final Environmental Impact Report. We have over 3,000 signatures opposing tree removal on Mount Sutro. We hope UCSF and the UC Board of Regents is listening. Meanwhile, please write to the decision-makers: https://sutroforest.com/what-you-can-do/ ]

  83. Jonathan Anderson says:

    sad about the forest. Why “thin” out. A green space, kind of wish we could thin out housing developments and strip malls instead.

  84. Danielle says:

    What! Why destroy a little piece of the past frozen in time? It’s beauty that takes my mind back to the curious thought of “what was the world like before the greedy, selfish man?”

    A species’ forest is a forest of, by and for all the native species of plants, animals, fungi and soil microbes that occupy or have occupied that place. It is the species’ forest.
    We serve the species’ forest. To do this we separate the natural landscape from the cultural landscape. A species’ forest is the healthiest forest and is best for the Earth and the climate. All forests can be returned to this state of equilibrium. Easy if you try.
    Species List Forest, Conway, MA (US)

    [Webmaster: We find this terminology a little confusing: “all the native species of plants, animals, fungi and soil microbes that occupy or have occupied that place.” Nativists in San Francisco usually use the term “native species” to refer to pre-1769 species. If we include all species that occupy or have occupied the place, then of course we agree. It’s a wild, naturalized cosmopolitan forest, and we would like that state to be preserved.]

  86. Dean Mermell says:

    They’re TREES! Leave them alone! There is no logic to this cutting or thinning proposal, unless it serves some unknown as yet to the public monetary gain to UCSF. I’m a long time homeowner in San Francisco and I am against tampering with the cloud forest.

  87. Tom Roop says:

    Here is a link to a photo of Sutro Tower with Sutro Forest at its base on San Francisco Photography at: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100528935994892&set=gm.717784638366179&type=3&pnref=story

    [Webmaster: Thanks. Beautiful picture!]

  88. Mike says:

    Thanks for attempting to save sutro forest. I live in Ingleside terraces and can see the forest from my home (front door). I would hate to see just a bare hill with “native” grasses. If it needs thinning then go for it. If there are dead trees that need to be removed remove them but I am against taking out 6000 trees if that’s the correct number but I say leave em alone. Thanks

    [SaveSutro: Thanks, Mike. We’re trying. While we support removing hazardous trees, we are concerned that “thinning” will weaken the forest by increasing wind speeds, drying out the forest, depleting the soil. https://sutroforest.com/2017/02/23/how-many-trees-in-sutro-forest-and-what-will-be-left/ ]

  89. fandomless says:

    I find the your website really useful, esp in context of my work on urban forests in India. I am following it for updates.
    As an outreach experiment we had produced our first Podcast on buffer areas of urban forests..here https://muteforce.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/stories-of-buffer-areas/
    may be of interest to you.
    in solidarity / Siddhant

  90. Michael Conroy says:

    Is anyone trying to stop it?

  91. Nancy Kohn Hsieh says:

    I grew up right below the tower in the Sutro Forest. When walking there recently, I saw all the trees being cut down. I haven’t followed this situation, but am outraged and saddened.

    Is it too late to do something? If not, what can I do (besides sign the petitions and contact UCSF etc.)?

    Thank you, Nancy

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