Don’t Feed Coyotes

Coyotes are sometimes seen in Sutro Forest and surrounding areas, and occasionally there have been reports of dens in the area. However interesting and cute they are, please don’t be tempted to feed them!

Here is a public service message from Janet Kessler,  who has been watching and documenting San Francisco’s coyotes for many years. Her observations may be found at the website

Copyright Janet Kessler 2021

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Wildcare’s Request: Respect the Nest

Recently, Wildcare – a wild animal rehab organization – published a warning. It’s nesting season and they ask everyone to RESPECT the NEST. It’s republished here with permission.

Respect the Nest by Michael Schwab

With the help of nationally-acclaimed artist Michael Schwab, WildCare asks you to Respect the Nest this spring and summer! Learn more!

It’s almost springtime in the Bay Area, and even as you read this [post] email, birds, squirrels and other animals are nesting and preparing for their newborn and newly-hatched babies in your trees, shrubs and hedges.

First baby squirrels of 2021 Copyight Wildcare

WildCare has already admitted our first tiny, pink baby squirrels of the year!

Our Wildlife Hospital admits hundreds of injured and orphaned baby animals every spring and summer, many of them victims of tree-trimming and pruning accidents.

Michael Schwab created the Respect the Nest graphic to help us remind everyone to delay non-emergency tree-trimming and pruning until winter to avoid orphaning baby animals!

How can YOU Respect the Nest? Click to learn how to spot nesting activity and protect the wildlife in your yard.

Then join us for a free, informative Respect the Nest webinar presentation on Tuesday, March 9 [2021] at 6pm!

Attendees will learn:
– What animals may be using your trees and shrubs as a nursery… even as you read this!

– How to tell if there are active nests in your yard.

– What to do if you inadvertently cut down a nest or if you find an
injured animal.

– When it’s safe (and better for your trees) to prune and trim.

– How WildCare cares for baby animals orphaned by tree trimming.

Many people don’t know that timing our tree and shrub pruning is just one simple way we can minimize harm to wildlife.

Please Respect the Nest this spring and summer and help prevent baby animals from becoming orphaned.


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Dr Morley Singer, RIP

We are sad to inform our supporters of the passing of Dr Morley Singer.
He was a major force in our battle to save this forest, and  Joint President of the SaveSutro organization. His incisive intelligence and strong leadership helped protect the forest for nearly 20 years.

Dr Morley Singer, with Sutro Forest in the distance

Dr Singer, a Professor Emeritus of UCSF had the greatest respect for it as a medical institution – but not for its unfortunate treatment of Sutro Forest.

The picture above was taken in 2012, and he permitted us to use it on this website. It shows him on the Golden Gate Bridge, with Sutro Forest in the distance near the Sutro Tower.

Condolences may be sent to his sister Gail at

His obituary is posted in the San Francisco Chronicle at this link: Dr Morley Singer, 1931-2019

Dr. Morley Singer

Dr. Morley Singer, Dec.16, 1936-Feb 9, 2021, a resident of San Francisco and Sausalito for over 50 years, passed away at age 84.

Morley Singer is survived by his loving sister Gail Singer of Toronto, and his step-family; Pam Bonnell, her granddaughters Jen (Scott) and Melissa (Mark) and their children Maya and Will and Sam and Kayleigh of Canada, and his ever present sweet canine companion, Shaina.

Pre-deceased by beloved wife Betty (died May 9, 2019),Morley was born in Winnipeg, Canada to Louis and Bertha Singer. He graduated medical school at University Of Manitoba and was a recipient of an Isbister Scholarship.

Of his many accomplishments Morley was most proud of designing one of the first intensive care units in the country at The University Of California San Francisco Medical Center and serving as its first medical director. Many of his former UCSF students and colleagues were able to visit and reminisce with Morley prior to his death.

Additionally, he inspired and implemented the Anesthesia Department at Hadassah Medical Center in Israel. Both endeavors occurred in the 1970s. He went on to a successful decades long practice in anesthesiology in San Francisco..

A passionate lifelong athlete, Morley was an accomplished sailor, cross-country and downhill skier. He helped establish, build and manage a permanent tennis court site in Bear Valley, which held a particularly important place in Morley’s heart.

Morley and Betty spent summers and many winters in Bear Valley where they developed deep friendships with a fascinating cross section of people. Morley enjoyed skiing, cycling, swimming, entertaining friends at Betty’s exquisite dinner parties. And, was always on call to his friends and neighbors for medical emergencies.

The richness of life in Bear Valley and San Francisco was supplemented by Morley’s and Betty’s yearly vacations in Santa Barbara with his sister Gail and friends. They also travelled to Gail’s homes in Toronto and Kinmount for Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations with extended family and a host of dear freinds.

In recent years Morley was an outspoken advocate for the maintaining of San Francisco’s unique Sutro Forest against the unprincipled development projects of the University of California, (UCSF). Still, his admiration and appreciation for the university’s academic integrity never wavered and he was a proud recipient of the honors bestowed upon him by the university as an Emeritus Professor.

In the recent past Morley fulfilled a dream. His houseboat in Sausalito gave him enormous joy and an opportunity to share it with family and friends from nearby and far away, most recently the Balazar family from France .

Morley examined the richness of his life and relationships and like many of his decisions he made his own final choice. During his last days Morley was moved by the many friends and colleagues who expressed their admiration and love for him, and the deep impact his encouragement, humor and inspiration had on their lives.

Morley had a gift for deep and lasting friendship; including many dating back to his childhood in Winnipeg.

When we can gather again, Gail will invite everyone to celebrate Morley’s life with food, drink and many stories.

A very special thank you to Dr. Lester Jacobson and George and Maura Cruz and family for their devotion and generosity.
You may send messages to

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Destruction of Sutro Forest Likely to Accelerate

With the new revised plan for UCSF’s Parnassus Campus having been approved by the UCSF Regents – despite San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors asking for a delay so the Plan could be studied further – we expect the destruction of the forest to accelerate.

Sutro Forest Tree Destruction 2 - Medical Center Way Jan 2021 600 px

According to a UCSF report, “On Jan. 21, the Regents certified the Environmental Impact Report for Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan (CPHP), which amends UCSF’s 2014 Long Range Development Plan to adjust the space ceiling limit, projected campus population, and the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve boundary.” (You can find the new Plan here (as a PDF):

Sutro Forest Tree Destruction - Bandit Intimidator Jan 2021 600px


The Space Ceiling was established in 1976 in response to neighbors’ anger at the impact of UCSF’s unrestrained growth on surrounding neighborhoods. There is more about that here. It has been expanded from 3.55 million square feet – which had been exceeded several times, with existing square footage in as of 2014 in the range of 3.84 million square feet. This Plan will raise the ceiling to 5.05 million square feet.

An article in SF Weekly in October 2019 discussed this new Plan, noting that neighbors had concerns and those were not really taken into account. Anyway, the Plan is going ahead despite any objections, since UCSF is in practice only answerable to the Regents.

The SaveSutro neighbors’ group battled for over twenty years to save the forest, which UCSF has sought to destroy for an ever-changing list of reasons since around 2001. Eventually, we were outwaited. (The picture below is the forest in 2006.)

Mount Sutro Cloud Forest 2006 copyright Tony Holiday

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Season’s Greetings – 2020

If ever there was a year that needed a candle of hope, it’s 2020.

While the pandemic rages, “tree work” – which mostly means cutting down trees – has continued in Sutro Forest. A lot of its trees are gone now. This forest has come back from a lot of tree destruction – in fact, actual logging – before, and we hold onto hope that this can happen again.



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UCSF Parnassus: December 2020 Meeting Report

In December 2020, UCSF had a public virtual meeting about its further plans, which modify the earlier ones for which it produced an extensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Dr Ariane Eroy attended, and sent us these notes. They are published here with permission.


Although the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has yet to be finalized, UCSF revealed tonight that it will be exponentially expanding its plans to develop housing units on its Parnassus Campus, from an additional 500+ units, as delineated in UCSF’s 4000+page EIR, to an additional 1263 units by 2050.

Within the next 10 years, UCSF will build another 623 units; in the next 20 years, there will be another 316 units. Within thirty years, there will be 2520 units in all. UCSF has claimed that 40% of these housing units would be slated as “affordable”, although this was repeatedly challenged by members of the audience. (Please read below to learn more.)

In addition, UCSF insisted that it would “preserve present acreage of Mount Sutro,” and that it would begin financially supporting the Sutro Stewards.

These were the public comments:

  • One doctor criticized the Hospital’s focus and medical planning for being “profit-driven”, while ignoring the needs of San Francisco’s aging population, a population that requires increasing rehabilitation and skilled nursing care. (City representatives defended the University’s focus on increased psychiatric care, as well as their expanding pediatric, psychiatric care.)

  • Another attendee protested that more than half of UCSF staff would not be able to afford the proposed housing units, even if these units claim to be “affordable”. Most of UCSF’s staff fail to earn the slated 120% of San Francisco’s median income (which is presently $128k for a family of four). He also emphasized that solutions to San Francisco’s problems need to be put into place much more quickly.

  • Another attendee expressed concerns about the fate of the N-Judah, and protested that the 18 million dollars UCSF has offered is inadequate for sustaining nor upgrading this portion of the public transit hub. He also protested the City Planning Department’s rushing forward, which includes the City’s expanding roadways, while encroaching on Mount Sutro as it alters roads.

  • Another attendee stated he enjoyed the forest daily, yet wants to maximize housing priorities within the Parnassus neighborhood “to ameliorate the City’s housing crisis.”

  • Another attendee protested the height and size of the hospital, as the proposed hospital’s dimensions defy the City’s present architectural and zoning standards. She remarked that by increasing UCSF’s staff by 8,000 workers daily, the parking and public transportation offered will prove untenable. She denounced UCSF as being “disingenuous”. She underscored that even though UCSF has many campuses, its employs targeted arguments to repeatedly justify its further expansion. (For example, it was able to argue for developing a Mission Bay campus precisely because it claimed that the Parnassus Hospital was outmoded.) This same attendee also argued against UCSF’s “over-development” on “an overcrowded hill” whereas their plans could be developed elsewhere.

  • The Audubon Society argued for more native plants. Another attendee argued for planting 400 new native plants, and denounced Mt. Sutro’s Eucalyptus trees, stating “If you believe the natural world is important to humans… species are crashing, we need to consider our human impact [sic]…our use of water is too harmful.”

  • A number of people stated that they were concerned about the preservation of the hospital murals.

  • A NUHW (National Union of Health Care Workers) representative expressed concern about the “work-force housing issue… People definitely don’t make 120% of AMI–even in a 2 person household…and it is very easily publicly documented information… if you really want to mitigate the housing issue, you might want to take this into account.”

  • One of the last speakers stated, “a bigger hospital would definitely serve UCSF, but what about the City?…we have many areas of the City without hospitals…we should be hiring local workers…we should hold UC to the same standards as CPMC.”

  • The last speaker protested the lack of advertising concerning this zoom “Community meeting” and argued that this proved there was a lack of democracy. Moreover, he stated that the meeting’s format would exclude many people, as many lacked easy access to a computer. He also lamented that even today before the expansion plans, an intersection near the hospital (at Stanyan and Parnassus) was unsafe, and that some pedestrians had already been killed there.
Beautiful forest path in the fog - Mount Sutro. Photo credit Tony Holiday

Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, 2006 (Copyright: Tony Holiday)

I was the second speaker. My comments were approximately these, in response to their opening remarks:

“I am a community mental health psychologist. UCSF states that it prides itself about its behavioral health expertise, yet it ignores the function that Mount Sutro plays in the psychological health of San Franciscans, who use the forest as a healing space, a spiritually uplifting space.

“I am shocked that UCSF has doubled its building plans for housing, as this will dangerously encroach on the Forest. This is occurring even while the Board of Regents recently relinquished 10 acres at Laurel Village for building largely luxury housing, retail stores and offices. Your buildings will not provide us with oxygen.

“UCSF states that it will be “preserving the acreage of the Reserve”– but evidently not the Forest itself. UCSF plans to thin the forest by 60% with will desiccate the forest floor, inviting in pests and, potentially, fire.

“Humanity is living on the lip of extinction and all you can think about is expansion and reckless development. UCSF talks of building a hospital while ignoring the findings of the UN’s International Panel of Climate Change–and the urgency of the times.

“The forest sequesters carbon dioxide and provides us with oxygen. The trees work for us every day of our lives, providing us with the very oxygen we breathe.

“UCSF ignores that Mount Sutro belongs to all of us, not merely the Board of Regents. For shame.”
Thank you, Dr Eroy.
The battle to save this forest goes back 20 years or more.

Misty forest with ferns - Mt Sutro. Image copyright Tony Holiday

Mt Sutro in 2006. Copyright Tony Holiday

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UCSF Plans More Damage to Sutro Forest

The main destruction of Sutro Forest – from the so-called “Vegetation Management Plan” of 2018 – is already underway. But a recent Draft Environmental Impact Report (Read it here: UCSF-CPHP-Draft-EIR (1) ) developed because UCSF is making significant changes to its 2014 Long Range Development Plan, presages even further damage.


The Aldea Student Housing, which is adjacent to Sutro Forest, was formerly subject to a “space ceiling” that limited construction there. Now it has been removed from the space ceiling, and UCSF plans to build dormitories up to 96 feet high in a 40-foot zone. This will involve demolishing the old buildings and putting the new ones on the same footprint – or possibly changing it all to a “completely reconfigured and redesigned site.” Either way, this is likely to destroy even more trees than the already painful Plan.

The pictures UCSF is using to mock-up the changes are already obsolete.

Almost all the trees along Clarendon Avenue and the corner of Christopher and Clarendon are gone. Trees along Christopher are likely to be felled as well. Essentially, the picture above can be visualized as bare of trees.


In addition, UCSF is removing an area at the bottom of Medical Center Way from the forest, and removing the trees from the area. (This is near Edgewood – the purple triangle with the diagonal black bars.) In “compensation” it will add back to the Open Space Reserve an area that is already part of the Reserve. (The green space with the diagonal bars, lying between the Woods parking lot and the Surge parking lot.)

In fact, in UCSF’s prior maps of Mount Sutro Reserve, that area is shown as part of the Reserve. (Something like this has happened before. An acre was taken for the Regenerative Medicine Building – and the offered compensation didn’t happen.)

Here’s a UCSF map from 2013 that shows the area as a green part of the Open Space Reserve.

UCSF will also be felling more trees as it replaces storage tanks within the foot print of the forest.

Finally, as icing on the cake – a grove of redwood trees on Parnassus are to be felled.


As the world – and California – faces climate change, carbon-sequestering trees are one of the few “easy” ways to help fight this. Not cutting down mature trees that store – and sequester – the most carbon is the first step. In addition, the Vegetation Plan for removing thousands of trees has a potential for disaster, as what was one a damp self-sustaining forest for over 130 years dries out and weakens.

San Francisco has a 13.7% tree canopy cover, the lowest of any major city in the US. That number is from 2013, and is probably smaller by now, as a lot of tree-felling is under way.

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Trees on Clarendon Avenue Felled

Sutro Forest extended along Christopher to Clarendon Avenue.
The section at Christopher and Clarendon was decimated for the rebuilding of the pump station in 2009, possibly poisoned in 2013… and in 2019, it’s been clear-cut. It’s gone.


In 2009, the forest area on the corner of Christopher and Clarendon was a lush dense grove before the pumphouse was built in 2009 (as shown in the poster visualizing the pump station):

Pump Station on poster

In 2013, here’s what it looked like. At the time, there was concern that someone was poisoning some of these trees.  After that, the poisoned trees and a couple of others were removed.

In 2019, the entire grove was clear-cut. There’s no grove between Clarendon and the pumphouse, just a couple of trees left.

All that is left of these beautiful 125-year-old trees are stumps.

Meanwhile, the planned trailhead from Clarendon is being built. It’s going to look *very* different from the charming visualization presented by UCSF.



Also gone – the tall trees that lined Clarendon Avenue in front of the Aldea San Miguel UCSF student housing.

I remember a time when you couldn’t even see the fence from the street. When UCSF thinned the vegetation there many years ago, they promised plantings that would conceal the chain link fence. Well, they planted some vines, but the concealment didn’t happen.

The chain-link fence is more prominent than ever.

And across the road, a swath of trees adjacent to the homes on Clarendon have been felled too, probably by SF Rec and Parks (or possibly Sutro Tower, not sure).

The destruction  of Sutro Forest – and indeed, many of the ancient trees of San Francisco – continues. It’s probably not a coincidence that nearly all the trees felled are eucalyptus.

Note: This article is based (with permission) on a version published on 

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Season’s Greetings, and Good Wishes for 2020

When we started this website back in 2009, we had no idea that we would still be running it in 2020! But so it seems, and the battle continues though it is an uphill one.

The forest has already been considerably thinned, and some areas effectively clear cut (notably the East Ridge Trail, above the Aldea Student Housing). The picture below shows what was formerly a dense forest, which was then felled. The eucalyptus is resprouting, but we expect the sprouts will be destroyed too.

Nevertheless, there are still beautiful areas in the forest, and still a lot to enjoy – especially if you do not compare it with what used to be.

The forest is resilient. We hope that the forest managers will eventually leave it alone, and as it has done for the last century, it will rebound into its own.

Meanwhile, we light a candle to the future. A green one, because trees are our last best hope for stemming the climate crisis.





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Clear-cuts in Sutro Forest

At the end of March, we went into Mount Sutro Forest. We found a lot of trees had been cut down, and it’s practically a clear-cut on the East side – contiguous with the Aldea Student Housing, where housing density is planned to be increased.

There are a huge number of felled trees, and what was once a dense forest from which you could hardly see any buildings looks like a logging site. It’s evident from the photographs how this is drying out the forest – despite the very wet winter.

Other parts of the forest are not as bad, but it may be a matter of time. A lot of trees have been felled along the new trail from Clarendon Avenue, and there are bare patches with no canopy at all.


The sense of seclusion – the sense of stepping out of the city into a different, magical, world – is gone in much of the forest because of tree-felling and the removal of the understory. You can see cars and houses where before there was just forest.

Tree stumps are everywhere.


There are some areas that have avoided or recovered from the destruction of the trees and understory.

Still given the plans for Sutro Forest, we have no way of knowing for how long. Certainly, in less than a year, it already is very different. Within five years, we expect the footprint of the forest to be significantly smaller, the understory to be destroyed, thousands of trees to be gone. Here’s our assessment of the expected impact of the Plan: What will Sutro Forest Look Like after the Plan?

For those who have loved this forest, we have hundreds of photographs from nine and ten years ago, memorializing the beauty and habitat that was here.  A few of them are in our Photos section, many more are in the articles describing our rambles through the forest. The Contents 2009-2017 page links these articles by year and month.

Perhaps, in a way, it’s a metaphor for our planet.

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Dead trees: the life of the forest

UCSF is undertaking an assault on Sutro Forest, starting with trees it classifies as “dead or dying.” We question whether the so-called “dying” trees are actually dying, or merely in a defensive mode against four dry years, from which they would have recovered after this wet winter had they been given the chance. And importantly, the dead trees have enormous value in the forest.

We republish this article by Jack Gescheidt, first published at with permission and minor changes. (The article and all the images are copyright to Jack Gescheidt.)


Even tree lovers may not know the myriad ways trees some label “dying” or “sick” or “infected” or “infested” (with beetles or other insects) are in fact beneficial to a forest. Perhaps you’ve figured this out already, or know it intuitively, but forests do just fine without us humans interfering. Especially when our “helping” is driven by financial gain.

But fans of forest beware: timber companies hellbent on extracting more wood from U.S. and world forests have concocted yet another way of saying down is up, wrong is right, and denuding forests does a forest good. Their newest sell-off-the-forest pitch is to “remove” only “dead” or “dying” trees, to “clean up” or “manage” forests more “responsibly” implying this does no harm. Don’t believe it. All the quotations are used to indicate these terms are euphemisms which don’t convey the reality of how damage is done in “responsibly” “managing” a forest. This would actually entail leaving it alone, and certainly not bringing in heavy machinery.

Extracting “dead” or “down” or “dying” trees is only the latest insidious way of doing additional harm while ignoring the reality of our current situation: global warming is threatening humanity, which is caused in large part by decades of massive, and ongoing deforestation, nationally and globally. What we humans should instead be doing is leaving existing forests be, especially old-growth forests, not inflicting more damage or extractions of any kind. And planting more trees than we cut down — I mean, “harvest.” Important note: planting a sapling is NOT an equivalent replacement for cutting down a mature tree. Leave mature trees stand AND plant more trees. This would benefit us humans — as well as animals and plants and planet, because we’re actually all in this together. Deforestation for short term profit equals environmental and societal catastrophe in the long term.

The timber industry’s latest assaults begin ideologically. If they win over your mind, and public opinion, they will destroy our forests, and harm all of us in the end. In the public relations assault you’ll hear and read this lie: that forests benefit from industrial removal of “dead” or “dying” trees; that doing so has little or no impact on a forest’s health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Standing dead trees, and trees that have fallen over, and trees in any and every state of decay, are essential to the life cycles of decay and regeneration of a forest. And thus our health depends upon these, since we depend upon forests for carbon sequestration, oxygen production, soil creation, water filtration, wildlife habitat, and so much more.

Chad Hanson, Director of the John Muir Project, UC Davis researcher, and Sierra Club board member, says this about dead trees and forests:

We are trapped by an outdated cultural idea that a healthy forest is one with nothing but green trees. An ecologically healthy forest has dead trees, broken tops, and down logs. Such forests may not look tidy from the perception of a forester, but it (a forest with lots of dead trees) is the most biologically diverse and healthy, from a forest ecosystem perspective….Pound for pound, ton for ton, there is probably no more important habitat element in western conifer forests than large snags and large down logs.

The old practice of killing trees — what modern industry euphemistically calls “harvesting” — to make too many products that are either unnecessary or readily replaced with non-tree sources, has now become a suicidal practice. By killing trees and destroying forests everywhere, we are also killing ourselves, slowly, surely, and increasingly not so slowly.
Beware, too, other misleading, non-scientific labels like “invasive” and “non-native” which are also now commonly used to justify killing trees, plants, and animals, sometimes even by well-intentioned but tragically misled environmentalists. All have drunk the industrial agricultural public relations Kool-Aid. Meaning they kill wild plants and animals, imagining they are doing good, even justifying toxic herbicide use to do so.

READ MORE: Biology

Beware, too, other misleading, non-scientific labels like “invasive” and “non-native” which are also now commonly used to justify killing trees, plants, and animals, sometimes even by well-intentioned but tragically misled environmentalists.  All have drunk the industrial agricultural public relations Kool-Aid. Meaning they kill wild plants and animals, imagining they are doing good, even justifying toxic herbicide use to do so. READ MORE: Biology

Dead and decaying trees are precious to a forest. Here’s a short list of services they perform:

DEAD TREES are wildlife habitat — homes! — for many species of insects, birds and mammals including beetles, bees, wasps, ants, mice, squirrels, salamanders, shrews, bats, rats, and wildcats (lynx, bobcat), raccoons, martens, and even cover for larger mammals including mountain lions and bears.

Forest cafeteria…

DEAD TREES feed numerous fungi like mushrooms which in turn feed myriad animals, including rodents like voles.
DEAD TREES provide crucial habitat (nesting, roosting and food storage) for many species of woodpeckers that rely solely upon them. Woodpeckers require dead wood that’s easier to penetrate than living wood. So woodpecker habitat is destroyed when timber companies extract dead trees, and forest health suffers as woodpecker services are diminished.
DEAD TREES are food for insects which in turn feed larger animals including birds and mammals, all essential to forest health.
DEAD TREES create new soil, a critical component from which all life springs
DEAD TREES retain critical moisture in a forest as decomposing woody material

We must protect all remaining un-logged, or old-growth (over 200 years old) forests and leave intact any and all forests for their critical ecological service in our era of anthropogenic global warming. These include carbon sequestration (CO2 storage) as double duty; keeping the carbon in a living tree in its wood and out of the atmosphere, as well as allowing living trees to continue extracting additional CO2 from the atmosphere every day it is alive.

In addition to these obvious, rational-minded functions, now is also an ideal time for us planetary citizens to become more aware of the equally valuable emotional and spiritual tonic trees provide us. Notice and appreciate each individual tree growing near you, regardless of its species or its country of origin.

There are no “invasive” trees! You may have your favorites kinds of trees, but all provide critical ecological service. Maintain trees, care for them, plant more of them, and feel how they can reconnect us to the natural world we have for too long abandoned. If more of us do this more often, we just might be able to save our own species from dying too.

– Jack Gescheidt


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The Destruction Has Started in Sutro Forest

A short time ago, UCSF sent out a circular saying it was going to start the tree-felling in Sutro Forest. We were surprised, because they’re supposed to avoid doing this in the winter when the ground is unstable with rain, and in the spring and summer when it’s the bird-nesting season. Tree-felling season was supposed to be in the Fall. But no, it’s happening now and they intend to finish by March. Thousands of trees will be gone, and the forest as we know it will be severely depleted.

Well, it’s started. Recently, a forest-supporter sent us these pictures:

The email that accompanied the pictures was unhappy. “Not much of a canopy anymore. This sucks.”

“In that location there were also trees marked with red paint, presumably for future removal?” they said in a follow-up email regarding tree-cutting near Clarendon Avenue. “Feel free to use my photos on your site. It wasn’t very long ago when running or walking these trails transported you into a different almost magical world. Increasingly as more and more trees are cut down, the surrounding city intrudes. Thank you very much for your advocacy.


Tree cutting has started in the East Ridge area (above the UCSF student housing at Aldea), Clarendon area (parallel to Christopher Drive), the Woodland Canyon Area (below Medical Center Way), the Farnsworth area (between Edgewood Avenue and the UCSF campus).

These are, coincidentally, the areas of the forest that as long ago as 2009, UCSF had targeted for tree destruction. (This was back when they were seeking a FEMA grant to pay for it – which they withdrew when FEMA wanted evidence.)  The language of the memo presents this as removal of dead and dying trees, though we have concerns both about the definition of ‘dead and dying’ and about the habitat impact of so much tree removal. (And dead trees, are, in fact, a habitat treasure for wildlife.)

The memo says they plan to bring in goats to eat the understory in February 2019, but a subsequent memo says it’s happening earlier.

Anyway, what we can expect in Sutro Forest this year is a lot less forest – thousands of trees removed, missing canopy, and bare open patches where the understory is also gone.

We hope you have made memories of the beautiful forest as it used to be. This site has been fighting the battle since 2009; others started in 1999. Sadly, the Sutro Stewards, who partner with UCSF in working in this forest, support this felling of trees and destruction of the understory.

This 130-year-old forest is no longer going to be a forest. 




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Season’s Greetings!

Mount Sutro Cloud Forest

Photo credit: Paul Hudson

We’d like to bring you one of our favorite photographs of Sutro Forest, together with our best wishes to all our readers. Season’s Greetings to our forest lovers!

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Blackberry Provides Valuable Habitat

From time to time, over the years, we have written about the value of blackberry as habitat, and as part of this wonderful forest.  (See: Sutro Forest Ecosystem and Wildlife Habitat.)

Recently, wildlife photographer and observer Janet Kessler published this article on Coyote Yipps, documenting coyotes feeding on blackberry. It’s republished here with permission.


by Janet Kessler

[Click on the picture above for a 5-minute video of coyotes feeding on blackberry.]

Notice how gingerly the coyotes move around. That’s because thorns hurt them as much as they hurt us humans. Both coyotes carefully rummage through the patch of berries, picking just those that are perfectly ripe and delicious. They spent over half an hour doing so.

I’ve been noticing a lot of fruit seeds in coyote droppings everywhere lately, so coyotes all over are enjoying summer fruit. What I don’t know is if they are being drawn to the fruit simply because it is delicious and they like it, or if it is because their usual rodent pickings are scarcer at this time.

Please note that Himalayan Blackberries are an important food source, not just for coyotes, but for all sorts of wildlife, including birds, AND even we humans love to pick and eat them. They are a Horn-of-Plenty for so many species, not only as a food source, but also as an impenetrable, thorny thicket, which serves as a protective habitat barrier for wildlife from dogs and humans. It tends to be invasive, so it may need to be controlled in places, but let’s think twice about altogether exterminating such a useful plant.

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The Very Long Life of Eucalyptus Trees

From the time we established this website in 2009, we have battled a series of myths used to attack eucalyptus trees. One of the most pernicious is that the trees are short-lived, and so are dying of old age. We discovered that was not true, and dealt with it in our article, Eucalyptus Myths.

We are pleased to republish this very thorough article, which includes local examples of healthy eucalyptus trees over 150 years old. It is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, a website that fights unnecessary tree killing in the San Francisco Bay Area.




When the native plant movement began in earnest, about 25 years ago, its proponents weren’t expecting blowback from those who value the existing landscape. As far as they were concerned, the trees had to be destroyed solely because they “don’t belong here.”

When they started destroying our predominantly non-native urban forest, they learned that it wasn’t going to be as easy as they thought. They began to defend their destructive projects with cover stories to convince the public who didn’t share their devotion to native plants that it is necessary to destroy non-native trees because they are a threat to public safety and to wildlife.

One by one, we have debunked the myths that were used to justify the destruction of our urban forest:

Great horned owl in eucalyptus. Courtesy

  • About 20 years ago, one of the first myths was that eucalyptus trees kill birds. It is an absurd claim that is completely unsupported by reality. With a lot of careful research, we were eventually successful in convincing the public that birds are not harmed by eucalyptus. In fact, many bird species are dependent upon the trees for safe nesting and winter nectar. That myth is dead.
  • The claim that eucalyptus and other non-native trees are more flammable than native trees was a powerful narrative that was more difficult to kill. As wildfires have increased in frequency and intensity in California, that claim is no longer credible because every wildfire occurs in native vegetation. Again, this myth was eventually disproved by reality.
  • More recently, we have finally put to rest the claim that “nothing grows under eucalyptus.” This myth was based on a theory that eucalyptus emits allelopathic chemicals that prevent the growth of plants in the eucalyptus forest. Thanks to a recent, rigorous study done at Cal Poly, we know with confidence that the allelopathy story is another myth.

It was not surprising that the nativists, having run out of bogus justifications, created a new narrative. In parks that the East Bay Regional Parks District had been planning to thin, we began to see clear cuts. When we inquired about why it was necessary to destroy ALL of the trees, we were told they were hazardous. Then, in the minutes of a meeting of East Bay Regional Park District Park Advisory Committee , we saw the claim that eucalyptus lives only 50-60 years. Simultaneously, this claim was made in San Francisco by proponents of destroying all eucalyptus trees there.

We eventually tracked down the source of that lifespan estimate to a website called SelecTree, which originally said that the longevity of blue gums is only 50-150 years. We knew that isn’t an accurate estimate because of how long blue gums live in Australia and how long they have already lived in California. We provided that information to the authors of SelecTree and were able to get the estimate corrected to “greater than 150 years.” That’s not nearly long enough, but it is the longest lifespan estimate available on that website and it corresponds with many other trees, including native Coast Live Oak.

In the process of researching the lifespan of eucalyptus, we learned several interesting stories about blue gums that have lived in California for 150 years and are still going strong. We would like to share some of this information with our readers today.


Blue gum eucalyptus and all other species of eucalyptus are native to Australia. They were brought to California shortly after the Gold Rush of 1849. Since they haven’t been in California 200 years, we don’t know how long they will live here. But how long they live in Australia is obviously relevant to answer that question because longevity is specific to tree species. We can expect some variation by climate, but not much, and the climate of Australia is similar to the climate in California with wet, mild winters and hot, dry summers.

We know that blue gums live in Australia about 200-400 years because Australian scientists tell us that:

Growth Habits of the Eucalypts by M.R. Jacobs, (Institute of Foresters of Australia, 1955, 1986): Blue Gum eucalyptus lives in Australia from 200-400 years, depending upon the climate.” In milder climates, such as San Francisco, the Blue Gum lives toward the longer end of this range.

That reference was corroborated by John Helms, Professor Emeritus of Forestry at UC Berkeley and an Australian who said in response to our question about blue gums in California, “Blue gums would commonly live for 200 – 400 years, although I presume that some might live longer.”

We also asked the Australian National Botanic Gardens. They said, “It’s possible that the average lifespan of a native species growing in the wild in Australia would differ to the average lifespan of the same species introduced in northern California, since introduced plants can often “escape” their natural predators when such introductions occur.”

In other words, since eucalyptus trees have more predators in Australia than they do in California, we should expect them to live longer here. This is called the “predator release” hypothesis. Ironically, that hypothesis is used by nativists to support their claim that eucalyptus is invasive in California. (California Invasive Plant Council rates the “invasiveness” of blue gum as “limited.) It’s only logical to apply that hypothesis to the question of how long blue gums will live in California.


However, using actual experience in Australia to predict the future of blue gums in California requires some speculation. Therefore, we turned to the question of how long they have lived in California for guidance. We found several interesting local stories about blue gums that were planted in California 150 years ago and remain healthy and vigorous today.

There are many examples of blue gums being planted as street trees in California about 150 years ago. One of the most well-known examples is the city of Burlingame on the San Francisco peninsula. When the City was founded in the 1870s, John McLaren was hired to plant trees to provide a much needed windbreak because the City was nearly treeless, as was the entire San Francisco peninsula. McLaren planted over 500 eucalyptus (blue gum and manna) along the main highway through Burlingame, along with a row of English elms. John McLaren was subsequently hired by the city of San Francisco, where he planted many more eucalypts while serving as superintendent of the parks department for 53 years.

The eucalypts in Burlingame are still thriving, but the elms have been dead for about 60 years. SelecTree says the longevity of English elms is “greater than 150 years,” the longest category of longevity published by SelecTree and completely open-ended.

El Camino Real bordered by Eucalyptus trees. Burlingame, SF Bay area, California, USA

The people of Burlingame greatly value their eucalypts and designated them as “heritage trees” in 1975 under a local ordinance. That local legal status did not protect them from several attempts by Caltrans to destroy the trees. The people of Burlingame came to the defense of the trees and were eventually successful in getting permanent legal status to protect 2.2 miles of the trees. That section of El Camino Real in Burlingame lined with eucalyptus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Caltrans is now working cooperatively with the people of Burlingame to address safety concerns while “also keeping an eye to the prized grove of eucalyptus trees along the street.” A task force was formed in 2018 to discuss these issues. The City of Burlingame remains committed to the preservation of these trees, which suggests that they have a future there. (1)

The life span of street trees is generally much shorter than trees planted as forests because they are subjected to more wind and polluted air of heavily traveled roads, such as El Camino Real. Although blue gums have passed the test of those challenging conditions with flying colors, they have not been planted as street trees for decades. Their out-sized scale makes them unsuitable for that purpose. If blue gums can survive as street trees on heavily traveled roads, they can surely survive longer in the protection of their neighbors in forests.


The blue gums on the campus of Stanford University are another example of 150 year-old blue gums that are very much alive. Although blue gums were included in the campus landscape design of Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s, many of the blue gums actually predate his design: “Several hundred mighty giants on the campus date back prior to 1870 when Leland Stanford acquired several farm properties, one of which already had avenues of gum trees. They are mostly Tasmanian blue gums and red gums with a sprinkling of manna trees.”

Eucalyptus on Stanford campus

That description of the old blue gums was written in 1971. The trees are still alive and well. I worked on the Stanford campus for 10 years and walked among those trees at every opportunity.


Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1860s. Like most of the East Bay, the site was treeless. Olmsted’s design was an eclectic collection of mostly non-native trees, including blue gums. The cemetery is on steep, windward facing hills, where the windbreak provided by blue gums is particularly valued.

Eucalyptus in Mountain View Cemetery, planted on an unirrigated windward facing hill. 2017

Olmsted designed a straight avenue through the cemetery lined with magnolia trees. Many of the magnolia trees have died and those that remain are in poor condition. SelecTree claims that the life span of Southern magnolia is “greater than 150 years,” which is contradicted by our local experience.

The current owner of the cemetery destroyed many of the blue gums about 5 years ago, in the middle of the extreme drought. He replaced many of the blue gums with redwoods. The redwoods are irrigated and are still surviving. I did not object to the removal of the blue gums because they are on private property. I confine my advocacy to healthy trees on public land.


SelecTree has revised its listing of blue gum longevity based on the information we provided. The myth that our blue gums are dying of old age will not die as easily. We will have to repeat this information many times and in many different venues, just as we did for every other myth. If and when that particular myth dies, we can be sure there will be another waiting in the wings. Ideologies stubbornly persist, despite contradictory evidence. And yet, we just as stubbornly persist in defense of our urban forest.

(1) Here is the public record, on which my report about the trees in Burlingame is based:


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UCSF to Start Cutting Trees in Fall 2018 – “Final EIR” Published

UCSF has issued its proposed Final Environmental Impact Report. (You can read it here as a PDF. It’s more than 2000 pages. Mount Sutro Vegetation Management Plan 2018 Final EIR_Full Document

They expect to have it certified by the Board of Regents soon. [Edited to add on May 5 2018: UCSF has announced the plan is approved. “Earlier this week, UCSF’s Chancellor approved the final plan following the certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report. Now that the plan is approved and finalized, UCSF can begin implementation in September, after the end of bird-nesting season.”]

This will mean they will start cutting down thousands of trees this Fall, probably in mid-August September 2018. If you love this forest, visit it now. It’s going to look very different by this time next year.


A lot of trees are already gone, cut down in the name of “safety.” This is true not only of the UCSF section of the forest, but also in the Interior Green Belt (the city-owned portion.)

It’s also going to be bad for carbon sequestration; a rough calculation made by the Nature Conservancy estimated that 1 acre of trees was equivalent to preventing a year’s emission by 30 cars. Cutting down trees here will release a lot of Green House gases.

We also expect poorer air quality. These trees fight particulate pollution, at least while they’re standing.

In both the short and long term, there may well be issues of slope stability. The trees, and their intergrafted roots, stabilize the slopes like a deep living geotextile. The trees also precipitate fog, keeping the surface soil damp, but use the moisture at the lower levels and thus prevent the soil from getting deeply saturated. As to roots of the felled trees die, the geotextile starts to decay. Meanwhile, the trees are no longer drying the deeper soil. The landslide risk could remain for years after the trees are felled, waiting for the right circumstances.

All the wiggly black lines in the map below indicate soil creep direction, and the straight double arrows show the direction of potential landslides.

Posted in Environment, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, Mt Sutro landslide risk, UCSF | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Two Nativist Myths: Eucalyptus Kills Other Plants; Mutually Exclusive Relationships are Common in Nature

We re-publish with permission (and added emphasis) an article from, a website that fights the unnecessary felling of trees in the Bay Area. The article, a report from someone who attended the February 2018 meeting of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), is important for two reasons:

  1. It has some notes from the presentation made by Dr Yost on the myth of eucalyptus allelopathy. (There is more information in this article on, the website of the San Francisco Forest Alliance: The Myth That Nothing Grows Under Eucalyptus.)
  2. It highlights one of the important myths of nativism: Mutually exclusive co-evolution.

One reason nativists believe it is important to “restore” native plants is that they believe that wildlife depends on these specific plants. If this was actually true, then destroying those plants would endanger wildlife higher up in the food chain, and potentially collapse the ecosystem. Doug Tallamy popularized this theory to non-scientists.

Do mutually exclusive relationships exist? Yes – but they’re rare. And they’re rare for a reason: They can’t handle change, and change is the norm for ecosystems. What’s much more normal in nature is adaptability – wildlife adapts to its environment, whether new food sources or new threats.  The result of change is often more diversity, not less.

The risk now is that a large number of people are invested in nativist theories – and practice, most of which involves chainsaws, pesticides, and digging up plants in a strange effort to garden the wilderness.

The abstracts from the CNPS conference are available here: CNPS 2018 technical-presentation-abstracts-by-session


I am pleased to publish the following report of one of our readers who attended the conference of the California Native Plant Society in Los Angeles at the beginning of February 2018. 

Million Trees

I attended the last conference of the California Native Plant Society in San Jose in January 2015.  It was interesting to note a few significant new themes in the recent conference in 2018.  Both fire and climate change were much more prominent themes in the recent conference.  While both are relevant to the future of native plants, neither seemed to have any effect on the “restoration” goals of the native plant movement.  For example, there were several presentations about massive die offs of native oak trees, resulting from higher temperatures, drought, and disease.  These presentations ended with urgent pleas to plant more oaks.  That seemed a fundamental contradiction and a denial of the reality of climate change.  When the climate changes, the landscape changes, but native plant advocates are not willing to acknowledge that.  In fact, the greater the threats to native plants, the greater the commitment to their preservation and “restoration.”


The conference began on a low point for me, but a high point for most attendees of the conference.  The keynote speaker was Doug Tallamy.  He was introduced as a “rock star” of the native plant movement, and indeed he is.  His presentation was very effective in delivering his message, which is that most insects are “specialists” with mutually exclusive relationships with native plants that evolved over “tens of thousands of years.”  If you believe that claim, you also believe that the absence of native plants will result in the absence of insects and ultimately the collapse of the entire food web.

Doug Tallamy’s closing photo, CNPS Conference 2018

Most native plant advocates believe that gloomy scenario, but few scientists still do, which creates a tension within this community of native plant advocates composed predominantly of amateur “botanists” and a smattering of academic ecologists.

For example, one of the first presentations after Tallamy’s keynote was an academic ecologist from UC Berkeley who advocated for accommodating the movement of plants outside of historical native ranges to accommodate climate change. (1) He said that restoring only with local natives is “maladaptive” and that a bioregional perspective is needed to create sustainable landscapes.  Allowing Monterey pines to grow in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they have grown in the past and are presently deemed “native” just 150 miles away, seems a good example of such a broader definition of “native.”  An amateur nativist, parroting Tallamy, asked this hostile question: “But if we move the plants how will wildlife survive?”  The academic delivered this tart dose of reality: “There are few mutually exclusive relationships in nature.  Wildlife will also move and will adapt to changes in vegetation.”

Science debunks a myth about eucalyptus

The high point of the conference for me was a presentation by Jennifer Yost, Assistant Professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  She and her graduate student studied the claim that nothing grows under blue gum eucalyptus trees because of allelopathic chemicals emitted by eucalyptus that suppress the germination of other species of plants.  Two studies of this hypothesis were done in the 1960s, but the analytical methods used by those studies were misleading.

CNPS Conference 2018

Rigorous methods used by Yost’s team included planting seeds of 5 native plant species in the soil of eucalyptus forests and comparing germination rates of seeds planted in the soil of oak woodlands.  They also tested the effect of blue gum volatile leaf extracts, and water-soluble leaf extracts on germination and early seedling growth.

They concluded, “In these experiments, we found that germination and seedling growth of the species tested were not inhibited by chemical extracts of blue gum foliage, either at naturally-occurring or artificially concentrated levels.” (2)

CNPS Conference 2018

Yost observed that the lack of allelopathic effects of blue gum on the soil implies that blue gum forests theoretically can be successfully planted with native plants after removal of the trees.  However, she cautioned that those who destroy the blue gums should carefully consider what will replace them.  Will an aggressive non-native weed quickly colonize the bare ground?  If so, what is the benefit of destroying the blue gums? 

I had a conversation with one of the most influential nativists in the San Francisco Bay Area after Yost’s presentation.  This new scientific information does not alter his commitment to destroying blue gum eucalyptus in the Bay Area.  After all, there are many more negative claims that remain unchallenged by scientific studies.  For example, there are no studies that prove that blue gums use more water than native trees, as nativists claim.  Nor are there any studies that prove that eucalyptus leaves contain less moisture than the leaves of native oak or bay laurel trees, which theoretically makes eucalyptus more flammable, as nativists claim.  The lack of scientific evidence enables the persistence of speculation justifying irrational fear of blue gum eucalyptus.

Nativism dies hard because of lack of scientific studies

There appeared to be three distinct groups of people in the crowd of about 900 conferees.  There was a large contingent of grey-haired volunteers who are the backbone of every native plant “restoration.”  They are the dedicated weed pullers.  There is an equally large contingent of young people who are making their living writing the “restoration” plans and directing the activities of the volunteers.  The smallest contingent is a few academic scientists who study the underlying issues in their ivory tower.  The goals and conclusions of these three groups are increasingly divergent as scientific studies disprove the assumptions of the citizen “scientists.”

The tension between science and the citizenry is as evident within the native plant movement as it is in American politics at the present time. The general public rejects scientific evidence at its peril.  The rejection of science will not end well.  In the case of uninformed nativism in the natural world, the result will be a barren, poisoned landscape.

  1. “Climate change and open space conservation: Lessons from TBC3’s researcher-land manager partnerships in the San Francisco Bay Area,” David Ackerly1, Naia Morueta-Holme5, Sam Veloz3, Lisa Micheli2, Nicole Heller4 1University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA, 2Pepperwood, Santa Rosa, CA, USA, 3Point Blue Conservation Science, Petaluma, CA, USA, 4Peninsula Open Space Trust, Palo Alto, CA, USA, 5University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. Abstracts of CNPS conference presentations are available here:  CNPS Conference abstracts
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Bad News from Sutro Forest – Clearcuts in Interior Green Belt

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

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

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

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

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

BACK IN 1958

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

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

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


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


Posted in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, Natural areas Program | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Season’s Greetings!

It’s the holiday season again, and we’d like to wish all our readers and supporters all the best, for this season and for the year ahead.

Painting by Brian Stewart

We’d like to celebrate with this quiet painting by artist Brian Stewart, showing bees on eucalyptus flowers.

As the world’s tallest flowering plant, and one that blooms year-round, eucalyptus gives sustenance to a host of creatures: Bees and other insects, birds that feed on the nectar or the insects, or nest in and on the tree. To us, this tree symbolizes the giving spirit of the season.


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Lest We Forget (2): Sutro Forest 2007

This website was set up only in 2009, and except for a few pictures of San Francisco in the old days, most of our photographs come from June 2009 or later. Hiker Tony Holiday (who blogs at Stairways are Heaven) shared with us some pictures from before that. These are from 2007; in an earlier post, we published pictures from 2004, 2005, and 2006 to recall the beauty and density of the forest before most of the “work” started and before most of the tree-felling started. We publish them here with permission.


These pictures, taken on a hike in 2007, show the lush green forest in the early days of the “work” when the main objective was opening the trails. This was something everyone could get behind.

The forest, green and lush in January as it was in May. The forest gets rain in winter, and cloud forest precipitation in summer. It’s green year-round.

The tank picture below shows the original trailhead for the upper Historic Trail. Later, they opened the trail right off the road as it is now.” – Tony Holiday

The forest is always green except where it’s opened up and dries out. The picture below shows the summit, which is the driest part of the mountain. Even in winter, the grasses quickly dry.

While Sutro Stewards and UCSF were mainly building trails, they got a lot of public support. But later, when they supported destroying trees and the forest’s ecology, forest-lovers realized the need to work to save this beautiful ecosystem.

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Lest We Forget: Sutro Forest – 2004, 2005, 2006

This website was set up only in 2009, and except for a few pictures of San Francisco in the old days, most of our photographs come from June 2009 or later.  Hiker Tony Holiday (who blogs at Stairways are Heaven) shared with us some pictures from before that – between 2004 and 2006. We publish them here with his permission, to recall the beauty and density of the forest before most of the “work” started and before most of the tree-felling started. (Later on, we’ll publish some 2007 pictures of the forest as well.)

[Edited to add: We did. Lest We Forget (2): Sutro Forest  2007]


This is Medical Center Way, a paved road that runs north-south through the forest and connects the Aldea Student Housing with the UCSF campus. The beautiful eucalyptus trees festooned with ivy come right up to its edge.


Here’s the summit garden in 2004, with flowers in bloom.

Here are more wildflowers, also from May 2004.

What a change from now – same place !” commented Tony. He’s right. The summit seldom manages to look like this any more. In the early days of the garden, an extensive irrigation system was installed. (You can see the pipe in the picture above.) They stopped irrigating it after 4 years, we’ve heard. This must have been while it was still being watered. For contrast, here’s a picture taken in May 2010.

And here’s yet another from 2004 – a lovely nasturtium understory under the eaves of the forest. (The nasturtiums need no watering.)


This is the trailhead from Crestmont, in the Forest Knolls neighborhood, in 2005.

Another view of the trailhead, showing the wooden steps and flowers planted beside them. A graceful entrance to the forest with trees standing sentinel on either side.

And here are two from Medical Center Way again, still looking like a woodland road under a tree canopy.


Here are some lovely Sutro Cloud Forest pictures from 2006.

The hiker half-hidden behind the tree gives a sense of scale and mystery. The picture below, taken in July 2006 shows how lush the forest used to be before the “thinning” started.

These rocks are the Fairy Gates that give the Fairy Gates Trail its name. (One of the originators of this trail, long before it was tidied up and reopened, objected to the name. He called it the Topo Trail.)

Here’s a view of the UCSF Chancellor’s Residence through the trees. With the forest at its back and a view over the city at the front, it must be one of the best houses in San Francisco.

Another pretty trail picture from 2006:

A view of the trailhead off Medical Center Way

And the steps leading down to the UCSF campus


Back when I went on these group hikes they were just opening the upper Historic and Mystery Trails to the public. The lower Historic had not been opened yet.” – Tony Holiday

Tony also sent us these pictures from a group hike:

Back then I took group hikes and was totally innocent re efforts planned to thin out the forest !!” – Tony Holiday

Thank you, Tony, for this time machine. It reminds us of what the forest could be again if they stop fighting resurgent nature.


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Furious Letter from a Forest Lover

We received this letter from a long-time hiker in Sutro Forest, who is aghast at the destruction there. We publish it unedited.


“Dear fellow environmentalists and friends of Mount Sutro Forest …

I am lately shocked and horrified even more than usual by the great harm being done to Mount Sutro.

The despicable monsters who are responsible for this ongoing destruction should be jailed/fined for crimes against the environment.

First of all, the trees at the Belgrave trailhead have been felled and huge logs lie across the ivy.

Sutro Cloud Forest - Belgrave Trailhead with felled trees - 2017

Sutro Cloud Forest – Belgrave Trailhead with felled trees – 2017

As you climb higher up, it fortunately (so far) looks as gorgeous as ever — but this was such a shock…

How could these misguided tree killers be allowed to continue to destroy Sutro Forest and other parks and green spaces?

Irreparable harm is being done to the upper Historic Trail also, as well as the other trails. Logs and branches were all over and huge trunks along the trails, some where sawdust was still on the trail next to the doomed tree. Of course it was unnaturally dry where these crazies have done their damage.

It would improve my mood greatly to see the demise of these destructive, antienvironment tree-haters.

What was supposed to be a peaceful nature appreciation hike turned out to also be a bummer as not only did I note with horror the destruction of beautiful, big, healthy trees, but all along the trails as well were the big green dots on other trees that were marked for murder by this bunch of environmental criminals.

It appears they would like nothing more than to make Mount Sutro as bare as Twin Peaks and Bernal Heights Park.


We’re saddened  that two entrances to the forest that were absolutely magical are now … ordinary. The entrance at Belgrave was a couple of posts leading to a narrow winding trail amid tall trees. Once you stepped inside, it was another world.

Sutro Cloud Forest - San Francisco CA - Belgrave Trailhead 2006

Sutro Cloud Forest – Belgrave Trailhead 2006

The entrance to the Stanyan trail was similar – a sudden, miraculous transition from an pleasant residential area into a fairy-tale forest in the heart of the city. Those entrance trees are also gone, victims of “tree-work” after the Stanyan trail was opened up.



Posted in deforestation, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

“Hazardous Tree Work” – Cutting Down Trees on Mount Sutro This Winter

Well, the nesting season is over – and the cutting is starting.

On Nov 9, 2017  we received a notice from UCSF that they are starting “hazardous tree work” on Monday November 13. 2017.  They plan on cutting down 50 trees and pruning about 200.  Since “hazard” is a popular excuse when people want to cut down trees, we asked for documentation that the trees are actually hazardous.

We won’t get it before work starts – Friday Nov 10, 2017 UCSF was closed for Veteran’s Day, then it’s the weekend, and then work starts Monday Nov 13. However, it is going to continue intermittently through January 2018, so we will update you when we know more. The UCSF notice is below:

UCSF’s NOTICE – NOV 9, 2017

Here’s the notice:


UCSF Hazardous Tree Work

Dear Neighbors:
UCSF is scheduling hazardous tree trimming and removal starting Monday, November 13. The work will occur along the Historic, Northridge, Clarendon, Fairy Gate, and potentially East Ridge trails. We estimate that approximately 50 trees will be removed, and 200 trees will be pruned.

The work is expected to occur intermittently through January, 2018. The work will be done using chainsaws and hand tools, which will generate noise in the area. UCSF’s good neighbor commitment limits noisy work on weekdays to between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. During the work, the affected trails will be closed, and visitors will be redirected. Signs will indicate where trail closures will occur.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact Lily Wong at (415) 476-8318 or email at


We are pleased that they are actually pruning trees instead of cutting them all down. But we suspect that the tree-cutting activity planned by UCSF is more aggressive than safety demands. They have not been good at identifying hazardous trees. A recent tree-fall in the Aldea campus was from a tree that was considered safe, according to Julie Sutton, (UCSF’s arborist managing this forest). Meanwhile, over a thousand trees have been cut down over the last few years.

UCSF needs to be more aware of the risks of thinning the forest and destroying its capacity to hold moisture. This impacts many safety issues, including slope stabilization, forest health, and windthrow.

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Barn Owl in Sutro Forest

Evening visitors to the Sutro Forest have long known that Great Horned Owls live or visit there.  They’re specially easy to hear, with soft resonant hoots.

Dusk, mist, Great Horned Owl

Last night, it was a Barn Owl, which is less easy to see. This account is republished with permission  from, a website/ blog for the neighborhood just south of Sutro Forest.


I was driving west along Clarendon Avenue, heading homeward. As I slid into the turn lane to make a right on Christopher, something white lay on the side of the road. I slowed nearly to a stop, unsure what it was. Then I recognized it as a barn owl, wings spread. My fear was that it might be injured, perhaps from hitting a car.

To my relief, it rose into the air and disappeared into the trees of Sutro Forest, a rodent clutched in the talons of its right foot. It must have just caught it. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But I was in even more luck! As I turned right, it sailed out of the forest ahead of me, looped over Christopher Dr, and flew back to a tree beside the street. Then it took off again, but only went a little deeper into the forest.

The last time I saw a barn owl in Forest Knolls was seven years ago: Evening Walk with Owl and Moon

Later, I went back. The owl was there, but difficult to see in the darkness. I heard rustling sounds that suggested it was eating the rodent it had caught. I tried getting photographs, but both my phone and camera rebelled at the darkness. This picture is an edited public domain photograph.

So if you hear hisses, screeches, and rasping noises from the forest – or around our neighborhood – it’s barn owls on rodent patrol. (Also, please don’t use rodenticides, especially slow-acting ones like brodifacoum. It could kill the owl.)

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Monarch Butterfly at Twin Peaks – Oct 2017

A few days ago, a viewer watching the planes rehearse for Fleet Week spotted a different kind of aerial phenomenon: Monarch butterflies, fluttering around over Twin Peaks.

“I was driving by Twin Peaks,” they wrote, “and paused to watch the stunt airplanes… and I saw several Monarch butterflies. I had a hard time getting a photo, but here’s a blurry one.” They ended with a plea to photographers armed with something more than an iPhone:  “Someone, please get some better shots?

Will these butterflies overwinter in the eucalyptus forests on Mount Sutro and Mount Davidson? They may very well do so. It’s excellent habitat. We’re reprising below part of an article written after a visit to Natural Bridges State Park, where these insects regularly roost.

This is particularly crucial in view of UCSF’s plans to cut down thousands of trees on Mount Sutro – according to the 2017 Draft Environmental Impact Report, as many as 4,500 trees in the first year alone, and 6,000 in Phase I (the first five years).

Excerpts from


We’d read that Monarchs might feed from eucalyptus flowers, which provide a winter resource to so much wildlife. That proved to be true. Looking through binoculars, we saw the eucalyptus flowers far overhead were full of butterflies.

We knew, of course, that Monarchs depend on eucalyptus trees along the West Coast. What we also learned was that other so-called “invasive” plants also help Monarch butterflies to survive. The boardwalk trail has interpretive signs with infographics. We found this one, Nourishing Nectar, particularly interesting.

nourishing nectar sign about Monarch butterfliesEnglish ivy is one of the key plant species of Sutro Forest – and it’s under attack in both the old and new Plan for Sutro Forest. Since the Monarch butterflies found its nectar a nourishing snack, surely this would also be true of other nectar-feeders. Are UCSF – and the Sutro Stewards who do much of the actual work – aware of the habitat destruction killing this ivy causes?

cape ivy

Cape Ivy provides cover and habitat

We didn’t see English ivy in bloom at Natural Bridges State Park this December. Maybe as a fall-flowering plant, its season was over. But Cape Ivy around the tree trunks had small yellow flowers that offered the Monarch butterflies another snack.

monarch butterfly nectaring on Cape Ivy 2

Monarch Butterfly nectaring on Cape Ivy Flower

Cape Ivy is also one of the plants in the understory of Sutro Forest, and it’s being targeted for destruction along with English ivy. Yet its nectar clearly has nutritional value for insects and thus, it has a place in the food chain. And it’s obviously important as habitat and cover for small birds.


We were interested to learn that, unlike the Monarchs east of the Rockies (which migrate from Canada to Mexico and back), the butterflies in the West migrate between the interior and the coast.  The butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains go south to Mexico in winter. The butterflies on the Western side come to the California coast.

fallmigrationmap usfwsThe Monarchs in the Western migration depend heavily on non-native, naturalized species of plants. Some 75% of the Monarch roosts are mainly eucalyptus. In fact, eucalyptus, Monterey Pine, and Monterey Cypress (which nativists consider an “non-native” species outside the Monterey Peninsula) account for around 90% of the tree species they use.

But as we saw, they also draw sustenance from Fall and Winter-blooming ‘weeds’ like English ivy and Cape ivy. This can be critical – the Fall generation of these butterflies is the longest-lived, and makes the migration to the Coast and back again that preserves the species. The extra nutrition improves their likelihood of surviving.

Western migration explanation

Of course, it’s not just naturalized plants. Milkweed is the Monarch’s nursery plant; that’s where it lays its eggs and where its larvae feed. The main threat to the Eastern migration – which has been declining sharply – is that farmers use more pesticides than ever to eradicate weeds, and the butterflies are simply not finding enough of it. There’s a move to grow more milkweed.

Meanwhile, it’s crucial to preserve the Western migration, which seems robust for now. What would happen if the eucalyptus that shelters these butterflies are felled?

[Edited to Add: Apparently it’s NOT robust. See the comments.]

It could happen. We don’t think that anyone would cut down trees that are well-known as Monarch roosts – as in Natural Bridges State Beach. But in some years, the butterflies spill out into other trees, and could potentially establish new overwintering sites. Two years ago, they even came to San Francisco.


The whole area we visited was a lively habitat of naturalized plants. Eucalyptus. Ivy. Blackberry. Grasses. It was full of wildlife, and not just butterflies. We saw a lot of birds, and heard the rustles and twitters of even more. A Townsend’s warbler made a brief appearance before diving back into cover. And high above, we heard a woodpecker – maybe a Downy – in a eucalyptus tree.

woodpecker tree

maybe downy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker?

Native plant advocates say that native plants provide superior habitat for native species of animal life. There’s no evidence that this is true. Some few species of insects are tied to particular plants, but even then, the rapid reproduction rates of insects suggests that they would evolve to use new plant species once they’re plentiful enough. A great example: How the soapberry bug adapted to use a new food source – in only 100 generations (about 20-50 years).

All the evidence is that naturalized plants provide a resilient and rich habitat for a range of animal species – and with no extra effort from land managers. We only have to avoid destroying them.


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Disturbing Sutro Forest Would Release a Lot of Green House Gases

We’ve pointed out before that Sutro Forest is an excellent carbon sink: The trees are tall, fast growing and have dense wood. In some parts of the forest, the mid-story of blackwood acacia boosts this carbon storage as well. The understory is lush and evergreen. The forest floor is damp most of the time. It’s practically the perfect carbon forest. It’s also a special ecosystem and excellent wildlife  habitat.

Disturbing this forest is going to release Green House Gases (GHG), and the Sutro Forest DEIR (where the deadline for comments closed on September 22nd) underestimates how much. Here, we publish with permission the comment from Eric Brooks. He’s the Sustainability Chair, San Francisco Green Party and Campaign Coordinator, Our City SF. [Please note: all the photographs in this article are ours and not part of the comment sent to UCSF.]


Comments To: Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) – UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan

Fundamental GHG Calculation Flaws & Neglect of Wildlife Habitat Retention Strategy

To all concerned with the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan,

I write to raise very serious concerns about very fundamental and deep flaws in the Draft EIR (DEIR) assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed project and related wildlife habitat impacts.

The assessment has key and deep flaws in its methodology for greenhouse gas assessment, and must be fundamentally changed, and the assessment completely redone.

1) The first deep flaw in the methodology and assessment is the assumption on page 4.7-3 that:

“Forest‐soil carbon is a large, stable pool, accounting for some 50 percent of the total forest carbon and changing very slowly over hundreds of years (Kimmins 1997). For timeframes of 100 years and less, forest accounting can ignore this pool and focus on changes to more labile forest carbon components (i.e., trees, understory, litter).”

This assumption is simply not correct and completely ignores the fact that when forest soils become both disturbed and more exposed to the elements, due to tree and vegetation removal, vast amounts of carbon in the form of CO2 and methane are released *from* the soil. The greenhouse gas emissions calculations and assessment must therefore be completely redone to include soil carbon losses in the calculations.

2) The second deep fundamental flaw in the DIER greenhouse gas assessment is its reliance on the Significance Criteria under section 4.7.5 on page 4.7-10

This criteria is solely an arbitrary emissions cap and is the wrong criteria. The only proper criteria by which to assess greenhouse gas emissions of a forest is to compare its net carbon sequestration and emissions before disturbance, to its net sequestration and emissions after disturbance, in order to make a comprehensive assessment of its full internal net sequestration and emissions impacts – including all soil impacts and carbon losses and sequestration. It is the percentage net increase of greenhouse gas emissions in any given forest that matter, not an arbitrary cap on a specific emissions number which is not related to the full carbon cycle of that specific forest.

Therefore this assessment must be fully redone to examine solely the correct net sequestration and emissions, from the forest area that will be managed, accounting for all factors, and also accounting for the fact that near term net emissions over the next 20 years are the most significant because it is over the next 20 years that the planet is hitting a wide array of extremely dangerous climate crisis tipping points, and also because that is the proper window in which to analyze the forcing effect of methane (about 87 times higher than CO2 under that time frame).

3) Besides, and partly because of, the completely incorrect omission of soil carbon loss in the assessment, the net sequestration/emissions calculations in section 4.7 are far too optimistic and appear to be incorrect. This section does not properly and fully account for all emissions and sequestration losses, with an eye to new data which shows that after forests are disturbed it takes at least a century, and likely longer, for a disturbed forest to return to net sequestration of carbon. See links below which discuss these dynamics and which can serve as a starting point for redesigning and redoing your greenhouse gas analysis to make it an accurate one.

4) Chipping of felled and downed trees induces them to lose their carbon to the atmosphere much more rapidly. This assessment must be redone to show options for not chipping felled and downed trees at all, and instead leaving these trees intact, and on site, both as snags and downed trees. (See point 5.)

Chipping in Sutro Forest – 2016

5) Removing any vegetation (especially trees, including dead and felled trees) from a forest, drastically reduces the ecological capacity of that forest to uptake, store and retain carbon, and also dramatically reduces the crucial role of intact dead and dying trees to serve as wildlife habitat.

This DEIR contains no management assessment or mitigation plans that would call for a dramatic reduction in tree felling and removals in order to leave the forest and its soils as undisturbed as possible in order to maximize carbon sequestration, and maximize wildlife density and biodiversity through enhanced intact habitat. See the third link below to the report “The Myth of Catastrophic Wildfire” by expert forest ecologist Chad Hanson, PhD, to get a sense of, and some numbers on, the importance of leaving dead and dying trees intact and on site in a forest.

This assessment must be completely redone to show a management and mitigation option which *only* removes dead and dying trees *which pose a direct threat to human health and safety and property integrity* while leaving all other trees in the forest undisturbed. This assessment must include both net greenhouse gas, and wildlife density and diversity impacts.


Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks – Sebastiaan Luyssaert, et al
(contains extensive data showing that forests store more carbon the less they are disturbed)

Forest Carbon Basics – Mark E. Harmon, PhD (contains basic numbers for how forest and soil carbon dynamics operate over both short and long term timescales and shows clearly that disturbed forests store less carbon for a century or longer)

Click to access Forest_Carbon_Basics-Harmon.pdf

The Myth of Catastrophic Wildfire – Chad Hansen, PhD
(See pages 19, 22 and 23 *and* referenced documents and studies)

Click to access TheMythOfTheCatastrophicWildfireReport.pdf

Thanks for your attention to this extremely important matter.

Eric Brooks
Sustainability Chair, San Francisco Green Party
Campaign Coordinator, Our City SF

Sutro Forest

Sutro Forest viewed from Forest Knolls

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What Will Sutro Forest Look Like After the Plan?

It’s going to look pretty awful in Sutro Forest when UCSF implement the Plan.
The most immediate action: Cut down thousands of trees. Here’s what the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) says:

“The density of the forest would experience the most rapid decrease during Phase I of the plan. The largest number of trees and largest amount of vegetation would be removed during Phase I to manage forest treatments areas, defensible space, and native restoration areas.”

Phase I is what will start immediately after the Environmental Impact Report is certified, probably this Fall.

  • They will widen two of the major trails into roads suitable for heavy machinery.
  • They will clear NINE quarter-acre “staging areas” for machinery. (Bear in mind we’re speaking of a forest that is only 59 acres in total!)
  • They will remove a *lot* of trees, especially on the South Ridge.
  • They will shrink the total area of the forest by about a third.

The impact is going to be Significant and Unavoidable, according to the DEIR.

The “Aesthetics” section of the DEIR shows “before” and simulated “after” pictures of the forest from 5 strategically selected vantage points, or “Key Observation Points.” (The map showing where they are is at the end of this article.)


Only one of the Key Observation Points  is outside the forest, and for some quixotic reason, it’s taken from Midtown Terrace, from a location where there’s no clear view of the forest. There are no simulations of the look from the communities immediately surrounding the forest – Cole Valley, Forest Knolls, Inner Sunset, even though the DEIR notes that those neighbors are most aware of how the forest looks. There’s no simulation from the obvious viewpoint, Twin Peaks.

For the external view, they admit: “…the removal of trees would reduce forest density and create a gap near the south side of the Reserve…” but deny it’s significant. We were unable to replicate the picture that UCSF has in its DEIR.  But here they are. They show barely any change.

We doubt this is accurate, and we don’t think they’re considering the impact of all the other tree removals for the road, the staging areas, and the groups of trees they just want to cut down.

Here’s our picture of Sutro Forest from the South –  from Twin Peaks – before tree-felling.

Here’s our own  best guess simulation of what it will look like after they’ve hacked down many of the South Ridge trees. We’re using a basic Paint program, so it’s crude, but we think it gives a better idea. (This may even be optimistic.)

Or, when they eventually manage to destroy all the trees…

From the Cole Valley side, UCSF provides no simulation at all. Yet one of the major areas for tree removal lies just above Medical Center Way, the paved road that bifurcates the forest. Here’s the view from Tank Hill:

Here’s what would happen with removal of the large trees above Medical Center Way.

And then – if the trees gradually get removed, maybe it will return to this. (The second picture below is an actual photograph from before the trees were planted.)


The Aesthetics section argues that for hikers, the dead trees uglify the forest. We suspect that the authors of the study have no understanding of how a naturalized forest looks. It’s supposed to have trees in all conditions – they all have a part to play in the forest’s ecology.

They show four simulations from inside the forest, of dubious accuracy. The pictures show many trees gone, but they show a lot of understory remaining – even though the plan is to gut the understory.

The first picture looks like a forest. The second – well it’s a trail, with some trees around. And they show distant views, which in real life will only appear a few days each year – this is, after all, a Cloud Forest right inside the Fog Belt. Much of the year, it’s look like this.

If you love the mysterious, green, dense Cloud Forest on Mount Sutro, you should plan to make memories really soon. And get your comments to UCSF in.  If the Plan is implemented this year, as is planned, the forest you know will be gone in months.


They should be sent by email (EIR at planning.ucsf. edu) or mail to Ms
Diane Wong, at UCSF Campus Planning, 654 Minnesota Street, San Francisco,
CA 94143-0286. Phone 415-502-5952

Also write to:
1) Governor Jerry Brown, c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA
95814. Phone 916-445-2841; Fax 916-558-3160
2) The UC Board of Regents. Address: Office of the Secretary and Chief of
Staff to the Regents, 1111 Franklin St, 12th Floor, Oakland, CA 94607
Fax (510) 987-9224. Their email address is
3) Dr S. Hawgood, Chancellor, University of California, San Francisco
513 Parnassus Avenue S-126, San Francisco, CA 94143-0402, Phone 415-476-1000
Email or
4) Vice Chancellor Barbara French –
5) Copy to Supervisor Norman Yee –
6) If you could copy us at that would be


Here’s the map of the Key Observation Points (including the only one from outside the forest – in Midtown Terrace).



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Sutro Forest Plan: Heavy Machinery in Unstable Areas

Recently, we wrote that the  Sutro Forest 2017 Plan Imposes a Landslide Risk. A University of Washington study shows that mudslides are most like 5-10 years after trees have been cut down on slopes. The picture below shows the South Ridge, which will be directly affected.

But it’s not just the tree-cutting. UCSF is widening two major trails into roads fit for heavy equipment, and adding nine quarter-acre “staging areas” for machines and felled trees. Both the roads are above Forest Knolls. (The heavy yellow lines in the map below are the new roads. The red squares are the locations of the staging areas, each of which will be a quarter acre.)

The picture at the top of this article gives some indication of how steep the hillside is. And the  roads above Forest Knolls are atop a slope *known* to be unstable. Look at this landslide hazard map:

The double black arrows show landslide direction. The wiggly black arrows show soil creep direction. All those dark green areas? Potentially unstable. All the gold areas? Also potentially unstable.

Though the Draft Environmental Impact Report claims it’s making safety its first priority – it doesn’t look like it. In attempting to mitigate one (overstated) concern (dead trees falling), they’re worsening the risk of landslides.


— ### —

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Sutro Forest 2017 Plan Imposes a Landslide Risk

Landslide under blue tarp. South Ridge at top left.

We’re reading the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the 2017 Sutro Forest Plan, and got to the section on landslide risk. This has been one of our concerns, especially since the tragedy at Oso, Washington, where the felling of trees in previous years was a factor in destabilizing the slope. (We wrote about that HERE: Cut Trees, Add Landslide Risk) We know this area is subject to landslides – we had a blue tarp covering unstable areas in Forest Knolls for a year when cutting trees destabilized a slope, and another just above UCSF’s Aldea housing area.


We were shocked at what we found in the DEIR:
“Increased instability could cause a landslide that would impact Crestmont Drive, Christopher Drive, and Johnstone Drive. An existing landslide scarp is visible above Christopher Drive. Some homes along Christopher Drive could be placed at additional risk from localized landslides due to plan implementation. Phase I activities would result in a potentially significant impact…”

The map above is taken from the DEIR. All the dark green areas are potentially unstable. All the gold areas are potentially unstable. All the cream areas are potentially unstable. The little red blobs and stars are already unstable. The black arrows show the direction of potential landslides – right into our communities. Here’s the key to the map. The light yellow and light green areas are where they are cutting down trees in Phase I (five years, starting this fall – 2017):

Legend to Landslide Hazard Map Sutro Forest 2017

What’s the proposed “mitigation”? Avoiding work in the forest for 2 days when the soil is wet after rain. This completely ignores the fact that landslides are a MULTI-YEAR hazard after tree removal.

Here’s the proposed mitigation in their own words:
“After a significant storm event (defined as 0.5 inches of rain within a 48-hour or greater period), the following conditions shall be met prior to any vegetation management activities:

  • The maps detailing areas of historic slope instability or rock fall in the Final Geotechnical and Geological Evaluation Report for UCSF Mount Sutro shall be reviewed (Rutherford + Chekene 2013) 
  • If ground-disturbing or vegetation removal activities are proposed within or adjacent to areas of historic slope instability or rock fall, the saturation of the soils shall be estimated in the field; if muddy water drips from a handful of soil, the soil is considered saturated (Brouwer, Goffeau and Heibloem 1985) 
  • The areas of historic slope instability or rock fall shall be flagged if the moisture content of the soils is determined to be high (i.e., muddy) and ground-disturbing or vegetation removal activities shall be avoided for a minimum of 48-hours after a significant storm event to permit soil drying…”

In other words, we won’t chop down trees in the rain or when the soil is wet.

Other mitigations are palliative. They’re planning to build roads into the forest for trucks and heavy equipment, and those roads will follow the contour of the slope. The quarter-acre staging plazas – where they’ll remove trees so trucks can turn around and heavy equipment be parked – will be flattish, with a slight slope for drainage. None of this is as effective as not building these roads or bringing in heavy equipment in the first place.


The problem is, the effect of cutting down trees is a LONG TERM problem. The effect of tree removal takes years – not days, not months – to fix. In Oso, Washington, the slope gave way three years after the last tree-destruction. Here’s the story (from the article we published at the time). The tragedy was foreseen… but the regulators thought they had enough mitigations in place.

On March 22, 2014, a huge landslide destroyed the small Washington community of Oso. Rain was of course a factor, as was erosion at the base of the slope. But it’s probable that tree-cutting above the slide area was an important factor too. An article in the Seattle Times that quotes a report from Lee Benda, a University of Washington geologist. It said tree removal could increase soil water “on the order of 20 to 35 percent” — and that the impact could last 16-27 years, until new trees matured. Benda looked at past slides on the hill and found they occurred within five to 10 years of harvests [i.e. felling trees for timber].

There had been red flags before. The area was second growth forest, grown back from logging in the 1920s/30s. Over 300 acres were again logged in the late 1980s.

The first time regulators tried to stop logging on the hill was in 1988. But the owner of the timber successfully argued that measures could be taken to mitigate the risk. Eventually, the state only blocked it from logging some 48 acres, and the owners  gave in on that.

In 2004, new owners applied to cut 15 acres; when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) objected, they halved the area and re-located the cut. DNR gave approval, subject to no work during heavy rain and for a day afterward. The tree-cutting finished in August 2005.

In January 2006, there was a major landslide 600 feet from the cut zone. The state built a log wall to shore up the slope.

The owners continued logging. In 2009, they removed 20% of the trees. In 2011, they removed another 15%. In 2014, the hillside collapsed.

The regulators were aware of the risk; they thought they were mitigating it with their restrictions and reaching a compromise with the owners. But it wasn’t enough. Destabilizing the mountainside is a long-term thing; the effects can show up in months, but it’s more likely to take years.


Our mountains not only are potentially unstable, they actually have landslides. The picture at the end of this article shows one on Twin Peaks, where rocks tumble after nearly every heavy rainy season.

The roots of the trees are helping to hold the unstable soil in place and that as the roots rot, landslide risk will increase.  It is going to be more unstable 2-3 years after the trees are removed than 2 days after it rains.  The information that instability increases over time is a little counter-intuitive.

Moreover, removing the trees takes away their ability to suck water out of the soil. If the tree-cutting is done in dry years, it may take a wet winter to trigger landslides… which would not have happened if the trees had been regulating the water and functioning as a living geotextile.

Since UCSF are not going to use herbicides on the stumps to prevent them from resprouting, they say they will grind the stumps.  That is an effective way to prevent resprouting, but it will greatly increase the instability of the soil because the heavy equipment digs down several feet into the stump to destroy the roots.  That’s another reason why they should not destroy trees where slide risk has been identified.

Anyone seriously considering the map above can only hope that UCSF will draw a better conclusion than the Washington State loggers and regulators. The planned destruction of thousands of trees – many within the first five years – could cause landslides in surrounding communities not days or months later, but years after the event.

UCSF: First, do no harm!

Posted in deforestation, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, Mt Sutro landslide risk, UCSF, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Public Comments due Sept 22, 2017 on Sutro Forest DEIR

UCSF has released a humongous 1087-page Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Plan to cut down thousands of trees in Sutro Forest. The deadline for public comment has been extended in response to a San Francisco Forest Alliance request, to Sept 22, 2017. This two-week extension from Sept 8th is a lot less than the 60 days they asked for.

[The DEIR is available HERE as a PDF document: UCSF_Mt_Sutro_DEIR_wAppendices ]

Here’s an excerpt from UCSF’s letter to San Francisco Forest Alliance:

“In response to your request, UCSF is extending the public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the proposed UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan.  The comment period will be extended by two weeks for total of 60 days: public comments on the DEIR are now due on Friday, September 22.  All comments must be received by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, September 22, 2017.  CEQA guidelines have established that the public review period for a DEIR should not be longer than 60 days (Section 15105).

“Send written comments to the attention of Ms. Diane Wong, UCSF Campus Planning, Box 0286, San Francisco, CA 94143 or email to

It’s interesting that they invoke the 60-day maximum under CEQA guidelines, but ignore the guideline that says the DEIR text should be 150 pages or at a maximum, 300 pages….


UCSF will hold a public meeting on August 24, 2017

“There will be a public hearing to receive oral comments on the DEIR on August 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Millberry Union, 500 Parnassus Avenue, on UCSF’s Parnassus campus.


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