Forest- Bathing in Mount Sutro Cloud Forest

We learned about the Forest-Bathing Club in San Francisco when some of the people who took part in this told us how much they loved the beautiful forest on Mount Sutro. Trees have been shown to improve health and well-being, and this Club is doing exactly that. (The link is to University of Wisconsin research.)    

Here’s an article about it, written by the Club’s founder. [Pictures are attributed to her. Please ask permission before using them.]

Forest Bathing is based on the Japanese term shinrin-yoku, which means “luxuriating in nature.” In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined the practice of going into the forest to soak in the sights, smells, and sounds. It’s been scientifically proven to lower stress and is even included as part of health insurance. This practice has begin to gain popularity in the United States in recent years.

I started The Forest Bathing Club when I moved back to San Francisco after two years living in New York City. I had moved to NYC for an MFA in design at The School of Visual Arts. I didn’t realize how much of an effect not being close to nature had on me until I found myself with severe seasonal affective disorder. I realized that there are so many ways nature effects our mental health but most people aren’t even aware that they are suffering from a disconnection from nature. I ended up doing my graduate thesis on these mental health effects (known as psychoterratic disorders) and the cures. The cure is to bring people together to heal themselves, their communities, and the planet. That is the vision of The Forest Bathing Club.

The mission of club is to make the benefits of nature accessible to as many people as possible. We have regular meet ups in and around San Francisco, often in Sutro Forest! It’s important to me that we have events in the city because so many people think that you have to cross a bridge to get into nature when really nature is all around us. As Chief Oren Lyons says, “The environment isn’t over here. The environment isn’t over there. You are the environment.”

Sutro Forest is the perfect spot for a forest bath because it’s accessible and we can circle up at the top to share a moment of mindfulness together. It’s really important to me to share this magical forest with as many people as possible to help them understand the current situation of the forest. San Francisco is evolving, just as forests in nature evolve, and it’s important that we are aware of this so we can guide the evolution in a way that benefits people and the planet.

We also host events in Land’s End, Glen Park Canyon, and The Presidio. We are gearing up to do a special event this summer on Mt. Tamalpais called Re-opening the Mountain, it’s based on a practice developed by beat poets in the 1960s.

As a designer, I’ve designed the experience of forest bathing club events to activate people and allow them to drop deeper into nature as a way to promote healing. The experiences can be described as a yoga class meets a hike. There are different activities and prompts. And of course, there are always healthy, high vibrational snacks.

You can stay up to date about The Forest Bathing club here:

Posted in Environment, Hiking, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Mt Sutro Forest: Nibbling at the Western Edge with Kirkham Heights Project? [UPDATE: Project Withdrawn]

[Edited to Add: UPDATE – The project is off. The owner, Westlake, thinks its a low priority especially since the site is situated on a hillside that’s in an “earthquake-induced landslide zones,” meaning areas with a high probability of slope failure.” It has withdrawn its application to the Planning Commission.

(We should mention that UCSF’s Sutro Forest Plan is also being implement on “earthquake-induced landslide zones.”)

Click here for a Report in the Richmond Review : “Along with the sheer size of the project, another complication was the location, which is nestled up against hills on three sides that are designated by the California Geological Survey as “earthquake-induced landslide zones,” meaning areas with a high probability of slope failure, which could produce landslides during an earthquake.

“There were numerous challenges, but we just decided not to move forward,” Bak [Of Westlake] said. “We have a bunch of projects. We have to prioritize our re- sources.”]


A neighbor alerted us to a new project planned for Kirkham Heights, on the Western edge of Mount Sutro Forest. Here, a few acres of the forest are privately owned as part of a lot which has eleven  buildings (with 86 rental apartments) on it.

The owner of the property wants to demolish the existing structures, excavate the very steep lot to make it more level, and build six large buildings with 445 units instead of 11 smaller ones with a total of 86 units.

Here are the maps from the Initial Study document.

This map shows where Kirkham Heights is relative to the forest.

Our concern is, will this process destroy part of the forest?  The description suggests that about an acre out of around three might be swallowed up, but it’s also not clear whether the remaining acreage might be all but destroyed anyway. The projected new development is shown below, but we can’t help thinking it’s overly optimistic. If the site is being excavated, a lot of the forest behind Buildings 4 and 5 will be destroyed in the process of construction if nothing else.

In any case, it’s so steep that excavation of the hillside could destabilize forest areas upslope.  This mountain has had landslides before, and there are springs and seeps on its slopes.

There is certainly going to be considerable disturbance to the area. San Francisco’s Planning Department has decided an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be needed, and the Scoping Meeting for that is scheduled for March 30.


The project description, take from the SF Planning’s EIR, outlines a rather major change.


San Francisco’s Planning Department will hold a Public Scoping Meeting for the EIR on Thursday March 30, 2017 at 6.30 p.m. at the San Francisco County Fair Building (1199 9th Avenue). The Public Scoping meeting  is to ask Planning to use the EIR to investigate and analyze specific issues and details.

It is not to argue for or against the proposed development, but rather point to areas which have been inadequately or inaccurately stated in the recently published Initial Study. You can read that here: 1530 5th Avenue NOP_IS_Published

(It can be found on the Planning website under 1530 – 5th Avenue Kirkham project,  NOP/Initial Study, 1530 5th Avenue Project, Planning Department Case No. 2014.1584ENV but wwe downloaded it and attached it here for convenience.)

You can attend this and comment. If you would rather comment in writing, they will accept comments until 5 p.m. on April 8th, 2017. You can email or mail her at Lisa M Gibson, SF Planning Department, 1650 Mission St, Suite 400, SF, CA 94103. You can review reference materials onsite with an appointment (call 415-575-9127)

The SF Planning Department’s full circular is here: kirkham heights Sutro Forest


We received a message from the Mount Sutro Kirkham Heights Neighbors (MSKHN) outlining their plans and concerns:

“There are many errors, misleading statements and areas glossed over in the Initial Study.

“The Mount Sutro Kirkham Heights Neighbors (MSKHN) plans to ask for analyses of numerous aspects of the proposed development, which we have studied for about 2 years.  Further, MSKHN intend to propose alternative designs for the site.

“With regard to Forested and landscaped areas, we seek to preserve as much as possible of such areas.  The parcel is 6.12 acres, or 266,768 sq. ft., 86.2% of which the developer intends to excavate.  That would be 5.28 acres out of 6.12 acres.  The existing parcel with 11 buildings, also owned for 40 years by the owner/developer, remains 63% (3.87 acres) forested and landscaped, and all  the buildings are enveloped in greenery and trees.  The proposed project eliminates all of the greenery among and between the buildings, by replacing the 11 small buildings with 5 huge buildings and 8 townhouses, with trees planted in holes in the concrete sidewalks along side the roadways.

“We seek to retain as much of that as possible through alternative designs for the parcel, since it is highly unlikely that the Planning Dept. will choose to halt the destruction of the 86 rent controlled units, and oppose the project.  We also seek to reduce the size of the project, and thereby minimize the overall excavation and reshaping of the steep Northwest Slope of Mt. Sutro, and minimize the chance of future landslides and increased storm runoff.

“As for  the housing aspect, we seek a high level of affordability, increased family friendly units, increased recreation/playgrouond area, a modest increase in density, a strong development agreement for the tenants to protect their rights and replacement rent control units since the developer proposes to demolish the 86 rent controlled units.

“There are many more aspects to this project which are frankly just awful, such as the reconfiguring of 5th Avenue into a rectilinear single outlet in and out, without a turnaround for delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, ride services, emergency vehicles and the residents.”

We’re concerned. We hope the project can be done to add housing without destroying even more of Mount Sutro Forest than UCSF already plans.


Posted in Environment, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, Mt Sutro landslide risk | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How Many Trees in Sutro Forest? And What Will be Left?

Mount Sutro is a very difficult site. Its soils are shallow, its rocks unstable. It’s very windy. Few trees survive those conditions. Nevertheless, the eucalyptus forest has naturalized there for over a century – nearly 125 years now – and taken on the characteristics of an old-growth forest. This success has only been possible because of the interdependent ecology of the forest. The roots are intergrafted, which both helps distribute nutrients and moisture, and to provide physical support to trees. As Peter Wohlleben points out in his book, the Hidden Life of Trees, trees in a forest are different from individual, standalone trees.


The tree density changes the conditions in the forest, reducing wind speeds and providing shelter not just for other eucalyptus, but also for other trees species found in the forest: Monterey cypress, Monterey pine, coast redwood, plum, cherry, California bay, coast live oak, willow among others. It creates a tiny microclimate inside it.

pix9 072 forest

This is why the new Plan for the forest – removing most of the healthy living trees and nearly all the dead ones – will destroy the forest’s ecosystem and very likely the forest itself.

UCSF, which has declared the forest to be in poor condition, will doubtless blame the drought and pathogens. In fact, it’s the thinning – including removing understory – and the tree removal that rob the forest of its resilience. A forest that’s thrived for 125 years may be destroyed in a decade.


Here’s how the forest works as a Cloud Forest:

Sutro Cloud Forest is in the fog belt, and all summer long, its gets fog nearly every day. It’s never dry — and here’s why.

The trees grab the moisture from the fog and clouds (1 in the picture); it rains down onto the forest floor (2). There, it soaks into the duff — the  crumbly layer of dead and decaying leaves, twigs and other plant material accumulating on the ground beneath the trees (3). This material holds it like a sponge.

Above the duff, there’s a dense layer of understory plants that stop the water from evaporating – blackberry, ivy, ferns, poison oak, and 90 or so other plant species (4).  And above it all, there’s the tree canopy, which not only captures the moisture in the fog, but by shading  the forest floor, further helps to slow evaporation (5). (In some areas, there’s a mid-canopy of acacia and plum, which further helps.)

The result is that not only is the forest damp all the time, it also would take a long time to dry out – especially since the longest period it goes without rain or fog  is about 7-10 days in a year.


flowering_gum with bees susan walter 3Here’s how it functions as an ecosystem and wildlife habitat:  Sutro Forest Ecosystem and Wildlife Habitat. Besides sheltering other plants from the wind and providing them with moisture, the eucalyptus – as the world’s tallest flowering plant – is also an excellent habitat for insects, birds, and animals. The plants it shelters – blackberry, ivy and acacia – also form part of the ecosystem and habitat.

bee on blackberry flowers sutro forest



Here’s how its connections and network preserve the forest: Something Like Avatar: Mt Sutro’s Networked Forest.

Something like AvatarMany kinds of trees, including eucalyptus, when planted close to others of the same species, will intergraft their roots to form an underground network.  This helps all the trees in the group to survive. It’s one reason why even in a mixed forest, you tend to find trees in clusters by species, rather than evenly spread through the area. What this means for the forest is that, rather than being 40-50,000 (or 13,500 according to the new estimate) individual trees, it’s an entity that functions as an interconnected forest. This benefits the trees by providing support to each, stabilizing the slope they’re planted on like a living geotextile, and share nutrients.

These interconnections will be destroyed by the Plan to cut down most of the trees in the forest.


UCSF in its new Plan estimates that its 61 acres of Sutro Forest has only 10,000 live trees and 3,500 dead and dying ones. This estimate is down drastically from 45,000 trees it published in its 2014 Draft Environmental Impact Report. We’re pretty sure we would notice if three-fourths of the trees in Sutro Forest disappeared, so there’s an estimation error somewhere.

Anyway, for argument’s sake let’s accept the 10,000 + 3,500 number. In the original Plan, UCSF planned to cut down some 27,000 trees (according to their numbers), leaving some 18,000 trees in the Reserve. (See the article:  Message to UCSF: Do the Math!  about the 2014 Plan.) Now that it’s only got 13,500 trees, it would make sense to leave it alone, right?

That’s not what the new Plan recommends. Instead, they plan to cut down around 6-7,000 healthy trees and nearly all the snags.


First, let’s talk about reducing the acreage.

  • The “defensible space” around buildings will cover 14 acres, and all large trees will be removed. These areas will be used for Native Plants.
  • Separately, the Native Plant garden will be increased from 2 acres to 5 acres.
  • The “inspection areas” along trails – where any tree that’s leaning or otherwise considered problematic will be expanded and cover 18 acres. The Plan also says “Where appropriate, combine tree risk assessment and abatement with other forest management activities.” This is obviously intended to mean, cut down trees and add native plants
  • Trees may be removed to make access roads for machinery. Not clear whether this is included in the 18 acres.

So that’s 19 acres removed from the forest altogether, and some percentage of the 18 acres will be treated so aggressively they will no longer be forest.

Let’s say – generously – that about 40 acres of forest remain instead of the current 59 acres (excluding the Native Garden).

The objective of the Plan is to have 100 trees per acre, but they recognize they may have to keep replanting – and so plan to maintain a minimum of 75 trees per acre. This yield 3,000 to 4,000 healthy trees in the forest – against (their estimate) of 10,000 trees now.

They plan to cut down over 6,000 healthy trees (many more, because they are going to replant saplings, which will be included in the per-acre count).

In addition, they plan to leave only 2-3 snags per acre standing, despite the huge ecological value of the deadwood. This means about 80-120 snags of the 3,500 will be left.

With 10,000 stems gone and all the ivy and blackberry removed, the forest will be a shadow of its current self. And that’s without reckoning for accelerated tree death, windthrow, and loss of resilience. The native plants introduced will be primarily shrubs and herbs, with a few trees in some areas.

Instead of a healthier forest, it’s going to be  weaker and more vulnerable.


Posted in Environment, eucalyptus, UCSF | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Mt Sutro: UCSF’s Initial Study for the EIR Highlights Appalling New 2017 Plan

cloud forest with dog smUCSF has published its initial study for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the new 2017 Plan for Sutro Forest.  This “Notice of Preparation and Initial Study” outlines the areas the EIR will cover. Comments on the Initial Study can be sent any time before March 8th, 2017. They are also holding the EIR scoping meeting on February 23rd, 2017. (Thursday, Feb 23 2017 at 06:30 pm, Millberry Union, 500 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122)

You can read the Plan here: mount_sutro_vegetation_management_plan_revised_1-23-17  (as a PDF).

The PDF of the “Notice of Preparation and Initial Study” (NOPIS) is here: mt-sutro_nop-and-initial-study-checklist_final_2017-02-03_0

The NOPIS repeats some of Plan description of the forest, which it characterizes as being in poor health.


In the 2013 EIR, UCSF estimated there were 45,000 trees in the Reserve. It intended to cut down 60% of them, or 27,000 trees. That would have left 18,000 trees. The new Plan has sharply reduced its tree population estimates: It now says there are only 10,000 live trees (and 3,500 dead or dying ones).  Since it is impossible that 35,000 trees were removed in the interim without our knowledge, we’re going to assume that there was a pretty substantial mistake somewhere. Given that the new estimate is about one-third of the old one, we can also assume a large margin of error on these estimates.

Remarkably, the Plan (and the NOPIS)  still says there are “too many blue gum eucalyptus trees” in the Reserve. This is even though this estimated population is less than a quarter of the original estimate – and about half the trees they expected to retain after implementing the controversial 2014 EIR and Plan. The new Plan is for 75-100 trees per acre. The actual forest will also shrink: They plan to remove all large trees on 14 acres of “defensible space” near buildings;  expand the Native Plant area from 2 acres to 5 acres; create access roads for machinery, and broaden trails. This means the forest size would be reduced from 61 acres to perhaps 40 acres or less. The number of trees then would drop from 10,000 (if their current estimate is right) to around 3-4,000 trees – with more than 6,000 healthy trees being removed. They plan to retain only 2-3 snags per acre, so that would mean that 3,300 dead or dying trees would also be removed.

It sounds like any number of trees that makes Sutro Forest look like a forest are “too many.” With the new emphasis on native plants in the revised Plan, this is clearly an effort to clear spaces to change the character of the forest to a patchwork of native plant gardens punctuated by stands of trees – a forest in name only.


The NOPIS (and the Plan) assert the forest will not recover on its own, and references “forest pathogens.” No details are provided.  A living forest is expected to have pathogens – otherwise there would be no biosphere or ecosystem.  This is a “natural forest” not a diseased and dying one, as alleged by Craig Dawson in his alarmist 2014 article. The reaction of some experts to that article:

  • “The diseases and insects mentioned in the Sutro report could be found in any forest…” (from a certified arborist and plant pathologist)
  • “The description of common conditions of eucalypt trees on the part of Mr Dawson’s piece seems to me solid as such—a description—but unconvincing as an argument that pretends to show some state of pathological emergency in Sutro…” (from an environmental science professor)
  • “This is amateur plant pathology at its best….” (from an urban forester)
  • “…faith-based botany…” (from an urban forester)
  • “This is certainly not the first time I have seen someone want to use a disease threat as a roundabout way to get some politically inconvenient trees removed.” (from an academic plant pathologist)

The percentage of dead trees is high – but not exceptionally so. Dead trees have a high ecological and habitat value – insects feed on them, in turn providing food to many kinds of birds and some animals. The weakened wood provides easily excavated cavities where birds can nest. As a result, forests are often managed for deadwood for biodiversity and ecological reasons. In one such example, a pamphlet on Managing Deadwood in Forests and Woodlands, uses a percentage of 0-10% of the stems dead as low ecological value, and >20% as “high” ecological value. Thus, 25% of the stems (trunks) being dead is not a sign of disaster. Especially since, with a large margin of error, the actual percentage could be much lower.

The forest has been given no opportunity to recover on its own. Whenever saplings appear, they are torn out, as are all the other natural plants of forest by people biased against “invasive” plants. This picture, from March 2013, shows healthy saplings in the “gash” – the place where the forest was cut down for a water-pipe replacement. It is specifically mentioned in the Plan as an area where regeneration is not taking place. The saplings were ripped out soon after this picture was taken.eucalyptus-saplings-regenerating-march-2013

Forests create their own ecosystem and environment.  Trees in a forest have interconnected root systems and they also protect and support one another above ground.  Drastically reducing tree density damages the trees that remain and makes them more vulnerable to being blown down in the wind. The removal of  over a thousand trees and large swathes of the blackberry understory has necessarily weakened the forest’s ability to retain moisture. This would have rendered it more vulnerable in the previous drought years.

This vulnerability will be worsened by the next element of the Plan: ‘Establishing a mosaic of trees, shrubs and ground cover… with gaps in the canopy…” This would be a thinned and therefore drier and more windy forest. Especially given shallow soils and high winds, the weakening of the intergrafted root network is bound to destabilize the forest, and possibly the hillsides as well.

“Manage vegetation only around the trails…” says the Plan. The glitch is that the trails are now so extensive that practically any area qualifies: see the map below, taken from the NOPIS (published here as a fair use for purposes of discussion and critique).


A “group selection area” is one where all the trees in the selected area will be cut down.


UCSF plans lots of heavy machinery for the forest, any time from August until end-January – and starting this year :

  • Handsaws, Polesaws, Chainsaws
  • D-6 tractors or similar
  • Excavators, Backhoes, Loaders, Masticators, Feller bunchers,
  • Pick-up trucks, skidders, forwarders, water trucks,
  • Log trucks, chip vans, chippers, tub grinders, stump grinders, and cranes.

Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 3

They will also build temporary access roads (which will require more tree removal) and widen existing trails by 3-4 feet to “accommodate equipment.”

They’ll establish a staging area for chips and logs, and truck this to some destination outside San Francisco.

The only positive is that NO herbicides will be used.


The NOPIS has listed a large number of potential impact categories – as it should. This project is going to be very destructive.

  • Aesthetics: Potential adverse effect on a scenic vista, substantially degrade the existing visual character of the site, and exceed UCSF’s long-range development plan’s wind parameters.
  • Agriculture and forestry resources: Converting forest land to non-forest use.
  • Air quality: Conflicts with applicable air quality plan, contributes to pollution, exceeds LRDP standards for increased hazard due to toxic air contamination.
  • Biological resources: Potentially impacts special status species, riparian habitat, migratory species, tree preservation.
  • Cultural and tribal resources: Possible impacts on tribal cultural resources
  • Geology and soils: Could cause landslides, unstable geological unit, substantial erosion
  • Greenhouse gas emissions: These would increase.
  • Hazards and hazardous materials: Potential impact owing to possible fuel spills, asbestos release from rock outcrops, within 0.25 miles of several schools, possible increased fire risk through increased forest dryness.
  • Hydrology and water quality: substantially altered drainage pattern, create additional water run-off.
  • Noise: Permanently increase ambient noise, substantially increase temporary noise.
  • Public Services: Impact the need for fire protection, police protection.
  • Recreation. The project could interfere with the recreational value of the Forest.
  • Transportation and traffic: Substantially increase traffic hazards (due to the heavy machinery described earlier on the narrow roads of the forest), inadequate emergency access, exceed LRDP standard of significance for causing conflict among autos, bicycles, pedestrians, and transit vehicles.
  • Utilities and Service systems: May need a lot of extra water if they decide to irrigate new plantings. They don’t expect to impact wastewater, or the huge amount of solid waste generated by felling and chipping the trees.

The NOPIS also concludes that the Plan has potentially significant cumulative effects on the environment, affecting people as well as plants and animals.


Comments on the NOPIS can be sent to:

(Deadline: March 8th, 2017)

Submit comments on the Initial Study and EIR scoping to:
Diane Wong, Environmental Coordinator
UCSF Campus Planning
654 Minnesota Street
San Francisco, CA 94143‐0286











Posted in deforestation, Environment, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged , , ,

Old Trees Trap More Carbon and Fight Climate Change

The older a tree grows, the more carbon dioxide it grabs out of the air and sequesters, thus fighting climate change. Cutting down these large old trees releases this carbon back into the atmosphere.

Some of the trees are 200 feet tall...

Some of the trees are 200 feet tall…

An article published in the Nature Journal summarizes the results of a huge research project by the US Geological Survey. This directly disproves the myth that young trees sequester carbon rapidly, but large old trees do not.

“The trees that are adding the most mass are the biggest ones, and that holds pretty much everywhere on Earth that we looked,” says Nathan Stephenson, an ecologist at the US Geological Survey in Three Rivers, California, and the first author of the study, which appears today [i.e. 15th January 2014]  in Nature.

“Trees have the equivalent of an adolescent growth spurt, but it
just keeps going.”

The study, which looked at over 673 thousand trees of more than 400 species, found it was universally true.  This confirmed the results of a 2010 study that had focused on redwoods and on a eucalyptus species.

Former trees in a pile of woodchips sm

All the huge old trees that are cut down in San Francisco were fighting climate change – but now, whether as mulch or as rotting logs, they are contributing to it.


Here is the abstract of the study, from the NIH website [formatting and emphasis ours]:


Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size.
Stephenson, Das, Condit, Russo, Baker, Beckman, Coomes, Lines, Morris, Rüger, Alvarez, Blundo, Bunyavejchewin, Chuyong, Davies, Duque, Ewango, Flores, Franklin, Grau, Hao, Harmon, Hubbell, Kenfack, Lin, Makana, Malizia, Malizia, Pabst, Pongpattananurak, Su, Sun, Tan, Thomas, van Mantgem, Wang, Wiser, Zavala.

Forests are major components of the global carbon cycle, providing substantial feedback to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Our ability to understand and predict changes in the forest carbon cycle–particularly net primary productivity and carbon storage–increasingly relies on models that represent biological processes across several scales of biological organization, from tree leaves to forest stands. Yet, despite advances in our understanding of productivity at the scales of leaves and stands, no consensus exists about the nature of productivity at the scale of the individual tree, in part because we lack a broad empirical assessment of whether rates of absolute tree mass growth (and thus carbon accumulation) decrease, remain constant, or increase as trees increase in size and age.

Here we present a global analysis of 403 tropical and temperate tree species, showing that for most species mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size. Thus, large, old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees; at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree.

The apparent paradoxes of individual tree growth increasing with tree size despite declining leaf-level and stand-level productivity can be explained, respectively, by increases in a tree’s total leaf area that outpace declines in productivity per unit of leaf area and, among other factors, age-related reductions in population density. Our results resolve conflicting assumptions about the nature of tree growth, inform efforts to undertand and model forest carbon dynamics, and have additional implications for theories of resource allocation and plant senescence.


And here is a link to the study itself in Nature: Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size.






Posted in deforestation, Environment, eucalyptus | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Why “Thinning” Damages a Forest

This article is republished with permission (and minor format changes) from Death of a Million Trees, a blog dedicated to fighting unnecessary tree-felling in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It beautifully reflects the interlinked reality of Sutro Forest, which has flourished for over a century, and now is threatened with massive tree removals on the pretext that they are “dead and dying.” As the article points out: “…in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings. Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance.”

We would like to remind our readers of an article from a few years ago, Something like Avatar: Mt Sutro’s Networked Forest where we also explored linkages within the forest. We hope this will encourage UCSF to think in terms of the integrity of the forest and its ecosystem, not just as a collection of trees occupying a space nativists want for other things.

from Million Trees

hidden-life-of-treesThe Hidden Life of Trees was written by a German forester, Peter Wohlleben. After completion of formal academic training as a forester, he took a government job managing a 3,000 acre public forest. After 20 years of managing that forest for timber production with chainsaws, bulldozers, and insecticides, he decided about 10 years ago that he could not continue damaging the forest he had fallen in love with.

He resolved to manage a forest for the benefit of the forest, rather than for economic benefit. In fact, he was able to do both. The community for which he had been managing its forest for timber, decided to change its mission to forest preservation: “So, 10 years ago, the municipality took a chance. It ended its contract with the state forestry administration, and hired Mr. Wohlleben directly. He brought in horses, eliminated insecticides and began experimenting with letting the woods grow wilder. Within two years, the forest went from loss to profit, in part by eliminating expensive machinery and chemicals.” (1)


In the decades that Mr. Wohlleben has cared for the forest, he has learned a great deal about the trees, and more importantly how the trees function as a community in the forest: “…in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings. Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance.” (1)

In The Hidden Life of Trees, Mr. Wohlleben tells us how the trees communicate and share resources in the forest. When foresters interrupt these functions by artificially spacing out the trees, they can disconnect the trees from their networks, depriving them of their natural resilience mechanisms.


Creative Commons. Photo by Steve Garvie.

Creative Commons. Photo by Steve Garvie.

Scent is one of the means of communication between trees. On the African savannah Acacia trees are one of the favorite food of giraffes. When the giraffes start munching on the Acacia, the tree pumps a powerful toxin into its leaves that makes it unpalatable to the giraffes. The scent of that toxin is wafted to neighboring Acacia trees, which triggers them to start pumping that toxin into their leaves, making them unpalatable before the giraffes even get to them. If the distance between the trees is increased beyond the range of the scent message, the Acacias are unprepared for the giraffes when they arrive after being repelled by the toxic defense of their distant neighbors.

Hope Jahren tells a similar story in Lab Girl about the role of scent in the defense of an entire forest in an infestation of tent caterpillars in a research forest in Washington. The initial attack of the caterpillars defoliated entire trees and fatally damaged others. The wounded trees emitted a powerful acid that made the caterpillars sick. The scent of that acid warned healthy trees a full mile away. The spread of the caterpillars throughout the forest was halted by this scent message, making the healthy trees equally unpalatable to the caterpillars.


The roots of trees radiate out from the trunk forming a perimeter of roots that is often twice as big as the canopy. In the forest, the root systems of neighboring trees often intersect and grow into one another. The trees in the forest are also connected underground by a web of fungi that connect the roots of a tree to its neighbors. These connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, “helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought, and other dangers.” (2)

Photosynthesis. Creative Commons

Photosynthesis. Creative Commons

This network of roots and fungi is also how trees share resources in the forest. Every tree in the forest lives in a slightly different environment such as the nutrients in the soil, the physical composition of the soil, the available light, etc. Despite these differences in available resources, researchers at the Institute for Environmental Research in Germany discovered that the trees distribute available resources throughout the forest so that every tree was photosynthesizing* at the same rate. That is, every tree in the forest was sharing an equal amount of the sugar produced by photosynthesis: “Their enormous networks act as gigantic redistribution mechanisms. It’s a bit like the way social security systems operate to ensure individual members of society don’t fall too far behind.” (2)

Wohlleben’s analogy, suggesting that the sharing economy of the forest is comparable to our social safety net is thought provoking. Let’s think about it. Are the trees being generous to their neighbors in the forest by alerting them to dangers and sharing resources with them? No, because by benefiting their neighbors, the trees also benefit themselves: “This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it…Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit. Hot sun and swirling winds can now penetrate to the forest floor and disrupts the moist, cool climate.” (2)


If the trees in the forest benefit by being close to one another, why do the local managers of our public lands keep telling us that “thinning” the forest will be good for the forest? Wohlleben tells us that the conventional wisdom that thinning the forest is good for the trees originates with the timber industry: “In commercial forests, trees are supposed to grow thick trunks and be harvest ready as quickly as possible. And to do that, they need a lot of space and large, symmetrical, rounded crowns. In regular five-year cycles, any supposed competition is cut down so that the remaining trees are free to grow. Because these trees will never grow old—they are destined for the sawmill when they are only about a hundred [in Germany]—the negative effects of this management practice are barely noticeable.” (2)

Our urban forest is not “destined for the sawmill,” so thinning the urban forest does not benefit either the trees that remain or the forest as a whole. The “thinning” strategy being used by the managers of our public lands is damaging both the forest and the environment:

  • The trees that remain are damaged by the pesticides that are used to kill the roots of their neighbors when they are destroyed. The pesticides that are sprayed on the stumps of the destroyed trees kill the roots of the tree and also travel through the interconnected root systems to damage the trees that remain.
  • The trees that remain are subjected to more wind when their neighbors are destroyed, which increases the potential for windthrow and therefore public safety hazards.
  • The forest is less capable of retaining moisture when shade is reduced, which also stresses the trees that remain.
  • Valuable habitat for wildlife is lost when trees are destroyed.

The Hidden Life of Trees informs us that the forest is greater than the sum of its parts. Every tree contributes to forest health just as every member of society contributes to the well-being of our communities.

*Photosynthesis is the process used by plants to convert light energy into chemical energy that is stored in carbohydrate molecules, such as sugars. The sugars are the fuel that enable plants to live and grow. (Wikipedia)

Something like Avatar

Posted in Environment, nativism, UCSF | Tagged , , ,

“Are Eucalyptus Trees Going to Kill Us All?” Jan 27, 2017, San Rafael, CA

If you’re interested in a spirited discussion about eucalyptus, there’s going to be an interesting event in San Rafael with TreeSpirit founder Jack Gescheidt.



Are Eucalyptus Trees Going To Kill Us All?!
So shouldn’t we kill them all first?

Open Secret Community Center,
923 C St. (betw. 3rd & 4th St.) San Rafael, CA
7:00-9:30PM, Sat., Jan. 27, 2016

Join TreeSpirit founder Jack Gescheidt for a timely presentation — with audience discussion — of issues involved in the ongoing programs in the SF Bay Area —and nationwide — to kill so-called “invasive species,” including cutting down hundreds of thousands of eucalyptus trees in the Bay Area.

• What is a “native”species – is there any such thing?
• “invasives,” and “invasions;”
• the “flammability” of eucalyptus trees – hazard or hype?
• “Invasion Biology” and its roots;
• why these phrases necessitate quotation marks; their inconcise meanings;
• arguments for and against all of the above
• the infamous 1991 Oakland-Berkeley hills fire — its causes and chance of recurrence
• audience Q&A— your involvement is encouraged

$10 Advance tickets, call Open Secret: 415-457-4191.  $15 at the door. Proceeds support The TreeSpirit Project and Open Secret Community Center.

Posted in Environment, eucalyptus, nativism | Tagged ,

4th Sutro Forest TAC Meeting: Nativist Coup

When UCSF surprisingly announced there would be a 4th Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting after the original three, we suspected adverse changes to the Draft Plan.  That meeting was held this evening, and we were right to be concerned. Significant changes have been made to the Draft Plan, nearly all of them to expand the impact of native plants. This last minute change is adverse for the forest.


First, our procedural concerns.

  • Though we inquired what changes were being made that necessitated an extra meeting, we got no useful information.
  • We first saw the Revised Draft Plan only at Jan 23rd, 2017 meeting. The timeline below doesn’t have any TAC meeting scheduled after August 2016.
  • This is really at the last minute. The initial study for the EIR is due to be published Feb 6th, 2017, which means it’s already under way.



It’s all about native plants.

  • More than doubles native plant areas from 2 acres to 5 acres.
  • In Phase 2, when they were going to plant eucalyptus to maintain the forest, they now plan planting “both eucalyptus and native species.”  Since those native species will include very few large trees, this means fewer trees planted.
  • They recommend monitoring should concentrate on native plants and birds – even though this is essentially a non-native forest.
  • There will be no irrigation when new trees are planted. Destruction is easy, but clearly the replanting will be difficult. (When the native garden at the summit was planted, it was irrigated for years.)
  • “The result will be a two-tiered woodland with a high tree canopy composed of tall trees and an understory of shrubs, groundcovers and vines.” The forest at present is much more complex, with sub-canopy of acacia, plum, and other medium sized trees.
  • “The Plan recommends the removal of competing vegetation species that are non-native and invasive, including but not limited to acacia, erharta, blackberry, ivy and other vine species.”
  • They’ve added a sub-objective: “The University should focus on native plant stewardship by preserving existing populations and restoring native plant communities where appropriate.”
  • About 14 acres of trees (out of 61 acres) will be removed to “enhance a defensible space.” These will also be planted with native plants.
  • They’ve added a whole new appendix of native plants that they may introduce into the forest.



With the earlier draft, though we were opposed the amount of tree destruction planned, we did have a sense that it was a compromise. This draft brings us much closer to the earlier unpopular plans. We like all plants, but this emphasis on native plants is misplaced in a forest whose ecology depends on plants from elsewhere. We wrote about Sutro Forest’s ecosystem in 2011: It’s 80% eucalyptus, which forms the tall canopy trees; it has a subcanopy of acacia, plum and other smaller trees; an understory of blackberry and other bushes; and a herbaceous layer of small plants and grasses. The forest, like most of San Francisco’s population, is “non-native.”

UCSF should not be promoting a xenophobic plant preference, especially in a novel ecosystem like this one.

(At that time of the earlier plan, UCSF estimated that the forest had 45,000 trees of which 32,000 were slated for removal, leaving 13,000 trees. Now UCSF has a revised estimate of only 10,500 trees – not 45,000 trees – but it’s nevertheless looking to fell a lot of trees. We’re still trying to get a good estimate.)


The revised plan adds acacia to the list of invasive plants for removal. Dr Joe McBride of the TAC explained that he meant it to refer only to new acacia sprouts invading areas that had been replanted, not to the removal of existing acacia trees. We hope this change is incorporated.


Blackwood acacia occurs naturally as an understorey tree in the wet eucalyptus forests of Australia, and so it does here, too, in Sutro Forest, where it forms the sub-canopy in some areas.  It tolerates a wide range of conditions, including fog and wind.

  • This is a leguminous tree, and fixes nitrogen — thus providing food to surrounding plants and making the thin mountain soil more fertile. In an experiment in Hawaii, researchers found eucalyptus planted with acacia grew 25-28% larger than plantings that were only eucalyptus. (The link is to a PDF describing the experiments.)
  • Blackwood acacia blooms with pale yellow flowers in the spring, attracting insects of all kinds and the birds that feed on them. (It’s relatively non-allergenic because of its heavy pollen though of course some people do react to it.) Bees like acacia flowers, and acacia honey is valued.
  • Its dense foliage provides cover to nesting and foraging birds, which eat insects that live in its leaves and densely-scored bark.
  • The seeds, which form in pods like twisted peas, have a reddish “eril” or stalk, which contains energy-rich lipids that attract and feed both insects — especially ants — and birds.
  • Unlike the eucalyptus, the acacia is relatively short-lived (though some specimens have lived hundreds of years). Dead and dying trees provide important habitat for insects that feed on decaying wood, and birds and animals that prey on those insects: woodpeckers; sapsuckers; raccoons; skunks. The logs provide shelter for insects and reptiles including skinks.


The only positive is that UCSF has reiterated that no herbicides will be used.

The meeting was moderately well attended. Only five people made comments. One person was from Sutro Stewards and pushed the nativist agenda; another opposed eucalyptus. Three commenters questioned the plan. Some of the points made:

  • Acacia has ecosystem value and shouldn’t be on the invasive species list.
  • The lack of irrigation will likely doom replanting efforts. It’s easy to destroy trees, more difficult to replace them.
  • Removing trees has the danger of drying out the forest and weakening the remaining trees.
  • Removing trees on steep slopes increases the risk of landslides, as we saw when O’Shaughnessy Drive was closed for several days.
  • A “monoculture” is negatively portrayed when it’s Sutro Forest and eucalyptus, but Muir Woods is equally a monoculture and is celebrated as a redwood forest. This shows a clear bias.

We have not had the time to analyze the revised draft Plan in detail, but hope to do so shortly. We also could not find the electronic copy of the Revised Plan, but have requested one from UCSF. When we get it, we will publish it here.

[Edited to Add: Here is the revised Plan: mount_sutro_vegetation_management_plan_revised_1-23-17

(All the changes are highlighted in yellow.)]




Posted in Environment, nativism, UCSF | Tagged , , ,

Season’s Greetings, Best Wishes for 2017

This year-end , we’d like to light a symbolic candle. We hope you find it meaningful as we do.


To everyone who reads this post:

Season’s Greetings! and Best Wishes for 2017.








Posted in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged

Another TAC Meeting – Jan 23, 2017

Green trail in Sutro ForestUCSF has surprisingly announced it will have another TAC meeting with modifications to their earlier announced Draft Plan. Here’s what they wrote:

“In August, UCSF published a draft management plan for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. The plan was developed with the guidance of the Mount Sutro Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), comprised of experts in forestry, fire hazard reduction, biology, and habitat restoration. TAC members volunteered their time to provide guidance on the scope, techniques, and best practices for a long-term management plan for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve.

“UCSF has hosted three TAC meetings and two community meetings in this public process. We have added a fourth TAC meeting to share UCSF’s proposed revisions to the draft vegetation management plan with TAC members and the public before publishing a final draft of the plan and beginning the environmental review process. The proposed revisions are based on TAC and community feedback.

“We invite the public to attend TAC meeting #4 and join in the discussion.

“Mount Sutro TAC Meeting #4
Monday, January 23, 2017
6:30 to 8:00 pm
Millberry Union
500 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122”

Posted in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged

Crucial Meeting for San Francisco Trees – Dec 15, 2016 – TOMORROW


The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has been pushing a Management Plan that will cut down 18,400 trees in San Francisco and Pacifica; close 9 miles of trail; and reduce dog-play areas in the so-called “Natural Areas.” The adoption of the Plan has awaited the the completion of the Environmental Impact Report. This is about to happen tomorrow, Dec 15th, 2016.  The article below is reproduced with permission from, the website of the San Francisco Forest Alliance (SFForest or SFFA). SFFA is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization dedicated to preserving our trees, eliminating the use of toxic pesticides in our parks, and preserving access.


3227413_orig 26 down through the forest

On December 15th, 2016, San Francisco’s Planning Commission and SF Recreation and Parks Commission will have a joint meeting that will impact our urban forests for the next 20 years. This is a meeting regarding the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the Significant Natural Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP or N-RAMP).

It’s on December 15, 2016 at 1 p.m. in City Hall room 400. [Note this information is different than some emails going out, though the date is the same.]

Here’s the PDF we were sent: 121516-special-joint-meeting-with-planning-final

Public comment is allowed, and a lot is expected. We think the public will get only one minute each to speak. This is your last chance to say anything in support of our treasured urban forests. Let us know if you’re planning to attend (if you haven’t already done so) by Email at

Click Here to see the City’s online link for the final EIR. It was dismissive of all our comments. Comments for changes to the project did not matter because they were deemed “environmentally insignificant“. Support of an alternative to the project, such as the maintenance alternative, or criticism of the maximum restoration alternative were deemed “irrelevant” (see the Responses to Comments section).


Whenever there’s a major project, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, pronounced seek-wa) requires the project’s sponsor to make an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department wants to implement a plan in the “Natural Areas” which will require cutting down thousands of trees, closing trails, and using toxic herbicides. The EIR is for this Project.

This meeting has two objectives.

1) First, the Planning Commission has to decide to certify the Environmental Impact Report. To do this, they have to determine that it is accurate, adequate, and objective. We think it’s deeply flawed and should not be certified.

Here’s our article on what’s wrong with the EIR: Ten Reasons Why the Environmental Impact Report for Natural Areas is Flawed

2) Second, after the EIR is certified, the Recreation and Parks Commission will vote whether to approve the Plan, and in what form. The EIR describes alternatives to the Project, and we think that if they must approve the Plan, they should implement the Maintenance Alternative. This is a “lite” version of the Project, which allows the Natural Resources Department to continue its current activities but not chop down 18,400 trees, reduce access to the natural areas, and use much more herbicide than at present. We ask the SFRP Commission make a motion to approve the Maintenance Alternative for the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Project

Here’s our article on Ten Reasons to Oppose the Natural Areas “Project”

We will keep asking for your support in the hope that we, the voices for the trees, are heard by those with the power to unleash destruction on our beautiful old stands of trees.

We want to maintain access to the Natural Areas, not lose 95% of the parks which become prohibited areas with a “stay on the designated trail” requirement. And we want herbicide use in Natural Areas to stop.

mt davidson forest - hiker on trail

Posted in deforestation, Environment | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Urban Greening Draft – Speak for The Trees by 5 Dec 2016

In September 2016, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNR) started planning a grant program for Urban Greening. It sounds good at first: The money, 3/4 of which must be used in economically disadvantaged communities, is for planting trees to store carbon and to shade buildings. (It’s also for bike paths and walkways.)

tony-holiday-ed-savesutro-street-trees-loraxUnfortunately, as it’s drafted now, the Grant Program apparently only supports the planting of “native” trees. But many urban areas in California had no native trees – like San Francisco.  Even where there are native trees, they don’t work in urban conditions. The recommended street-tree list from Friends of the Urban Forest has no native trees on it at all. Over 90% of California’s urban trees are from elsewhere – for the simple reason that native trees don’t do well in urban environments.

An urban environment is difficult for trees. We need to be able to tap the huge variety of trees from all over the world to find the ones that work as street trees and park trees, in all the different growing conditions in cities.


Trees are a crucial part of our green infrastructure. They’re the only practical way to reduce carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. They help regulate water flows, reduce particulate pollution, and provide wind barriers, all of which can reduce the energy used to mitigate those problems. They’re also habitat for insects, birds, and animals – and this is why we would prefer new plantings to be “organic.” Trees that have been treated with systemic pesticides can be toxic to wildlife.

Restricting ourselves to native trees is like having no trees at all. Only a few pockets are suitable for native trees. Oak trees, which are native trees in much of the Bay Area, are dying of Sudden Oak Death. The disease is spreading from year to year, and planting more oaks only spreads it further.

A more detailed article is available here: California’s Urban Greening Grant Program: An opportunity to speak for the trees

Please write in to CNR and ask them to remove the restriction on non-native trees and plants. Public comment must be submitted by December 5, 2016, by email, mail, or phone. (If you leave a phone message, you may want to follow up with an email.)

Mail:  Urban Greening Grant Program c/o The California Natural Resources Agency Attn: Bonds and Grants Unit 1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311 Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 653-2812


Posted in Environment | Tagged , ,

UCSF Meeting about 2016 Sutro Forest Draft Plan – Oct 27, 2016 – Report

We attended the UCSF community meeting about the new draft plan for Sutro Forest. On this rainy evening, only about 6-8 people came, outnumbered by the UCSFers present. Unlike previous meetings, there were no presentations, just stations that were set up with posters, and UCSF staff and consultants to discuss them. We spent most of the time explaining the forest’s micro-ecosystem to various people. More of that later.

hiker in Sutro Cloud Forest June 2014Our assessment, based on what we know so far: This 2016 Plan is better than the previous ones in February and November 2013, with favorable goals and policies. However, it’s possible to  damage the forest unless UCSF takes great care in tree and understory removal.

(You can read the 2016 Draft Plan here: Sutro-Management-Plan-TAC-Draft-081216

In fact, the tree and plant removal for “safety” has already affected the ability of parts of the forest to store moisture – and the subsequent damage is being blamed on the drought. But if UCSF and the Sutro Stewards had not removed the understory and small trees, the forest would have been able to retain more moisture and withstood dry conditions better.


The first poster about the new Plan was UCSF’s Goals and Policies. On the whole, they’re pretty good. Safety, public access, no herbicides, respect the nesting season… and most importantly, “The beauty of the Reserve will be preserved and its novel ecosystem maintained as a public resource.”

We hope this means that they will go past the obfuscation that has been put out in the past to actually recognize how this novel ecosystem works. Unfortunately, the specifics of the plan suggest we’re not quite there yet.



Here’s the proposed timeline, which suggests that implementation will begin in the Fall of 2017. We are glad to see a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be made.

ucsf-timeline-for-2016-sutro-forest-planWe asked Christine Gasparac of UCSF about funding. She said that the actual Plan process (including, presumably, the new EIR) has been budgeted for, as has the first three years of implementation. She wasn’t able to provide any actual numbers. The Plan for subsequent years is to try to get grants or partnerships.


The foresters retained to write the plan divided the forest into four areas, counted trees and evaluated their condition. These are color-coded in the map below. The area they – and we, for different reasons – are most concerned about is the green space, Type 1.

The four “types” are:

  • Type 1, which at 24 acres comprises the largest section, cutting right through the heart of the forest. This also has the greatest density of trees per acre, and includes many of the snags (standing dead trees) so invaluable for wildlife.
  • Type 2, a now thinly-populated area below Medical Center Way where a lot of trees were removed in 2013 and 2014 as part of the so-called “safety” treatment.
  • Type 3, another quite small area that lies above the Regenerative Medicine building, next to the parking lot.
  • Type 4, a relatively steep area of the forest where it’s been allowed to grow more or less unhampered.

tree-assessment-in-sutro-forest-2016In this assessment, UCSF has also sharply revised downward its figure for the total number of trees in its forest. Earlier, it used a figure of 45,000 trees on 61 acres. Now, it estimates there are only 10,500 trees.  Since it’s unlikely that 34,500 trees have died since 2013, either its earlier plans were based on erroneous figures, or the new estimate isn’t accurate either.

The 2013 plan called for removing around 30,000 of the 45,000 trees (see “Message to UCSF, Do the Math“). It seems, from these revised figures, more than 30,000 trees have vanished at the stroke of a pen! Nevertheless, UCSF still intends to cut down trees in Sutro Forest.

The Type 1 area is where there has already been the most interference in the forest – Sutro Stewards clearing or broadening trails, the tree-cutting in the name of safety, and the removal of understory and small trees for “fire hazard reduction” that actually functioned to reduce the moisture retention ability of the forest, especially during the dry years when the fog would have been most important. As we predicted, this has harmed the forest by drying it out and damaging the trees. Most of the dead and dying trees are in this area.


Phase 1 looks straightforward enough – except that there’s a lot of tree removal embedded in it, not to mention habitat destruction. phase-1-sutro-forest-plan-2016hand-drawn map with neighborhoodsUCSF has been interpreting “hazardous trees” liberally. Quite coincidentally, the areas of removal coincide with those where the February 2013 Plan was going to remove trees in four “demonstration areas” to plant native plants instead. (Those are the yellow areas on the map on the right.) It’s a series of spaces that run through the heart of the forest. In some cases, trees have already been cut down as “hazardous tree” work, or as “defensible space.”

We asked how many trees would be cut down, but they didn’t have an answer for us. We will try to get some better figures and publish them here.


phase-1-forest-cuts-sutro-forest-2016We are encouraged that the replanting will include blue-gum eucalyptus, a species that has proven successful at this site. We would suggest boosting it with an acacia understory. Not only does this pairing occur naturally, the acacia also fixes nitrogen and feeds the other trees. Acacia and eucalyptus together are superb at sequestering carbon.  Eucalyptus, with its dense wood, large size, fast growth and long life is one of the best carbon-sinks there is, and acacia turbo-charges this effect.

acacia subcanopy 2Actually, though you would not know it from the lush green forest thriving here for over a century, this is a very difficult site. It’s very windy and the rocky base is close to the surface so the soils are thin. Until the fast-growing eucalyptus provided both shelter from the wind and a self-watering mechanism because it captures summer fog-moisture, very little could grow there other than some scrub that was dead nine months of the year. It took the flexible and adaptive eucalyptus to anchor the lush ecosystem that has naturalized here in 120 years. But every plant plays its part in creating this ecosystem and habitat – the blackberry, the ivy, the blackwood acacia, the ferns and grasses and small plants. (Read more about that here: Sutro Forest Ecosystem and Wildlife Habitat.)


After the first five years, there’ll be more tree removal and replanting until the whole forest is done. It will shift from being a naturalized forest to a heavily managed one. However, if UCSF stands by its plan to respect the Novel Ecosystem, perhaps it will be allowed to thrive again.

sutro-forest-plan-phase-2-and-3HOW THE MICRO- ECOSYSTEM WORKS

cloud forest diagramSutro Forest is a cloud forest, and the greatest enemy of a cloud forest is opening it up. This forest lies in the fog belt, and summer fog moisture captured by the tall trees and keeps it damp until winter rains start.

Opening up the forest, though, dries it out. It also increases the airflow in this windy area, and thus makes it even more dry. Removing understory – including blackberry and ivy – and small trees reduces the forest’s ability to retain this moisture.

We are concerned that a failure to understand how this micro-ecosystem works will lead to actions that will decrease the forest’s healthy, and increase safety risks.

We are already seeing the negative impacts of the aggressive understory removal in 2013 and 2014. We hope the new management plan will consider these factors, instead of dubbing it all “invasive” and mowing it down.



Posted in Environment, Mount Sutro Stewards, UCSF | Tagged , , , , ,

UCSF’s New Draft Plan for Sutro Forest – Aug 2016

UCSF presented its new Draft Plan for Sutro Forest at the Third Technical Advisory Committee meeting on Aug 18, 2016. This plan will be implemented in three phases: Year 1-5, Year 6-10, and Year 11-20. However, it is heavily front-loaded, with much of it being done in the first five years. The last ten years only continue what was done earlier. The end result is supposed to be a greatly thinned “see-through” forest with open areas between 0.5 and 5 acres in size. The forest will look and feel very different, (though UCSF says it intends to retain the sense of a forest).

joggers in Mt Sutro Cloud ForestThe Plan divides the forest into four areas, each with different characteristics and tree density. Of the four areas, three are characterized as being in “Fair” condition, and the fourth in overall better condition. (That would be the Western side, where the steep slope has discouraged too much interference.) The brown blob in between Type 1 and Type 4 is the Native Plant Garden at the summit

Forest type and trail map

Type 1 is what most people experience as the core of the forest. It has the highest density, at 279 trees per acre, and also the highest number of snags (standing dead trees) that are so valuable to wildlife, about 100 per acre.  (See the Trail Map above for comparison.) Type 2 has the least density, with around 45 trees per acre. Type 3 and Type 4 have 110 and 128 trees per acre respectively.


(See the whole 64-page draft plan HERE: Sutro-Management-Plan-TAC-Draft-081216 )

Phase 1 of the Plan: Initial 5 years (probably 2017-2021)

This phase would cover about 39 acres of the 61 acre forest (or possibly even 57 acres), and would involve extensive removal of trees and understory vegetation (mainly ivy, blackberry).

  • Assess trees to 50 feet on either side of the trail (currently they assess 25 feet), and remove those that are dead, dying, or leaning. This would cover 18 acres of the 61 acres of UCSF’s portion of the forest. (There was some talk of expanding this to 100 feet, which would presumably also double the area from 18 to 36 acres.)
  • “Forest Treatments” to remove unhealthy and structurally unsound trees, understory plants that would compete with “desired vegetation” (presumably native plants), prevent sprouting from decayed stumps, and planting new trees. Specifically: In two areas of Forest Type 1, clear a total of 1.5 acres and plant about 100 trees per acre. In 8 separate areas in Forest Type 1, clear a total of 2.5 acres and plant blue gum or other eucalyptus species.
  • Expand the native plant garden from 2 acres to 5 acres.
  • Clear trees within 30 feet of buildings, roads, and neighboring properties as “defensible space.” This would be about 14 acres.
  • Widen trails to 5 feet at least, maintain vegetation for 5-10 feet on either side, and keep understory plants below 3 feet in height for visibility.

Phase 2 of the Plan: 6-10 years (probably 2022-2026)

  • Remove trees to thin the forest. In Forest Type 1, remove 50-65 trees per acre; in Forest Type 3, remove 20-25 trees per acre; and in Forest Type 4, remove 10-15 trees per acre. Preferentially remove unhealthy and smaller trees (less than 18 inches in diameter at breast height.) Focus removal on non-blue gum trees. [We’re not sure why.] Start with the areas they do not plan to re-forest.
  • Treat all the forest types with a tree-planting program, 50% eucalyptus and 50% other species, with a 20 x 20 spacing, looking for around 75 trees per acre surviving. This may be modified depending on slope, water, and sunlight conditions.
  • Continue with tree risk management, planting native plants, managing defensible space, and trails.

Phase 3 of the Plan: 11-20 years (probably 2027-2036)

  • “Treat” any areas not treated in the first ten years. Continue doing what was done in the first ten years.

Monitoring: The Plan recommends ongoing monitoring. Specifically: checking on the sites the consultants sampled to establish initial conditions every ten years; monitoring “treatment” areas at 1, 3, and 5 years; keep a plant inventory, and ideally an inventory of birds and other wildlife.


Now that the third TAC meeting is over, UCSF’s planned timeline is as follows:

  • September: Publish the final Plan
  • October 4th Tuesday at 6.30 p.m, October 15th Saturday at 2.30 p.m, 2016: Two community meetings to discuss the Plan.  (Dates changed to  Saturday, October 15. 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at Millberry Union, 500 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122 and Thursday, October 27. 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Aldea Center, 155 Johnstone Drive, San Francisco, CA 94131)
  • October/ November:  Publish initial Study for Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
  • November/ December:  Scoping Meeting for EIR
  • Spring 2017: Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Plan
  • Spring 2017:  Public hearing on recirculated draft
  • Spring/ Summer 2017: Prepare responses to public comments
  • Summer 2017: Publish and certify the Environmental Impact Report
  • Fall 2017 (after the nesting season): Start implementation.
cloud forest with dog sm

Mount Sutro Cloud Forest, 2016

Posted in eucalyptus, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged , ,

Sutro Forest – UCSF to Hold Final TAC Meeting (and some old pictures)

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

UCSF is planning to hold its final Technical Advisory Committee meeting on August 18th, 2016. These are a series of meetings in which two consultants, who have been retained by UCSF to write a plan for Sutro Cloud Forest (or, officially “Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve) consider input from a team of advisors assembled by UCSF. Public comment is welcomed, so please feel free to attend and speak for the forest.

Here are the details:

Thursday, August 18, 2016
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Aldea Center on Mount Sutro
155 Johnstone Drive

There are some parking spaces available near the Aldea Center.

Meanwhile, we were recently sent two photographs from 1906 and 1910 that show this forest over a century ago.

old sf sutro forest n Tank Hill c 1906This picture, from the Library of Congress collection, was taken from an airship and is said to be from around 1906. The round white building in the foreground is the Tank on Tank Hill – before any trees were planted there. Much of Cole Valley was empty land, transitioning from pastoral to residential use. On the left side of the picture, Sutro Forest is visible with Clarendon Avenue running into it.

The picture below is from a colored postcard dated 1910, and it shows UCSF’s predecessor – the Affiliated College and University Hospital, nestled at the foot of the beautiful forest.

Sutro Forest 1910 postcard smThis picture is similar  to the one at the top of this article, which dates from 2010. (We repeat it here below for comparison.) It underlines how  fortunate we are to have this wonderful forest, now a century and a quarter old, in the midst of our glorious city.

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

Posted in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

“New Battle over Managing Sutro Forest Trees” – San Francisco Chronicle

Someone sent us a really interesting article about Sutro Forest in a recent San Francisco Chronicle (25th June, 2016).

sutro forest 1A MYSTICAL PLACE

Titled “New battle over managing Sutro Forest trees,” the article is by well-known journalist Carl Nolte. It starts with a wonderful description of the forest:

The forest, 80 or so acres of wild land in the heart of San Francisco, is almost a mystical place. It is a woodland of tall eucalyptus trees, and a green, almost impenetrable, undergrowth of ivy, blackberries and brush, laced with 5 miles of trails. A five-minute walk into the woods takes you away from the city. The only sounds are the wind in the trees, and the only sights are the trees and the trail ahead. “There is a sense of tranquility,” said Morley Singer, a retired physician who loves the forest. “You kind of disconnect from the world.” ‘

Enhanced by some atmospheric photographs by Liz Hafalia, the article captures both the character of the forest – and the controversy.

It mentions the history of the 80-acre forest – that it’s 130 years old, and was planted by mining magnate (and philanthropist) Adolph Sutro; that it’s mostly owned by UCSF, but for the 20 acres or so owned by the City as the Interior Green Belt.  It quotes Dr Singer again:

‘Everyone agrees what he planted is a civic treasure, and none more than Singer, who took a reporter on a walk through the woods, pointing out the trees, the fog canopy, and listening to the silence. “It is a forest surrounded by 7 or 8 million people,” he said, “But when you are up here, you are in magic territory. You could be up in the Sierra on the Muir Trail.”’


It also mentioned the threat: That thousands of trees will be cut down, destroying the forest. UCSF was interviewed, as was Craig Dawson, executive director of the Sutro Stewards. It’s an organization that works in partnership with UCSF. Dawson wants the forest “managed” – a euphemism for chopping down trees.

When the story started, 16 years ago, UCSF said the trees were old, in bad health and nearing the end of their life. [None of this was actually true – they thought the trees had a life of 100 years, instead of the 300-500 that is actually the case.]

‘It was also noted that the woods were an artificial forest, that the trees were not native, and therefore it was somehow inferior. Singer calls that view “plant racism.”’

UCSF is restarting its plans for the forest. [We reported on that:  UCSF Restarts Sutro Forest Plans in 2016; First UCSF TAC meeting 14 Jan 2016; UCSF’s second Sutro Forest Meeting 28 April 2016.]

Craig Dawson argues that a “sustainable forest” (as though 130 years is not enough!) has 16-28 trees to an acre, while Sutro Forest has 200-400 trees per acre. “It’s a sick forest” he says, implying that thousands of trees must be cut down.

Dr Joe McBride, Professor Emeritus from UC Berkeley and the Bay Area’s leading authority on eucalyptus, doesn’t agree. The article reports him as saying the forest is not unhealthy, though stressed by drought. It has its own ecosystem, and could last for 200-300 years.

We think it’s well worth reading. Look for the June 25, 2016 Chronicle. Or read it in the (imperfect) PDF below.

New battle over managing Sutro Forest trees – San Francisco Chronicle

joggers in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest

Posted in Environment, eucalyptus, Mount Sutro Stewards, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Mission Blue Butterfly on Twin Peaks 2016 Update: Imports from San Bruno Continue

Missionblue public domain imageThe ongoing project to establish the Mission Blue Butterfly (an endangered subspecies of butterfly) on San Francisco’s Twin Peaks is, well, ongoing.

On the basis of the most recent information we received under the Sunshine Act, the Twin Peaks population shows no sign of becoming self-sustaining. Even though some breeding occurs on on Twin Peaks, it’s not enough. The population would likely die out without injections of new butterflies from the larger population in San Bruno.

In the graph below, the dark bars show the butterflies spotted each year before the new batch from San Bruno are moved in. Those would be the ones known to be born on Twin Peaks. The light bars show the number of butterflies transferred from San Bruno.

Mission Blue butterfly on Twin Peaks San Francisco 2009-2016

[Edited to Add: This graph has an error for 2015; the native-born number should be 19. The others were spotted only after transfers from San Bruno had started and should have been excluded from our count.]


The Mission Blue butterfly (Aricia icarioides missionensis) is a subspecies of the quite widespread Boisduval’s Blue (Aricia icarioides). The species is not endangered, but the subspecies is found only from San Bruno to Marin, at a very few sites. The largest population is on San Bruno Mountain.

Icaricia_icarioides_missionensis_egg public domain

Mission Blue butterfly egg. Public domain

Lupine is the nursery plant of the Mission Blue. It’s the only plant on which it’s known to lay its eggs and which the caterpillars eat. (Specifically, it’s three varieties of lupine.)

Mission blue eggs hatch into caterpillars which eat the lupine, shedding their skins as they grow. The larger caterpillars are tended by native ant species, who protect them from predators while benefiting from “honeydew” – sugary caterpillar pee.

When they’ve grown to their full size, they form their pupae near the base of the plants, or even on the soil beneath, and remain there for months (in diapause). They hatch into butterflies in spring, sip nectar from a range of flowers (including the “invasive” non-native Italian thistle: Carduus pycnocephalus), mate, and lay eggs on lupines.

These butterflies have only one generation a year and an 8-10 week flight season, becoming visible in April and May. The males live an average of 7 days, and females for 8 days. The males usually hatch before the females do, so they are ready to mate when the females appear.


Twin Peaks at one time had a population of Mission Blue Butterflies, but a fungus killed most of the lupine in the area. By 2008 they hadn’t been seen in years – 1997 was the last year any substantial number was spotted.  The project was initiated in 2009 with the transfer of 22 female butterflies to Twin Peaks. (In fact, the project actually started earlier, with three kinds of lupine being planted on Twin Peaks.)

The project team – San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program  (NAP) and outside consultants Creekside Center for Earth Observation – catch butterflies on San Bruno Mountain and bring them to Twin Peaks. A USFWS permit governs how many butterflies they can move, and from where. Most years, they can’t reach this limit.

We’ve been following the multi-year project and reporting on it from time to time – (Feb 2015),   (March 2013), (April 2011) and (June 2010).  Year by year, here’s the story:

  • In 2009, the project staff moved 22 female butterflies to Twin Peaks and caged them over lupine plants until they laid their eggs. They hoped the butterflies would go forth and multiply. Only a small number made it.
  • In 2010, observers counted 17 adult butterflies, and 14 larvae. This was not a self-sustaining population.
  • In 2011, they spotted only 7 adults of which two were females, and 3 larvae. So they got US Fish and Wildlife Service permits to take more butterflies from San Bruno Mountain – 40 females and 20 males – which they released in May 2011.
  • In 2012, they observed 7 butterflies (one female) and 6 larvae. Then they transported 11 female and 5 male butterflies from San Bruno Mountain. (They had permission to transport 60, but could not get them.)
  • In 2013, they saw a total of 27 native-born butterflies, of which 6 were female – and 5 larvae. Then they caught 38 female and 20 male butterflies on San Bruno mountain and released them on Twin Peaks. Follow-up surveys observed a lot of eggs – 1120 – on Twin Peaks – much more than in previous years, when the highest number observed was 273.
  • In 2014, they saw 23 native-born butterflies on Twin Peaks (5 female). This was despite spending more time looking than in the previous year (9 visits instead of 5) and going across the whole season. Since they didn’t move any butterflies from San Bruno in 2014, and so were not spending time capturing butterflies, project staff could spend more time observing them on Twin Peaks. The egg bonanza had not paid off; there’s a very high attrition rate between egg and adult butterfly from predators and parasites.
  • In 2015, they observed 22 native-born butterflies – 17 males and 5 females. [Edited to Correct: Actually, the number observed *before* transfers was 19 – 16 mles and 3 females.] Then they brought in 22 more Mission Blues from San Bruno (13 females, 9 males).
  • In 2016, they didn’t specifically go looking for Mission Blue butterflies – they mainly surveyed the lupine plants, which is where the butterflies lay their eggs, and the caterpillars live and eat. They saw only 7 butterflies, all males, before bringing in 44 more from San Bruno.

The project team considers it a continued success, based on limited objectives that include observing evidence that caterpillars are feeding on lupines; that male and female free-flying butterflies are seen both in and outside the release areas; spotting eggs. The other objectives are entirely about habitat management – more lupine, more nectar plants (preferably native ones), managing grass and other unwanted plants around the lupine.

(You can read the whole 2015 report here as a PDF: TwinPeaksProgressReportmbb2015 )

Mission Blue butterfly on Twin Peaks San Francisco by sex 2009-16

[Edited to Add: This graph has an error for 2015; the native-born number should be 19 – 16 males and 3 females. The others were spotted only after transfers from San Bruno had started and should have been excluded from our count.]


The only way to have Mission Blue butterflies on Twin Peaks, is to intervene continually in two ways:

Regularly importing Mission Blue butterflies from elsewhere

Though the Mission Blue butterfly does breed on Twin Peaks, it is only moderately successful. A bad year, or just plain attrition, could quickly drop numbers below a sustainable level. (If there are too few butterflies, many males will die before finding mates.)

So the only way to have Mission Blue butterflies at Twin Peaks is to keep bringing them from San Bruno (or maybe other areas if strong numbers pop up). In addition to San Bruno, an effort is being made to introduce them into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Populations have also shown up spontaneously in other areas.

Gardening for lupine

Twin Peaks will need continual work to maintain the Mission Blue garden. Without ongoing effort, the area will naturally change to other vegetation.

  • In a “natural” setting, patches of lupine shift around because they thrive on disturbance. (So, therefore, do the Mission Blue butterflies.) Without such disturbance, lupine will need to be replanted from time to time. They will also need to plant the nectar sources for the butterfly.
  • Gardening is also needed to block the natural succession of grassland into scrub land. The main problem here is coyote brush, a native plant that would normally invade the grassland and overtake the lupine. NAP uses volunteers for this. It also uses pesticides to control other plants, including Garlon 4 Ultra for oxalis.
  • Also, the grass around the lupine patches needs to be trimmed back so the butterflies can spot it more easily.


The program continues: gardening for lupine on Twin Peaks, and transferring in butterflies from other locations. The most recent report (Feb 2016) says they’re stopping butterfly counts as a way of surveying the population on Twin Peaks, but instead just going by whether the butterfly is present or absent at specific locations. The main population estimate will be based on whether the lupine is being eaten.

This may not be very accurate, since other insects – including the closely-related Acmon Blue butterfly that also occurs on Twin Peaks – also eat lupine and it’s difficult to tell what’s causing the leaf-damage. Also, most caterpillars will not survive to become butterflies, which means they will not reproduce. The attrition rate exceeds 80% and may be quite variable depending on predators like rodents and parasites – especially certain wasps.

But perhaps accuracy is not very important; unless the number is very large, they will continue to transfer in butterflies from San Bruno mountain. Their USFWS permit is valid through 2020.

mission blue projectOn the whole, though, the project seems harmless.  Aside from the continuing use of pesticides, and some diversion of resources, there seems no reason not to continue. Some concerns were raised as to whether San Bruno mountain’s Mission Blue population would be affected, but Creekside thinks these transfers are entirely sustainable.

twin peaks - jan 2015 - imazapyr and garlon for poison oak cotoneaster oxalis

Posted in Environment, Natural areas Program | Tagged , ,

Butterfly Count 2016 – San Francisco

common buckeye butterfly stampThis year’s foggy butterfly count day – June 4th, 2016 –  yielded fewer butterflies than usual, though the number of species was around the same. The Common Buckeye was the most commonly spotted butterfly in 2016, with the Cabbage White almost as frequent. These two butterflies accounted for 40% of the individuals seen.


Each year, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) sponsors the July 4th series of butterfly counts at locations all across the US. Volunteers go out up to one month before or after July 4th to count butterflies in specific locations. We’ve followed the San Francisco butterfly count since 2010, with a gap in 2015 when we found no published data. (If there’s data available, we’ll be happy to publish it.)

Cabbage White sitting on Oxalis

Cabbage White sitting on Oxalis

This year, we’re back with our summary of the results. (The results for earlier years are here: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. )

The San Francisco count, managed by Liam O’Brien, is tricky; San Francisco gets fog in summer and butterflies tend to lie low on foggy days. The 2016 count, on June 4th, had bad luck with the weather, with a persistent fog and only sporadic sunshine. The spotters were able to find 24 species, the same as in most years, but only 499 individual butterflies.

san francisco california butterfly count 2010-2016


The highlights of this year’s observations:

  • Acmon Blue - Plebejus acmon USFWS public domain

    Two Acmon Blues

    The Common Buckeye was in first place in 2016 by a small margin of just 3 individuals more than the next closest,  the Cabbage White (102 to 99). It was in the top three in 2014. The Acmon Blue, a tiny blue butterfly similar to the endangered Mission Blue butterfly (and its close relative) came in third.

  • The Monarch butterfly showed up again for the first time since 2011.  Usually, these are winter visitors in San Francisco. And the Rural Skipper, which first appeared in our data in 2013, is in this year’s Top Ten. [Edited to Add: They were counted on Angel Island.] However, we don’t read too much into this – the butterflies spotted depend on weather conditions, time of the year (since there can be up to 2 months of difference between a late and early count), and maybe, the number and skill of the observers.
  • The Cabbage White has been in the first or second position in the six years we’ve followed the Count. In most years, it’s the top of the chart. (In 2013, it was overtaken by the Pipevine Swallowtail.) It’s probably our most consistently present butterfly, at least in summer. It favors plants related to cabbage and mustard, so the wild mustard in San Francisco is probably good for it.  The table below shows the top three in previous years’ butterfly counts, with the numbers spotted. In 2012, two species tied for the second position, each with 92 individuals seen.

SF Butterflies -top three from 2010 to 2016Here’s a graph of the top ten butterflies for 2016’s count, compared with how many were seen in previous years. (This year’s data are in the red bars.) This year, the top ten species accounted for 87% of  the identified butterflies, the highest percentage in 6 years.

top ten butterflies - san francisco 2016THE DATA SET

Finally: for data nerds like us, here is the list of butterflies spotted in each count from 2010 (excluding 2015). It’s interesting to look at each species across the years.

sf Butterfly count data 2010-2016Edited to Add: Some of the changes in species visibility is due to adding Angel Island and Yerba Buena Island as locations to the San Francisco count circle a few years ago. In 2016, three of the species were counted only on the islands: The Pipevine Swallowtail on Angel Island and Yerba Buena (though other, non-count reports say it has been seen on Mount Sutro!); the Common Wood Nymph and the Rural Skipper on Angel Island.

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Report: UCSF Second Sutro Forest TAC Meeting

UCSF held its second Planning Meeting for Sutro Forest on 28 April 2016. The two hired arborists, Jim Clark of Hort Science and Matt Greene, presented the direction they were taking the Plan, and their evaluation of the forest. The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) offered comments, and then later, so did the public.


Moderator Daniel Iacafano noted that this was just the start of the process, and more inputs would be sought from the TAC and the public. This means things could change, but it indicates the current thinking.

  • They will plan to retain a eucalyptus forest on Mount Sutro, and encourage regeneration to have a continuous tree canopy. They accept the Cal-IPC designation of eucalyptus as having “limited” invasiveness.
  • Though the main priority is safety, as UCSF has stated since 2013, it is clear that native plant restoration is a key objective. They are once again talking in terms of invasive species, and we suspect they are using “biodiversity” as a dog-whistle term for native plant restoration. (However, Peter Ehrlich and Dr Joe McBride of the TAC suggested introducing other species of eucalyptus like Mountain Gum and Spotted Gum to increase biodiversity while keeping the character of the forest.)
  • The canopy objective will make an exception for “remnant” areas of native plants, or places native plants could grow. To assess this, they will depend on the Sutro Stewards. At this meeting, Craig Dawson, Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards, said that the entire area was a remnant landscape, and once other vegetation was removed, native plants sprouted.  What this implies is that any group of trees could be removed anywhere in the forest.
  • Our overall impression is that the plan as it is being developed resembles the 2001 Plan – substantial tree removal including clear-cutting in some areas – and planting with native plants. We can expect a major change in the character of the forest.
  • The general time-line plans for tree removal to start in Fall of 2017.
  • However, they may do more tree removals before that – as they did last winter – with the excuse of safety.
  • march 2013 Euc and Acacia regenerating in GashThey said regeneration was not occurring because young trees were not being recruited into the canopy. This is likely because they do not get enough light – meaning that the canopy is, essentially, full. Matt Greene said that the lack of trees in the Gash opened up over the water line showed a lack of regeneration. (However, we know the saplings did regenerate many times over as in this March 2013 picture – and were removed legally or otherwise.).
  • Avoiding the Nesting Season. They promised to do no unnecessary tree work during the nesting season, March through August. (Peter Ehrlich, of the Technical Advisory Committee, pointed out that some birds large and small start nesting in January – for instance, Great Horned Owls and Anna’s Hummingbirds. He recommended avoiding forest work for the entire period from January through August.) Our recent post shows how difficult it is to find nests of small birds, because they are very well hidden.
  • UCSF committed to not using herbicides in the Reserve (i.e., their part of the forest – though they are used in the city-owned portion).


For anyone who is interested in delving into details, here are photographs of the presentation. Daniel Iacafano, who has moderated Sutro Forest meetings for years, also moderated this one. As usual, they took notes on a huge board. They need to update their technology with audio and/ or video recordings. It’s so easily done now there’s no reason not to.

The members of the TAC are:

  • Peter Brastow, Senior Environmental Specialist for Nature, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, San Francisco Department of the Environment. Mr Brastow was previously the director of Nature In the City, a native-species organization that was the original parent entity of the Sutro Stewards.
  • Peter Ehrlich, Forester, Presidio Trust. Mr. Ehrlich is experienced with eucalyptus groves from his Presidio experience.
  • Joe McBride, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, University of California Berkeley. Dr McBride is probably the foremost expert on eucalyptus in the Bay Area. Notes from a presentation he made at the Commonwealth Club are HERE.
  • Richard Sampson, Forester/Division Chief, CAL FIRE.
  • Lew Stringer, Restoration Ecologist, Presidio Trust.

(Our thoughts on all the participants are HERE: Who’s Who.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The goals were defined as:

  • Visual design and aesthetics;
  • Reserve and ecosystem health;
  • Public safety; and
  • Public access.

The key assumptions were that the Plan would improve safety, protecting lives and structures; addresses hazard reduction and promotes a sustainable ecosystem; includes a replanting strategy to promote biodiversity; and utilizes a phased-in approach. Safety of people and structures would be the top priority.

They also committed to transparency and community planning principles, and to encourage public access via the trail network they partnered with the Sutro Stewards to build. (This makes the Sutro Stewards officially partners of UCSF.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The two consultants evaluated around 600 trees in four main areas of the forest. They looked at how many trees were dead, and how many had crowns of 20% or less.

Joe McBride of the TAC asked what benchmarks they were using. Why did a 20% crown matter? And Peter Ehrlich pointed out that dead crowns don’t necessarily mean the tree is dying; crown retrenchment was a protective mechanism in eucalyptus during droughts, and didn’t mean a tree needed to be condemned. In some places, they saw trees declining where tree removals took place upwind, exposing the remaining trees. Lew Stringer suggested the understory should also be monitored.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Richard Sampson asked about the basal area of the dead trees. Matt Greene said they were mostly small, as the forest was self-thinning. (We think this is actually the best kind of thinning – the trees best suited to the site will thrive, the others will die out.)

They pcloud forest diagramlanned to remove most of the dead trees, leaving perhaps 3-4 per acre as habitat. Some dead trees would be felled and left in the forest. They also wanted to come up with a plan for tree removal – whether individual trees, or groups of half an acre.

Peter Brastow asked if Area 4 got more moisture. Matt Greene said yes, and thought they should consider ways to get more moisture to other areas – like opening up corridors for the fog.

(We think the best way would be to retain the density of the forest, so the moisture caught by the trees is retained.)

He also wondered if the last three years were a window into the future with global warming. More fog or less? Matt Greene said his experience was with coast redwoods, also fog dependent, and they were actually doing pretty well. He emphasized the importance of monitoring the forest.

Richard Sampson said that there were a lot of dead trees up and down the coast, so he was concerned about the eucalyptus canopy. (In comments, a member of the public pointed out that eucalyptus forests were not fire hazards, and provided extensive references. She suggested getting David Maloney to talk about this.)


A number of the public made comments, some in support of the Plan and others concerned about some of the directions.

On the general direction and process:

  • Morley Singer, who has been active in the fight for Sutro Cloud Forest since 1999, said that this has been going on for 17 years, and there are trust issues with UCSF. Trees are cut down for a variety of excuses. He is from UCSF, worked there for ten years, and loves the institution. But don’t confuse its excellence and fantastic medical reputation with infallibility. For instance, some years ago, there was a merger planned with Stanford. It was a disaster. We will monitor this Plan very carefully.
  • How was the TAC formed: By invitation or recruitment, and if so, by whom? What are their qualifications?
  • How much will this Plan cost? I hope the consultants will provide an estimate of the economics of the plan. Resource issues are important.
  • Jake Sigg said herbicide use will be essential, especially against oxalis and erhata as the area is opened up. There were 56 native species of plants 25 years ago, probably fewer now. [Actually, there is no evidence for this.]
  • Amy Kaiser, Ecology Manager for Sutro Stewards, believes that “restoration” on Mount Sutro can be achieved without herbicides because the Stewards get a lot of volunteers.
  • Burning up to the Eucalyptus

    Burning up to the Eucalyptus

    Fire hazard is still being used as an excuse, even though forests are not as hazardous as grassland or shrublands – or the actual homes and buildings.  Thinning could increase the fire hazard by reducing moisture retention. Recommended reading Dave Maloney’s report.

scripps-ranch-nytimesOn directions for the forest:

muir woods monoculture

Muir Woods monoculture?

  • Why the concern with monocultures? There are monocultures all over the world. Is Muir Woods a monoculture?
  • The concept of “native” should be removed from the discussion. Why pick 250 years as the cut-off for native? Dr Morley Singer did a thought-experiment: How many here are native Californians? (Some raised their hands.) Sorry, we’ll have to ask the rest of you to leave, or you’ll have to be killed.
  • Pat Greene, (a birder who was identified as a source by Jim Clark), said that birders have seen 75 species of birds in  Sutro Forest but twice that number in Mt Davidson. [However, Mt Davidson is much more intensively followed by the birding community, and this is the most likely reason.]
  • Craig Dawson, Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards said, “If you build it they will come.” The first pipevine swallowtail butterfly was seen on Mt Sutro. The entire area is a remnant. The seed bank still exists. Along trails, with no planting, the native plants are coming back. [So are forget-me-nots and oxalis. The idea of the entire area being a remnant provides an excuse for destruction of any part of the forest.]
  • Even though it’s been a forest for more than 120 years, it was originally grass and shrub with a 360-degree view from Mt Sutro. [And there was no city, either, originally.]
  • A neighbor from Cole Valley lives on edge of Surge parking lot and *hates* eucalyptus and would like them all cut down and no new ones planted.
  • One aesthetic value has not been discussed: the dense, lush, untamed forest that visitors found so surprising and magical in the heart of the city.
  • Another neighbor was glad to hear that the healthy trees will be retained and more will be planted, and hopes density will be maintained. Fog catching and keeping moisture is important.

On “thinning” the forest”

  • Thinning is risky –  it can weaken the remaining trees.  When PGE cut down trees, other trees were impacted and died.
  • Eucs are drought resistant – other trees died in the drought too.
  • The continuous thinning of the understory and tree removals since around 2010 has already made the forest more dry, and may have damaged some of the trees.
Mount sutro forest greenery - June 2011

Mount Sutro Forest greenery – June 2011

Posted in Environment, Meetings, Mount Sutro Stewards, UCSF | Tagged , , , , ,

UCSF’s 2016 Sutro Forest Plan: Who’s Who

This post is to take a look at all the people who will be involved in the new Sutro Forest plan for 2016. We may edit it to update it with more information as we get it.


Jim Clark at the lectern, Matt Greene seated – April 2016


Jim Clark, of Hort Science, wrote the original 1999 assessment of Sutro Forest. He has been involved since then in identifying trees as “hazardous” in the Interior Green Belt (the city-owned section of the forest). We’re not sure if he’s also responsible for the trees identified as hazardous in the UCSF portion, the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. His process for addressing hazard in the forest has been more aggressive than for trees in urban areas.

In the forest, they just eyeball the trees, and mark for removal any that are in poor condition or are leaning. We think this is a poor approach for a naturalized forest. It’s destructive of a forest’s ecology; dead and dying trees are important to a forest, and ones that lean add interest to the landscape.

Matt Greene is a forester. We are less familiar with his work. His bio from his consultancy website is here: Matt Greene.  According to a directory entry, “Forest and land management activities include harvest plan preparation and implementation, forest management plans, timber inventories, road management plans and other forest planning activities. Biological surveys and wildlife habitat restoration projects.”  At the second TAC meeting, he said he was involved with assessing coastal redwoods, and they were doing pretty well.

We are somewhat concerned that this will mean a bias toward aggressive tree removal.


Members of the TAC include:

  • Peter Brastow, Senior Environmental Specialist for Nature, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, San Francisco Department of the Environment. Mr Brastow was previously the director of Nature In the City, a native-species organization that was the original parent entity of the Sutro Stewards.
  • Peter Ehrlich, Forester, Presidio Trust. Mr. Ehrlich is experienced with eucalyptus groves from his Presidio experience.
  • Joe McBride, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, University of California Berkeley. Dr McBride is probably the foremost expert on eucalyptus in the Bay Area. Notes from a presentation he made at the Commonwealth Club are HERE.
  • Lew Stringer, Restoration Ecologist, Presidio Trust.
  • Richard Sampson, Forester/Division Chief, CAL FIRE. We were disturbed by a comment made by Mr Sampson at the first Technical Advisory Committee meeting, even before he had  actually seen or visited the forest and when he was admittedly unfamiliar with it. He said that the forest, which has been there for 150 years, is now showing  increased mortality. Is it realistic to have a forest on this site? He mentioned a coastal eucalyptus fire with 24-foot flames. [After an internet search, we could not find any references to such a fire. We’ve asked for further information, but not received any so far.] 


UCSF has assembled a  large team from Campus Planning, Community Relations, and Facilities – together with Police, Fire … and Legal. Evidently they wish to be prepared.
Here is the list of UCSF Internal Steering Committee members, in alphabetical order.

  1. Kevin Beauchamp, Director, Physical Planning, Campus Planning
  2. Bruce Flynn, Director, Risk Management and Insurances Services
  3. Barbara French, Vice Chancellor, Strategic Communications and University Relations
  4. Christine Gasparac, Assistant Director, Community Relations
  5. Christine Haas Georgiev, Legal Counsel
  6. Jon Giacomi, Executive Director, Facilities Services
  7. Curt Itson, Fire Marshal
  8. Maric Munn, Special Projects, Facilities Services
  9. Eric Partika, Captain, Police Department
  10. Cesar Sanchez, Director, West Zone/ Parnassus Operations, Facilities Services
  11. Clare Shinneri, Associate Vice Chancellor, Campus Life Services
  12. Julie Sutton, Landscape Program Manager, Facilities Services and Campus Arborist
  13. Paul Takayama, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Community and Government Relations
  14. Diane Wong, Principal Planner and Environmental Coordinator, Campus Planning
  15. Lori Yamauchi, Associate Vice Chancellor, Campus Planning

Though the Sutro Stewards and its Executive Director, Craig Dawson, are not officially part of the process, the two meetings have made it clear that UCSF considers them “partners” and as such we think they will have considerable influence on the Plan.


For the present, the planned time line is as follows:

Project Overview/ Project Timeline

  • Winter-Summer 2016: Convene TAC meetings
  • Summer 2016: Define revised project
  • Fall 2016: Community meetings
  • Fall-Winter 2016: Recirculate Draft EIR
  • Winter-Spring 2016-17: Public hearing on recirculated draft EIR
  • Spring 2017: Prepare responses to comments
  • Summer 2017: Publish and certify final EIR
  • Fall 2017: Begin phased implementation (Bird nesting season from March-August)

Dates are approximate and subject to change.


Posted in Meetings, Mount Sutro Stewards, UCSF | Tagged , ,

Invisible Nests – Tree Work Should Avoid the Nesting Season

This article is reposted with permission from CoyoteYipps, a blog about San Francisco’s urban coyotes. We republish it here as an interesting story – and a lesson in how difficult it is to see a bird’s nest even if you are looking for it. (Emphasis added; all pictures copyright Laurel Rose)

We urge UCSF and SF Recreation and Parks Department to trim or remove trees and bushes only in the safe Fall months: September to December



I learned a valuable lesson this weekend: Do Not Prune or Remove Trees in Spring!

Over the past couple years, I’ve been removing a row of unattractive honeysuckle trees along the fence line to let more light into our shady yard and plant some ferns & other foliage. The trees all had long skinny bare trunks with foliage starting at about 15- 20 feet up so all I could see was fallen leaves on top of compacted dirt and 8 pencil-thin tree trunks.

skinny trees (copyright Laurel Rose)

This weekend 7 and 8 were scheduled for removal. After getting 7 out of the ground, root and all, my friend and & I were getting ready to start breaking the trunk & branches down to 4 foot size segments required by the city for the green waste bins. I had a hand saw and my friend was using my mini electric chain saw for the job. I kept a safe distance in a far corner of the yard and we got to work. 2 branches into it, the chainsaw turns off and I hear “Oh Noooo! Oh my god! Nooo!” then, “chirp, chirp chirp”!

Tiny hummingbird nest on a twig

This is how I found the nest (copyright Laurel Rose)

The tree had a hummingbird nest camouflaged and expertly woven very securely onto a few twig size branches. Both my friend and I love & respect nature so we were a little frantic and horrified at the thought of nearly chainsawing through this little womb-like nest cradling 2 chicks. I found a little box and cushioned it with soft material scraps and toilet paper and placed the nest inside very carefully. It took a good hour for us to calm down and stop focusing on how thoughtless we had been to choose April to remove a tree. Even ugly trees with sparse foliage provide habitat and serve a s food source. My friend, a somewhat burly guy named Terry but whose friends call him “Bubba” was on the verge of tears telling me, “I searched for a nest before sawing off each branch. . .” . Even if one of us has noticed it, it did not resemble a typical storybook nest.
I called every organization and person I could think of for help on that Saturday evening: Golden Gate Audubon Society, Wild Care, and Janet. I was able to listen to a recorded instructions for caring for a injured chick. I kept them inside for the night in a warm dark spot away from my curious little dog who likes to be a part of everything I do whenever possible. As soon as it was light outside, I placed the box up high in the area where the tree had been. Within 20 minutes, mom showed up and fed her hungry babies and I watched as she gathered nectar from the flowers overhead on tree number 8 (which will stay in my yard).

Baby hummingbird (copyright Laurel Rose)

DAY 1: a few hours after discovery

We estimated the age to be between 2 & 3 weeks and were told that hummingbird chicks leave the nest at 23 days old. A couple days before this happens, a stronger chick pushes the weaker out of the nest and it dies because mom will not feed it on the ground. The reason this happens is because the nest is very small and is needed as a “launching pad”. Once the other chick takes flight, mom will continue to feed her baby for several days, teaching how and where to find all the best nectar & bugs before she chases it away to find its own territory. Since they are in a box, neither one will be pushed out of the nest and mom will continue to feed them both. I’m not sure if this may have any negative or unforeseen consequences but I like that idea!

Two hummingbird chicks in the nest

Two hummingbird chicks on the first day

Two Hummingbird chicks

Second Day – Hummingbird chicks

Box put up to rescue hummingbird nest

A safe space for a hummingbird nest

Day 2: I secured a new box in the other Honeysuckle tree because we were having some very windy days.


Box fastened into tree to rescue a hummingbird nest

Box fastened well against the wind

Day 3: I wasn’t sure if Mama was feeding her chicks with the new placement of the box with a different type of access, but I caught her in the act (see video below)


Mama hummingbird entering box to feed chicks in rescued nest

Mama hummingbird entering to feed the chicks – click for video (copyright Laurel Rose)

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Day 4: They changed so much from one day to the next

Two hummingbird fledglings

Two hummingbird fledglings

Day 5: Just before I left late Thursday morning, I went to check on the chicks and snapped this photo. They looked like they were ready to spread their wings. I might have made them a little nervous putting the camera up so close but wondered if they were contemplating their first flight.

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

When I came home in the early evening, the first thing I did was check the box and it was empty. I stood there for several minutes wondering how such a tiny creature with only 23 days of life can survive on their own. That’s when I heard chirping above and looked up- there was mama with 1 chick shoulder to shoulder on a branch.

hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

Hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

hummingbird-in-wire-2I looked around for the other chick and had noticed what I thought was a leaf caught in one of the links on the fence, but a closer look told me otherwise.

Maybe the little guy didn’t feel quite ready, or maybe he wanted to say goodbye. He let me get real close and looked at me with that one little eye as I said some encouraging words and slowly reached in my back pocket for my camera. I snapped one photo and he flew to the branch up above where his family was.

Today would be Day 8. I’ve been seeing what I believe to be this same little chick hanging out in the honeysuckle tree where the box was. A few hours ago, I observed the mama arrive and feed the chick patiently waiting on a little branch.

If you would like to invite hummingbirds to your yard I would not recommend those feeders with sugar water because they must be cleaned every 3- 4 days or they can make the hummingbirds very sick. It’s much better and healthier to provide their natural food sources and plant things like honeysuckle, sage, fuchsia, Aloe vera and other long tubular flowers that provide both nectar as well as habitat for insects that serve as protein. Hummingbirds also need a place to perch during the day & sleep at night that offers some protection from wind & rain- usually trees. You can also hang a perch up high in a tree near the flowers and you can encourage nesting by providing materials by hanging a “Hummer Helper” you can purchase and fill with store bought material or even dog and cat hair — the “Hummer Helper” is actually just a “suet feeder” which you can buy for a lot less. The best time to start is May. The Hummingbird Society has a lot more tips and information on their website.

*One last note about trimming trees- the safest time is in the Fall during the months of September- December

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , ,

UCSF’s Second Sutro Forest Meeting – April 28, 2016

Sutro Forest July 2011UCSF has announced its second meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee:

“On Thursday, April 28, UCSF will convene the second meeting of the Mount Sutro Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).  The TAC is comprised of volunteer experts in forestry, fire hazard reduction, biology and habitat restoration.  The TAC’s mission is to provide guidance on the scope, techniques and best practices for a long-term management plan for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve.

“We invite the public to attend the TAC meeting and join in the discussion.
Mount Sutro TAC Meeting #2, Thursday, April 28, 2016, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Aldea Center on Mount Sutro
155 Johnstone Drive”

We notice they call it the “Mount Sutro Technical Advisory Committee” – not the Sutro Forest Technical Advisory committee. If you can attend, please emphasize the importance of preserving the forest as a forest, not merely an open space.

Today in Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way 1 sm

Posted in Meetings, UCSF | Tagged , ,

Two Views of Sutro Forest

Mt. Davidson and Sutro Tower seen from San Bruno Mt. 2015-12-25 copyright Tom RoopTom Roop sent us several pictures of Sutro Forest and Mount Davidson from a distance.

Mt Davidson and Mt Sutro 2015-12-25 Copyright Tom Roop

We’ve labeled them to clarify the position of the two mountains.

Mt Davidson and Mt Sutro 2015-12-25 labeled Copyright Tom RoopHe also sent us this one – a classic San Francisco vista. “The point I was trying to make,” he wrote, “is San Francisco is so built out  that we cannot afford to loose any more large parcels of land that have magnificent tree forests, like Sutro and others.

Looking North up South Van Ness Ave from Bernal Heights 2016-01-15 copyright Tom RoopWe couldn’t agree more. Mount Sutro Cloud Forest is a unique treasure, and so is Mount Davidson. Not many world-class cities can boast having functional cloud forests over a century old in the center of the city.

And here’s a video from Sherry, who loved the forest and is saddened by all the changes in recent years. (Click on the picture below to go to the video on FaceBook.)

in mount sutro forest

Click on the picture to go to a video of Sherry talkiing about the forest

Posted in deforestation, Environment | Tagged , ,

Coming to Sutro Forest: Three New Trails and a Fancy Trail Head

This article is slightly modified and republished from a post on

forest-beforeUCSF is going ahead with plans to add three new trails to Sutro Forest. While we don’t object to trails as such, they all cost us trees – if not immediately, a year or two later when tree lining the trail are declared hazardous. If they’re not felled to build the trail (as happened with the Kill-Trees Trail), trees are later marked as hazardous and removed.   Over 1500 trees have been removed since 2013, with around 350 being felled this last winter.

2016 three new trails in Sutro Forest

UCSF map modified to show the three new trails in orange

Also, the entire forest is only 72 acres, divided already by Medical Center Way, a paved and motorable road. Once it’s crisscrossed with trails and the understory torn out, it will lose the seclusion and enchantment that once made entering it like stepping through a portal into some place outside the city.  There’s such a thing as too many trails for a 72-acre forest.

The three trails planned are: A new trail on the South Ridge #2 on the map above, in addition to the Quarry Road Trail that was built with no notice to the community. And a long and complicated trail will be built from the northwest side of the forest (#1 on the map above). While access from that side is useful and a benefit to the community, it’s clearly more than needed there. It could easily have ended at the hairpin on Medical Center Way – as the social trail did before it was blocked.


The Clarendon connector trail (#3 in the map above) would run inside the screen of trees that divides Forest Knolls from UCSF’s Aldea Housing. They hope to finish it by November 2016.

This is, coincidentally, the area that was severely thinned in August 2013. (“Before”picture at the top, “after” picture below.) This means that the actual trail probably will cause less destruction than it would have before. This is not necessarily true of the two other trails.

forest-afterThe Clarendon trail would start on the Clarendon- Christopher corner, go into the narrow alley behind the pump house and fence, and continue on parallel to Christopher. (That’s the orange line on the map below.)

clarendon trail


On March 14th 2016, UCSF and the Sutro Stewards had a meeting to design a formal new trail head at Clarendon x Christopher. (The red labels aren’t original to the picture, they’re just to orient you.)

clarendon trail head site nowThe initial designs showed a seating area of granite, a kiosk with maps and signs, and gravel. The idea was to provide a well-marked entrance to the forest from the UCSF side (there is already one from the Stanyan side) that would avoid the campus, connect to new trails across Clarendon Avenue being built by San Francisco Recreation and Parks (SFRPD) near Sutro Tower, and have street parking available since UCSF has no plans to provide additional parking for this. They were looking for public input on what they wanted at the Trail Head.

planned clarendon trail head UCSFSome of the ideas – seating, some kind of shelter from the wind that blows up Clarendon, a water-fountain, an earthen berm along the Christopher side to provide wind protection, permeable pavers on the ground instead of gravel.

So far, no funds have been set aside for this. It seems to be a fund-raising opportunity for the Sutro Stewards, who plan to write grant proposals for the money. UCSF may provide some funding too, but it is unclear how much. The team – the Sutro Stewards, and Julie Sutton of UCSF, seemed to want people to think big. Maybe that would justify a bigger grant?


Lisa Wayne of SFRPD attended, to show how the new trail would link to three other trail projects SFRPD is working on: The Creeks-to-Peaks Trail from Glen Canyon to Twin Peaks (already being built); the plan to turn half of the figure 8 on Twin Peaks into a bicycle/ pedestrian area by restricting cars to the other half (in design); and trails to connect Twin Peaks to Mount Sutro via trails past Sutro Tower (yellow dotted line below – in planning).

lisa wayne shows planned trail system

She’s hoping to get work started this summer, for an opportunity to use VOCAL volunteers. Hope this doesn’t mean cutting down trees in the nesting season. Actually, not cutting down trees at all would be better, but trees are apparently the casualty of every SFRPD project, especially near any “Natural Area.”

next steps for SFRPD trail projects


Several people from the Bay Area Ridge Trail group came, and Bern Smith spoke about how this new trail would connect to other trails and become part of a 550-mile trail system around the Bay. The Bay Area Ridge Trail actually sounds quite amazing, and we admire the effort and commitment the group has put in to make it happen.

Bay Area Ridge Trail vision


The gallery below shows the comments from people at the meeting – which included a few members of the public, but no neighborhood representatives. If you click on the pictures, they should become legible.

UCSF is taking comments. You can send them to Christine Gasparac:


Posted in Environment, Hiking, Mount Sutro Stewards, UCSF | Tagged , , , ,

Sierra Club Members! Please vote

This is republished with permission from the San Francisco Forest Alliance website. We think it’s important. Please do vote if you’re a Sierra Club member.

East Bay clearcut THIS is the plan for the forests — fear overrides wisdom

If you’re a Sierra Club member, you’ve probably received a message asking you to vote for the Board of the Sierra Club in the 2016 elections before April 27th 2016. There are 8 candidates for 5 positions: see them HERE.

There are some questions that the Club asked the candidates at the same site, none of which speak to our concerns. But a Sierra Club member wrote to the candidates asking the important questions. So far, 5 replies have come in. The questions:

  • What is your opinion of destroying non-native trees?
  • What is your opinion of pesticide use in public parks and open spaces?

The San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for trees and habitat, and against pesticide use in parks. We also believe in access, and in sensible priorities and transparency in use of public funds. The Sierra Club, horrifyingly, supports projects in the San Francisco Bay Area that would cut down hundreds of thousands of trees, and use tons of pesticides on high ground. Here’s our subjective assessment (the actual candidate statement is given below) on a scale of 1-5 (Bad to Good).

Susana Reyes: On trees 4; On Pesticides 5; Total 9 – Recommend
Judy Hatcher: Trees 3; Pesticides 5; Total 8 – Recommend
Robin Mann: Trees 2; Pesticides 2
Mike Brien: Trees 1; Pesticide 3
Luther Dale: Trees 1; Pesticide 1 (Since his response takes no position, we can only assume he would not oppose the appalling East Bay projects.)

You can see their detailed responses below, and decide for yourself.

There’s been no response so far from Chuck Frank (an incumbent up for re-election), Joseph Manning, or David Scott.

We have joined a petition to ask the Sierra Club not to support this egregious project. If you have not signed the petition, it’s HERE: Sierra Club must STOP advocating for deforestation and pesticide use in San Francisco Bay Area. Please sign if you haven’t already. It’s got over 2,500 signatures! (In comments, please mention if you are a Sierra Club member, present or past.)


Susana Reyes (currently Secretary of the Board)
“Just the mere thought of cutting a tree upsets me greatly. I can’t offer a position about destroying non-native trees without considering the different factors that may come into play – like climate conditions, types of landscape, threats to biodiversity, invasive or not, fire threats – just to name a few. It also depends on the land management practices in the areas where non-native trees exist. There ought to be other options to destroying non-native trees. I would think very carefully about destroying non-native trees especially if only a fraction display traits that harm or displace native species and disrupts the ecological landscape”.

“I strongly oppose pesticide use in our parks and open spaces. I am all too familiar with herbicide “Roundup” for example and its use to stop unwanted plants. Another one is rodenticide which is used to kill rats in parks/open spaces. In Los Angeles, our beloved mountain lion, P22, who calls Griffith Park home, was sickened last year with mange as this poison worked its way up the food chain. Many of the chem Research has shown links to certain types of cancer, developmental disorders, and physical disabilities. Pesticides end up in our drinking water, watersheds, and rivers/lakes. The use of toxic pesticides to manage pest problems has become a common practice around the world. Pesticides are used almost everywhere and therefore, can be found in our food, air, and water.”

Judy Hatcher:
“As you probably noticed from my candidate profile, I’m the Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network, so I’m not in favor of pesticides–especially highly hazardous ones–in public spaces or anywhere else. I think the issue of non-native trees is specific to particular contexts and environments. But it’s unfortunate that the damage non-native plants and animals cause lead communities to demand increased use of pesticides and herbicides, which have negative consequences for human health as well as for the natural environment. PAN focuses on industrial agriculture, so we don’t do a lot around non-native plants except for how they impact farming (hello, RoundUp!).”

Robin Mann (currently Vice President)
“Let me just note that I am running for reelection to the Board because I believe I can contribute to the Club’s progress towards its major goals for the environment and for ensuring a strong and effective organization into the future.

Being a strong and effective organization, in the case of the Sierra Club, requires among other things ensuring a broad and engaged grassroots presence everywhere. And we know that strong grassroots engagement necessarily means people coming together to resolve local issues that often have competing considerations. Our policies and our approach generally allow some latitude to ensure the local context is being taken into account. I wouldn’t want to try to dictate the solution for all situations.

My understanding from my work with the Club’s efforts to strengthen resiliency in the face of mounting climate change impacts is that restoring native vegetation is desirable, and can contribute to restoring greater ecological balance. And my understanding from my work on the ground with organizations doing habitat restoration is that sometimes HERBICIDES are needed as a last resort to enable newly planted natives to become established.

If you are speaking of herbicides being used in public parks and open spaces, my view is they generally should not be used for maintenance purposes as non-toxic alternatives are available. For habitat and vegetation reestablishment I would defer to those designing the project with the expectation that herbicides would be minimized, used responsibly, and any exposure to park users avoided.

If you are speaking of pesticide use for insects or other “nuisance” species, I expect that in most instances a non-toxic management alternative is available, and so the burden should be on the public entity to justify use of a pesticide for maintenance purposes.”

Mike O’Brien:
“I have strong concerns about invasive species crowding out and changing native ecosystems in detrimental ways. That said, we have already made significant and irreversible impacts to many ecosystems. I don’t believe a policy of eliminating all non-native trees simply because they are non-native makes sense at this point. Rather, it should be taken on a case by case basis where we consider what the impacts are of the non-native species and any work should typically be done in conjunction with a plan to restore native trees and habitat.”

“Strong preference to zero use of pesticides. There have been occasions where serious threats from invasive species have proved practically impossible to overcome without targeted use of pesticides, but this should be a rare exception as opposed normal operating procedure.”

Luther Dale:
“I have to say I do not know the context of these issues nor knowledge sufficient to give you a good answer. There are so many environmental issues and I accept that I can’t be knowledgable about them all. I do know a lot about some issues and know how to listen and learn about issues new to me. Thanks for your passion about these and other environmental problems and for your work to care for the earth.”

You can also email them at:
Susana Reyes,
Judy Hatcher
Robin Mann,
Mike O’Brien,
Luther Dale,
Joseph Manning,
David Scott,


The San Francisco Forest Alliance is a 501(c)4 not-for-profit organization that works to preserve public parks for the public. Our mission:

  • Halt destruction of city park trees and wildlife habitat
  • Reverse plans that deny public access to trails and natural areas
  • Eliminate unwarranted toxic pesticide hazards to children, wildlife and the public
  • Stop misuse of tax revenue and funding within city natural areas.

Though our focus is San Francisco, we support organizations and individuals elsewhere with missions similar to our own. It’s all one world.

Posted in Environment | Tagged ,

Mount Sutro Forest: Logging a Lovely Forest

I was in the forest and it looks like a lumber company came in…” wrote one of our correspondents.

pics3 016 looks like a logging site

UCSF has been aggressive about cutting down trees this winter. These are not evaluated as *hazardous* trees, as Jim Clark of Hort Science explained at the TAC meeting. They’re merely trees that don’t look to be in great condition. They’ve been cut down in the name of “safety” – which means they are an exception to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which would otherwise require and Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Though parts of the forest are still lovely, too much of it looks like a logging company went through.

pics3 023 log pilejan 2016 sutro forest logsToday in Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way 2 smWe’ve asked UCSF how many trees were cut down this winter, and we’ll update this when we know.


We think they have now stopped, as the bird-nesting season is here. But it’s only the beginning. Once the new Plan is developed and approved, we can expect more healthy trees to be cut down.  We expect that only a small portion of the forest will remain a forest.

And even that will not be the densely forested magical place that so many people loved, but something more like a garden with some trees in it. Here’s an excerpt from our notes on the hearing UCSF held in February 2013:

The appeal of Sutro Forest as an untamed forest. People love the forest, and the unexpected wildness in the heart of the city. These were comments that spoke to the sense of wonder and magic, even a sense of emotional and spiritual connection. They recalled childhood games in the forest, decades ago. Some spoke of the wildlife in the forest habitat.”

That’s what we would be losing. For now, there’s still this:

pics3 028 riderIt’s a place where hikers, pets, and cycle-riders can enjoy a unusual treasure: an urban Cloud Forest in the heart of our city without fear of toxic pesticides.

pics3 021 dogs and people and mountain-bikes leave a trail

Canines and bicycles leave their tracks

pics3 042 still green


Every so often, we’re  asked if  the Sutro Stewards, the organization active in bringing volunteers to Mount Sutro,  are helping us in our battle to save the forest. In a word, no. In fact, Craig Dawson, the Executive Director, has gone on record saying he supports the removal of a huge number of trees and the use of herbicides. Their vision of Mount Sutro is quite different from the dense naturalized cloud forest that has been here for a hundred years.

The Sutro Stewards, who UCSF name as their partners in managing this place, are careful to refer to the forest as “Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve” – the official name given it by UCSF. Their website’s front page makes no reference to a forest. Their focus is on native plants (they manage the Native Plant nursery on UCSF’s Aldea campus). And trails, (which we also like so long as they are not used as an excuse to fell trees and tear out understory).

They appear to be on a charm offensive, leading walks in the forest for bird-watching and (presumably native) wild-flower viewing.  Of course, the birds were there all along. They’re more visible now with less understory to hide in.  But a reduced forest is worse for migratory birds.

We hope the people who join these walks will take a moment to enjoy what’s left of the forest where trees still are dense and the under-story hasn’t been destroyed.

Dusk, mist, Great Horned Owl

Dusk, mist, Great Horned Owl – The forest in 2010


Posted in deforestation, Environment, Mount Sutro Stewards, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Report: First UCSF TAC Meeting, 14 Jan 2016

As we reported earlier, UCSF held a meeting on 14th Jan 2016 at which it announced it was restarting the planning process. UCSF has hired two people to write the plan: Jim Clark, of Hort Science; and Matt Greene, a consulting forester. (We’ll provide more information about them and all the players in a forthcoming post, “Who’s Who.”) This seems to be a new Plan that will replace the November 2013 Plan that was never fleshed out or studied. [Notes in square brackets are our commentary.]

Disturbingly, they did not call it “Sutro Forest” anywhere in their introductory presentation. They insisted on calling it the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. However, they did use the word forest in the context of management. (You can see the whole presentation here: UCSF Presentation for Jan 14 2016 )  [Sutro Forest has been called a forest for over 100 years. it would be sad if it was no longer a forest in name or fact.]

Mount Sutro forest viewed from southeast (Twin Peaks)The meeting was moderated by outside moderator Daniel Iacafano, who has been handling the Mount Sutro Forest meetings at least since 2010. He’s a reasonable moderator, but their methodology – notes on butcher paper – feels dated. UCSF should record these meetings and publish audio recordings on their website, as the city does with its public meetings.


ucsf presentation excerpt 2

From UCSF Presentation about the Plan for Sutro (forest)

At the meeting, UCSF laid out the timeline. Most of the planning will be completed in 2016 and early 2017, with the goal of “starting work” in the Fall of 2017. (We described that timeline here: UCSF Restarts Sutro Forest Plans in 2016)

ucsf 2016 timelineThey also outlined the Plan Goals that were open for discussion:

ucsf presentation excerpt 1

UCSF’s Broad Goals for Sutro Forest

UCSF outlined its policies for Mount Sutro, and we think they are laudable. Most people are particularly happy to see UCSF reiterate its commitment not to use herbicides, especially in view of growing opposition to herbicide use in the city.

ucsf presentation excerpt 3

UCSF Policies for the “Reserve” i.e. Sutro Forest

We were less impressed by the “Current Conditions” and “Assumptions”


ucsf presentation excerpt 4

UCSF’s Mistaken Assumptions about Sutro Forest

UCSF asserted that tree health is declining – the same argument that Craig Dawson, Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards, pushed in June 2014. At the time, the argument was funguses and beetles.  In fact, they’ve been saying it’s declining  almost continuously since the year 2000, when they claimed that eucalyptus has a 100-year life (though in fact it is actually 400-500 years).  Now the “reason” is the drought, despite the fact that eucalyptus is one of the best drought-adapted trees.

The main reason for any decline in that time has been the removal of understory and trees from the forest, which increases windspeeds, dries out the forest, and damages the networked root structure of the trees

UCSF’s presentation showed slides of hollow trees and of insects in the forest. When over 1500 trees have been cut down, a few will be hollow. Many others will not.

jan 2016 sutro forest logsThe majority of the trees that were felled were not actually hazardous.

Where the forest is left alone, it is healthy.

In fact, the TAC did question these assumptions and assertions. A walk in the forest is planned for February or March, before the next TAC meeting. We hope this will provide UCSF with better information. (Further correspondence with UCSF suggests they will have more than one walk, as needed.)

After the UCSF presentation, there was a discussion, initiated by the TAC members. Some of the themes that were discussed at the meeting. [Our comments are in square brackets and italics.]


Some TAC members who have visited the forest questioned the assumptions in the presentation. Is the forest actually declining?  What is a healthy forest? The pictures of hollow logs and some insects were unconvincing. A relative absence of pests is good, but the presence of some insects is normal and ecologically important. You don’t want an absence of insects, it’s a question of the population level. What’s a normal level of insects for a biologically active forest? Similarly, a certain amount of tree death is normal. What is the normal amount of tree death and ‘self-thinning’? Why would an increase in spacing improve forest health?

Since there was a discussion of hazardous trees, TAC members wanted to know how “hazardous” was determined. What is the process for rating “hazardous” trees? Do they use the 9-level model adopted by the city?  Jim Clark replied, no, they don’t, there are too many trees. They just eyeball them. They don’t give individual ratings.

A TAC member said they must separate the hazard reduction and sustainable ecosystem targets. They may conflict. We need to define “Biodiversity”, “Ecosystem Health”, Forest Experience,” Habitat reduction,” and “Defensible space.”


There was a long discussion around ecosystem health. Some questions and comments:

  • How do you and the community define and quantify ecosystem health? It’s meaningless without a definition.
  • We need to consider ecosystem services – for example, stormwater management, carbon sequestration, etc.
  • Why do we want to replace the eucalyptus? The forest is sustainable now.

Julie Sutton of UCSF said the trees are not resprouting – they resprout and then die within two weeks.  [We have not seen this phenomenon, except when the sprouts are deliberately killed. There are new sprouts throughout the forest. We were struck by the coincidence that the Sutro Stewards work in the forest every two weeks….

What are the soil conditions and what will grow on Mount Sutro? Is there a plan to irrigate the new plantings? Julie Sutton said they have no plan to irrigate. [Though in fact they did irrigate the Native Garden on the summit to get it established.]


The eucalyptus forest is dominant and important to a lot of people. We can keep the look, but modify it. Access now is good with the trail system. Should ADA access be considered [i.e. access for people with disabilities]?

There’s a study showing people are more comfortable in a forest where you can see into the forest. In terms of human comfort, wind reduction plays an important role. People like to walk inside forest because it’s less windy there. Microclimatic effects are important.

Someone raised the issue of parking to provide better access. Julie Sutton said From Monday-Friday  until 5 p.m. there’s no outside parking. [We’re unclear if there is public parking even outside those hours. ] But  the Clarendon connector trail will give access from Clarendon Avenue where there’s street parking. [In fact, there is already access with street parking from Christopher Drive and from Stanyan through the Interior Green Belt, so the trail actually doesn’t provide anything new.]


There was some discussion of a ‘mosaic’ of different areas that would provide the best habitat for birds and other wildlife. “Edge conditions” have the greatest number of species since they support species on both sides of the edge. [However, we think that Sutro Forest is already part of a larger mosaic that includes Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, and Laguna Honda – and a large number of backyards and tree-lined streets.  Removing parts of the forest to create a mosaic would destroy the dense forest ecosystem that doesn’t exist anywhere else – except on Mt Davidson, where its destruction is also planned.]

sutro area map notes more


Sutro Forest is an excellent example of a Novel Ecosystem, meaning one where plants from all over the world adapt to relationships that wouldn’t occur where they originally evolved. Sutro Forest has eucalyptus trees from Australia, English ivy, Cape ivy, Himalayan blackberry, and 93 other species from various places, including California. What is the value of this Novel Ecosystem?

At present, eucalyptus, ivy and blackberry dominate the ecosystem, but hundreds of plants can grow there. Soils may not be a limiting factor for many of them.

How unique is Sutro Forest? There are apparently other coastal eucalyptus forests with similar ecology. [But we don’t think any of them are in the heart of a major city!]  It could have unique species combinations.


There was also a discussion around biodiversity, expected since Peter Brastow a member of the TAC, is the city’s “biodiversity co-ordinator.”

  • “We want biodiversity.” Nature tends toward biodiversity, and biodiversity equates to healthy. [Actually Nature doesn’t tend toward biodiversity except in disturbed environments. There’s increasing biodiversity as a new environment becomes available and other species “discover” it. Then the most successful and competitive plants tend to take over. So biodiversity is an value separate from “healthy.”]
  • Structural diversity may be a value – “Forest architecture.” E.g, Even-age stand with no understory vs a 3-dimensional forest with wildlife habitat. Do we set a diversity target? [We wonder if the TAC member saying this has visited the forest? It has understory, except where it has been removed by the Stewards, and it has wildlife – 40 species of birds, raccoons, squirrels, coyotes, a variety of insects.]


Mount Sutro Forest trails are narrow and multi-use: hikers, dog-walkers, joggers, mountain-bikers. Most mountain-bikers are courteous, but a few are not and could be dangerous.

What solutions? One TAC member pointed out that other parks have successfully implemented separate trails for bike-riders and for pedestrians. Julie Sutton of UCSF said that Mountain bikers through San Francisco Urban Riders provide a lot of the volunteers for the Sutro Stewards and did much of the trailwork in Sutro Forest.  They cannot be excluded from the forest. They want access to all the trails.

Another said, “Where ever we have mountain bikes, we need more medical responders. It’s increased over the last three years.” [He was talking about accidents.]


There was a discussion around fire hazard, including defensible space. UCSF defending its actions in cutting down trees and removing understory in August 2013, and again all along Johnstone Road on the eastern edge of the campus. Again, the so-called fire hazard seems to be the centerpiece of efforts to cut down trees and destroy understory.

There was a disturbing comment from Richard Sampson, the TAC member from CalFire, who has not actually seen or visited the forest and is unfamiliar with it. He said that the forest, which has been there for 150 years, is now showing  increased mortality. Is it realistic to have a forest on this site? He mentioned a coastal eucalyptus fire with 24-foot flames. [After an internet search, we could not find any references to such a fire. We’re asking for further information.]  Another TAC member asked about moisture studies; in the Presidio, moisture never fell below 12%. Julie Sutton said in Sutro Forest it was generally above 12 %, but there was one reading on one day that was 8%. There were questions about the fire history of the forest. Julie Sutton said that in recent decades there have been three small fires caused by homeless campers, and they were all readily extinguished.


There’s the question of what should be UCSF’s long-term management strategy for the forest?  There should be dedicated funding for the purpose.

[This is a rough summary of the themes. We will try to provide a detailed transcript in another article.]

Cloud forest - September 2010

Cloud forest – September 2010


Since most people didn’t realize that this meeting was going to kick off a new planning process, attendance was thin.

Several people in attendance were associated with Sutro Stewards. They generally expressed support for a new plan, and for introducing native plants instead of the current understory of the forest. One, who was also associated with SF Urban Riders, a mountain-biking group, took issue with the idea of trail separation:  Mt Sutro is surrounded by trails that are not accessible to bikes. We built Mt Sutro to be bike accessible. It would be ironic if they were now separated into pedestrian and bike trails.”

Other commenters were neighbors and/ or members of the community. They noted that Sutro Forest has a diverse bird population, and that any changes should include positive changes for the birds. Other concerns were increased landslide risk from tree removal, and potential criminal activity with more access to the forest. There was strong opposition to herbicide use, and thanks to UCSF for avoiding them.

Our comment:  In seeking to reduce fire hazard, we should consider the microclimate and moisture levels. Reducing forest density could dry out the forest, because of less vegetation to retard evaporation, and also increased wind speeds. This is one of the windiest areas of the city.

Other comments:

  • Has enough data been gathered on such things as soil, biology, and microclimate?
  • Maybe UCSF should consider engaging UC Davis students to work on the forest?
  • Opposition to Peter Brastow’s inclusion on the TAC, since his main qualification is that he promotes native plant restoration but has no experience of forests. Unless UCSF has already dec ided to replace the forest with native plants.

Jake Sigg, doyen of the native plant movement and a strong supporter of herbicide use, also identified himself as a Sutro Steward. His main points:  Don’t call it a forest, it’s a horticultural area. And of course he said that herbicides are essential and must be used.

Craig Dawson, Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards spoke about fire danger and said the forest burns every ten years or so. [We don’t believe this is true; we would like to see it substantiated. Our data shows that fires have been rare or non-existent since the logging stopped in the 1930s.]

He also said they’ve done 18 years of work, and recommends the 2001 Plan. [We imagine that if UCSF pulls out that plan again, it will meet with the same intense opposition that it did the first time.] 

He said Mt Sutro is a unique open space in the midst of a city, connected to Glen Canyon, a corridor for wildlife and people. It has lots of wildlife species, from coyotes to amphibians. The forest is dying, because nothing regenerates. [We think if the Stewards and UCSF would leave it alone except for actually keeping the trails open, it would regenerate quite effectively. The constant destruction of understory and tree removal is damaging the forest.]  

forget me nots 2

Forest scene with forget-me-nots – 2010

Posted in Environment, Mount Sutro Stewards, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged , , , , ,

Protecting Mount Sutro Cloud Forest Helps Biodiversity

In view of discussions of biodiversity and mosaics in ecosystems, we are republishing a post from May 2010 that addresses this issue. Mount Sutro Cloud Forest is part of a mosaic of biodiversity in the Western part of San Francisco. We’ve updated the pesticide use information.

Sutro Forest - beauty fighting to survive—————————-

We’d like to put Mt Sutro Cloud Forest in the context of the bio-diversity in the Western part of San Francisco.

This is an 80-acre forest (including both the UCSF portion and the Interior Green Belt). That’s fairly large for a garden or a park. But in fact, it’s only one small habitat among many in the western part of the city.

The Westside habitat is quite varied: It has grasslands and meadows, chaparral and open woodlands, lakes and creeks – and dense forest. In particular, Sutro Cloud Forest. It’s this biodiversity that supports a range of plant and animal (including insect) life. (Unfortunately, much of it is subject to toxic herbicides, but Sutro Forest has been clear of the chemicals since 2008, and the Aldea Student Housing from 2009. Thanks, UCSF!)

This is a rough map (based on a 2005 USGS picture) of some of the major habitat areas of this part of the city.

1. Sutro Cloud Forest – a relatively dense eucalyptus forest, with a well-developed understory and year-round damp conditions. (Free of pesticides since 2008.)

2. Laguna Honda lake – Mature chaparral and shrubs, fairly dry, sloping down to a year-round lake with little human access. (Occasional pesticide use.)

3. Twin Peaks – native and non-natives grasses, forbs, and shrubs. (Garlon, Roundup, imazapyr. Multiple times.)

4. Mt Davidson – eucalyptus woods, open shrubland. (Garlon, Roundup, imazapyr. Multiple times.)

5. Glen Canyon – open shrubland and grassland, wooded creek, sparse eucalyptus. (Garlon, Roundup, imazapyr. Multiple times.)

6. Buena Vista Park – grass, shrubs, open stands of trees. (Some pesticide use)

7. Golden Gate Park – multiple habitats including open grassland, lakes and ponds, stands of trees, shrubbery. (Herbicides used, mainly Roundup.)

8. Stern Grove – open eucalyptus and redwood groves, meadows, water. (Herbicides used.)

This list does not include the beach, Lake Merced, the open woods and grassland on the grounds of the Laguna Honda Hospital. It excludes all the backyard habitats (mostly lawn, shrubs and flowers, with varying levels of pesticide use) and street trees.

But none of them are old-growth cloud forests like Mt Sutro Forest.

Some creatures – like migrating birds and butterflies – can access all these areas (which fall into the radius of a few square miles) and choose territories or terrain that suits their needs. Others – including some reptiles and flightless insects – may live and breed in a restricted but suitable place. Sutro Cloud Forest adds to the biodiversity of the area, providing dense forest cover for the creatures that need such forests and damp conditions. It’s worth preserving the integrity of its ecosystem.

sutro forest with approaching clouds

Posted in Environment, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

More Sad News From Sutro Forest

More trees are being cut down in Sutro Forest, and machinery is being used that could damage the roots even of the trees left standing.

Today in Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way 2 smWe were driving down Medical Center Way today and saw machines and crews at work on the slope where the North Ridge Trail meets Medical Center Way. (The big red X on the map below.)

sutro forest map with location of tree cutting jan 2016This is  the area the Sutro Stewards have referred to as the “Redwood Bowl” where the plan called for removal of all the existing trees,  and planting of a few scattered redwoods. More recently, they have written about realigning the North Ridge Trail.

Today in Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way 1 smLater, when we drove by, work had stopped for the day, and the former trees were a huge pile of woodchips.

Former trees in a pile of woodchips sm


The previous day, we had driven by Johnstone Drive, where the East Ridge tree-felling has nearly been completed. Water raced past, and we wondered if a pipe had burst. Being curious, we drove up to see.

It was coming from the forest, where the trees had been removed. Normally, the forest holds the water for days and weeks after rain. But in this area, the trees and bushes are gone, and the water flows right out. We drove around to see if the same thing was happening elsewhere, but saw very little flow.

We couldn’t get back to take pictures until late in the evening. The water was still running off though the flow had substantially lessened. But clearly all the changes are altering the hydrology of the forest.

fast water runoff from the deforested area of Sutro Forest East RidgeWe’re saddened by all this, and are concerned that by the time the “Plan” has been developed, the Forest will already have been changed beyond recognition. The tree-felling from August 2013 onward has already started it in that direction.


From our archives, we bring you two pictures of the area of the Forest above Medical Center Way, taken in 2011 and 2013.

Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way in Feb 2013

Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way in Feb 2013

They’re a fond memory now. The forest still would heal itself if allowed, but it does not look as though that will happen any time soon.

forest above Medical Center Way July 2011

Sutro forest above Medical Center Way July 2011

Posted in deforestation, Environment, eucalyptus | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

UCSF Restarts Sutro Forest Plans in 2016

At the meeting on January 14th, 2016, UCSF announced it was trying again to develop a plan for Sutro Forest. UCSF hope to have a draft Plan in May 2016. They think they may be able to “start work” in Fall 2017, after the March-August bird nesting season. They said they hoped for a plan everyone could support. We hope so too.

Mt Sutro cloud forest

UCSF has hired two foresters, Jim Clark (of Hort Science) and Matt Greene to write the plan. They also instituted a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to provide input to the Plan.

The first meeting of the TAC was January 14th, and was apparently intended to discuss scope, issues and metrics. The meeting was a lively one, with the TAC asking a number of questions. Many of the issues that came up were fundamental to how the forest will be managed. We will report on that later.


The next meeting will be in March or April to discuss alternate management strategies, and a field trip to the forest will be scheduled before that. (Some TAC members have never visited Sutro Forest.)  In May, they will publish the Draft Plan, and in June the TAC will give its recommendations. In August and September, they will have two community Open Houses.

ucsf 2016 timelineAn Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be written some time during these months, and as usual they will accept public comments to that EIR.


Members of the TAC include:

  • Peter Brastow, Senior Environmental Specialist for Nature, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, San Francisco Department of the Environment
  • Peter Ehrlich, Forester, Presidio Trust
  • Joe McBride, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, University of California Berkeley
  • Lew Stringer, Restoration Ecologist, Presidio Trust
  • Richard Sampson, Forester/Division Chief, CAL FIRE

[EDITED TO ADD section on UCSF’s steering committee.]


UCSF has assembled a  large team from Campus Planning, Community Relations, and Facilities – together with Police, Fire … and Legal. Evidently they wish to be prepared.
Here is the list of UCSF Internal Steering Committee members, in alphabetical order.

  1. Kevin Beauchamp, Director, Physical Planning, Campus Planning
  2. Bruce Flynn, Director, Risk Management and Insurances Services
  3. Barbara French, Vice Chancellor, Strategic Communications and University Relations
  4. Christine Gasparac, Assistant Director, Community Relations
  5. Christine Haas Georgiev, Legal Counsel
  6. Jon Giacomi, Executive Director, Facilities Services
  7. Curt Itson, Fire Marshal
  8. Maric Munn, Special Projects, Facilities Services
  9. Eric Partika, Captain, Police Department
  10. Cesar Sanchez, Director, West Zone/ Parnassus Operations, Facilities Services
  11. Clare Shinneri, Associate Vice Chancellor, Campus Life Services
  12. Julie Sutton, Landscape Program Manager, Facilities Services and Campus Arborist
  13. Paul Takayama, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Community and Government Relations
  14. Diane Wong, Principal Planner and Environmental Coordinator, Campus Planning
  15. Lori Yamauchi, Associate Vice Chancellor, Campus Planning

We hope that the new plan will be better than the destructive 2001 Plan, the FEMA-grant-based Plan, and the revised 2013 Plan that would still have cut down thousands of trees.

Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 1

Posted in Environment, UCSF | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment