Disturbing Sutro Forest Would Release a Lot of Green House Gases

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

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


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

Fundamental GHG Calculation Flaws & Neglect of Wildlife Habitat Retention Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chipping in Sutro Forest – 2016

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

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

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


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

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

Click to access Forest_Carbon_Basics-Harmon.pdf

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

Click to access TheMythOfTheCatastrophicWildfireReport.pdf

Thanks for your attention to this extremely important matter.

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

Sutro Forest

Sutro Forest viewed from Forest Knolls

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What Will Sutro Forest Look Like After the Plan?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Also write to:
1) Governor Jerry Brown, c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA
95814. Phone 916-445-2841; Fax 916-558-3160
2) The UC Board of Regents. Address: Office of the Secretary and Chief of
Staff to the Regents, 1111 Franklin St, 12th Floor, Oakland, CA 94607
Fax (510) 987-9224. Their email address is regentsoffice@ucop.edu
3) Dr S. Hawgood, Chancellor, University of California, San Francisco
513 Parnassus Avenue S-126, San Francisco, CA 94143-0402, Phone 415-476-1000
Email Chancellor@ucsf.edu or sam.hawgood@ucsf.edu
4) Vice Chancellor Barbara French – Barbara.French@ucsf.edu
5) Copy to Supervisor Norman Yee – Norman.Yee@sfgov.org
6) If you could copy us at fk94131@yahoo.com that would be


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



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Sutro Forest Plan: Heavy Machinery in Unstable Areas

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

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

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

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

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


— ### —

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Sutro Forest 2017 Plan Imposes a Landslide Risk

Landslide under blue tarp. South Ridge at top left.

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


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

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

Legend to Landslide Hazard Map Sutro Forest 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

UCSF: First, do no harm!

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

Public Comments due Sept 22, 2017 on Sutro Forest DEIR

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

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

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

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

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

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


UCSF will hold a public meeting on August 24, 2017

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


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Year 9 of Mission Blue Butterfly on Twin Peaks: Mixed Results

Mission Blue Butterfly - Public Domain Image

Mission Blue Butterfly – Public Domain Image

It’s now Year 9 of the the Mission Blue butterfly project on Twin Peaks, San Francisco. In 2008, SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) started trying an attempt to reintroduce the Mission Blue Butterfly to Twin Peaks, by planting lupine and transferring in breeding butterflies from their largest existing population on San Bruno Mountain. The results so far have been mixed:

  • The lupine needs continual care;
  • The butterflies are breeding on Twin Peaks;
  • Most years, imports of Mission Blue butterflies from San Bruno continue to be needed to boost the population and its genetic diversity.

In 2017, SFRPD observers spotted 30 butterflies that were actually born on Twin Peaks. They didn’t import any butterflies from San Bruno. But the lupine, the nursery plant of the butterfly, was badly hit by funguses and hungry voles.


The Mission Blue butterfly (Aricia icarioides missionensis) is a rare subspecies of the much more widespread Boisduval’s Blue (Aricia icarioides).  The species is not endangered, but the subspecies is found only from San Bruno to Marin and is federally-listed as endangered. The largest population is on San Bruno Mountain.

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. 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.

Ant tending Mission Blue butterfly larva. NPS image

Ant tending Mission Blue butterfly larva. NPS image

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.


Mission Blue butterflies used to inhabit Twin Peaks in San Francisco, but in 1998 a wet winter encouraged a fungal pathogen that destroyed most of the lupine plants – and the Mission Blue butterfly will not breed on anything else. The population, already small, fell until it was essentially gone. Eventually, SFRPD decided to attempt a reintroduction by planting lupine and then bringing butterflies from San Bruno Mountain.

The first batch, 22 females, was brought over in 2009. Optimistically, they hoped that this would be sufficient. But in 2010, only 17 butterflies were spotted, and imports resumed in 2011 – and in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016. In the graph below (covering the years 2009-2017) the dark bars show the “native-born” butterflies on Twin Peaks – i.e. ones that were spotted before transfers from San Bruno, or in years when there were no transfers. The light bars show the butterflies imported to Twin Peaks.  In 2017,  they’ve spotted 30 native-born butterflies.


[We’ve been reporting on this project for years; our most recent report is here: Mission Blue Butterfly 2016 Update: Imports from San Bruno Continue]

A report from SFRPD and its consultants on the year 2016 was issued in April 2017. It said they would not import any in 2017. But if the numbers fall in 2018, they’ll restart. The US Fish and Wildlife permit to transfer up to 20 male and 40 female butterflies each year is valid through 2020. They imported 44 butterflies from San Bruno in 2016: 15 males and 29 females.  You can read the report here: TwinPeaksProgressReportApr2017

According to that report, they were going to stop counting adult butterflies.  They planned instead to count the eggs, and calculate backward to figure how many females were implied by the number of eggs.  However, in 2017 they did in fact count butterflies, and found 15 males and 15 females in April and May.

This is the most of any year since 2009 – and definitely the most females. (However, there’s a bias because for each season we only use observations from before the transfers from San Bruno. But the transfers, too, must be made during the flight season. So in years with transfers, the local observation time is lessened and is biased to males, which emerge earlier than females.)  Despite the improvement, it suggests the population is still small enough that it cannot be considered stable or self-sustaining.

(The graph below is similar to the purple one above, but breaks out the observations – and imports – by the sex of the butterflies. The darker bars show imports, the lighter bars indicate butterflies that were born on Twin Peaks.)


It’s been a brutal year for lupine  in 2017 owing to the wet winter. There’s been a population explosion of voles, which have eaten some of the largest plants down to the ground. (A fungus has killed many of the lupine plants. Field notes describe it as anthracnose, but we’re not sure if a positive identification was made.)

In any case, this is never going to be a self-sustaining situation. They will need to keep gardening for lupine, because lupine is a plant of disturbed areas and Twin peaks isn’t disturbed.  As the report points out “unmanaged habitat degrades quickly.”

And while they can set up Mission Blue butterfly populations that are temporarily self-sustaining, in the long term they will still need to boost the population with imports.


We have a suggestion. Since lupine will have to be gardened anyway, why not grow it in containers? This should offer some protection from both voles and funguses, and provide the opportunity to optimize the soil conditions including drainage for the plant. SFRPD plants three species of lupine at Twin Peaks: Lupinus albifrons, lupinus varicolor, and lupinus formosus.

The favorite of the Mission Blue caterpillar is apparently Lupinus albifrons, or silver lupine; according to the April 2017 report, that was the only one the caterpillars were eating. And that one grows nicely in containers. The photograph below is from the website of specialist plant supplier Annie’s Annuals, specializing in rare and unusual annual & perennial plants, including cottage garden heirlooms & hard to find California native wildflowers.”

As a bonus, since container-grown plants won’t face competition from other wild plants, SFRPD can stop using toxic herbicides on Twin peaks. In 2016, they used toxic herbicides 25 times on Twin Peaks – behind only the much-larger McLaren Park (27 times) and Bayview Hill (34 times).  This included 7 applications of Garlon, possibly the most toxic herbicide the city permits.

It’s unknown whether these herbicides impact the reproductive success of the butterflies, either directly or via their ant tenders. In any case, organic lupines might be a healthier option.


These are the main issues with Garlon, in brief:

  • Garlon “causes severe birth defects in rats at relatively low levels of exposure.” Baby rats were born with brains outside their skulls, or no eyelids. Exposed adult females rats also had more failed pregnancies.
  •   Rat and dog studies showed damage to the kidneys, the liver, and the blood.
  •   About 1-2% of Garlon falling on human skin is absorbed within a day. For rodents, its absorbed twelve times as fast. It’s unclear what happens to predators such as hawks that eat the affected rodents.
  • Dogs  may be particularly vulnerable; their kidneys may not be able to handle Garlon as well as rats or humans.  Dow Chemical objected when the Environmental Protection agency noted decreased red-dye excretion as an adverse effect, so now it’s just listed as an “effect.”
  •  It very probably alters soil biology. “Garlon 4 can inhibit growth in the mycorrhizal fungi…” ( soil funguses that help plant nutrition.)
  •  It’s particularly dangerous to aquatic creatures: fish (particularly salmon); invertebrates; and aquatic plants.
  •  Garlon can persist in dead vegetation for up to two years.

If SFRPD grew the lupine in containers, it wouldn’t need to worry about the oxalis or use Garlon. At least on Twin Peaks.


We are often asked how much the Mission Blue project is costing the tax payer, so we tried to find out. This project is funded by the city, and with a three-year grant from US Fish and Wildlife Services for “habitat management” that just ended.  Data for 2008-2017 indicate the SF Rec and Parks Commission spent around $82,000. We looked at Professional Services payments to Coast Ridge Ecology, to Creekside Center for Earth Sciences, and to Liam O’Brien. There’s another consultant involved, Golden Hour Restoration Institute, but we think they were paid directly from the US FWS grant.

This of course excludes the salaries/ time of the SFRPD staff. Natural Resource Department staff are involved at every stage, from lupine planting to butterfly counting. It also excludes the cost of laying down pesticides on Twin Peaks 25 times annually.


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Here it Comes: UCSF announces the Draft EIR for Sutro Forest

UCSF sent out a notification recently, saying that the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the 2017 Plan for Sutro Forest will be released on July 24th, 2017. The public will have until September 8th, 2017 to make their comments. They expect to have a public meeting on August 24th, 2017.

We will await the DEIR , analyze its contents, and report back. We do have considerable concern about the Plan itself, which we discuss here: How many trees in Sutro Forest – and what will be left?

In summary: We think UCSF’s plan is rooted in a misunderstanding of the micro-environment of this small forest, and an egregious preference for “native” plants and shrubs. It will destroy the naturalized forest that has thrived for more than a century, and would still thrive if it was not destroyed.

As we stated at the beginning of that article:

“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.”

Read the remainder of that article HERE.

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

Butterfly Count in San Francisco – 2017

This year’s sunny butterfly count day – June 18th, 2017 – made up for last year’s dismal fog. Eighteen spotters in eight groups, led by butterfly maven Liam O’Brien, counted a record number of butterflies: 1435 or 1440, (we’re still trying to verify which, but realistically it doesn’t much matter). The count hasn’t exceeded a thousand before.

Illustration of a Mourning Cloak butterfly - public domain via Wikipedia

Illustration of a Mourning Cloak butterfly

They also counted 29 species, up from the more usual 24-26. One of them, the Mourning Cloak, hasn’t been counted before (at least since 2010). In all, 34  species have been recorded in San Francisco in the 7 years we’ve been following the data, but some don’t show up every year.


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 data are made available, we’d be happy to publish it.)   The results for earlier years are here: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016.

The San Francisco count is tricky; San Francisco gets fog in summer and butterflies tend to lie low on foggy days. (The picture of Sutro Forest below shows typical summer weather in San Francisco.)

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. In 2017, by contrast, spotters found 1435-1440 butterflies of 29 species.

Counts in recent years include Angel Island and Yerba Buena Island, both of which have slightly different species from San Francisco city. 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. In 2017, the islands yielded California Sisters, Rural Skippers, and the Common Wood Nymph. (The Pipevine Swallowtail is also on the “spotted” list, but this year’s notes don’t mention it as being confined to the islands.)


Two butterfly species accounted for half the sightings in 2017:  The Cabbage White, and the Echo Blue.  The top ten butterfly species accounted for 86% of the count numbers.

Cabbage White sitting on Oxalis

The Cabbage White butterfly topped the charts this year, as it has in five of the seven years for which we have data. There was a record sighting of 487 individuals, far exceeding the 378 in 2011. This butterfly especially likes brassicas, in the cabbage and mustard family like San Francisco’s wild mustard.

Source: Katja Schultz, Wikimedia Creative Commons

The second position this year went to the Echo Blue, a small blue butterfly. It’s shown up in third place twice before. Online information about this butterfly is sparse; its larval food plant seems to be ceanothus and a variety of others including, possibly, blackberry. If this proves accurate, it may explain why the species is seen so often in San Francisco – we have a lot of Himalayan Blackberry, which is an excellent habitat plant for a lot of wildlife of all sizes and species.

The third place went to the spectacular Anise Swallowtail, one of our prettiest butterflies. It breeds on fennel, a non-native plant introduced for its culinary and medicinal properties, but now hunted as a weed by San Francisco’s Natural Resources Department. Fortunately, fennel is still abundant in the city, and so are these butterflies.

Other highlights:

  • For Anise Swallowtails, this count bettered the National High count of 2011!
  • The Monarch butterfly showed up again, which is pleasantly unusual since these butterflies more usually overwinter at the coast and fly inland in summer. Maybe they’re adapting to year-round residence? Its main locations seem to be The Presidio and Treasure Island/ Yerba Buena.
  • The Mylitta’s Crescent, which feeds mainly on thistles, made a better showing this year.
  • The Western Pygmy Blue, common elsewhere but rare in San Francisco  showed up this year. It’s the smallest butterfly in the US, only a half-inch across and is copper-colored with only tiny bits of blue. It’s only been recorded once before, in 2012.
  • The Mourning Cloak butterfly – a handsome dark-brown butterfly with a yellow edge to its wings is rare locally though abundant elsewhere. It showed up in the count for the first time. This butterfly lives almost a year, and is a strong migrator so it shows up all round the world. Though the butterfly is gorgeous (its British name is “Camberwell Beauty”) its caterpillar – the Spiny Elm Caterpillar – chomps through tree leaves, sometimes destroying the trees. It prefers hardwood forests and cold winters, which may explain why we don’t see much of them in the city.


If, like us, you like to see the data in detail, here is our spreadsheet compiling the butterfly count numbers from 2010-2017 (except for 2015, the missing year). We’ve arranged them in alphabetical order for convenience.WHY NO MISSION BLUES?

What about the Mission Blue butterfly that SF Recreation and Parks Department has been trying to introduce on Twin Peaks?  Well, the count really doesn’t provide any information because those butterflies have an 8-10 week flight season in April and May. So unless the Count is very early and the flight season delayed, Mission Blues are unlikely to appear in this record. We’ll report on them separately when we have all the data.

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Ecological Novelty is Nature’s Future

This thoughtful article and guest post by Professor Mark Davis was first published in Death of a Million Trees (which fights unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area), and subsequently on the website of the San Francisco Forest Alliance. It is reprinted here with permission.


Mark Davis, Macalester College

Mark Davis is Professor of Biology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He is one of the first academic ecologists to publicly express skepticism of invasion biology.  His book, Invasion Biology, was published by Oxford University Press in 2009.  It was the first critique of invasion biology written by an academic scientist. Professor Davis cites the many empirical studies that find little evidence supportive of the hypotheses of invasion biology. 

In 2011, Nature magazine published an essay written by Professor Davis and 18 coauthors entitled, “Don’t Judge Species on their Origins.”  This essay suggested that conservationists evaluate species based on their ecological impact, rather than whether or not they are natives.  The essay initiated an intense debate in the academic community of ecologists that continues today. 

Professor Davis spoke at the Beyond Pesticides conference in Minneapolis at the end of April 2017. (Video available HERE) He described invasion biology as an irrational ideology that is based on nostalgia for the past and a belief that wildlands are being damaged by “alien invaders.”  In fact, the perceived damage is largely in the eye of the beholder, depending largely on one’s membership in a group benefiting from the nativism paradigm, such as chemical manufacturers, conservation organizations, government agencies, and employees.  Some academic careers are also at stake.  Futile attempts to re-create historical landscapes always have the potential to make things worse.  In many instances, it is more sensible to change one’s attitude about the changing landscape than trying to change nature.

Mark Davis speaking at Beyond Pesticides conference, April 2017

We invited Professor Davis to write a guest post for publication on Million Trees.  We asked him to express his opinion on these questions: 

  • Has the status of invasion biology changed much since Nature published your essay 2011?
  • Has increased knowledge of climate change had an impact on the status of invasion biology in academia?
  • What do you think is the future of invasion biology both as an academic discipline and as public policy?

Professor Davis’s guest post addresses these questions.  We are grateful to Professor Davis for his many contributions to our understanding of the fallacies of invasion biology and for his thoughtful guest post.

Million Trees

Competition to define nature

In the past few years, a new perspective has been taking hold in the field of ecology.  Referred to as ‘ecological novelty’ it emphasizes that many factors are producing ecologically novel environments.  Climate change (which includes changes in temperatures and patterns of precipitation), increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, which affects photosynthetic rates, increased atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (the whole earth is being fertilized due to the increased nitrogen we are pouring into the atmosphere), and the introduction of new species are all rapidly changing our environments.

A strength of the term ecological novelty is that unlike the invasion vocabulary it is simply descriptive.  It simply states that ecosystems are changing and are different than they were in the past, even the recent past.  It says nothing about whether this change is good or bad.  In this paradigm, species can be referred to as novel species, new arrivals, or long-term residents.

The less biased ecological novelty paradigm differs dramatically from the more ideological nativism paradigm.  It differs in the language it uses and it differs in the implied direction that land management should proceed.  More generally, it forsakes the normative atmosphere that permeates restoration ecology, conservation biology, and invasion biology, all of which have been substantially guided by the nativism paradigm.

The Sutro Forest in San Francisco is a good example of a novel ecosystem. It is a thriving mix of native and non-native species. Much of it will be destroyed by the irrational belief that native species are superior to non-native species.  Million Trees

Currently, invasion biologists are trying to discredit ecological novelty as a valid or valuable perspective.  This is hardly surprising since the ecological perspective would displace the nativism paradigm, and many stakeholders have much to lose if the nativism paradigm were abandoned, e.g. chemical companies, restoration and management companies, local, state, and national agencies, to name just a few.  Not surprisingly, articles trying to shore up invasion ecology and to keep it relevant have been common in recent years.

While the public may not be aware of it, there exists a heated competition to define natureWhich side wins will significantly determine how nature is managed.  Given that the redistribution of species is only going to increase in upcoming decades, it is hard to imagine that people will still be so preoccupied with origins by the middle of the century.  Like the notion of wilderness, the nativism paradigm is more of a twentieth century concept, while the construct of ecological novelty is more fitting for the twenty first century.

Undoubtedly, nativist groups will still exist and will still be preoccupied with trying to restore their vision of the past.  But, due to the number of species being moved to new regions, much more attention likely will be given to the function of species than their origins, if only for pragmatic reasons.  For people coming of age now, cosmopolitanization is the new normal, both with respect to people and other species.  We will still carry our predispositions to divide the world into us and them, but it should be clear to most that the nativism perspective will be obsolete and that beyond the creation of museums, restoring the past will not be possible, whether a city or a forest.

Currently Earth is the only planet we know of where life exists.  In this context, the desire and practice of declaring some species as aliens, exotics, or invaders seems sadly provincial and even unseemly.  Roman playwrite Publius Terentius Afer (aka Terence) wrote in his play Heauton Timorumenos, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”, or “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.” To those who still see such value in distinguishing native from alien species, I say, “I am of the planet Earth and nothing of that which is earthly is alien to me.”

Mark Davis

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April Visit to Beautiful Sutro Forest

“I would love to see Sutro forest,” said the out-of-town visitor. “I’ve heard so much about it!”

So when the welcome rain cleared into welcome sunshine, we headed up the new trail at the Pumphouse on Christopher Drive.

It doesn’t provide the immediate immersion of the old 101 Christopher trail, where within 10 feet the houses were hidden and you were wholly among the trees. But gradually we left behind the houses and the dormitories and found ourselves in the forest.


Trail conditions were good – damp to wet, but not slushy. Good for walking, and pretty good for mountain-biking. The rain has left everything lush and green once more, and the forest was utterly beautiful.

Despite the thinning and the tree-felling, nature is resurgent.

The trails were picture-book pretty.

We found a few others out on the trail, though it was a weekday morning  – joggers, people with dogs, a very few hikers like us. Also enjoying the forest: Mountain bikers. As usual, they were courteous and considerate.

Though we’ve heard stories otherwise, we ourselves have only had one encounter with a rude bicyclist – and that was five years ago.


It wasn’t just the trees, though they were of course the main event: It was the whole forest ecosystem.  All round us, the understory was bursting with life. Little patches of flowers – forget-me-nots, Roberts geraniums, Douglas iris – added specks of color to the myriad shades of green.



This thistle’s leaves had such dramatic markings that it demanded a photograph.

We found a profusion of Miners Lettuce, and on some slopes, nasturtiums. We collected a few handfuls for a salad.

There were a lot of birds, flying and calling. But the only ones that sat still for a picture was this Mourning Dove…

… and this robin.


Most of the forest is still reasonably secluded, giving it the feeling of being in a different world outside the houses and urban buzz. But there are areas where it’s now quite thin and you can see the city below: The Inner Sunset District, and the green band of Golden Gate Park.

If you love this wild forest, with its ecological novelty and plants from all over the world, now is the time to make your memories and take your photographs. If things go according to UCSF’s plan, tree-cutting and massive understory removal could start this August.





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Peter Ehrlich, 1948-2017

Peter Ehrlich was the Chief Forester at the Presidio, and sat on UCSF’s Technical Advisory Committee for Sutro Forest. Tragically, he died in a bicycle accident on May 2, 2017.  The Presidio is holding a community work day in his honor on May 21, 2017 at the Spire in the Presidio, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Click here for Registration and details.


This tribute to Peter Ehrlich was written by Dee Seligman, formerly Interim President of San Francisco Forest Alliance. It is republished here from their website at SFForest.org.

Peter Ehrlich (left), with Ron Proctor, Jacquie Proctor, and Larry Seligman in the Presidio – Dec 2016


Tribute to Peter Ehrlich

by Dee Seligman

On Sunday, May 21, from 10 am to 1 pm, the Presidio Trust will host a Community Stewardship Day in honor of Peter, where staff, volunteers, and friends can celebrate Peter by caring for the trees in the cypress grove surrounding Spire. We’ll pause at noon for reflections about Peter. Refreshments will be provided. We hope as many SF Forest Alliance supporters as possible will attend this event to honor Peter.

Peter Ehrlich was a mensch. This Yiddish expression describes a human being, one in the fullest sense of the word with integrity, humanity, and worthy of emulation. It’s an apt description of Peter, the Chief Forester of the Presidio and previously the Manager of the tree maintenance programs in all of San Francisco’s parks for 15 years, who died unexpectedly in a biking accident about a week ago.

This small man from the Bronx with a big heart, a passion for trees and birds, a man of science and of literature, had a special connection to the San Francisco Forest Alliance (SFFA). With his mischievous smile, ironic perspective, and regard for classic literature, he reached out to us as a group, and to many others in the Bay Area. Caring about trees was the common denominator to being Peter’s friend and ally.

He said he learned as a kid in the Bronx to stand up for what he believed in, and Peter believed in trees—boy, did he ever! He loved trees—all trees. He did not differentiate between native and non-native but found value, inspiration, and function in all trees. He understood equally well the physical comforts provided by trees but also, what he called, “the aesthetic experience” of forests.

Peter Ehrlich (left) and Ron Proctor planting trees in Presidio

He did his best to protect all trees. In the Presidio, which is controlled by the federal government through the National Park Service, there is forest management and ongoing rejuvenation, directed by Peter. He replaced some blue gums in the Presidio with related species of eucalyptus when absolutely necessary.

However, within the municipal parks of San Francisco, such as in Natural Areas like Mt. Davidson, there has been no ongoing rejuvenation. Peter looked out for the eucalyptus in these areas, too, by working with SFFA to evaluate the trees of Mt. Davidson and Mt. Sutro. He walked both forests with SFFA leaders at separate instances and documented in writing that he did not find them unhealthy nor unusually at risk due to drought, insects, or any of the other reasons dredged up by native plant advocates for the Natural Areas Program. He supported our point of view in a letter to the Planning Commission and to Rec and Park Commission when the EIR came up for certification.

He spoke at conferences, gave local talks, and guided walks in the Presidio. I witnessed his perceptive service on the Technical Advisory Committee for UCSF on Mt. Sutro, where he asked definitive questions, such as whether there were risk ratings done for all the trees on the mountain? He emphasized that “lack of vigor”  is different than “hazard,” in other words asking for more nuanced information from any assessment of the trees. In fact, Peter’s questions prompted the assessing arborist to explain that they had two different rating systems: one for individual trees in high-use areas, but another for all the rest of the trees. This fact was unlikely to have been revealed without his astute questions.

Peter did not mince words. After reviewing an early draft of an Urban Forestry Council’s proposed document on “best management practices for the urban forest”, he advised us that “if the goal of the document was conversion [i.e., of the type of species in the forest], it should be clearly stated as such.” He advised against references to fire or other objectives “if the real goal is type conversion.” He questioned, “What are San Francisco’s ‘priorities’? What are San Francisco’s endangered species on Mt. Davidson and Mt. Sutro? The Presidio has four. What are the endangered species on Mt. Sutro and Mt. Davison? The ‘sensitive species’ are impossible to define. The word ‘sensitive’ with respect to species is overused.”

And he would not accept easy answers. For example, “thinning,” as proposed by the Natural Areas Program is not a universal cure-all. He said: “Thinning is presented as an event that is self-explanatory. It is not, as thinning must be done, if it is deemed necessary, with low-impact techniques that preserve residual trees. A contractor without tree protection constraints could do a lot of damage. In fact, even with tree protection requirements in place, an on-site monitor would be necessary to make sure residual trees were not negatively impacted.”

Another glib answer he rejected was Rec and Park’s explanation that the eucalyptus were all “dying due to drought.” He differentiated between blue gum eucalyptus having no leaves at all, possibly signifying a lack of regeneration, from blue gums having a decreased canopy percentage, not necessarily a sign of poor health. In dry weather, blue gums often protect themselves by shedding some leaves, which would transpire water, and growing epicormic sprouts instead.

Although somewhat constrained by working in a politically sensitive position in the Presidio, he was clear-eyed about the environmental politics of San Francisco. Nothing could be more telling than a comment he once sent me about the long, contentious, and circuitous process to certification taken by the Significant Natural Resource Areas’ Management Plan (formerly known as SNRAMP, now called NRAMP, or Natural Resource Areas Management Plan).

Peter said, “As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear: ‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.’”
We all miss Peter very much. 

Peter also loved wildlife and birds. A few years ago, he sent us some pictures of young Great Horned Owls in a nest in the Presidio. He gave us permission to use them then, and we publish them here in grateful remembrance.


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Native Plant Restoration: “Someone Pays and Someone Profits”

The article below was first published on April 1st on MillionTrees.me – a site fighting unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Though it references mainly the widespread tree destruction planned for the East Bay, the same principles apply broadly.  The article is republished here with permission


The Ecological “Restoration” Industry: Follow the money

Matt Chew is one of many professional academics that criticize invasion biology.  Unlike most, he emphasizes explaining the weaknesses of eco-nativism using scientific, historical, and philosophical methods, depending on the issue.  This has made him a useful collaborator and resource for like-minded but primarily science-oriented colleagues. Million Trees is deeply grateful for his willingness to speak publically about the fallacies of invasion biology, including the generous gift of his time in writing this guest post for us.

Dr. Chew is a faculty member of Arizona State University’s Center for Biology and Society and an instructor in the ASU School of Life Sciences.  He teaches courses including the History of Biology, Biology and Society, and a senior conservation biology course in “novel ecosystems,” described HERE on the university’s “ASU Now” news website.

He was also a speaker at the 2013 annual conference of Beyond Pesticides.  A video of his presentation is available HERE (go to 24:40).  He says that “invasive” plants are convenient scapegoats that are presenting a marketing opportunity for the manufacturers of pesticides. Invasion biology is at the core of the greening of pesticides.

In his guest post, Matt helps us to understand how he chose to pursue a multidisciplinary critique of one topic rather than adopting a single disciplinary approach and identity. He began his professional career as a practicing conservation biologist, experiencing firsthand the sometimes startling disconnects between laws, policies, aspirations, public expectations, and realities “on the ground.” 

We celebrate April Fool’s Day with Matt Chew’s article.  When we waste our money on ecological “restorations” the joke is on us!

Million Trees

Matt Chew with his class in novel ecosystems

Those familiar with my academic work know I invest most of my efforts documenting and explaining the flaws and foibles of “invasion biology.” But I got into this messy business as a practical conservation biologist, a natural resources planner “coordinating” the Arizona State Natural Areas Program during the late 1990s. I found the toxic nativism of natural areas proponents morbidly fascinating, and the practical politics of natural areas acquisition and management morbidly galling. I chose to follow my fascination. But as “Death of a Million Trees” marks the end of its seventh year as a WordPress blog, and in light of recent decisions by Bay Area authorities, it’s time for a galling reminder:  Follow the money.

Authorities responsible for suburban fire suppression and recovery necessarily view stands of living trees as liabilities. They can’t see the forest for the fuels. The prospect of eliminating them merely drives their value further into the negative. That it must be subsidized is ironic because eucalyptus and Monterey pine are plantation grown in many countries for timber or pulp. But they aren’t traditional sources of California wood products and a glut of more familiar drought-killed trees awaits salvage far from finicky neighbors.

So condemned trees can’t just be disappeared by pointing them out to eager loggers. “Concept planning” can be fairly vague, but “action planning” must be very specific. A job this big requires both general and sub-contracting. It requires hiring and training and supervising. Capital equipment will be acquired, maintained and repaired. Affected areas must be surveyed and material volumes estimated. Before trees can be felled, access routes must be surveyed and created. After trees are felled they must be sectioned, staged, loaded and hauled away for disposal. More often they are shredded in place. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Where “ecological restoration” is the objective, stumps must be pulled or blasted and roots must be excavated. The eucalyptus seed bank will need to be eliminated or rendered inert. Perhaps even a century’s accumulation of organic topsoil will need amending, or removing and replacing to reconstitute prehistoric substrates. Seed suppliers and nurseries will be contracted to provide plant “native” materials. After the armies of tree-fellers and stump-blasters will come waves of laborers, tractors, diggers, spreaders, and planters in an endless relay of trucks. Ecological restoration is farming, all the more so in proximity to a cityscape arrayed in exotic plants. If all goes well and the rain falls in judicious quantities at auspicious times, planting will be followed by perpetual weeding. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

It’s hardly surprising that FEMA has no intention of underwriting restoration on that scale. Their plans envision minimally spreading shredded wood, leaving a layer up to two feet deep to gradually decompose, and hoping whatever oaks and other present understory plants they haven’t accidentally fractured or flattened will thrive in the sudden absence of big trees. Two feet of material will gradually compact, but assurances that it will rot into organic soil within a few years are pretty optimistic. Whether and when it will support anything resembling a native plant assemblage is dubious. Meanwhile, some viable stumps will require recurring treatment with the herbicide du jour and occasional supplemental felling. It’s not a reset-and-forget strategy. It’s just the first step of a long and contentious cycle of interventions. And of course, at every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Whenever public property and expenditure is concerned there should be an open procurement process with a clear data trail. A call for proposals is written and published, bids are received, contracts awarded, and work commences. But we can be certain that by the time the prospect of deforesting the Bay Area was openly discussed by policymakers, potential bidders were positioning themselves to influence the shape of the emerging policy and take advantage of it. And various interest groups who saw deforesting the hillsides as a means to their ends became a de facto coalition of advocates. Some acted more openly than others, and some to greater effect. But prominent nonprofit organizations expect returns on their investments. Nothing happens unless someone pays and someone profits.

Some of the premises underlying the logic of the program will inevitably be faulty. Should it falter at any step due to unforeseen events (e.g., meteorological, horticultural, ecological, economic or political), contingencies will be implemented… if funds are available. There are only three certainties. Firstly, no action occurs unless someone pays and someone profits. Secondly, nature, within which I include all aspects of human society, is complex and capricious. No one can predict with much certainty how a post-deforestation landscape will look or function. Finally, a coalition of the discontented will emerge and agitate for improvements that require someone to pay, and allow someone to profit.  As Nancy Pelosi recently reminded us, “we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.”   

Matt Chew

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The Forest at the City’s Heart – Sutro Cloud Forest

[This article was published recently on the website of the San Francisco Forest Alliance, and is reprinted here with permission. Thousands of trees are being cut down in San Francisco. Sutro Forest may actually be the worst, with many thousands of trees threatened to be removed.]

This beautiful aerial view of San Francisco, taken by Fiona Fay and used here with permission, shows just how important our urban forests are. At just 13.7% cover, San Francisco has amongst the smallest tree canopy of any major city. And yet, there are plans to cut down thousands of trees – even though we’re already behind on replacing those that die naturally.

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

It shows may of the places now vulnerable to the plans of the land managers – mostly SF Recreation and Parks’ Natural Resources Division, which uses toxic pesticides, cuts down healthy and mature trees, and limits access in the name of protecting native plants; but also UCSF, which owns most of Sutro Forest and partners with the Sutro Stewards that have the same nativist bias; and Treasure Island Development Authority, which is using a nativist plan similar to that of the Natural Resources Division.

Visit these places, make your memories and photograph their beauty. Send us pictures on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/ForestAlliance/] or by email to SFForestNews@gmail.com – we will publish and archive them. (If you want them shared on this website, please include permission to do so.)

[Pictures of Sutro Forest can be shared on our Facebook page too: https://www.facebook.com/SaveSutro/ or emailed to fk94131@yahoo.com – and if you want them published here, please include permission. ]

Photo Credit: @FionaFaytv ; Labels: SFForest

Our trees provide enormous health and environmental benefits. Especially in these difficult times, every tree counts.

Read More: Twenty Reasons Why Urban Trees are Important to Us All

Yet, our tree canopy is small, and shrinking not growing.

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City


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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: forestbathing.club

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 Lisa.gibson@sfgov.org 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:   EIR@planning.ucsf.edu

(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











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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

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“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.

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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.)]




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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.








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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”

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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 SFForest.org, 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 sfforestnews@gmail.com

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

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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.)

Email: urbangreening@resources.ca.gov
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


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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.



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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

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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)

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“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

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