4th Sutro Forest TAC Meeting: Nativist Coup

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


First, our procedural concerns.

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



It’s all about native plants.

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



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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(All the changes are highlighted in yellow.)]




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

Season’s Greetings, Best Wishes for 2017

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


To everyone who reads this post:

Season’s Greetings! and Best Wishes for 2017.








Posted in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged

Another TAC Meeting – Jan 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged

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


The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has been pushing a Management Plan that will cut down 18,400 trees in San Francisco and Pacifica; close 9 miles of trail; and reduce dog-play areas in the so-called “Natural Areas.” The adoption of the Plan has awaited the the completion of the Environmental Impact Report. This is about to happen tomorrow, Dec 15th, 2016.  The article below is reproduced with permission from 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

Posted in deforestation, Environment | Tagged , | 3 Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Environment | Tagged , ,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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


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

The four “types” are:

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Forest type and trail map

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mount Sutro Cloud Forest, 2016

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

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

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

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

Here are the details:

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

There are some parking spaces available near the Aldea Center.

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

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

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

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

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

Mt Sutro from Golden Gate Park (Photo: LC)

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

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

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

sutro forest 1A MYSTICAL PLACE

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New battle over managing Sutro Forest trees – San Francisco Chronicle

joggers in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Blue butterfly on Twin Peaks San Francisco 2009-2016

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


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

Icaricia_icarioides_missionensis_egg public domain

Mission Blue butterfly egg. Public domain

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Regularly importing Mission Blue butterflies from elsewhere

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

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

Gardening for lupine

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Environment, Natural areas Program | Tagged , ,

Butterfly Count 2016 – San Francisco

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


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

Cabbage White sitting on Oxalis

Cabbage White sitting on Oxalis

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

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

san francisco california butterfly count 2010-2016


The highlights of this year’s observations:

  • Acmon Blue - Plebejus acmon USFWS public domain

    Two Acmon Blues

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

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

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

top ten butterflies - san francisco 2016THE DATA SET

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

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

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Report: UCSF Second Sutro Forest TAC Meeting

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


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

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


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

The members of the TAC are:

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

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

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The goals were defined as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

On the general direction and process:

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

    Burning up to the Eucalyptus

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

scripps-ranch-nytimesOn directions for the forest:

muir woods monoculture

Muir Woods monoculture?

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

On “thinning” the forest”

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

Mount Sutro Forest greenery – June 2011

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


Members of the TAC include:

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


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

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

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


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

Project Overview/ Project Timeline

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

Dates are approximate and subject to change.


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

Invisible Nests – Tree Work Should Avoid the Nesting Season

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

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



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

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

skinny trees (copyright Laurel Rose)

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

Tiny hummingbird nest on a twig

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

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

Baby hummingbird (copyright Laurel Rose)

DAY 1: a few hours after discovery

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

Two hummingbird chicks in the nest

Two hummingbird chicks on the first day

Two Hummingbird chicks

Second Day – Hummingbird chicks

Box put up to rescue hummingbird nest

A safe space for a hummingbird nest

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


Box fastened into tree to rescue a hummingbird nest

Box fastened well against the wind

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


Mama hummingbird entering box to feed chicks in rescued nest

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

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Hummingbird chick near fledging

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

Two hummingbird fledglings

Two hummingbird fledglings

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

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

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

hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

Hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

Today in Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way 1 sm

Posted in Meetings, UCSF | Tagged , ,

Two Views of Sutro Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

in mount sutro forest

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

Posted in deforestation, Environment | Tagged , ,

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

This article is slightly modified and republished from a post on forestknolls.info

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

2016 three new trails in Sutro Forest

UCSF map modified to show the three new trails in orange

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

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


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

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

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

clarendon trail


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

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

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

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


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

lisa wayne shows planned trail system

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

next steps for SFRPD trail projects


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

Bay Area Ridge Trail vision


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

UCSF is taking comments. You can send them to Christine Gasparac: christine.gasparac@ucsf.edu


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

Sierra Club Members! Please vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also email them at:
Susana Reyes, susanareyes1218@gmail.com
Judy Hatcher Judyh08@gmail.com
Robin Mann, robinlmann@gmail.com
Mike O’Brien, mjosierraclub@gmail.com
Luther Dale, lutherdale@hotmail.com
Joseph Manning, josephmanning92@gmail.com
David Scott, david.scott@sierraclub.org


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

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

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

Posted in Environment | Tagged ,

Mount Sutro Forest: Logging a Lovely Forest

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

pics3 016 looks like a logging site

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Canines and bicycles leave their tracks

pics3 042 still green


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

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

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

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

Dusk, mist, Great Horned Owl

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


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

Report: First UCSF TAC Meeting, 14 Jan 2016

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

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

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


ucsf presentation excerpt 2

From UCSF Presentation about the Plan for Sutro (forest)

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

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

ucsf presentation excerpt 1

UCSF’s Broad Goals for Sutro Forest

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

ucsf presentation excerpt 3

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

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


ucsf presentation excerpt 4

UCSF’s Mistaken Assumptions about Sutro Forest

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

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

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

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

Where the forest is left alone, it is healthy.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

sutro area map notes more


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Cloud forest - September 2010

Cloud forest – September 2010


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

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

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

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

Other comments:

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

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

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

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

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

forget me nots 2

Forest scene with forget-me-nots – 2010

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

Protecting Mount Sutro Cloud Forest Helps Biodiversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sutro forest with approaching clouds

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More Sad News From Sutro Forest

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

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

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

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

Former trees in a pile of woodchips sm


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

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

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

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


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

Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way in Feb 2013

Sutro Forest above Medical Center Way in Feb 2013

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

forest above Medical Center Way July 2011

Sutro forest above Medical Center Way July 2011

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

UCSF Restarts Sutro Forest Plans in 2016

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

Mt Sutro cloud forest

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

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


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

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


Members of the TAC include:

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

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


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

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

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

Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 1

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Ishi – An Article from 1911

Ishi in 1914

Ishi in 1914

This New Year, we’d like to go back over 100 years to 1911, when Sutro Forest was 15-25 years old, time enough for the trees to have grown large enough to establish it as a forest. This is the story of Ishi, whom we’ve written about earlier. He was the native American man who was brought to the Affiliated Colleges (which later became University of California San Francisco – UCSF) and was said to have found a sanctuary in Sutro Forest. This article, from the San Francisco Call newspaper (Volume 110, Number 98, 6 September 1911),  gives a contemporaneous account of how that came to be.

At the time this was written, he had not yet been dubbed “Ishi” — which was not actually his name, but a title meaning “man.” The photographs accompanying the article were not clear enough to reproduce here; we’ve used other public domain pictures of Ishi.

Though we’re re-publishing this public domain article, we ask our readers to  recognize it as a first impression from his contemporaries soon after he came into the urban world. It reflects both the attitudes and the information of its time, including the reference to “savage” even though the complex culture and sophistication is evident even in the biased descriptions.

Subsequent research indicated he wasn’t actually the last of his tribe but was related to the Yahi/ Yana tribes of Northern California. More research is available in Wikipedia’s article on Ishi.


Tribe’s Remnant Awed by White Mans Life

ishi in 1911Deciphering a human document, with the key to most of the hieroglyphics lost, is the baffling but absorbingly delightful task which Dr. A.L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman of the University of California have set for themselves. The document is the Deer Creek Indian captured recently near Oroville, who should by every rule and reckoning be the loneliest man on earth.

He is the last of his tribe; when he dies his language becomes dead also; he has feared people, both whites and Indians to such an extent that he has wandered, alone, like a hunted animal, since the death of his tribal brothers and sisters. The man is as aboriginal in his mode of life as though he inhabited the heart of an African jungle, all of his methods are those of primitive peoples. Hunting has been his only means of living and that has been done with a bow and arrow of his own manufacture and with snares. Probably no more interesting individual could be found today than this nameless Indian.


ishi as he was first foundHe was captured at the slaughter house about three miles out of Oroville, where he was trying to steal some meat. The dogs barked so ferociously one night that the men employed there went out to discover the cause of the trouble. They found the Indian, wearing a single shirt like garment made of a piece of canvas, crouched in a corner, frightened half to death.

His discoverers were as badly frightened as he was and telephoned to the sheriff in Oroville to come and get what they had found. The lndian was taken to town and lodged in the jail and a search for an interpreter began. Hundreds of Indians from all the: surrounding country came and every Indian tongue was tried, but to no avail.

Finally Waterman, instructor in the anthropological department at the University of California, went to see him. He had a list of words of the North Yana speech and found that the unknown one recognized some of them with greatest delight. Sam Batwee, one of the oldest of the remaining score of Indians of the North Yana tribe was sent for from Redding. Batwee frightened the Indian more at first than did the white men, but now they have become very friendly.


The unknown is a South Yana, it is said, and Doctor Kroeber said the “two languages were related probably as closely as Spanish and Portuguese, so that communication, while possible, is by no means easy. It has been proved that the Indian is one of four who lived for some years in a patch, of thickest brush in the heart of Tehama county. Practically on the great Stanford ranch, within two miles of a ranch house, these Indians lived without being discovered. The wooded bit was between a high cliff and a stream, Deer Creek, and was about three miles long by one mile Wide. So dense was this jungle that not even cattle penetrated it, but in it was the Indians’ camp.

Two years ago a party, of surveyors ran a line which passed through the camp, and after the manner of surveyors they proceeded to chop their way through the brush primeval. This frightened the Indians away; they fled to the mountains and this man, the sole survivor, has probably lived by hunting, creeping up to ranch houses and stealing bits of food, finding deserted camps and foraging there and eating berries and roots.

When he was captured he had a few manzanita berries and on those he had lived for some time, he said. It is difficult to realize that he is absolutely aboriginal, yet seeing must be believing. He is without trace or taint of civilization, but he is, learning fast and seems to enjoy the process.


If he may be considered as a sample, man has not been invariably improved by the march of time. The Indian is wonderfully, quick and intelligent, he has a delightful sense of humor, he is docile, cheerful, and amiable, friendly, courageous, self controlled and reserved, and a great many other: things that make him very likable sort of a person. Waterman says he has learned to sincerely admire and like the old fellow during their intercourse. Although he is probably about 60 or 65 years old, he doesn’t look it by 15 or 20 years.

Ishi in 1914

Ishi in 1914

In appearance he is far superior to the average California Indian. He is nearly six feet tall, well muscled and not thin. His face is rather the pointed type, with a long chin and upper lip and a straight nose. His eyes are large, very black, of course, and exceedingly bright and wide-awake. His eyelashes are the variety that bring to mind the idea that he bought them by the yard and was rather extravagant about it. His thick hair is jet black and short, he having burned it off after the death of his family. His hands are long and narrow, with very long fingers. The palms show that he has never done manual labor of any kind, as they are as soft as a woman’s.

His ears and the inner cartilage of his nose are pierced and this, Sam Batwee explains, is “what he b’lieve.” It is “medicine” or religious faith that by this means he is saved from going to “bad place” and will certainly go to “good” place” after death. Little knotted strings, apparently sinews of animals, are in the holes which are of considerable size. Coming down on the train from Oroville was a great ordeal for the Indian, but he showed his fear only in the tenseness of attitude maintained and by his closely clenched hands.


Crossing the bay was a wonderful experience and yesterday morning as he stood in front of the Affiliated colleges he asked Batwee as to the direction of where he crossed the big water. Batwee said: “First, yesterday, he frightened very much, now today he think all very funny. He like it. tickle him. He like this place here. Much to see, big water off there” and he waved his hand toward the ocean, “plenty houses, many things to see.”

The first time that the unknown refused to obey orders was yesterday. He was to be photographed in a garment of skins, and when the dressing for the aboriginal part began he refused to remove his overalls. “He say he not see any other people go without them,” said Batwee, “and he say he never take them off no more.” Nor would he, so the overalls had to be rolled to the knees: and the skins draped over them as best they might be.

He was taken to the west end of the museum building and on edge of the Sutro forest he was posed. The battery of half a dozen cameras focused upon him was a new /experience and evidently a somewhat terrifying one. He stood with his head back and a half smile on his face, but his compressed lips and dilated nostrils showed that he was far from happy. “Tell him, Batwee, white man just play,” said Waterman, and the explanation seemed to reassure him.

After the camera men left he squatted in the sand and seemed happier than when in a chair under a roof. He was given a couple of sticks used by some tribe for fire making, taken from the museum, and he was delighted, showing at once that he knew what they were for. After a few seconds of twirling the sticks and making them smoke, he gave it up and told Batwee that it was the wrong kind of wood.

ishi-with-bowThen he did some most delightful pantomime-bits. Folding a leaf between his lips he sucked on it so strongly that a wailing sounds closely resembling the bleating of a fawn resulted. This was an illustration, of his mode of deer hunting. When he hid himself and bleated the deer were sure to come. He was like a child “showing off” yesterday. Smiling delightedly, he showed how, after he had called the deer, be drew back his bow to the farthest limit and let the arrow fly. Then he galloped away with his hands, indicating that the deer had escaped, making tracks in the sand with his two fingers.

Then he bleated again and showed another deer approaching from the other side. Again he drew his bow and that time the deer was his. Rabbits he hunted with a queer sound, resembling more the popping of gigantic corks than anything else. Queer tracks were made in the sand, and strange gestures — all of which indicated rabbits. Bear he described by growls, more tracks in the sand, and finally by raising his arms high and lowering his head, bringing to mind by his mimicry the terrible “Truce of the Bear.” He did not shoot the bear, but ran away and climbed a tree. Salmon fishing he illustrates; too, with prayers and the tossing of roots into the stream.


He talked to Batwee freely, but would tell little that was personal. His name, if he knows it, he keeps to himself. It is considered bad form among aboriginal tribes, I am told, to ask anyone’s name, and it is, seldom divulged until a firm basis of friendship is established. The unknown, however, declares he has no name. In reply to Batwee’s questions, he shows by a wandering forefinger that he has been all alone. There was no one, he says, to tell him his name and he has none.

He is so desirous of “doing as the Romans do” since he arrived in civilization that it was thought he might be induced to tell his name when he knew that all white men had them. Batwee told him it was customary in the best circles, or words to that effect, and in response he declared his entire willingness to have a name. He had none, he reiterated, but if any one had one to give him he would gladly receive it.

Batwee calls him John, but Doctor Kroeber declared that lacking in individuality. “We must have a name for him, though,” said Waterman. “We can’t go on calling him ‘Hay, there.'” For the present his christening will be deferred, in the hope that some name may develop later.


600px-Ishi_portraitAll questions as to his wife he evades. He has a word, “maeela,” which was at first mistaken for “mahala,” which the Indians use for “‘wife,” but that is not the meaning. Waterman says. When he is asked anything about his wife, he begins to tell Indian myths (or, legends: how the coyotes stole the fire; bits of stories of women’s work; imitations of a woman cooking mush, with bubbling sounds of boiling. This is perhaps because aboriginal tribes will never speak of the dead. Waterman said yesterday: “lt’s as though you asked a man when he got his divorce and he began to tell you the story of  ‘Cinderella.’ ”

He will eat anything that is given him without much apparent preference. Sweets, however, he seems fond of, and doughnuts delight him. He knew nothing, of course, of eating with knives or forks, but he was taught in the Oroville jail to eat with a spoon. This habit he has adopted, and when given a peach proceeded to eat it with his spoon.

He has likewise learned to smoke cigarettes, and already his fingers are badly stained. When he was given chewing, tobacco he ate it. Batwee remonstrated with him and asked if it did not make him sick. This the unknown denied, and said that it made him strong, did him good. When he was wandering he used some sort of Indian wild tobacco, but his first taste of plug cut or its equivalent he received from the jailer at Oroville. He told Batwee that this man, ‘big man, all the same as chief,’ had given him tobacco and also the blue shirt and overalls which he was wearing.

Charles L. Davis of Washington, D. C. who is an Indian inspector, happened to be in San Francisco, and went out to see the Indian yesterday. ln parting, he presented the unknown with his knife, saying that he wanted him to remember him in case they ever met again. The Indian accepted it and seemed to know its use, opening the and finally putting it in his pocket. His newly acquired pockets, by the way, are as keen a delight to him as are those of a small boy, and he has a great collection of odds and ends in them already.


I thought would give him a present, too, but found I had nothing either amusing or instructive with me save a white bone police whistle. This I blew for him which seemed to please him greatly; then I gave it to him. He tried to blow it, but was afraid to put it between his lips at first. When he understood the method of manipulating it and found he must blow it hard, he blew a mighty blast. Nothing that he has had since he left the wilds has pleased him more, Waterman said. He would blow with all his might, and then laugh heartily. Finally he fairly got the giggles, laughing out loud.

Doctor Kroeber was away when he first whistled, and when the former returned the Indian became suddenly shy and wouldn’t blow. At the noon hour a siren whistle, some place off across the city, sounded. He looked at me and smiled, and I nodded at the whistle in his hand. He laughed again and with a sly look at Doctor Kroeber, blew with all his might and main.

ishi smiling - 1914All of this sounds as though the absolutely primitive state of the man’s mind and life might be exaggerated. No one who sees him can doubt the statement of the anthropologists that he is the find of a lifetime on account of his lack of up-to-dateness. What he can tell will be of the greatest value to them. He will be kept at the museum of the Affiliated Colleges as long as the faintest scrap of information as to cave man manners and customs can be gleaned from him. With the aid of Sam Batwee, Waterman is compiling a sort of dictionary of his words and he will be induced to talk into a phonograph as well.

He has one Spanish word, “chiquita,” but Dr. Kroeber thinks it probable that he got that from his parents rather than by any intercourse with Spanish people. It was a sort of an heirloom in the tribe, he believes. The Indian used a word yesterday which Batwee says is a Chico Indian word. What will become of him eventually is still a question. If he wants to, he will be permitted to return to the mountains, of course, but it seems probable that a course of travel by trains, electric cars and ferry boats, making phonograph records, distinguished attentions from scientists and the newspapers—not to mention all the well cooked food he wants — will take the keen edge off of his enjoyment of thoroughly primitive conditions.

[In the end, the question of where he would go next did not have to be resolved. Ishi died of tuberculosis five years after this article appeared, still resident at the Affiliated Colleges.]

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

A 1912 Tribute to Adolph Sutro

We’d like to wish all our readers a Happy New Year in 2016 and celebrate it with this tribute to Adolf Sutro, the philanthropist who gave so much to San Francisco including the forest we all love. It was written over 100 years ago and published in the San Francisco Call.

by Horace Jones

In this day of the “city beautiful,” one thinks of the man who first planted trees and flowers to beautify San Francisco, Adolph Sutro.

Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro was born at Aix-la-Chappel, Prussia, on April 29, 1830. At the age of 16 he left school to work in his father’s cloth factory. At the death of Mr. Sutro senior, the management of the factory was left to Adolph and his brother. The revolution in Europe affected their business, so the Sutro family migrated to America and settled at Baltimore. In 1850, during the gold excitement, young Sutro went to California on one of the first vessels bound for San Francisco. On the voyage Sutro wrote accounts of the journey and sent them to his mother.

November 21, 1851 marks the date when Mr. Sutro arrived in San Francisco. He had little money but much ambition, and soon went into the business of selling cigars on the water front. In 1856 he married. Of this union were born six children, one of whom is Mrs. Merrit, who spoke to us when our new school was first occupied. Formerly our school was called Point Lobos school, but during the time of John Swett was renamed in honor of Mr. Sutro.

In 1859 Mr. Sutro visited the Comstock lode in Nevada. The mines there needed to be drained of water and to be provided with better ventilation, so Mr. Sutro thought he could drain and ventilate the mines by building a tunnel. After interesting capitalists in his plan, and receiving permission from the state and national government, he began his work. It took 14 years to finish the tunnel and when it was finished Mr. Sutro became a millionaire many times over.

He now returned to San Francisco, his favorite city. He became interested in the sand dunes and purchased acres of sand hills, upon which he planted young trees, which one may see from many parts of San Francisco. Sutro Heights, a show place of San Francisco, overlooking the Farallones, Tamalpais and the Golden gate, is also one of his many public works. Mr. Sutro built Sutro baths and gave to San Francisco a fine library and art gallery. He also presented to the University of California 26 acres of land where the Affiliated Colleges now stand.

Affiliated Colleges with Sutro Forest in the background smHe reduced the car fare to the beach from ten cents to five cents for the sake of the people by building the Clement street car line. He was always kind and courteous to everybody, and as a result was very popular. This was shown in his election for mayor, when he received more votes than all his four opponents together.

Adolph Sutro was the first man to start a real Arbor Day in San Francisco county by having trees planted in Sutro forest and in other parts of our city, and by giving all the school children in San Francisco a tree to plant in the bare places of the city and one to plant in their own gardens at home. Many of these trees still stand, a fitting monument to Adolph Sutro, the originator of the city beautiful.

(First published in San Francisco Call, Volume 112, Number 1, 1 June 1912. Note: The pictures were not original to the article.)

forest girl

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Sutro Forest East Ridge Trees Being Felled Now

This post is to let our readers know that trees are being felled right now in Sutro Forest, and also that UCSF has formed a committee to advise on managing the forest, which will meet for the first time on January 14th, 2016.


Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 1

This is not the post we’d hoped to bring you this holiday season. But sadly, trees are being felled even as this is being written, all along Johnstone Drive on the Forest’s edge. This is the so-called “safety” work we’d written about earlier.

UCSF plan to finish the work during the holiday season, ostensibly to avoid the noise and disruption to the students who live on the Aldea campus. It is also the time when people are busy with family and celebration – the best time to do something as unpopular as denuding a hillside.

In the pictures below, all the trees will be removed. Look for the pink dot of death.

Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 4 Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 3 Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 2  Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 12 Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 10 Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 8 Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 7 Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 6 Sutro Forest Tree felling johnstone drive 5MEMORY LANE ON JOHNSTONE DRIVE:

Just to memorialize this place, here are some images from Google maps:

This was only five months ago, in August 2015 – still green and thriving because it’s a cloud forest – it gets moisture from the fog all summer long.

Sutro Forest - Johnstone Drive - Aug 2015 - Google Maps

Sutro Forest – Johnstone Drive – Aug 2015 – Google Maps

Going further back in time, this is from May 2011:

Sutro Forest - johnstone Dr - may 2011 google mapsAs is this one here:

Sutro Forest - johnstone Dr2 - may 2011 google mapsAnd even further back, here’s June 2008:

Sutro Forest - Johnstone Dr 2 - june 2008 google Maps


UCSF  is assembling a 5-man “Technical Advisory Committee” to give them advice about managing Sutro Forest. Members of the TAC include:

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

We are pleased to see it includes Joe McBride, possibly the most knowledgeable person about eucalyptus in the Bay Area. (See the notes on the lecture he gave at the Commonwealth Club: Understanding Eucalyptus in the Bay Area.) We’re also pleased to see it includes Peter Ehrlich, a forester from the Presidio Trust.

We’re less enthusiastic about two others, both of whom focus on native plant restoration, despite UCSF declaring that Safety, not Native Plants, would be the driver for managing Sutro Forest.  Peter Brastow’s nativist ideology informs both his past role as director of “Nature In The City” (the original parent organization of the Sutro Stewards), and his current position in the Department of the Environment – a role we’d describe as “Native Plant Tzar.” We’re also concerned about Lew Stringer, who manages native plant restoration for the Presidio Trust and thus is not a natural choice for a forest that consists primarily of non-native species. This puts the forest in the hands of its enemies.

The first TAC meeting will be held on Thursday, January 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Millberry Union Conference Center at 500 Parnassus Avenue. According to the UCSF notification, “The TAC’s mission is to provide guidance on the scope, techniques and best practices for a long-term management plan for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. We invite the public to attend the TAC meetings and join in the discussion..”


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

UCSF Destroying Forest on Mount Sutro?

Recently, we wrote about the downed trees and stumps along all the trails in Sutro Forest. It turns out this is just the beginning. UCSF recently sent out an email with more details. Under the guise of “safety”, UCSF is conducting a 4-6 week effort through December 2015 and January 2016 to remove more trees and understory in the forest, starting almost immediately. We’re very concerned.

sutro forest logs

  • First, we think these measures will actually make the forest less safe.  It risks destabilizing the slopes that are being held by the living geotextile of the the intergrafted roots. It also increases the fire hazard by drying it out, increasing flammability and windspeeds.
  • Second, we think this is the thin edge of the wedge, transforming the forest within a few years into an open space full of scrub, dotted with a few trees.
  • Third, we are losing ecosystem services provided by the forest: Carbon sequestration; pollution reduction; a wind break in one of the windiest areas of the city; habitat for wildlife including bees and butterflies; water runoff regulation; and the physiological benefits of “forest bathing.” Eucalyptus trees, especially with acacia understories, are excellent at storing carbon; destroying these trees is anti-environmental.
  • One positive we see is that UCSF remains committed to not using pesticides. Goats will be used instead.


  • Removing hundreds of trees. In particular, nearly all the trees on the forest edge  along Johnstone Drive between Medical Center Way and Behr have been marked for removal. They claim that the forest’s trees have been weakened by the drought. This ignores the fact that eucalyptus is exceptionally drought-tolerant, and these trees are already recovering. And as is clear from the picture below, many of the marked trees look to be green and healthy.

Sutro Forest grove of pink dot trees

  • Planting the denuded areas with with (native) species such as ceanothus, madrone, elderberry, coffeeberry, buckeye and toyon.
  • Bringing in goats to eat understory vegetation in the so-called “defensible space” which UCSF created in August 2013 under the pretext of “fire hazard.” It obtained a letter for the SFFD – but we understand UCSF provided the draft. They do mention no further trees will be removed here. (Over 1000 trees were removed in August 2013.)

UCSF wrote: “UCSF and the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) have separately determined that there is an urgent need to revisit the defensible space work that we performed in 2013 around buildings, roads and neighboring homes (see attached SFFD letter). This work will include removing all flammable vegetation and trimming tree branches up to 10 feet off the ground within 30 feet of structures.  The remaining 70 feet, up to 100 feet of clearance, will include the removal of ladder fuels, which can carry a fire from the ground up to the tree canopy (mostly ivy).”

In fact, though Fire Chief Hayes-White praised the UCSF effort, the SFFD’s actual presentations made it clear that there was no such urgent need. San Francisco’s forests are not a serious fire hazard because of the fog, and shrubs and grass were much more flammable. (See SF Fire Department Busts Some Myths.) The presentations also clarified that there wasn’t any legal requirement, (as was suggested in 2013) because Sutro Forest does not qualify as a “wildland-urban interface.” We are inclined to consider the letter a professional courtesy extended to UCSF, especially since we have correspondence indicating that UCSF drafted the August 2013 letter for the SFFD to issue.


  • Drying out the forest will weaken it. Despite the drought conditions, the forests of San Francisco have actually been doing quite well. The main reason is the fog. Mount Sutro and Mount Davidson especially lie with the fog belt, and harvest moisture from the fog. Here’s how it works:

cloud forest diagramHere’s what  Mount Davidson looked like in September 2015. And it’s what Sutro Forest – which shares the same fog conditions – should look like too. But it doesn’t.

Mt Davidson 2 - fuschia flourishing despite drought, watered by the trees catching the fogRemoving trees and understory compromises the forest’s ability to hold moisture and dries it out. In drought conditions especially, UCSF and the Sutro Stewards should be working to preserve the density and greenery of the forest.

Instead, in Sutro Forest, there’s been extensive removal of understory plants from 2010 onward. More recently, they have been felling “hazardous” trees, many of which were not actually hazardous.  Even trees that are not perfectly healthy precipitate moisture from the fog and delay evaporation by increasing forest density.  The result of the cutting looks like this.

Sutro Forest more logs

The tragedy of  Oso in Washington, where a landslide destroyed a community, was caused by tree-felling on the slopes above the community – tree-felling that was legal and had been approved, but destroyed the community and many lives anyway. Oftentimes, hired experts produce the answers the client seeks. We expect this tree-removal will destabilize the slopes and increase the potential for landslides. We hope very much that we’re wrong here. Researchers say the risk remains for many years – and in this situation will likely worsen as the tree roots decay and weaken.

UCSF plans to plant native shrubs where it’s removing these trees. Shrubs do not stabilize the slope in the same way as trees. Rockslides all around Twin Peaks provide evidence of that.

  • Worsening the fire hazard. Removing vegetation will dry out the forest and make for higher wind speeds. That will have a further drying effect. The two pictures below show the “before” and “after” pictures following the so-called Urgent Fire Safety work in August 2013. The second picture clearly shows more dead and dry vegetation.
forest before

Forest before “fire safety” work

forest after

Same area after the “fire safety” work.

(Coincidentally, this is where the new Clarendon connector trail is being built.)

Should any dry area ignite – and native plants that UCSF plans to introduce are dry for much of the year – the fire will be less likely to die down in windier conditions.

  • Lots more trees will be targeted. A new trail has been roughed out from Clarendon parallel to Christopher – in one of the main areas where the so-called “urgent fire safety work” took place in August 2013.  More trails mean fewer trees; the next step is to clear vegetation on either side of the trail, including any quirky trees that slant or twist, or aren’t in perfect condition.

Also, with all the tree removal going on, we can expect other trees to be weakened by increased wind speeds and gaps in the intergrafted root system. We expect hundreds or even thousands of trees will be removed each year, depending on the budget available.


UCSF’s actions seem to be the opposite of the measures that would best preserve the forest and the healthy eco-system. So we’re forced to consider a separate agenda. In fact, it appears that UCSF is proceeding with its original plans to convert the forest from the magical dense woodland that people loved into a native shrub area dotted with a few trees.

But instead of introducing a new Environmental Impact Report that would openly state its plans and the consequences for public comment, it is merely chipping away at the forest year by year under the guise of “safety.”

Trees have been cut down every year in recent years – nearly 2,000 by now.  There are huge open areas that used to be dense forest only 3 years ago. The sense of seclusion, of stepping into a magical other world,  is being steadily lost, with the sights and sounds of the city becoming more apparent and those of the forest gradually being destroyed and silenced.

Within a very few years, the transformation would be complete, with thousands of trees removed for one reason or another.

blackberry habitat

From 2009: Another dense area of Sutro Forest that’s now denuded


Posted in deforestation, Environment, UCSF | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

More Trees Felled in Sutro Forest

We’re dismayed to bring you news of more tree removal in Sutro Forest. Walking through the forest recently, we found nearly every trail had stumps and logs.

Sutro Forest more logsSutro Forest log pilesutro forest logsMuch of the character of this beautiful forest, once dense and green and lush, has been changed. More changes are coming. Those who remember how it used to be are privileged to have seen it. Below, for example, is a photograph from 2011.

Sutro Forest July 2011

Sutro Forest, July 2011

The East Ridge Trail, is bleak and dusty.

Sutro Forest pink dot treesMORE TREES TO BE CUT DOWN

It’s not finished. A large number of trees have been marked – usually a sign they’re to be cut down. All along the East Ridge Trail, and then along Johnstone Drive where the forest meets the Aldea Student Housing campus – trees are blazed with pink dots.

Sutro Forest grove of pink dot treesThis beautiful stand of trees grows along Johnstone Drive, where the forest meets the Aldea student housing. If you look closely, you can see nearly every tree in this picture has been marked with the pink spots. It looks as though UCSF intends to clear the whole slope.

Apart from the loss of ecosystem services these trees provide – carbon sequestration, pollution reduction, habitat, wind-protection – this is precisely the wrong way to prepare for a wet winter if the El Nino hits.


A new trail from Clarendon has been roughed out. While trails are a good thing, it’s likely that this – like the other trails in the forest – will be a reason to cut down more trees.

new trail to Clarendon being made

Posted in deforestation, Mt Sutro landslide risk, UCSF | Tagged | 3 Comments

Monarch Butterfly Season with Child Art

monarch butterflies in eucsOne of the wonderful things eucalyptus trees do is provide wildlife habitat. In particular, they are crucial to supporting the Western Migration of the the Monarch butterflies, by providing a roost for the butterflies to spend the winter. A study by Dennis Frey and Andrew Schaffner of 300 over-wintering sites showed that three-quarters of them were in eucalyptus trees.

From November to February, monarch butterflies gather in thousands in tall trees by the coast. The season has started, and the butterflies are back.


In celebration, we’re proud to publish these pictures from Girl Scout Troop #61902, sent to us by Alma Sorenson, Troop Leader:

Grace-'Untitled' sm

Monarch Butterfly – by Grace M.

Addy-'The Monarch in Golden Gate Park' sm

The Monarch in Golden Gate Park – by Addy

Emma-'Take Flight' smm

Take Flight – by Emma

Angelina-'One Monarch in a San Francisco Eucalyptus Tree' sm

One Monarch in a San Francisco Eucalyptus Tree – by Angelina S.

Lindsey-Monarch Butterflies Love Eucalyptus Trees' sm

Monarch Butterflies Love Eucalyptus Trees – by Lindsey D.


Troop 61902 Sign sm

Girl Scouts: Building girls with courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place

From Ms. Sorenson:

“We are a troop of twelve 4th and 5th grade Juniors from five different San Francisco schools focused on learning and earning Girl Scout badges, and on serving our community.

“We have our donated time and our cookie money to My New Red Shoes, the SFSPCA, and Project Open Hand.  This year we will continue our theme of helping kids in need and on the environment.


Unlike the Monarchs east of the Rockies (which migrate from Canada to Mexico and back), the butterflies in the West migrate between the interior and the coast.  The butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains go south to Mexico in winter. The butterflies on the Western side come to the California coast in search of warmer, milder weather than the inland winters.

fallmigrationmap usfwsMost winters, you can see the butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park, about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. Some years they’re even found right in San Francisco, in places like the Presidio and Treasure Island.

Posted in Environment, eucalyptus | Tagged ,

Sierra Club “Corrects” the Record – Fails

The Sierra Club shocked the environmental community, including many of its own sign petition to sierra clubmembers, when it not only failed to oppose the horrible East Bay plan to cut down hundreds of thousands of trees, but actually sued FEMA to cut down more trees immediately. Of course there was a protest outside the Sierra Club Oakland headquarters.  And there’s a petition out with over 2600 signatures. (If you haven’t already signed it, you can do so HERE.)

What was the Sierra Club’s reaction? Not to consider re-examining policies that were so clearly anti-environmental. Not to ask the opponents why they thought these policies were so devastating. It was to place an error-filled article in their own newsletter, The Yodeler, headlined: “Correcting the record on our vegetation management strategy for the East Bay Hills: Sierra Club’s preferred fire-prevention model would restore native habitat and increase biodiversity

fema-project-areasBefore we correct the so-called correction, let’s outline the project:

  • It involves three agencies (City of Oakland, East Bay Regional Park District, UC Berkeley);
  • With funding from FEMA using the excuse of “fire-prevention” despite evidence to the contrary;
  • Cutting down hundreds of thousands of trees on 2059 acres;
  • Using thousands of gallons of herbicides to prevent resprouting;
  • Chipping the downed trees and leaving them as two-foot-deep beds of mulch.

So why is the Sierra Club supporting this? The main reason seems to be that it’s an excuse to get FEMA to fund the removal of non-native eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees. From their article: “… an ecologically-and fiscally-sustainable model for fire management that not only reduces the risk of fires but also promotes healthy and diverse ecosystems.” Since the Sierra Club isn’t about fire-reduction, the second part of that statement betrays their real interest.

But of course the ecosystem left behind will not be healthy or diverse. The article spells out the Sierra Club’s Three Rs Model: Remove flammable non-native trees in select areas most at risk for fire; Restore those areas with more naturally fire-resistant native trees and plants; Re-establish greater biodiversity of flora and fauna.

We’ll explain why all three elements are wrong for these projects.


SC: “The preferred strategy for vegetation management in the East Bay hills entails removing the most  highly flammable, ember-generating trees like eucalyptus in phases — only in select areas considered most at risk for fire along the urban-wild interface.”

Let’s parse that. “Highly flammable, ember-generating trees“? Research shows that eucalyptus isn’t any more flammable than any other tree.

The US Forest Service evaluation of the FEMA projects stated that the resulting landscape would be more flammable than the existing landscape: “Removal of the eucalyptus overstory would reduce the amount of shading on surface fuels, increase the wind speeds to the forest floor, reduce the relative humidity at the forest floor, increase the fuel temperature, and reduce fuel moisture.  These factors may increase the probability of ignition over current conditions.”

They blame eucalyptus for casting more embers than native trees because they are taller than the oak-bay woodland. However, equally-tall redwoods also burned in the 1991 Oakland fire:  On Vicente Road, “Two redwoods up the street caught fire like matchsticks.” Yet, the Sierra Club is not suggesting that redwoods be destroyed to eliminate the risk of casting embers. And in fact, leafy eucalyptus may protect against flying embers.

“In phases”? The Sierra Club’s suit against the FEMA grants is exactly because it objects to the phasing of tree removals!  The main focus of their suit is opposition to the “unified methodology” which proposes to remove trees over the 10 year period of the grant on only 29 acres of the total project acreage of 2,059. Their suit demands that all non-native trees be removed immediately on all project acres. 

“Select areas considered most at risk for fire along the urban-wild interface”?  And the article also says elsewhere, “Our proposal only covers areas near homes and businesses where fire would be most costly to homes and businesses.”

Except, as you can see from the map above, most of the trees being removed are in the middle of parks and wild lands. They are far from houses or other areas in the urban-wild interface. CAL FIRE defines “defensible space” required around buildings to reduce property loss in wildfires as 30 feet  -or 100 feet of structures in high fire hazard areas of the wildland urban interface. That doesn’t apply to these trees.


The Sierra Club thinks the projects will “restore native habitat and increase biodiversity.

There’s no provision for restoration in the project plans. The plan is to cut down the trees, chip them and leave the mulch on the ground. Herbicides will be used.

The image below, copyright Jack Gescheidt of the TreeSpirit Project shows an example of a clearcut area. The TreeSpirit Project, which respects all species of trees, opposes the project.

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

It’s really unlikely that there’ll be greater biodiversity in two-foot deep piles of mulch.  Scientists evaluating the project said: “It is not clear how the mulch would prevent the proliferation of invasive species while simultaneously encouraging the growth of existing native species.”

Scientists also said:   “Based on conditions observed during site visits in April 2009, current understory species such as English ivy, acacia, vinca sp., French broom, and Himalayan blackberry would likely be the first to recover and recolonize newly disturbed areas once the eucalyptus removal is complete.  These understory species are aggressive exotics, and in the absence of proactive removal there is no evidence to suggest that they would cease to thrive in the area, especially the French broom which would be the only understory plant capable of surviving inundation by a 2-foot-deep layer of eucalyptus chips.

Broom may be the only plant less popular with native plant advocates than eucalyptus.

The experience with trying to maintain native plant areas has been that they require as much care as any garden. This will mean planting, gardening and weeding over 2000 acres. Neither “Restore” nor “Re-establish” are feasible.


The Sierra Club could take a tough stand on pesticides, but it doesn’t. Instead, it tries to suggest they are not an issue. The Yodeler says that herbicide: “...would be hand-applied in minimal amounts under strict controls.

Pesticides being poured on from a truck: Small doses?

Pesticides being poured on from a tank on a truck: Small doses? (Copyright image used with permission.)

Minimal amounts? East Bay Regional Park District has stated in the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA project that it intends to use 2,250 gallons of herbicide to prevent the regrowth of eucalyptus. This estimate doesn’t include what’ll be used by the other two managers,  UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland.  Nor does it include the herbicides needed to kill all the flammable non-native vegetation that will be take over once the trees and their shade are gone.

The Sierra Club continues: “Any herbicide application must undergo a full environmental review to prevent impacts on humans, wildlife and habitat.”  In fact, an Environmental Impact statement (EIS) prevents nothing – it only describes the impacts. This EIS has already been completed and it says that the project will have “unavoidable adverse impacts” on “human health and safety” and that there will be “potential adverse health effects of herbicides on vegetation management workers, nearby residents, and users of parks and open space.” As far as we know, there are and will be no studies regarding impact on habitat or wildlife.

In fact, the Sierra Club has said in writing that they DON’T oppose pesticide use:

  • Sierra Club’s written public comment on Scoping for the FEMA EIS: “We are not currently opposed to the careful use of Garlon as a stump treatment on eucalyptus or even broom when applied by a licensed applicator that will prevent spread into adjacent soils or waters.”  Norman La Force (on Sierra Club letterhead), September 12, 2010
  • “There is no practical way to eliminate eucalyptus re-sprouting without careful use of herbicides.” Yodeler, May 25, 2013

Here, we would like to thank UCSF, which has used no pesticides in Sutro Forest since 2008 (nor on Aldea campus since 2009). In 2013, they made a statement that they would not be using them at all in these area: “…as a health sciences university, we believe the right thing to do is not to use herbicides in the Reserve.”


There’s a lot of evidence that these projects are very unpopular. Though the Sierra Club has tried to say that the opposition is small – it’s not.

Over 13,000 public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement were sent to FEMA, of which 90% were opposed to this project according to FEMA.  More recently, a petition in opposition to this project has over 65,000 signatures on it.  This project is NOT the “preferred strategy for vegetation management in the East Bay hills.”

sc-protest picture ed

The demonstration outside the Sierra Club. Over 80 people attended.

(For a detailed analysis of the Sierra Club article and the reality of the East Bay projects – including citations – please see the article: Sierra Club cannot hide behind its smokescreen on Death of a Million Trees, a blog dedicated to fighting unnecessary tree destruction.)

Posted in Environment, eucalyptus, Herbicides | Tagged , ,