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

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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..”


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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 , ,

Sierra Club Alienates its Would-be Allies

lake-chabot cropped Photo credit MillionTrees dot me

What the Sierra Club should be fighting to save – but isn’t

Most people think of the Sierra Club as an organization battling for trees and nature, for forested lands like the one in this picture. They believe it’s fighting to save the environment and opposing the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. So they’re shocked to hear the Sierra Club supports the East Bay projects to destroy hundreds of thousands of trees, and use thousands of gallons of herbicides to prevent regrowth.

sign petition to sierra clubThere’s a petition to ask the Sierra Club to stop, to withdraw the lawsuit and its support for these projects. You can sign that HERE if you haven’t already. There are over 2600 signatures already. And there are comments, which we’ll discuss below.


 sierra club mailer referencing John Muir and Rachel Carson

Sierra Club mailer referencing John Muir and Rachel Carson

The Sierra Club fosters this pro-tree anti-pesticide image. Look at the mailer they recently sent out. “You don’t have to be John Muir or Rachel Carson to save the world,” it said. “You just have to believe, like they did, that one person can make a difference.

muir-john-new year-card front

Greeting card sent by John Muir

John Muir was of course the Sierra Club’s founder. He was the great nature lover who originated our National Parks – and planted eucalyptus trees near his home (which were later cut down by the National Parks Service for being non-native).  Muir would have been angry:

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed, chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones.”  –John Muir, ‘Our National Parks’ pg 364

He even sent a friend a greeting card featuring eucalyptus trees.

Rachel Carson Silent Spring coverRachel Carson was the famed author of Silent Spring, a passionate indictment of pesticide use. Described on its Amazon page as a landmark book, it’s considered the origin of the battle against pesticides. She left money to the Sierra Club, including royalties from her book

So when the Sierra Club sends out mailers like that, it clearly reinforces the message that it stands for all trees, and against pesticides. Only, if that were true, they wouldn’t take the stance they have on the East Bay projects.


The Sierra Club supports the destructive East Bay projects that would cut down some 450,000 trees and use thousands of gallons off toxic herbicides (Roundup and Garlon) on the stumps and plants they don’t want there.

And not only is the Sierra Club supporting this project – it’s currently suing FEMA, which is to fund this disaster – demanding it cut down more trees immediately. The Sierra Club wants them all gone, now. And they don’t oppose the use of pesticides, either; they claim that the projects will need minimal pesticides, hand-applied – when the project managers themselves admit they will use thousands of gallons. When people provided FEMA with evidence that pesticides were already in use where UC Berkeley has started the felling of trees, and FEMA wrote to UC Berkeley about it – Sierra Club demanded FEMA retract its letter.

We’re disappointed but not surprised that the Sierra Club tries to hand-wave the impact of herbicides. Some years ago, when we sought Sierra Club support in saving Sutro Forest from a plan that would have cut down some 30,000 trees and used hundreds of gallons of toxic herbicides to prevent regrowth, we got no help. Instead, we were told to “please moderate your thoughts.   Think about whether you use dish detergent in a dishwasher or hair conditioner or hair shampoo.” We doubt any of those are as toxic as Roundup – a probable carcinogen and possible endocrine disruptor, or Garlon which is a highly toxic herbicide associated with birth defects in rats even at very low doses.

They also support the Natural Areas Program’s plans to cut down thousands of trees and use even more herbicides than it currently does.


The people whom the Sierra Club is alienating are its would-be allies. If you go to the petition and scroll back through the pages of signatures, there’s an unusually large number of comments. They’re mostly from people who love trees and nature, and who oppose toxic herbicides on public land. They’re from environmentalists who worry about climate change, and know that trees sequester carbon. (In fact, eucalyptus is an excellent carbon sink: Its wood is dense, it grows fast, and it lives for hundreds of years.  Unless its felled and chipped – then, like all felled trees, it stops sequestering carbon and starts to release it back into the atmosphere.)

These are people who are – or would like to be – sympathetic to the Club. In fact, many people who signed the petition are current or former or would-be future Sierra Club members.

Their reactions to this? We’re quoting a few of the comments here, edited only to remove typos and add emphasis. (There are many more, too many to quote all of them, but you can go to the petition and look. We didn’t have a way to ask permission to quote names – but they’re on the petition.)


speech bubbles 1a“I’m shocked! I will never donate any more money to this organization.”

“I am a Sierra Club member and I will cancel my membership if you continue to support the tree removal.”

“I am in shock as I thought the Sierra Club was in favor of saving our forests and never using pesticides. I will be dropping my membership immediately from the Sierra Club. I was sure they were 100% for nature.”

“And we had just started supporting Sierra Club… it is hard to know who to trust!”

“Please stop this insanity. I am a former member of the Sierra Club, and I’m embarrassed by your advocacy of removing trees and poisoning the land.”

speech bubbles 1b“Sierra Club I can no longer support you. I am fighting along millions to stop use of Monsanto roundup. Tell me you are not on their payroll. Killing trees? Who’s in charge here?”

“I will not be renewing my membership to the Sierra Club, due in the next couple of months. The removal of millions of trees using dangerous pesticides is insane! It will endanger many animals and wildlife, poison the local environment AND leave the entire area vulnerable to ecological degradation. Any trees or other plants that the Sierra Club intends as replacements for those they wish to kill will take decades to serve the purpose that currently is being met by what is already there.”


“This is so short sighted…poison our soils, kill off the animals population that lives in these trees and destroy the water shed we need for the hills, and all that land areas. I’m glad I have not returned to the club….not worth watching the destruction-led ideology happening (as well as a waste of my membership monies).”

One commenter was moved to write a sonnet (in the text box).sonnet sierra club

“I am a Sierra Club Member and serve on the Executive Committee of the Toiyabe Chapter. I grew up in the Oakland Hills, and those trees were part of my life. They protect the wildlife and provide needed shade. Cutting them down will NOT make the area safer from fire. I am very disappointed with the Sierra Club’s decision to support this action. The amount of pesticide to be used is unacceptable in an urban area (in any area, really). We need every tree we can get in California right now!”

“I am a former member of the Sierra Club and am appalled at the proposed wanton destruction of our Oakland woods! It is inexcusable because it is not backed by science or the residents!”

“Leave the trees. Use of pesticides to go back to the way it was and disrupt current life, not good. Sierra Club was the first group I belonged to because they helped the environment. I no longer renew my membership. They are known as the wayward children of stewards to the environment.”

“Former Sierra Club supporter. Used to live near there, my sister still does. Terrible idea…now, especially, is not the time for this genetic cleansing.”

“This is really important. Please stop doing this. I am a Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer survivor. I spent tremendous amount of time in the GGNRA before I got sick. Please stop this. It is not a garden. It is not YOUR garden. It is not to be manicured to design specifications. My Grandfather was a General, commander-in-Chief of the Presidio in the 1960s. His and all the men and women whose legacy left these beautiful lands certainly did not intend on you turning it into a garden and using pesticide to return it to the state before they were of service to fight for it. Best, Sandra”

speech bubble 3bMy family has supported the Sierra Club for years. I would like to still do so, yet this is surprising. I live here and have been watching the cutting. This forest is no longer new, despite being non-native. It is home many insects, animals, and native plants, and removes CO2 from our air. Removing it only increases the fire danger (from all that chipped wood left behind) and the risk of mudslides is huge.”

“I will not re-join the Sierra Club until they stop supporting this horrible plan to dump toxic chemicals right in our backyard. ‘Non-natives’ have been here for over 100 years now and are part of our ecosystem and support butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. Stop this destructive plan now!”

speech bubble 2d“Am a member of Sierra Club and disagree with this policy — this policy came about by non-democratic means.”

“Many Bay Area Sierra Club leaders are not in agreement with the Club’s position on this issue.”

Member since 1980, but considering not being a member anymore, because of this extreme error filing this lawsuit.”

speech bubble 3a“Dear Sierra Club: This is exactly the kind of plan I expect you to be against — the cutting down of living forests and then pouring toxic chemicals into public lands. I’ve been a member in the past and usually think highly of the Sierra Club. Your goal to return the Bay Area hills to a state of grassland, scrub, and chaparral makes absolutely no sense in the time of global warming and drought Trees provide shade and lower high temperatures. They enable many wild animals to survive despite high human habitation nearby. Poisoning the ground poisons wildlife near or in those grounds. Please desist the slaughter.”

“This is racist, genetic cleansing, ideology taken to the extreme. I have withdrawn my support of the Sierra Club. Additionally, this adds to global warming and air pollution by burning, and poisons our environment by pesticides. Apparently FEMA has money which it refused to use for support of impoverished minorities damaged by the hurricane, and is now seeking the stamp of approval by the green faddists, who are ignoring the overall picture while following a sectarian eugenics program.”

“I oppose the deforestation of our hills – I was evacuated in the 1991 fire storm and I think that grassy hillsides would be MORE dangerous than eucalyptus and Monterrey pine. I am all for native vegetation but not at the cost of denuding our hillsides. I am a Lifetime Sierra Club member.”

“I am an active San Francisco Bay Chapter member. To be fair, there has been a lengthy chapter process on this issue. Unfortunately, I am convinced that the club’s radical position represents a huge mistake. The project’s certain harm to ecosystem services and exacerbation of climate change impacts will likely far outweigh any potential environmental or safety benefits.”

speech bubble 1eI am a Sierra Club member and live in the Oakland Hills for the past 20 years. I have been through both the fire and the earth quakes. I hike the parks here every day and find this the most ill conceived plan imaginable. In the early morning hours the trees drip with much needed water. There are owls and monarch butterflies and raptors. What I see is clear cutting all along skyline and housing developments now everywhere that the trees have been felled. More houses being built every day. The use of toxic pesticides is outrageous to all of us who strive to live a healthy life. I am completely opposed to this outrageous plan.”

As someone who has supported the Sierra club for over 30 year in various way including having a credit card with your name on it for years I feel betrayed by your advocating the destruction of where I live. I was here for the fire, I evacuated at the latest moment and I feel this deforestation will make it dryer and winder. We need to preserve every tree we can in this time of global warming! We are lucky we can get anything to grow on some of these hills and to clear cut and poison is stupid beyond belief.”speech bubble2b

“I am a lifelong environmentalist and a longstanding member of the Sierra Club. I am appalled by the position the Sierra Club has taken on this critical issue. I plan to cancel my membership unless the Sierra Club stops advocating the insane, destructive policy of clear  cutting and poisoning our beautiful Eucalyptus, Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress.”


We would expect an environmental organization to recognize they’ve made a mistake here, and that their plan is both devastating to the environment and a betrayal of their friends. So far, their response has been an error-filled article in their newsletter, the Yodeler. (We’ll post about that another time.)

Some suggest it’s too big to care, as hinted by the “hostile corporate takeover” comment above. Or that it’s allied with the chemicals companies, as the sonnet above states.

  • “Having worked in the environmental non-profit field for a number of years I can attest that the arrogance of the Sierra Club. I have seen firsthand how their superior funding as one of the oldest and best endowed environmental NGO’s leads to decisions that fly in the face of overwhelming opposition from a community. Reverse this decision, it clearly makes no sense.”
  • “This issue concerns me EVERY DAY. The loss of these biotic communities which live & thrive within these wonderful East Bay forests would be DEVASTATING to me to the wildlife AND to the quality of life in the whole Bay Area, including the quality of AIR. That Sierra Club is standing WITH the University of California, FEMA AND Monsanto on this issue speaks very loudly about SC’s real alliances.”

Another viewpoint is that the Sierra Club has some political axe to grind.

  • “I can’t believe that Sierra Club is supporting this horrific deforestation program in my own backyard. They cannot have read the facts that point to the harm the program will do, nor educated themselves to the nonsense of destroying all non-native’ trees. There is definitely something political going on here.”
  • “What can be behind this policy? Merely lack of independent due diligence? or some more sinister backroom arrangement? I am currently working as an activist on NO COAL in Oakland and was considering joining Sierra Club with my $ and volunteer service, but cannot get an understanding of this harmful policy.”

claremont canyon garlon smallFor whatever reason, this is what the Sierra Club is ending up supporting:

  • The destruction of trees and release of carbon into the atmosphere;
  • Landscapes of 2-foot-deep mulch with a gradual incursion of broom and other species that can manage in difficult environments;
  • And the use of thousands of gallons of herbicides – including those labeled “Tier I: Most hazardous” by SF’s Department of the Environment.
East Bay clearcut THIS is the plan for the forests — fear overrides wisdom

East Bay clearcut. THIS is the plan for the forests — fear overrides wisdom. (Copyright Jack Gescheidt, used with permission)

Posted in Environment, eucalyptus, Herbicides: Roundup, Garlon | Tagged | 1 Comment

Rainstorms Ahead, Sutro Forest Can Respond If We Let It

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that El Nino could arrive within a couple of weeks. (Here’s a report from the California Business Journal.) It looks like we’re going to have a very wet winter. We think it’s urgent to stop all vegetation removal in the forest now as a safety measure. One of the risks of cutting down trees and removing vegetation – as has been happening in Sutro Forest – is it reduces the ability of the forest to respond to the rain and wind that winter brings.


Most of Sutro Forest is on steep slopes, some of which can become unstable. Yet we have had no recent landslides in the forest. Why? Largely because the intergrafted roots of the dense tree growth acts like a living geo-textile and stabilizes the slope. This is crucially important, and we ask land managers for Sutro Forest (and for nearby Mount Davidson) to focus on the real risk of destabilized slopes. The risk is not just academic, as is evident below.

Landslide under blue tarp. South Ridge of Sutro Forest at top left.

Landslide under blue tarp. South Ridge at top left.

Forest Knolls is a neighborhood of homes just south of the forest. In the picture here, the forest is actually visible in the top left corner. The blue tarp in this picture was where a slope started sliding after vegetation removal. It remained there for a long time.

Inside the forest, an area at the top of Medical Center Way became unstable, after quite a lot of clearing on the East Ridge Trail just above it. The tarp in the picture below remained in place for over a year. Only recently has UCSF gone ahead with slope stabilization measures. But had the forest been left alone and no vegetation removed above this slope – they might never have been needed.

blue tarp above Medical Center WayHere’s a map showing the slope stability risk assessment (this came out of a UCSF publication for an earlier version of the plan to cut down thousands of trees.) The wiggly arrows show where there’s a slide risk, and the double arrows show where there’s evidence that slides actually occurred some time in the past. [Edited to correct reference regarding arrows.]

Pink areas and wiggly arrows show landslide risk; double line arrows show past landslides.

Pink areas and wiggly arrows show landslide risk; double line arrows show past landslides.

Nearby Twin Peaks, which is bare of trees, has had multiple rock slides. (In the picture below, Sutro Forest is in the foreground, and Twin Peaks is the brown pair of peaks behind Sutro Tower.)

sutro forest with approaching cloudsWhenever there’s a really wet winter, more rock slides happen. Since it isn’t surrounded by houses, this is more a nuisance than a real problem. SF MTA usually clears the rocks to the side within a day or two. However, if there were a house or car underneath – there would be real damage, even danger.

rockslide on Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks rockslide

As the tragedy of the community of Oso indicates, it’s possible to destabilize a slope by cutting down trees, and only feel the effects years later when weather conditions converge.


This forest is adapted to rain and wet conditions because it gets rain in winter and fog-moisture in summer. That’s why it’s a Cloud Forest. The force of the rain is broken by the layered canopy of eucalyptus, with a subcanopy of acacia and plum, and so it lessens the erosive impact.

The duff  and the dense understory vegetation protects the soil further, holding it together and allowing water only to percolate through, not bombard it. The whole forest floor is protected from erosion, except where the vegetation has been “cleared” for whatever purpose.

There’s some erosion on the trails – especially because many of them have been widened in the last few years, but on the whole it’s not nearly as bad as say, Twin Peaks.


Not only does the vegetation prevent erosion, it also regulates water run-off.  The vegetation traps the water as we described above. The Sutro Cloud Forest’s duff and understory holds water like a sponge. Then it gradually releases it over a period of days, not hours. This is important because a sudden flood of water through the system can overwhelm the sewer system of San Francisco. Everything we can do to slow the runoff helps.

The runoff from the mountain is a fraction of the runoff from, say, Twin Peaks, where the road runs like a river on rainy days. Removing undergrowth and duff and getting down to the soil increases the runoff and could also increase erosion.


This area is one of the windiest in the city.  With trees up to 250 feet tall, this forest is an important windbreak for surrounding neighborhoods.

Mount Sutro forest viewed from southeast (Twin Peaks)The trees also protect each other from the full force of the winter winds. This is true even for trees that are dying or even dead. This protective effect reduces the impact of winter wind-storms not just inside the forest, but also around it.

sutro deforested

If there was no forest there


Too often, when the talk goes to safety, people focus on fire hazard (much overblown owing to various myths).  Recently, the SF Fire Department exploded many of these myths.

The other risk factor frequently considered is “hazardous trees” – even though people are nearly twice as likely to die from a lightning strike as from a tree fall. And that’s a national figure that includes the East Coast which has more trees and more storms.

What is seldom talked about is slope stability, and the fact that the trees are helping to stabilize these slopes and prevent landslides. This is a real, long-term issue, where changes to the forest now could have adverse effects immediately – or up to seven years later.

So in preparation for the coming El Nino, the best thing to do would be – stop all removal of trees in whatever condition; and stop all removal of understory. This forest is adapted to rainstorms; its important not to destabilize it.


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Sunny Day with Butterflies and Bees in Sutro Forest

One of the lovely things about Mount Sutro Forest is its changing moods. We posted pictures here of a foggy day recently, when the forest was ethereal and damp. But the previous afternoon, it was sunny in the forest. A perfect day for butterflies and bees.

We’ve seen bees working the blackberry bushes in the forest before, but this time they were so intent on their food gathering they let us get close and get photographs.

bee on blackberry flowers sutro forest 2So here it is, busy as a bee… of course.

bee on blackberry flowers sutro forestflowering_gum with bees susan walterWe know bees also forage on eucalyptus flowers, especially when other plants stop blooming.

Our trees are so tall that we haven’t yet succeeded in getting the photograph, but other photographers have.

In fact, someone recently sent us a link to the Israeli paper Haaretz, which report that in Israel, bee-keepers were able to save eucalyptus trees slated for removal. There, too, eucalyptus is a crucial source of sustenance for bees.


We were delighted to find quite a few gorgeous Anise Swallowtail butterflies – half a dozen or so.  They’re not common on Mount Sutro. This butterfly lays its eggs on fennel, which is unfortunately one of the plants the Natural Areas Program targets with its toxic pesticides.

anise swallowtail

On Mount Sutro – at least, UCSF’s portion of it – no pesticides are in use, but there’s no fennel either. These butterflies will have to hunt for other places to breed.

anise swallowtail body


Then we saw something we had never seen before. In a sunny patch, two Anise Swallowtails were flitting around. Eventually, one stayed and the other left. An Umber Skipper, a  little brown butterfly maybe a quarter of its size, started chasing the remaining Anise Swallowtail. It looked like a blackbird harassing a hawk, using its superior maneuverability. Eventually both of them settled on a twig, and we got this picture.

two butterflies - umber skipper and anise swallowtailWhat was happening, we wondered? We asked Professor Art Shapiro of UC Davis, an expert on California butterflies. Here’s what he said:

“In riparian habitat, both species use sunflecks as sexual rendezvous sites. (Anise Swallowtails also use hilltops in hilly terrain. Umbers don’t.)  Males and mateable females (generally virgins) are genetically programmed to find such places–butterfly “singles bars.” Both of these critters are males. Presumably the presence of the swallowtail in the same fleck might have deterred a female Umber from approaching; or perhaps it was a purely mechanical response to movement nearby; in any case it was almost certainly a direct or indirect example of interference competition for a limited resource–a sunfleck. Great picture!”

Who knew butterflies did that? They seem so pretty and so mindless  – but like all other creatures, they’re busy trying to survive and reproduce. Umber skippers breed on grass, including Bermuda grass. So if this one succeeds in finding a mate, they should be all set.


Posted in Environment, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

SF Fire Department Busts Some Myths – And More “Work” in Sutro Forest?

This post is republished with permission and minor edits from the website of the San Francisco Forest Alliance. We think it is of particular interest not only because of the myth-busting, but because we were told for the first time that UCSF may do another round of “fire-safety” work in the forest.

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Gonzales smRecently, Supervisor Norman Yee called a hearing of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee to find out how prepared San Francisco was to deal with fires in brush and forest. The San Francisco Fire Department busted some myths we’ve heard all too often.

MYTH #1: The forests of San Francisco – in particular those on Mount Sutro and Mount Davidson – are a fire hazard. Vegetation fires are 12-13 times more likely to occur in grass and brush than in forests. And importantly – in the north and west of the city, the fog protects it by adding moisture. The south-east is more vulnerable to vegetation fires, particularly around the freeways. (But the real fire danger in San Francisco is from structure fires because of closely-placed wooden houses, not so much from vegetation fires.)

MYTH #2: As city fire-fighters, SFFD wouldn’t know how to respond to a forest fire. Actually, SFFD have 200 fire-fighters trained to fight vegetation fires. This myth is a quarter-century out of date.

MYTH #3: SFFD doesn’t have the equipment or information to fight vegetation fires. Actually, SFFD has special resources including four maneuverable “mini-pumpers” for fighting outside fires. And it has a mutual aid agreement with other cities and can call on their resources if needed.

MYTH #4: San Francisco’s Wildland Urban Interface is a very high fire hazard severity zone. No, it’s not. It’s not technically a Wildland Urban Interface (though there are some pockets) and the whole of San Francisco has a “moderate” fire hazard severity rating (that’s CALFIRE’s lowest rating).

We attended the hearing, and were impressed by SFFD’s well-planned arrangements. After an introduction from Supervisor Norman Yee who convened the hearing and Fire Chief Joanna Hayes-White who stressed that SFFD was prepared for vegetation fires, Deputy Chief Mark Gonzales gave a detailed presentation on where they happened and how SFFD handled it. This was followed by a talk about prevention from Lieutenant Mary Shea, (mainly weed-abatement in vacant lots and similar). The Department of Emergency Services’ Bijan Karimi described preparedness, to help affected families stay safe and return to normalcy in the event of any disaster. Then Curtis Itson, UCSF’s fire marshal, spoke specifically about Sutro Forest, and finally there were some comments from the public – including a singer!


San Francisco’s main concern is actually more with structure fires, because as Deputy Chief Gonzales said, “…we have wood buildings in the districts, and they’re all next to each other.”

However, there are some calls for outside fires. They tend to be concentrated around the south and east of the city. Because of the fog, the north and west of the city (i.e., areas that include Mount Sutro Forest and Mount Davidson) are generally moist and not a concern.

[See our recent post,  Sutro Forest: Fog and Puddles While Elsewhere Fires Burn, for an illustration of this effect.]

The focus for outside fires is in the drier South east part of San Francisco: Hunter’s Point, McLaren Park.

grass and outside fire calls - SFFD

From the presentation by Deputy Chief Mark Gonzales:

“… we have fog and even during the drought [in] the rest of the city, the west and the northwest gets the fog. The best weather is in Hunters Point, southeast, so that’s where it’s driest. One of the concerns is Mclaren park. So the four mini-pumpers are in that area. We have front line stations in the city. A lot of those companies have been trained in wild land operations, and the chief mentioned that we have over 200 firefighters that do that.”

The open weedy area around freeways are also a concern. Thrown cigarettes and occasional campfires may account for ignition. He said: “…actually there is a big correlation if you noticed near the freeways… all along and open patches of lands that we respond to, to knock those out.”

When there are vegetation fires, they are mostly in grass and brush. The data the Deputy Fire Chief showed indicated that in the last three years, fires in grassland and/or brush were 12-13 times more likely than fires in forested areas/ wild lands.

He also pointed out that SFFD did have the resources to fight vegetation fires:

  • Four “mini-pumpers” – small maneuverable trucks for fighting outside fires (as well as operating in crowded conditions). They can go off-road and carry special equipment for fighting vegetation fires.
  • Two hundred firefighters with training in fighting vegetation fires, unlike 20-25 years ago when it had few if any. In fact, 30 of SFFD’s people were deployed to help fight the Butte fire and the Valley fire in other parts of California.
  • There’s a mutual aid arrangement in place that would allow SFFD to call for help if it faced an outside fire it could not control with its own resources. The people it would call on would be at least as well-trained as SFFD’s own fire-fighters – possibly more so because they are from hotter less built-up areas where they experience more outside fires.


Lieutenant Mary Shea, who is responsible for Prevention, started by pointing out that San Francisco was not technically considered a Wildland-Urban interface, though there were pockets that appeared so. She also said that based on topography and fuel, CALFIRE considered San Francisco a moderate fire hazard area, not a high fire hazard zone. [“Moderate” is actually CALFIRE’s lowest rating. We wrote about that here: The “Fire Hazard” that Wasn’t]
not WUI fire area
Her prevention efforts therefore focused on overgrowth of weeds, grass and vines, 30-foot defensible spaces, tree-limbs within 10 feet of chimney outlet, buildup of leaves or pine needles on roofs.

They mainly responded to complaints from neighbors, perhaps half of which were justified and the remainder were people disgruntled with the next-door tree overhanging their house or yard. They usually sent out abatement notices two weeks before 4th of July. Owners usually complied and most yards were well-maintained – the owners didn’t want fires, either. The main problem was in abandoned properties where the neighbor could not be found, or people unable for some reason to maintain their homes. SFFD worked with such cases to ensure safety. Most notices came from Hunters Point/ Bayview around the freeways, and Bernal, places like that.


Chief Joanna Hayes-White praised UCSF for the “fire safety” work 2 years ago, and they said they would be reviewing it this fall. She talked about defensible space and fuel reduction.

[We wrote about that here – Sutro Forest: Tree Felling Notices Posted ]

UCSF’s fire marshall, Curtis Itson, emphasized that UCSF has a commitment to keep buildings, visitors, and nearby neighborhoods safe.

In comments, we pointed out that given the fog and the way the vegetation trapped moisture, we needed to be careful that we did not increase fire hazard by reducing the forest’s ability to retain moisture.

[In August 2013, we think that UCSF and SFFD were stampeded into a rushed action. We hope that this year, with more time to conduct moisture studies and properly understand the terrain and microclimate, they will be able to take a more thoughtful approach that would preserve, even enhance, the moisture in the vegetation.]


More important public comments:

  • In the parks and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, native plant interests are felling trees and substituting more-flammable native plants for fire-resistant non-natives like trees and ice-plant. These landscape transformations increase fire hazard.
  • Trees are a lot less flammable than the myths say. In the parks, trees are felled and left on the ground as fuel, while toxic herbicides are in use. SFRPD’s forest management needs improvement.
  • Someone talked about dying trees as fire hazards along O’Shaughnessy, and a singer sang that it would be alright.

If you want to view the hour-long hearing, here’s the LINK.

Posted in Sutro Forest "Fire Risk" | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sutro Forest: Fog and Puddles While Elsewhere Fires Burn

The fog rolled in, the mist filled the trees, and the forest’s music was the patter of the Cloud Forest’s internal rain. This was Sutro Cloud Forest on Saturday, September 12th 2015. We were glad of our raincoat as we walked through the beautiful woods.

pics24 005 sutro forest in the fogThere were a few puddles along long the trail, though the trail-builders had tried to slope them so water would not collect.
puddle in sutro forest sept 2015The upper forest – above Medical Center Way, the paved road that runs through Sutro Forest – gets the fog first. The tallest trees at the higher elevations of Mount Sutro reach into the clouds and harvest the moisture, which collects on their leaves and twigs and branches, and rains down into the forest. As the fog settled in and came down to a lower level, the whole forest damped down. (The next day, Medical Center way was wet with the forest’s rain.)

pics24 009 sutro cloud forest sept 2015The picture below shows why it’s so important to preserve the trees. The trail goes from damp where trees have dropped fog-moisture on it to dry where there’s no canopy – over just a few inches. Further, where there are trees, it’s damp again.

Sutro Forest wet and dry trailTREES IN A FOG FOREST OR CLOUD FOREST

cloud forest diagramHere in San Francisco, we get fog whenever it gets too hot. This makes sense – the fog comes from the difference between the temperature of the sea and the land. So fire season inland brings the fog to us.

But trees fight fire in other ways than just capturing moisture. The tree canopies shade the ground below, discouraging the growth of some flammable fine fuels like grass, and slowing evaporation so that even when it’s dry elsewhere the vegetation in the forest remains green.

They act as a windbreak. Even if a fire is lighted, it cannot easily spread.

Tall healthy trees perform these functions best, but even trees in poor condition contribute. You can find dead trees with fog-moisture pouring down their trunks like a rain-spout. And they also help to block wind and shade the ground.


Meanwhile, on the same days as we took the forest pictures, the Valley Fire in California’s Lake County spread to 25,000 acres.

Our thoughts are with the people who, at this writing, face burned out towns and a fire yet uncontained.

fog over sutro forest - 13 sept 2015

Sutro Forest – fog, not smoke!

And we’re grateful for the fog and the forest.

dense fog over sutro forest - view from tank hill - 13 sept 2015

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Sutro Forest Attrition

The July message from UCSF was both innocuous and concerning. They were going to do some “hazardous tree work” immediately… and more in the Fall.

UCSF must immediately remove some hazardous trees in the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve in early July. UCSF arborists and external consulting arborists identified 20 trees that are dead and dying and need to be removed immediately to protect the safety of trail users, employees, neighbors and neighboring homes. We anticipate additional hazardous tree work will be done in the fall.

Even though it was the bird nesting season, UCSF went ahead with the work. To clarify: we support the removal of trees that are actual hazards especially to buildings, though we have to say that in the past, the trees removed have seldom been actual hazards.

What concerns us is that “hazardous tree work” is the latest in a series of excuses to remove trees.


What was even more concerning was this paragraph:

UCSF consulted with a wildlife biologist to determine whether there is currently any bird-nesting activity in the Reserve.  The biologist conducted a nesting bird survey in and adjacent to the trees slated for removal and found no signs of active bird-nesting in the Reserve, and specifically, found no signs of bird-nesting along the Farnsworth Trail or near the parking lots and Environmental Health and Safety building.

hummingbird nests collected in Sutro ForestReally? It is impossible that birds would avoid Sutro Forest. They nest in the eucalyptus trees, in the others trees like acacia that form the subcanopy, and in the blackberry and other bushes. One of our observers who went to watch the work being done noted  “bird nesting in bushes around eucs at one end of the trail they closed to cut the dead eucs.”

We have asked for a copy of the wildlife biologist’s report.

UCSF appears to pay lip-service at least to avoiding tree-work during the nesting season:

It is UCSF policy to avoid any non-urgent tree work during bird-nesting season.  Bird-nesting season generally lasts from March to August or September, though there is some evidence that it started earlier this year due to the warm weather.

Our concern regarding birds is two-fold. First, clearly the “no signs of active nesting” reflects inadequate observation. There is no reason for birds to avoid nesting in Sutro Forest, which is resource-rich for birds – and even a casual observer saw this activity even while the tree work was going on. Second, in addition to the tree work volunteers continually remove bushes and understory shrubbery throughout the season. These are all nesting sites.


The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet KesslerMore “hazardous tree removal” is planned for the Fall. One supporter of the forest said, “…this constant tree trimming, killing and shredding will not stop in the Sutro Cloud Forest in San Francisco. Please stop immediately…

It seems the current strategy in Sutro Forest is a process of attrition. In the last few years, hundreds of trees have been cut down -1250 by 2014, more in two batches in 2015.

valley crest truck 29th jan 2015

We would like to point out that even dead and dying trees are valuable to a forest; they provide excellent habitat for birds such as woodpeckers, and for wild bees. They also help maintain the cloud forest ecosystem by harvesting fog moisture and helping to preserve it.

Unless they are actually hazardous, UCSF should preserve them as part of the forest’s eco-system.

Posted in deforestation, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest, UCSF | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Petition the Sierra Club to Stop Advocating Against Trees and For Pesticides

Million Trees and The San Francisco Forest Alliance  have a petition to ask the Sierra Club to stop advocating for the destruction of trees and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may be shocked to learn that the local chapter of the Sierra Club is supporting – not opposing! – the destruction of 450,000 trees in the East Bay and is in fact suing to force FEMA to destroy all the trees, not just most of them. There is a petition to Sierra Club to withdraw its support for this environmental disaster.

Cutting these trees down will stop them from fighting climate change and reducing pollution. The project would release thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides into the environment. It would increase fire risk by encouraging the replacement of damp and cool tree stands with shrubs and grasses that burn rapidly when dry. This post below is reproduced with permission from SFForest.org and from Death of a Million Trees, which fights the unnecessary destruction of our urban forest.

Please sign the Petition HERE.

sign petition to sierra clubPlease also note the planned demonstration on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, at 4 pm, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Suite I, Berkeley, CA – the headquarters of the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter.


Monarch butterflies over-winter in California's eucalyptus groves

Monarch butterflies over-winter in California’s eucalyptus groves

Million Trees is sponsoring a petition to the national leadership of the Sierra Club in collaboration with San Francisco Forest Alliance. The petition asks the Sierra Club to quit advocating for the destruction of the urban forest and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. It also asks the Sierra Club to withdraw its suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees (eucalyptus, Monterey pine, acacia). This is an on-line petition which can be signed HERE. If you are signing this petition and you are a present or former member of the Sierra Club, please mention it in your comments.

There will be a demonstration by supporters of this petition at the headquarters of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, at 4 pm, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Suite I, Berkeley, CA. Please join us if you can.

If you are a regular reader of Million Trees, you probably understand why we are making this request of the Sierra Club. For the benefit of newer readers, we recap the long history of trying to convince the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club that its support for the destruction of our urban forest, as well as the pesticides used to prevent its return, contradicts the mission of the Sierra Club as a protector of the environment.

  • This “open letter” was sent to the leadership of the local chapter of the Sierra Club. It informs the Sierra Club of many misstatements of fact in the chapter’s newsletter about the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District.
  • This article is about the Sierra Club’s public comment on the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District. The Sierra Club instructs EBRPD to put the “restoration of native plant communities” on an equal footing with fire hazard reduction. It also specifically endorses the use of pesticides for this project. In other words, native plants are more important than public safety in the opinion of the Sierra Club.
  • This “open letter” is about misstatements of fact in the chapter newsletter about San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program. We wrote that “open letter” because the newsletter refused to publish our letter to the editor.
  • This article is about misstatements of fact in the chapter newsletter about the FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills. This incident occurred during the brief period of time when the on-line version of the newsletter was accepting on-line comments. That opportunity to communicate with the chapter enabled a correction of inaccurate statements in the newsletter.

Sierra Club’s suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees in the East Bay Hills was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Chronic annoyance at the club’s endorsement of destructive and poisonous projects was suddenly elevated to outrage. HERE is the Club’s description of its suit, which is available in its on-line newsletter. Attempts to communicate our outrage to the Club by posting comments on that article failed. That is, the Club is no longer publishing comments it doesn’t like, thereby cutting off any means of communicating with them. Our petition is the only means of communication left to us. The text of the petition follows and it can be signed HERE. Please distribute this petition to your friends and neighbors who share our concern about the destruction and poisoning of our public lands in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Title: Sierra Club must STOP advocating for deforestation and pesticide use in San Francisco Bay Area

Petition by: Million Trees and San Francisco Forest Alliance

To be delivered to:
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club, michaelbrune@sierraclub.org
Aaron Mair, President, Board of Directors, Sierra Club, aaronmair@gmail.com

We are environmentalists who ask the Sierra Club to quit advocating for the destruction of the urban forest and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. We also ask that the Sierra Club withdraw its suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees (eucalyptus, Monterey pine, acacia). If you are signing this petition and you are a present or former member of the Sierra Club, please mention it in your comments.

Over the past 15 years, tens of thousands of trees have been destroyed on public lands in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay are in jeopardy of being destroyed by a FEMA grant to three public land managers. The Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club has actively supported all of these projects and now it has sued FEMA to demand the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees.

These projects have already used hundreds of gallons of herbicide to prevent the trees from resprouting and to kill the weeds that grow when the shade of the canopy is destroyed. Now, the FEMA project intends to use thousands of gallons of herbicide for the same purpose. These herbicides (glyphosate, triclopyr, imazapyr) are known to be harmful to wildlife, pets, and humans.

This environmental disaster will release tons of carbon into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to climate change. It will destroy valuable habitat for wildlife, introduce poisons into our watershed, cause erosion, and eliminate our windbreak. We call on the national leadership of the Sierra Club to prevent the active participation of the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club in this environmental disaster.

Petition background:

The San Francisco Bay Area was virtually treeless prior to the arrival of Europeans. The landscape was predominantly grassland, scrub, and chaparral. Trees grew only in ravines where they were sheltered from the wind and water was funneled to them. The trees that were brought from other areas of California and from other countries were chosen because they are the species that are best adapted to our local conditions. John Muir, the Founder of the Sierra Club, also planted these tree species around his home in Martinez and was as fond of those trees as many of us are still today.

The Sierra Club has now turned its back on this cosmopolitan view of nature in favor of returning our landscape to the pre-settlement landscape of grassland, scrub, and chaparral. This approach has led to the destruction of tens of thousands of trees and the use of herbicides to prevent them from resprouting.

In the East Bay, native plant advocates have also falsely claimed that “non-native” trees are more flammable than native plants. Although fire hazard reduction was the stated purpose of the FEMA grants, fire hazards will be increased by the clear-cuts of our urban forest for the following reasons:

  • Tons of dead, dry wood chips will be scattered on the ground to a depth of 24 inches.
  • The fog drip which is condensed by the tall trees moistens the ground and will be lost when the canopy is destroyed. The ground vegetation will therefore be drier and more likely to ignite.
  • The tall trees provide a windbreak which has been demonstrated repeatedly to be capable of stopping a wind-driven fire, which is typical of California wildfires.
  • The project does not intend to plant any replacement plants or trees. Therefore, the most likely colonizers of the bare ground are annual grasses which ignite easily during the dry season and in which most fires in California start and spread.
Hummingbird in eucalyptus flower. Courtesy Melanie Hoffman

Hummingbird in eucalyptus flower. Courtesy Melanie Hoffman

Many empirical studies document the rich biodiversity of our urban forest today. Bees, hummingbirds, and monarch butterflies require eucalyptus trees during the winter months when there are few other sources of nectar. Raptors nest in our tall “non-native” trees and an empirical study finds that their nesting success is greater in those trees than in native trees.

In short, the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club is promoting an environmental disaster that is adamantly opposed by tens of thousands of people. FEMA received over 13,000 public comments on its draft Environmental Impact Statement, over 90% in opposition to this project, according to FEMA’s own estimate. The signers of this petition are also opposed to this project as presently described by FEMA grant applications and its Environmental Impact Statement.

Environmentalists in the San Francisco Bay Area have been denied due process by the local chapter of the Sierra Club. The Bay Area Chapter has blocked every effort to communicate with them: they ignore our emails, block our comments on their blog, refuse our letters to the editor of their newsletter, and do not answer our phone calls. We believe that the national leadership has an obligation to consider our complaint because the actions of the local chapter are inconsistent with the mission of the Sierra Club. The local chapter is actively contributing to climate change and endorsing the use of toxic pesticides in our environment.

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

“Are Eucalyptus Trees Going To Kill Us All?” Talk by Jack Gescheidt – Aug 15, 2015

Jack Gescheidt of the Tree Spirit Project, uses a unique method to draw attention to threatened forests: He gets volunteers of all ages to pose nude among the trees to create art photographs. He came to Sutro Forest two years ago. (See: Tree Spirit Project in Sutro Forest and The Making of the Tree Spirit Project in Sutro Forest.)

Jack_Gescheidt_TreeSpirit_Sutro_Forest_0026_550p_WEB Jack Gescheidt Tree Spirit ProjectNow – together with a number of other groups – he’s fighting the destruction of 450,000 trees in the East Bay. Here’s an NBC report: NBC report on East Bay Tree Destruction

But he’s also using less unconventional methods. Here’s his email about a presentation he will be giving  on  August 15, 2015 in San Rafael.

“Please share news of my presentation — ARE EUCALYPTUS TREES GOING TO KILL US ALL?!” — about eucalyptus trees, the native vs. non-native issue, invasive species, and the plan to cut down hundreds of thousands of trees in the SF Bay Area. Marin and SF both have deforestation campaigns for the same reasons, so I see this as a big issue beyond just the East Bay (as you all know).

“WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, August 15th, 2015, 7:30pm at Open Secret Community Center & Bookstore, #923 C St., San Rafael, CA. (3 blocks from the Rafael Film Center).”

(Tickets information:  $10 Advance Tickets: call Open Secret with credit card: 415.457.4191; or $15 at the door)

“EVENT DETAILS (webpage): http://treespiritproject.com/events
All are welcome, from all sides of these issues. Audience participation will be encouraged; a lively evening expected.”

It sounds interesting, and we hope he’ll draw in people who don’t yet know about the devastation planned, or don’t understand what it will actually mean for the Bay Area.


Posted in deforestation | Tagged , ,

Sutro Forest in May 2015 – Green Despite the Drought

Green trail in Sutro Forestcloud forest diagramWe’re into the second year of a drought, here in California. In Sutro Forest, you’d hardly know it. The forest is lush and green.

We took these pictures  a month ago. We meant to put them up then, but here they are, better late than never!

Sutro Forest is a de facto cloud forest. It doesn’t rely only on rain; in summer, the tall eucalyptus trees harvest the moisture from the fog. (Some of the trees are 200 feet tall.) They keep their understory well-watered, and the understory in turn helps to retard evaporation and keep it damp. Here’s a diagram of how it works.

On this visit, the actual trails were dry, but the vegetation was green. Even the grasses and the small plants that form the herbaceous layer, which indicates that there’s been enough surface moisture to keep them not just alive but thriving .

green understory in the forestThis picture shows lots of greenery. And even the grasses edging the trail in the picture below are green and growing, not drying out.

green grasses by trailMore small plants here.

herbaceous layer plantsWe even found skeleton leaves of eucalyptus – which is quite unusual. It suggests that they stayed wet long enough for the soft matter to rot out, and then dried, leaving the skeleton.

natural skeleton leaf eucalyptus

Sutro Forest is known for its tall trees and green understory, not for its flowers. In May, though, they’re there – together with red elderberries, and the plums on the wild prunus trees that bloomed earlier this year. (Be careful of the red elderberry – it’s also called the stinking elderberry because its leaves smell bad when bruised, and the berries are probably inedible to humans – though not to birds.) There are a few forget-me-nots here and there, some Robert geraniums, some nasturtiums.


There’s been work along the trails, and some things have changed. The triple arches formed of vines covering branches across the trail are gone.

triple arches 2The picture above is from 2013, the one below from 2015. Well, at least we had them for some years.

no more triple archThe bed of forget-me-nots on the road up to the Native Plant Garden on the summit is now a bed of plastic flags.

sutro forest forget-me-nots april 2011
The forget-me-nots of 2011 were mulched out of existence, and have now been replaced by the plastic flags of 2015. Presumably, some Native Plants have been planted there. We hope they take. They current brown chips are unlovely.

formerly forget me notsWe found an unexplained structure in the forest, perhaps intended as a barrier of some kind. Or maybe someone just got inspired to create art.

trail structureTHE FOREST AT EVENING

Despite the 1250 trees cut down in the last couple of years, and the destruction of understory that helps retain moisture and provide habitat,  the forest is still very beautiful. Here are a few pictures taken along the trails, with the evening sunlight streaming through the trees.

forest at evening 1forest at evening 2forest at evening 4MAJESTIC TREES

One of the challenges of trying to show this beauty in photographs (given that we’re not professional photographers, and are using a variety of point-and-shoot cameras), is the sheer size and majesty of the trees. We’re never completely successful.

tall eucalyptus treesforest at evening 3Here is a composite of the two pictures above. We hope it’ll give some sense of the scale of these trees, which can be as tall as a 20-story building. Or a stack of a dozen giraffes.

tall trees composite

Posted in Environment, Hiking, Mt Sutro Cloud Forest | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Drought-Adapted Eucalyptus NOT Dying by the Thousand

Jake Sigg, retired San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) gardener who is considered the doyen of the Native Plant movement in San Francisco, has a widely circulated email newsletter. In it, he has been pushing the argument that thousands of eucalyptus trees in San Francisco are dying of drought, as evidenced by epicormic growth on these trees: “2015 is the year of decision, forced upon us by 20,000 to 30,000 dead trees.” He is suggesting they will be a fire hazard and that SFRPD act, presumably by cutting down the trees. In a recent post, he published a picture of a tree covered in young blue-green leaves, and predicted it would be dead within a year.

But he’s mistaken.

Eucalyptus trees are drought-adapted, and the shedding of mature leaves followed by sprouting of juvenile leaves (epicormic sprouting) is one of their defense mechanisms. These trees survive in areas far drier than San Francisco, where fog-drip provides an important source of summer moisture.

2015-05-27 ab eucalyptus with epicormic growth wordEUCALYPTUS RESPONSE TO DROUGHT

Eucalyptus trees are adapted to drought. They shed mature leaves and twigs so they don’t lose water through transpiration (the tree version of breathing, which takes place mainly in the leaves.) Later, they can replace the lost branches and leaves through “epicormic sprouting.”

Blue gum eucalyptus trees have buds buried deep under their bark. When the tree is stressed, they may shed adult leaves and later sprout new leaves along their branches. When you see a eucalyptus tree that seems to have shaggy light bluish-green new leaves along its branches or trunk – that’s epicormic sprouting.

Here’s what Jake Sigg said in a recent newsletter: “According to arborists, the trees produce these abnormal shoots from epicormic buds when their lives are seriously threatened.  In this case, the tree is expected to be dead by the end of 2015.  On Bayview Hill, barring heavy unseasonal rain, hundreds of the trees will be dead this year.  Yet the City continues to not see a problem.”

We asked UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Joe McBride, California’s leading expert on eucalyptus, for his opinion. He’s observed this condition in trees along the edge of the Presidio forest and explains, “This response is common in blue gum as a mechanism to reduce transpiration rates in order to survive drought years.”

He continues: “I am not convinced that the trees will die in large numbers.

bayview-hill-2010 smTwo girdled treesTHE GIRDLED TREES OF BAYVIEW HILL

As an aside, we find it ironic that Mr Sigg should be so concerned with dead trees on Bayview Hill, given that’s where nativists girdled hundreds of healthy eucalyptus trees to kill them. (This is done by cutting around the tree, thus starving it of nutrients that are carried only in the outer layers of the tree-trunk.) It’s clearly visible in the two photographs here, both taken on Bayview Hill.


Eucalyptus globulus thrives in Southern California, Spain, Portugal, India – all places hotter and drier than San Francisco. In fact, one of the reasons eucalyptus is so widely planted – including in climates both hotter and drier than in San Francisco – is that it adapts to a wide range of conditions.

Here’s a quote from R.G. Florence’s textbook, Ecology and Silviculture of Eucalyptus Forests:

florence quote

From p.121 of the same book: “… they regulate their water usage in hot dry summers by closing their stomata [breathing pores in the leaves] during the day and lowering their rates of gaseous exchange. They adapt by their elastic cell structure to water stress.”


Mr Sigg describes “how to identify a dying blue gum” as follows: “Look for trees with thinning foliage and copious juvenile leaves (called coppice shoots) hugging the main stems.  These coppice shoots are easy to see because of their blue color and tight clustering, as opposed to the adult leaves, which are 6-8 inches-long, dull-olive-colored and sickle-shaped and which hang from the ends of long branches.  These coppice shoots are the give-away that the tree is in trouble and is destined to die soon…” (He later corrected “coppice shoots” to epicormic growth.)

But again, this is not actually true.

In fact, epicormic sprouting allows eucalyptus to survive not only drought, as described above, but even fire. The epicormic sprouting grows into new branches to replace the ones that have been damaged in the fire. This is from Wikipedia: “As one of their responses to frequent bushfires which would destroy most other plants, many Eucalypt trees found widely throughout Australia have extensive epicormic buds which sprout following a fire, allowing the vegetative regeneration of branches from their trunks.[4][5] These epicormic buds are highly protected, set deeper beneath the thick bark than in other tree species, allowing both the buds and vascular cambium to be insulated from the intense heat.[4]”

(The references are: [4] “Effects of fire on plants and animals: individual level”. Fire ecology and management in northern Australia. Tropical Savannas CRC & Bushfire CRC. 2010. Retrieved 27 December 2010. [5] “Learn about eucalypts”. EUCLID – Eucalypts of Australia. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. Retrieved 27 December 2010.)

And sometimes, dead branches and leaves and epicormic growth don’t even indicate stress – it’s part of the normal growth cycle. R.G. Florence’s book on eucalyptus says: the “mature crown of a eucalypt maintains itself by the continual production of new crown units, which die in turn. There will always be some dead branches in a healthy mature crown.” He goes on to say an “undue proportion of dead branches is an unhealthy sign” but a “reasonable proportion of death of crown units should be accepted as normal.” He also discusses the “epicormic shoots from dormant buds on the top and sides of the branch develop into leaf-bearing units of the mature crown.” (p.13) Eucalypts go through stages of development that include extensive self-thinning, particularly in younger trees. (p. 194)

Another reason for epicormic sprouts on eucalyptus is increased light. From Wikipedia, with references:  “Epicormic buds lie beneath the bark, their growth suppressed by hormones from active shoots higher up the plant. Under certain conditions, they develop into active shoots, such as when damage occurs to higher parts of the plant or light levels are increased following removal of nearby plant. Epicormic buds and shoots occur in many woody species, but are absent from many others, such as most conifers.” [The Wikipedia article references the Encyclopedia Britannica.]

We have seen these epicormic sprouts in eucalyptus trees around the clubhouse in Glen Canyon after many trees were removed.

epicormic sprouts on eucalyptus when nearby trees removed

We also saw them on Mount Sutro near where 1,200 trees were removed for “fire safety.”


In summary, then, epicormic sprouting does not indicate that the tree is near death. It may indicate that the tree is responding to drought (or even to other stresses like pesticide use or damage to its root systems) with defensive measures. It’s like declaring that everyone who has a fever is bound to die of it. The trees below are the same ones featured in the picture at the start of this article – one year later, they’re surviving, not dying.

Epicormic sprouting on eucapyptus 2014In some cases, epicormic sprouting may indicate nothing at all, except that the tree is going through a normal growth phase, or changed light conditions following removal of nearby trees.


We asked Dr McBride if it made sense to cut down these trees.  “I do not think the city would be justified in cutting trees down as a fire prevention action,” he says. “Cutting down drought-stressed trees at this point would be much more costly, sprouting would be difficult to control without herbicides, and the litter on the ground would have to be removed to decrease the fire hazard.”

“The problem as I see it is the accumulation of leaves, bark, and small branches on the ground.  This material presents a serious fuel problem when it dries out sufficiently.” However, he points out that “In many eucalyptus stands in San Francisco the eucalyptus ground fuel (leaves, bark, and small branches) seldom dries to a point that it can be ignited because of summer fog and fog drip.” In dry areas, the best course is to “launch a program of ground fuel reduction by removing the litter from beneath eucalyptus stands.”

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet Kessler

Eucalyptus-tree nest hole of red-shafted flicker – San Francisco. Copyright Janet Kessler

A few trees may indeed die, with the drought or without it. If you think of a forest as a normal population, you expect to find some trees that are in thriving and some that are hanging on, and some that are dying – just like in any population. And dead and dying trees are very valuable to wildlife: They’re more likely to have cavities that are suitable for nesting (and are easier to excavate for woodpeckers and other cavity-building species). They also have bugs that come to feast on the decaying wood, and that’s bird-food.

Posted in Environment, eucalyptus, nativism | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Fighting SF Bay Area Deforestation

mini poster War on Nature smWe’ve been extremely concerned about this disastrous East Bay project – a plan to cut down up to 450,000 trees. Others are fighting back. The post below has three ways in which you can help. It’s republished with permission from SFForest.org

The graphic on the right is available as a poster in PDF format here: 450k trees in danger-e-print

Please help us spread the word!


Nearly half a million trees are likely to be felled in Berkeley and the East Bay Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. There’s an extremely destructive project planned. The land managers sought Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for this project, and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published. We wrote about this project HERE. The good news is that people responded: There were around 13,000 comments on the draft EIS. The bad news is that the Final EIS, released recently, still plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of trees, increase fire hazard, destabilize slopes, and use huge amounts of herbicide. It will be a disaster for the environment and for wildlife habitat.

People are fighting back to save the trees and the environment. As TreeSpirit says on their website, “Can you even imagine 450,000 trees being cut down?”


We are aware of three separate initiatives, and we urge you to give them your support.

HCN Save the East Bay Hills Trees sm1) The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) is raising funds to take legal action. They are a registered charity, a 501(c)3 organization, and have been fighting this battle from the start. They have a GoFundMe page where you can help by contributing toward the legal fund. Here’s the link: http://www.gofundme.com/SaveEastBayTrees

2) SaveEastBayHills has a website about this project saveeastbayhills.org where you can go to the ‘Take Action’ page to which details about what you can do to write to the decision makers to protest this project. SaveEastBayHills is led by Nathan Winograd, who also cares about animals and has been a force in working for no-kill shelters.

Treespirit fundraiser to save east bay trees sm3) TreeSpirit Project is working to get the word out, because most people still don’t know what’s about to happen. An informed public is going to be crucial to stopping this horrible project. They’re raising funds for publicity. Here’s a link to the page describing what’s happening, and a planned photo shoot. http://treespiritproject.com/sfbayclearcut/

They also have a GoFundMe fundraiser going on: http://www.gofundme.com/SFBayClearcut

TreeSpirit Project is the work of photographer Jack Gescheidt, who creates beautiful pictures of unclothed people (all volunteers) in forests to draw attention to the vulnerability of trees. (HERE’s an example from Sutro Forest.)

TreeSpirit Project has the support of Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange, who wrote on his Facebook page: “If people knew the huge numbers of trees to be killed, they’d not stand for it, and so the numbers are not revealed, nor discussed. Several citizens groups, including my friend Jack Gescheidt’s TreeSpirit Project, have uncovered and now disseminate these mind-boggling numbers. We kindly urge you to, also!”


There isn’t much time to save these trees; felling is planned to start this fall. It’s a disaster in the making, and all based on an unreasonable prejudice against eucalyptus and a large number of myths that have been propagated. Please do what you can:
1) Make a contribution as you can to the HCN legal fund and the TreeSpirit Project publicity fund;
2) Write to the decision-makers listed HERE, protesting the project: http://www.saveeastbayhills.org/take-action.html
Thank you to all our readers for their involvement. Without your help, thousands of trees would already be felled.
Posted in deforestation, eucalyptus, Herbicides: Roundup, Garlon | Tagged , , ,

Cal-IPC Eucalyptus Reassessment: Not So Invasive

Back in July 2014, we wrote about the California Invasive Plant Council’s draft reassessment of eucalyptus. It had produced the same “Moderate” rating as before, but for different reasons. But last month, they came out with the final reassessment. Cal-IPC actually reduces the rating to “Limited” – their lowest rating. We are impressed.

mountain biker in Sutro ForestHere’s what we wrote in July 2014:

“The California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) designates eucalyptus as “moderately invasive.” Land managers all over California have used this designation as an excuse to cut down thousands of trees. Recently, people wrote to Cal-IPC citing evidence that eucalyptus forests in California are shrinking, not expanding, and they decided to revisit the assessment. However, their new Draft assessment comes to the same result – “moderately invasive.” Only the reasons are different.

“Most people think Cal-IPC is a government body. It’s not. It’s a not-for-profit organization with a 501(c) 3 designation. So if it’s just another non-profit, why does it matter?

“Here’s why: It’s in the business of designating plants as “invasive” (and by implication, bad.) Its assessments are repeated far and wide by land managers, repeated on the UC Davis website,  and used by government agencies as a standard. (For example: In a 2013 letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the CA Department of Transportation, it requires the Department to avoid planting “invasives” as determined by Cal-IPC: fws dot letter mentioning Cal-IPC) It clearly has been given a great deal of weight. Although Cal-IPC doesn’t explicitly ask land managers to eradicate “invasives,” that’s how the list is used.

“Unfortunately, since Cal-IPC not a government body, it isn’t subject to the same rules or accountability to the electorate.”

You may rightly gauge that we were pessimistic about Cal-IPC actually making a reassessment. In that, we were wrong.

photo credit: Janet Kessler

Brown creeper on eucalyptus – photo credit: Janet Kessler

In the preface to the final reassessment, Cal-IPC notes: “Management decisions for stands in urban areas will necessarily involve consideration of a range of factors, such as recreational and aesthetic values and the trees’ much-debated role in wildfire risk. For these stands, the information provided in this assessment can help assess impacts on native habitat, which may also be a factor in management decisions.”

We still don’t agree with all their points, and think they downplayed research showing the environmental value of eucalyptus, particularly in carbon sequestration and to wildlife. But we are pleased they have actually made this reassessment.

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet Kessler

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker – San Francisco. Janet Kessler

“Decay-resistant wood offers limited nesting opportunities for woodpeckers and birds that excavate their own holes.” (Not really!)

You can read the entire paper here: Eucalyptus_globulus – final reassessment by Cal IPC. Perhaps another time, we’ll point out where we think better data would be useful. Meanwhile, we’d like to thank readers who took the time and effort to offer feedback to Cal-IPC when they sought public comments.


Posted in eucalyptus | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Law Suit to Stop FEMA from Funding East Bay Deforestation

lake-chabot cropped Photo credit MillionTrees dot meRecently, we had written about the hugely destructive plan to cut down hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay. The new Plan, written in response to 13,000 comments, was as bad as the previous one. (Read that here: East Bay Trees to be Destroyed.) Trees fight climate change, and removing these trees will negative environmental impacts. It will also increase fire hazard.

Now, the Hills Conservation Network is suing to stop the funding for this destruction of the trees. The article below is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, which fights unnecessary tree-destruction.



Ten years after UC Berkeley, City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District applied for FEMA grants to fund the destruction of hundreds of thousands of non-native trees on 1,000 acres of public open space, FEMA announced its final decision on Thursday, March 5, 2015. FEMA’s announcement of that final decision, which was sent to those who commented on the draft plans, implied that the projects had been revised to be less destructive. In fact, those who take the time to read the final version of the plans will learn that the original plans are fundamentally unchanged in the final version.

East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) will destroy about 90% of the trees in its project area, as originally planned. “Thinning” is not an accurate description of EBRPD’s project. UC Berkeley (UCB) and City of Oakland will destroy 100% of all non-native trees on their project properties. On a small portion of UCB and Oakland property (29 of 460 acres), tree removals will be phased over the 10-year project period. In other words, the final version of these projects will destroy as many trees as originally proposed by the grant applicants. However, FEMA has refused to fund tree removals on Frowning Ridge (185 acres) because UC Berkeley removed hundreds of trees there before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete, in violation of FEMA policy.

UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.

UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.

The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) filed suit to prevent the funding and implementation of these projects on March 6, 2015. Below is the press release announcing HCN’s suit. Please contact the Hills Conservation Network if you wish to contribute to the cost of this suit: http://www.hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Blog/Blog.html or email inquiries@hillsconservationnetwork.org

Hills Conservation Network

Preserving the East Bay Hills

March 6, 2015

For Immediate Release

HCN announces lawsuit against FEMA EIS

Today the Hills Conservation Network, an Oakland, CA based environmental non-­‐profit, filed suit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also naming the Regents of the University of California, the City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District in the suit.

The suit was filed in opposition to the Record of Decision released March 5, 2015 finalizing FEMA’s decision to award approximately $7.5 million in fire risk mitigation grants. The suit contends that the Environmental Impact Study used as part of the grant process was significantly flawed, and as such cannot be used to justify awarding these funds.

The lawsuit argues that FEMA did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives and reached unsupportable conclusions in deciding to allow the three agencies named in the suit to remove large numbers of healthy trees, with the goal of eradicating certain species of non-­‐native trees (acacia, Monterey pine, eucalyptus) by the end of ten years. HCN proposed a more nuanced approach that would have resulted in higher levels of fire risk mitigation at a much lower cost and with far less environmental damage than the current plan that calls for the removal of well in excess of 100,000 healthy trees that provide shade canopy (preventing the growth of highly flammable weeds) as well as storing tons of carbon that contribute to the greenhouse gases warming our planet.

This step marks the latest chapter in this process that began in 2005. During the Draft EIS review in 2013 approximately 13,000 comment letters were received by FEMA, 90% of them opposed to the proposed projects. In response to this public outcry FEMA reworked the EIS, and while the Final EIS is somewhat less destructive than the Draft EIS, it essentially calls for the same level of environmental damage, but over a longer time period.

The Hills Conservation Network is an Oakland, California based 501c3 comprised of residents of the Oakland hills that were directly affected by the 1991 fire. Several members of the group lost their homes in this conflagration and have committed themselves to driving change in Oakland to ensure that similar events never happen again. Members of HCN have been involved in the Grand Jury investigation of the ’91 fire and in developing enhanced emergency response capabilities in Oakland.

Please direct inquiries to Dan Grassetti at 510-­‐849-­‐2601.


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

UCSF Quarterly CAG Meeting – March 2015 – Sutro Forest

We attended the quarterly Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting, held this quarter at Mission Bay in UCSF’s new hospital and campus.

march 2015 CAG meetingSUTRO FOREST

The section relevant to Sutro Forest were:
1) Today, March 5th, they are planning to cut down around 8 snags (standing dead trees). Sutro Stewards is organizing a party of around 100 women to work in the forest on Saturday, March 7th.

Here’s the email we got from them only a few hours ago:
“This weekend, UCSF will host approximately 100 women to work on a large habitat project in the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve for International Women’s Trail Day. They will be working on a section of the Gardeners Trail, which is located between the South Ridge and West Ridge areas of Mount Sutro. UCSF staff have determined that a grouping of dead trees near where the volunteers will be working could be a potential hazard to workers. Bartlett Tree Experts will work in the Reserve tomorrow, Thursday, March 5, to remove overhanging dead branches and to remove the standing dead trees. Our staff counted approximately eight trees to be removed.”

Speaking for the San Francisco Forest Alliance, we thanked UCSF for maintaining safe trails but pointed out that it’s bird nesting season, that snags are valued habitat for birds, and we assume that they have made a bird nesting study before planning this tree work. We asked for a copy of the bird nesting survey.

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 1

2) Barbara Bagot Lopez, speaking for UCSF also announced they have hired a certified arborist, Morgan Vaisset-Fauvel formerly of Bartlett Tree Care.

ucsf new arborist Morgan Vaisset-FauvelPARNASSUS CHANGES

UCSF also had updates about planned construction and changes around Parnassus, with one building be closed temporarily, another demolished and the space used for contractors’ parking, and many moves happening – which would not have a net impact on the population of the Parnassus campus or the traffic.

They also mentioned a private planned new project at 5th and Kirkham abutting the Forest. It’s not theirs, but they mentioned it because it may have some impact along with all they’re doing. It will basically demolish a building with 86 apartments, and substitute a new building with 460 apartments. The project website is at thekirkhamproject.com


They also had presentations with updates for their plans at Mt Zion, and talked about their ongoing efforts to hire locally for their construction projects. (Not going too well, because with the burst of construction going on in the city, there’s a lot of competition for local talent.)

Most of the presentations were about such things as partnership with educational organizations, and on the Bay Area Science Fair (including a cool demo of how to extract the DNA of a strawberry – filter the juice of one strawberry through filter paper into a clean cup, add isopropanol, wait for it to become snotty and then carefully lift the ‘snot’ into a test-tube).

strawberry DNA extraction

Posted in Environment, UCSF | Tagged ,