The “FEMA Plan” (2009)

In 2008, UCSF applied for FEMA grants (for around $337 thousand) for two so-called “fire mitigation” projects in Sutro Forest. They would  fell significant areas as “fire management” program, and then use toxic herbicides (Roundup and Garlon) to prevent resprouting.  Neighbors were notified about this in May 2009; this website was started the following month to inform and resist the effort.

In fact, according to the California Department of Fire and Forestry, the Mount Sutro Forest has only moderate fire risk – the lowest category of three.  The Cal Fire website also says, regarding San Francisco County: “Update, 11/2008: CAL FIRE has determined that this county has no Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones .” The planned actions could have increased the fire danger, as well as having other adverse effects.

[Edited to Add: We learned later that FEMA didn’t apparently buy the “fire-hazard” either: See this post.]

In February 2010, UCSF changed its plans and withdrew the FEMA application. (For more details, read on.)



May 2009: We Hear about the FEMA Plan

UCSF’s May 2009 letter to the neighbors was the first time we heard about the plan.  The tree-felling was planned for two areas, a total of 14 acres. The first part was the South Ridge, which lies just above Forest Knolls, at Christopher and Crestmont. This is contiguous with the Aldea student housing, and accessible (at least part way) by a paved road from the campus housing.

Yellow areas show the affected sites

The second part was all the area that lies between Edgewood (in Cole Valley) and Medical Center Way. It is next to the existing hospital and the new stem-cell research buildings, and abuts a large parking lot. Only about 4-6 houses directly back up to the forest. The map shows where the cuts were planned:  the South Ridge is the lower yellow area, and Edgewood is to the north – the upper one.  Most of the green below and to the East of that is Interior Green Belt that belongs to the City.

This was the plan ( based on a letter from UCSF, and statements made at a meeting on May 18, 2009.)

1. Remove 90% of trees under 12 inches in diameter and selectively remove larger trees “only to maintain a sparse canopy of dominant trees”.

2. Remove the main understory plant, the Himalayan blackberry, a thorny bush that is green year-round and bears edible berries.

3. “Remove limbs, vines, and loose bark on remaining tree trunks up to ten feet from the ground.”

4. The areas would be sparsely planted with a few native trees, mainly oak. (If I recall correctly, the plan is to remove over 3,000 trees, and plant 224.)

5. Goats would be used to reduce undergrowth, as will potentially toxic chemicals such as Roundup herbicide and Garlon, an even more toxic herbicide.

6. A 100-foot screen of trees would be left between the Forest Knolls neighborhood and the planned site, for esthetic reasons.

7. Work was planned to take place in 2009, and take 2-3 months, with the work day starting at 7 a.m. (or maybe 8 a.m., not sure). Presumably, it would be loud.

The final effect would be somewhat similar to the bald patch on the aerial picture.

Click on the underlined words to link to the UCSF page about Mount Sutro.

July 2009: Protests and a Postponement

On July 9th 2009, after protests from the neighbors, UCSF sent around another letter, saying they were delaying the project and would have another round of meetings in Fall 2009. It included a truly puzzling attachment with Questions and Answers that managed to convey a considerable amount of misinformation. We responded with a series of posts, since there was too much to answer in a single one!

1. A puzzling letter from UCSF

2. Roundup Herbicide Use

3. Demonstrating Fire-risk?

4. A Cloud Forest

5. Strange Objectives

6. Landslide Risk

August 2009: FEMA Raises Questions

FEMA sent a request to Cal EMA asking for clarifications about the two projects because it received letters saying this was a Native Plant Restoration project and not a fire-hazard mitigation project.  UCSF responded, but unfortunately, the response did not clarify matters very much. We wrote a letter to FEMA, detailing the issues raised by the response.

October 2009: Community Communication

UCSF had a meeting on Monday, Oct 19 2009, 6.30 p.m. It was attended by about 200 people, and some 40 of them spoke on both sides of the issue. Our report is here. It also held a South Ridge forest walk on Saturday Oct 24th.

During October, FEMA communicated a letter to UCSF, calling into question its fire hazard assessment, which it noted “inaccurately interprets a map, provides inadequate details regarding the history of wildfires in the Sutro Forest, and provides a simplistic and ineffective comparison of the wildfire hazard in the Sutro Forest to the hazards in other areas that have burned in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

(Our arguments on the subject are here.)

February 2010: Withdrawing the FEMA Application

UCSF had a meeting on Thursday 25 Feb 2010 for the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors. At this meeting, Lori Yamaguchi of UCSF spoke about Mt Sutro.

What she said was that:

1.  FEMA told them they would need to do an EIR;

2. FEMA would focus “narrowly” on hazard removal;

3. It would take two years; and during that time, they would not be allowed to do anything on the mountain.

So they withdrew the applications.

What UCSF planned to do next was (1) a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review for the whole mountain, all 61 acres of it. They expect this will take one year, and involve community feedback. (2) Set up a 2 acre demonstration plot, probably on the South Ridge. (3) Then get more community feedback before moving forward. They plan to adhere to the Adaptive management principle. She said they have enough funding to do the CEQA review, the demonstration plot, and the 14 acres of South Ridge and Edgewood, but not the whole 61 acres. So they were seeking other sources of funding.

The reasons are given here and, slightly differently, here with details of the 24 March 2010 meeting.

2 Responses to The “FEMA Plan” (2009)

  1. Pingback: FEMA sees through the smokescreen « A Million Trees

  2. Pingback: FEMA Rule Change Could Make Tree-felling Easier | San Francisco Forest Alliance

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