Sierra Club cranks up the smoke machine

The San Francisco Forest Alliance has made considerable progress in informing the public of the destructive projects of San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program (NAP).  NAP and its supporters have taken notice of the growing opposition to their plans to transform our public parks into native plant museums.  They are cranking up their public relations effort to confuse the public.

The Recreation and Park Department of the City of San Francisco is the sponsor of the Natural Areas Program.  They have recently created a cynical video about NAP which misrepresents the reality of what NAP has done to our parks and what they plan to do in the future.  The San Francisco Forest Alliance has produced a rebuttal to this video which is available here.  Because the Recreation and Park Department disabled the ability to post comments to their video, we call the  rebuttal the “Free Speech Version.”

The Sierra Club has also published an article about the Natural Areas Program in their newsletter, The Yodeler.  This article is also chock full of misinformation both about NAP and about its critics.  This is our rebuttal to this article.  These are issues that we have covered in the past, so we’re not providing much detail here, but we’ve included links to previous Million Trees posts.  (The Yodeler article is italicized and in quotes and our rebuttal is not italicized.)

[Edited to add:  The SF Forest Alliance has posted a letter written by a Sierra Club member which the Yodeler Editor has refused to print. ]


“San Francisco Natural Areas Management Plan in peril”

“In San Francisco, where nearly everyone claims to be an environmentalist, how can there be opposition to certifying environmental review for the city’s Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) to guide the care of the city’s natural areas?

The plan covers all aspects of preservation for the city’s natural areas, which include many of the most vital remnants of the city’s original ecosystems, including a diverse array of landscapes and habitat types.”

Webmaster:  There is no opposition to an environmental review of the Natural Areas Program.  Rather there is opposition to the Draft EIR because it is a white wash.  The Draft EIR fabricates a plan which is easy to defend but bears little relationship to the written plan (SNRAMP) that it is legally obligated to evaluate.

Most of the natural areas had no native plants in them when they were designated as natural areas.  The claim that the natural areas are “remnants of original ecosystems” is bogus.  Some were essentially building rubble from the constructions of former occupants of the land.

Balboa Natural Area under construction

“Much of the conflict surrounding the plan has to do with concerns about tree removal. Most of the trees in the designated natural areas will remain where they are. The vast majority of lands—including almost all the lands within the less critical MA-2 and MA-3 management subareas—will remain forested.”

Webmaster:  Native plant advocates killed approximately 1,200 trees by girdling them before they were caught and stopped.  Since then NAP has destroyed hundreds of trees in many natural areas.  Their written plans (SNRAMP) state that they plan to destroy 18,500 trees over 15 feet tall and countless smaller trees which they choose not to define as trees.

“However, many trees are in sorry shape, suffering from old age, disease, beetle infestations, and cumulative damage from years of neglect.”

Webmaster:  The trees that NAP plans to remove are not hazardous or unhealthy.  They have been selected for removal solely because they are shading native plants or areas where NAP wishes to expand existing native plant gardens.  Most of the plants that are native to San Francisco require full sun.  The written plan makes this reason for tree removals perfectly clear.  Those who claim that the trees are unhealthy have either not read the written plan or they willfully misrepresent it.

Critics of NAP are not opposed to the removal of hazardous trees.  The City of San Francisco has the right and the obligation to identify hazardous trees and remove them.  Neither a written management plan for NAP nor an Environmental Impact Report is required to remove hazardous trees.

“Some trees are the wrong species in the wrong places, displacing habitat needed by native birds, pollinators, and other critters. A stand of planted blue gum or Monterey cypress may be large and “majestic”, but take up space needed for native habitat (grassland, dune-scrub, oak woodlands, etc.)”

Webmaster:  This is the heart of the controversy.  Most of the trees will be destroyed only because they are the “wrong species,” not because they are hazardous.  Those who know both the science of ecology and the reality of wildlife in San Francisco do not believe that wildlife benefits from the destruction of existing trees and vegetation.  Animals have long ago adapted to the existing landscape which has been here for over 150 years.  We also make no distinction between native and non-native wildlife.  Both are equally valuable to us and we find the distinction distasteful, just as we find racial prejudice distasteful.

Damselflies mating on ivy in Glen Canyon Park

“The SNRAMP is designed to strike a balance, making the most of the ecological value of existing forested areas while in certain critical areas (such as small patches on Mount Davidson), the plan calls for limited tree removal.”

Webmaster:  Mt. Davidson will lose 1,600 trees over 15 feet tall when SNRAMP is implemented in addition to about 200 trees that have already been destroyed by NAP or its supporters.  Most of the trees on 10.2 acres of Mt. Davidson will be destroyed.  This is not a “small patch.”

“Unfortunately, a small but vocal group of “tree advocates” has been campaigning loudly against any tree removal in any park, anywhere in the city. They have exaggerated the envisioned amounts of tree-removal, and promulgated disinformation about the scope and objectives of the plan, wildly accusing advocates of ecological restoration of wanting to revert the entire park system to its former “wasteland” of dunes and scrub.”

Webmaster:  Critics of NAP are not a “small group.”  Several thousand people have signed the petitions of the San Francisco Forest Alliance, asking the City’s policy-makers to stop the destruction in San Francisco’s parks.

Here is a quote from the management plan for NAP which clearly states its objectives:  “Prior to colonization and the stabilization of dunes and introduction of invasive species, trees were not a dominant feature of the San Francisco peninsula…Much of the area probably resembled the coastal scrub habitats of San Bruno Mountain or the grassland scrub mosaics of the Marin Headlands…The long-term goal of urban management in MA-1 and MA-2 areas…is to slowly convert those areas to native scrub and grassland.

It is not necessary to exaggerate the objectives of NAP for the 1,100 acres of park land they have claimed as natural areas.  Their objectives are clearly stated in their management plan.

“Contention has also come from segments of the well-organized off-leash-dog advocates. Partly because of continuing disagreements with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area over management of Crissy Field and Fort Funston (see September-October 2005, page 23). Some oppose any environmental restriction on dogs, and some seem to object to any fencing anywhere or any attempt to route pedestrian and canine traffic into well-defined paths—even to protect erosion-prone areas or sensitive plantings. We don’t believe that these represent the majority of responsible dog-owners, but they have been the most vocal.”

Webmaster:  People who visit San Francisco’s parks with their dogs are impacted by NAP because NAP has claimed 80% of all off-leash areas as “natural areas.  Only 118 acres of park land in San Francisco have been designated for off-leash areas.  In other words, there are 1,100 acres of “natural areas” but only 118 acres of off-leash areas and NAP has claimed 80% of those 118 acres. (SNRAMP 5-8)

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for NAP proposes to close or reduce the size of several off-leash areas.  The DEIR offers no evidence that these areas have been negatively impacted by dogs.  It also states that all off-leash areas in the natural areas are subject to closure in the future if it is deemed necessary to protect native plants.  Since NAP has offered no evidence that the proposed immediate closures are necessary, one reasonably assumes it will offer no evidence if it chooses to close the remainder of the 80% of all off-leash areas in San Francisco located in natural areas.  We know from the DEIR public comments that NAP supporters demand their closure.

Given these facts, no one should be surprised that people who wish to walk their dog in the parks have reacted to the Natural Areas Program and the restrictions it has proposed.  The Sierra Club’s representation of dog owners as being unreasonable is unfair and misrepresents the nature of their opposition.

“Some feral-cat advocates have objected to reductions in large feral-cat colonies on park lands. There are also some people who object to the use of any herbicide. Then there are those who argue against the plan from a posture of ecological nihilism. They maintain that under the new conditions informing evolution in the “anthropocene” era, it makes little sense to spend money and resources trying to save native ecosystems which are inevitably doomed to extinction. Rather, they suggest, we should embrace the “rambunctious” exuberance of weeds gone wild.”

Webmaster:  The Sierra Club finally acknowledges that NAP uses herbicides.  What a breakthrough!  However, it tells us nothing about NAP’s herbicide use, which would explain why park visitors object.  NAP’s herbicide use has increased over 300% in the past three years.  It used herbicides 86 times in 2011 and it has sprayed 87 times in the first 9 months of 2012.  Most of the herbicides it uses are classified by the City’s Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) as “Most Hazardous” and “More Hazardous.”

In addition to NAP’s herbicide use, volunteers have been seen and photographed spraying herbicides in Glen Park without posting as required by the City’s IPM policy.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for NAP says next to nothing about NAP’s pesticide use.  It does not report either the volume of pesticide use or the types of pesticide used.  This is one of the conspicuous omissions in the DEIR for which it is criticized.  If that omission is not corrected in the final version, you can be sure that the public will object.

In naming a new geologic era the Anthropocene, scientists are merely acknowledging man’s pervasive impact on the Earth.  Acknowledging this fact does not “give up” on the Earth.  Rather it offers us the opportunity to adopt more realistic goals of what we can accomplish while making a commitment to stop damaging the environment further with the pesticides and prescribed burns that are used by the restoration industry and its sponsors in the chemical industry.

“All these concerns have already been addressed in the planning process leading up to the issuance and approval of the management plan, during countless public meetings. The purpose of environmental review is to assess the environmental impacts of the plan. The current Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) does this in a reasonable fashion, and to that extent—at least for the San Francisco portions of the plan—it is adequate and complete. It is beyond the scope of an EIR to resolve all the underlying conflicts”

Webmaster:  There were three public meetings prior to the approval of the management plan in 2006.  The Recreation and Park Commission held one public hearing (in two sessions) when they approved the management plan.  All other public hearings were demanded by critics of NAP in a fruitless attempt to convince the Recreation and Park Department to revise its plans so that NAP would be less destructive.

“The final draft of the SNRAMP was published in 2006, but the environmental review process has been continuously delayed. As a result, a whole new cast of characters has come into play, including new planning commissioners, new staff, and new voices among the advocacy groups. These each have had to be brought up to speed, inevitably some protest that their voices were not heard, and the whole process gets delayed even more.”

Webmaster:  Any delays in the environmental review process were not caused by critics of NAP.  They were caused by supporters of NAP who want an even more extreme version of NAP and are suing to get it. 

There is new opposition to NAP because the public has had six more years of experience with NAP.  They have watched the plans being implemented in their parks even though there is still no approved Environmental Impact Report and they don’t like what they see.

Critics of NAP do not need to be “brought up to speed.”  We can see with our own eyes the destruction of our parks and the conflict caused by the extremist vision of recreating wilderness in the second most densely populated city in the country.

No amount of smoke can obscure the reality of the Natural Areas Program.

4 thoughts on “Sierra Club cranks up the smoke machine”

  1. On target, Webmaster, thanks for breaking down the case and responding accurately and clearly to every point. It’s astonishing and disappointing to me that the Sierra Club won’t even print a rebuttal to the ill-informed and biased position piece that it has published to its members.

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