The final episode in the 20-year saga of San Francisco’s “Natural Areas Program”

the-end-is-nearOn December 15, 2016, the San Francisco Planning commission will hold a public hearing to consider certification of the Environmental Impact Report for the Natural Areas Program. If the EIR is certified, the Recreation and Park Commission will consider formally adopting the management plan for the Natural Areas Program at the same hearing.  The Recreation and Park Commission will have the option of adopting one of the alternatives to the management plan.  The San Francisco Forest Alliance will ask that the Maintenance Alternative be adopted by the Recreation and Park Commission because it is the “environmentally superior” alternative which will destroy the least number of trees and use the least amount of pesticides. 

If you can attend this hearing and make public comment, please contact the SF Forest Alliance ( for the details about where and when the hearing will take place.  If you can’t attend the hearing, please consider sending an email to the Recreation and Park Commission ( by Monday, December 12, 2016 (the deadline for submission of written public comments to be included in the agenda packet of the commissioners). 

We lived in San Francisco for nearly 30 years and our local park was designated a “natural area” in 1997.  Based on our experience with the Natural Areas Program, we have sent the following email to the Recreation and Park Commission.  We hope that our letter will help you write your own public comment.

Subject:  Approve the Maintenance Alternative for SNRAMP

Dear Recreation and Park Commissioners,

Since the Natural Areas Program was created 20 years ago, hundreds of healthy trees have been destroyed and over one thousand trees died slowly after being surreptitiously girdled by vandals calling themselves native plant advocates in the 32 so-called “natural areas.”  Hundreds of gallons of herbicide have been sprayed on harmless plants, many that provided valuable habitat and food for wildlife.  Trails have been closed and big signs installed instructing park visitors to stay on the trails that remain. Fences have been installed in some parks to enforce those restrictions.

This sign in a "natural area" has been altered to express the public's opinion of the Natural Areas Program. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance.
This sign in a “natural area” has been altered to express the public’s opinion of the Natural Areas Program. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance.

After all that destruction and restriction, what has been accomplished?  Non-native plants have been repeatedly eradicated in the “natural areas” and native plants were planted.  These native plant gardens have repeatedly failed:  the native plants die and the non-native plants return, in some cases many times.  Native trees have been planted in a few “natural areas” but most have died, despite being irrigated during an extreme drought.  After wasting millions of dollars and the associated labor, there is little to show for that investment after 20 years.

Therefore, I am writing to ask the Recreation and Park Commission to vote to adopt the Maintenance Alternative as provided by the Environmental Impact Report that was 10 years in the making.  The Maintenance Alternative would enable the Recreation and Park Department to continue to take care of the “natural areas” they have already created, but it would prevent further tree destruction, further restrictions on recreational access, and require fewer pesticide applications.

Besides the obvious lack of success of the Natural Areas Program after 20 years of effort, there are many other reasons why it would be wise for the Recreation and Park Department to quit throwing good money after bad money.  Here are some of those reasons:

  • The Natural Areas Program was predicated on the mistaken assumption that native plants are superior to non-native plants as habitat for animals. In fact, in the past 20 years multitudes of empirical studies have been conducted that prove that wildlife has no preference for native plants.  Wildlife is just as likely to use non-native plants as they are native plants.
  • The Natural Areas Program also assumed that greater biodiversity would be achieved by eradicating non-native plants. They were mistaken in that assumption as well.  Studies have been conducted all over the world in the past 20 years that find no decrease in plant biodiversity resulting from introduced plants.
  • The climate has changed since Europeans arrived in the Bay Area in 1769 and it will continue to change. The plants that existed here in the distant past are no longer adapted to current conditions.  The ranges of native plants and animals must change if they are to survive in the long run.  Therefore, demanding that historical landscapes be re-created serves no useful purpose.
  • The native trees of California are dying by the millions. The US Forest Service informs us that 102 million native conifers have died in the Sierra Nevada in the past 6 years.  University of Cambridge recently published a study about Sudden Oak Death in which they reported that 5 million oak trees have died in California since 1995 and that the epidemic is “unstoppable.”  There are SOD infections in Golden Gate Park and the Arboretum.  The US Forest Service tells us that Coast Live Oaks will be virtually gone from California by 2060.  A study of redwoods predicts that its native range will shift north into Oregon by the end of this century.  In other words, if we want trees in California, many of them will have to be non-native trees adapted to a hotter, drier climate. 
  • Environmental conditions in a densely populated urban area such as San Francisco are also incompatible with the unrealistic goals of the Natural Areas Program. The heat island effect of urban areas exacerbates climate change.  Increased levels of soil nitrogen caused by the burning of fossil fuels promotes the growth of weeds.

The Natural Areas Program was a good idea that has outlived its usefulness.  We may try to keep it alive for sentimental reasons, but expanding it would be rewarding failure.  Please adopt the Maintenance Alternative.

Thank you for your consideration.


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