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.

Response to Nature in the City

Nature in the City (NIC) is one of many organizations that support native plant “restorations” in San Francisco as well as the principle entity which engages in them, the Natural Areas Program (NAP) of the Recreation and Park Department.  NIC is consistently critical of anyone who questions the value of these restorations, but in their most recent newsletter they confront our objections directly.  Although we don’t presume to represent the many constituencies which are critical of the Natural Areas Program, we are responding in this post to NIC based on our knowledge of the issues. (The NIC newsletter is in quotes and is italicized.  Our response is not italicized.)

“Natural Areas in 2012

Last fall saw the the [sic] Planning Commission public meeting for the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan.  Some time later this year, the City will issue a Final Environmental Impact Report, which may be appealed by opponents of the Natural Areas Program.

Unfortunately, a handful of people are still propagating misinformation about the rationale, values, and intention of ecological restoration, management and stewardship, and of the City’s celebrated Natural Areas Program.”

Webmaster:  Critics of the Natural Areas Program cannot be described accurately as a “handful of people.”  We now have four websites(1) representing our views and there have been tens of thousands of visits to our websites.  Comments on our websites are overwhelmingly supportive of our views. Our most recently created website, San Francisco Forest Alliance, lists 12 founding members.  That organization alone exceeds a “handful of people.”

Our objections to the Natural Areas Program have also been reported by three major newspapers in the past month or so (San Francisco Examiner, Wall Street Journal,  Sacramento Bee).

 Many critics of NAP have been engaged in the effort to reduce its destructive and restrictive impacts on our parks for over 10 years.  Scores of public meetings and hearings have been held to consider our complaints.  We consistently outnumbered public speakers in support of NAP until 2006, when the NAP management plan was finally approved by the Recreation and Park Commission.  Although we were outnumbered for the first time, there were over 80 speakers who asked the Recreation and Park Commission to revise NAP’s management plan to reduce its negative impact on our parks.

The public comments on the NAP DEIR are the most recent indicator of the relative size of the groups on opposite sides of this issue.  These comments were submitted in September and October 2011.  We obtained them with a public records request.  The Planning Department reported receiving about 400 comments.  In analyzing these comments, we chose to disregard about half of them because they were submitted as form letters, even though they were from dog owners who were protesting the loss of their off-leash privileges in the natural areas.  We also leave aside the comments from golfers whose only interest is in retaining the golf course at Sharp Park.  In other words, we set aside the majority of the comments critical of the NAP management plan in order to focus on those comments that demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the impact of NAP on the city’s parks.  Of the comments remaining, those critical of NAP and its deeply flawed DEIR outnumbered comments in support of the NAP DEIR about three to one.  We urge NAP supporters to read these public comments to learn about the wide range of criticisms of NAP, including pesticide use, destruction of trees, recreational access restrictions, loss of wildlife habitat and more. 

We will challenge NIC’s accusation that we are “propagating misinformation” within the context of their specific allegations:

“Contrary to the many myths that continue to percolate, the Natural Areas Plan and Program seek to do the following (among other worthwhile endeavors):

1.       Protect and conserve our City’s natural heritage for its native wildlife and indigenous plant habitats and for the overall health of our local ecosystem;”

Webmaster:  Since the majority of acreage claimed as natural areas by NAP 15 years ago had no native plants in them, there is little truth to the claim that NAP is protecting our “natural heritage.”  The so-called “natural area” at Balboa and the Great Highway is typical of the “natural areas.”  There is photographic evidence that it was built upon for about 150 years.  It was the site of Playland by the Beach before it was designated a “natural area.”  Sand had to be trucked onto the property and disked down 18” into the construction rubble, then shaped into dunes by bulldozers before native plants could be planted on it. 

Natural Area at Balboa & Great Highway under construction

We don’t make any distinction between “native wildlife” and any other wildlife currently living in our city.  We value them all.  Most are making use of existing vegetation, whether it is native or non-native.  They do not benefit from the loss of the blackberries that are their primary food source or the loss of the thickets or trees that are their homes.  We do not believe that wildlife in San Francisco benefits from the destructive projects of the Natural Areas Program.  See photos of insects, birds, and other wildlife using non-native plants in the natural areas here.

Damselflies mating on ivy, Glen Canyon Park

We do not think an ecosystem that has been sprayed with herbicides qualifies as a “healthy ecosystem.”  NAP sprayed herbicides at least 86 times in 2011.  Their use of herbicides has increased over 330% in the last 4 years.  NAP uses herbicides that are classified as more toxic than those most used by other city departments.  Last spring, 1,000 visitors to Glen Canyon Park signed a petition, asking the Natural Areas Program to stop using pesticides in their park.  This petition was given to Scott Wiener, the Supervisor representing the district in which Glen Canyon Park is located.

These are statements of fact that can be easily verified by the public record.

2.       “Educate our culturally diverse city about the benefits of local nature and about helping with natural areas stewardship in your neighborhood;”

Webmaster:  Although we value education, we do not consider the staff of NAP and/or its supporters qualified to provide it.  We hear them make statements that are demonstrably not true, such as “grassland stores more carbon than trees.”  We see them spray herbicides in the dead of winter that are supposed to be sprayed in the spring when the plants are actively growing.  We watch them plant things where they won’t grow, such as sun-loving plants in deep shade and plants in watersheds where they will soon be drowned by seasonal rains.

And we also have had bad experiences with the volunteers who are called “stewards” by NAP, but sometimes act more like vandals.  We see them spraying herbicides that they aren’t authorized to use.  We see them hacking away at trees that haven’t been designated for removal.  NAP is not providing the necessary guidance and supervision to the volunteers many of whom seem to consider themselves the de facto owners of the parks. 

3.       “Manage the City’s wildlands for public access, safety and the health of the “urban forest.””

Webmaster:  We do not oppose the removal of hazardous trees.  However, we also know that most of the trees that have been designated for removal by the NAP management plan are NOT hazardous.  They have been selected for removal solely because they are not native and are perceived to be obstacles to the reintroduction of native plants.  Claims to the contrary are inconsistent with the management plan as well as our experience in the past 15 years.  (Watch video about the destruction of 1,600 trees over 15 feet tall planned for Mt. Davidson.)

“We hear occasional complaints about public access and tree removal. Three simple facts are thus:

1. Every single natural area in the City has at least one trail through it, where one can walk a dog on a leash;”

Webmaster:  The loss of recreational access in the natural areas is real, not imagined.  The following are verbatim quotes from the NAP management plan:

  • “Approximately 80 percent of the SFRPD off-leash acreage is located within Natural Areas.” (page 5-8).  The NAP DEIR proposes to close or reduce the size of several off-leash areas.  The DEIR provides 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 considered 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.
  • Public use in all Natural Areas, unless otherwise specified, should encourage on-trail use… Additionally, interpretive and park signs should be installed or modified as appropriate to include “Please Stay on Trails” with information about why on-trail use is required.”  (page 5-14)   In other words, the only form of recreation allowed in the natural areas is walking on a trail.  Throwing a ball or frisbee, having a picnic on the grass, flying a kite, climbing the rocks are all prohibited activities in the natural areas.  And in some parks, bicycles have been prohibited on the trails by NAP. 
  • “Finally, this plan recommends re-routing or closing 10.3 miles of trail (approximately 26 percent of total existing trails).” (page 5-14)  So, the only thing visitors are allowed to do in a natural area is walk on the trails and 26% of all the trails in the natural areas will be closed to the public.

2. “The act of removing (a small subset of) non-native trees, e.g., eucalyptus, that are in natural areas has the following benefits:
   a. Restores native habitat for indigenous plants and wildlife;
   b. Restores health, light and space to the “urban forest,” since the trees are all crowded together and being choked by ivy;
   c. Contributes to the prevention of catastrophic fire in our communities.”

Webmaster:  Destroying non-native plants and trees does not restore indigenous plants and wildlife. Native plants do not magically emerge when non-native plants and trees are destroyed. Planting indigenous plants might restore them to a location if they are intensively gardened to sustain them.  However, in the past 15 years we have seen little evidence that NAP is able to create and sustain successful native plant gardens.  Native plants have been repeatedly planted and they have repeatedly failed. 

NAP has not “restored” the health of the urban forest.  They remove trees in big groups as they expand their native plant gardens.  They are not thinning trees.  They are creating large openings for the grassland and dune scrub that they plant in the place of the urban forest.  Every tree designated for removal by the NAP management plan is clearly selected for its proximity to native plants.  It is disingenuous to suggest that NAP’s tree removal plans are intended to benefit the urban forest.

Of all the fictions fabricated by native plant advocates to justify the destruction of our urban forest, the claim that its destruction will “prevent catastrophic fire” is the most ridiculous.  The native ecology of California is highly flammable.  Most fires in California are in native chaparral.  According to San Francisco’s hazard mitigation plan, there has never been a wildfire in San Francisco (2) and one is unlikely in the future because the climate is mild and moist.  When it is hot in the interior, it is foggy in San Francisco.  The hot winds that drive most fires in California never reach San Francisco because it is separated from the hot interior by the bay.  San Francisco is surrounded by water, which moderates its climate and virtually eliminates the chances of wildfire. The tall non-native trees precipitate moisture from the summer fog, which moistens the forest floor and reduces the chances of ignition.  In the unlikely event of a wind-driven fire, the trees provide the windbreak which would stop the advance of the fire. 

3. “The overall visual landscape of the natural areas will not change since only a small subset of trees are planned to be removed over a 20-year period.”

Webmaster:  In addition to the 18,500 trees over 15 feet tall which NAP proposes to destroy, the NAP management plan also states its intention to destroy non-native trees less than 15 feet tall.  In other words, the future of the forest will also be killed.  The intention is to eliminate the urban forest in San Francisco’s parks over the long term.  Yes, this will take some time, but the long-term intention to eliminate the forest is clear.

“Please feel free to email if you would like more clarification about the intention, values and rationale of natural resources management.”

Webmaster:  We urge our readers to take NIC up on this offer to provide  ”more clarification” of its spirited defense of the Natural Areas Program. 

  • Do you think NIC is deluded about there being only a “handful of people” that are critical of the Natural Areas Program?
  • Did you notice that NIC does not acknowledge the use of herbicides by NAP?  Do you think that a fair representation of criticism of NAP can omit this issue?
  • If you visit a park that is a natural area, do you think NAP has demonstrated in the past 15 years what NIC claims it is accomplishing?
  • Do you think NIC has accurately described recreational access restrictions in the natural areas?
  • Do you think that San Francisco’s urban forest will be improved by the destruction of 18,500 mature trees and countless young trees?

(1) Save Sutro Forest, Urban Wildness, San Francisco Forest Alliance, Death of a Million Trees

(2) “The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has no record of any wildfire in San Francisco.” San Francisco Hazard Mitigation Plan, 2008, page 5-18.

The Healthy Trees of San Francisco

The San Francisco Natural Areas Program (NAP) plans to destroy thousands of healthy trees in San Francisco’s parks.  The Draft Environmental Impact Review (EIR) for NAP’s destructive plan reaches the bizarre conclusion that removing thousands of trees will have no significant impact on the environment.   This conclusion is based on several fictional premises.  In a previous post we examined the fictional claim that all the trees that will be removed will be replaced within the natural areas by an equal number of trees that are native to San Francisco.  In this post we will examine another of the fictional premises:  that only dead, dying, hazardous, or unhealthy trees will be removed.

We have many reasons to challenge the truth of the claim that only dead, dying, hazardous or unhealthy trees will be removed:

  • The management plan for the Natural Areas Program tells us that young non-native trees under 15 feet tall will be removed from the natural areas.  By definition these young trees are not dead or unhealthy because they are young and actively growing.
  • The management plan has not selected only dead, dying, hazardous trees for removal.  Trees have been selected for removal only in so far as they support the goal of expanding and enhancing areas of native plants, especially grasslands and scrub.
  • The predominant non-native tree in San Francisco, Blue Gum eucalyptus lives in Australia from 200-400 years, depending upon the climate.(1)  In milder climates, such as San Francisco, the Blue Gum lives toward the longer end of this range. 
  • However, there are many natural predators in Australia that were not imported to California. It is possible that the eucalypts will live longer here:  “Once established elsewhere, some species of eucalypts are capable of adjusting to a broader range of soil, water, and slope conditions than in Australia…once released from inter-specific competitions and from native insect fauna…”(2)
  • The San Francisco Presidio’s Vegetation Management Plan reports that eucalypts in the Presidio are about 100 years old and they are expected to live much longer: “blue gum eucalyptus can continue to live much longer…”(3)
  • The Natural Areas Program has already destroyed hundreds of non-native trees in the past 15 years.  We can see with our own eyes, that these trees were not unhealthy when they were destroyed.

How have mature trees been selected for removal?

The EIR wants us to believe that only dead, dying, hazardous trees will be removed from the natural areas.  This claim is contradicted by the management plan that the EIR is claiming to evaluate.  Not a single explanation in the management plan for why specific trees over 15 feet tall have been selected for removal is based on the health of the trees.  Trees less than 15 feet tall will also be removed, but are not counted by the management plan.

  • Lake Merced:  The explanation for removing 134 trees is “To maintain and enhance native habitats, it is necessary to selectively remove some trees.”
  • Mt. Davidson:  The explanation for removing 1,600 trees is: “In order to enhance the sensitive species habitat that persists in the urban forest understory and at the forest-grassland ecotone, invasive blue gum eucalyptus trees will be removed in select areas. Coastal scrub and reed grass communities require additional light to reach the forest floor in order to persist “
  • Glen Canyon:  The explanations for removing 120 trees are:  “to help protect and preserve the native grassland” and “to increase light penetration to the forest floor”
  • Bayview Hill:  The explanation for removing 505 trees is:  “In order to enhance the sensitive species habitat that persists in the urban forest understory and at the forest-grassland ecotone, invasive blue gum eucalyptus trees will be removed in select areas.”
  • McLaren:  The explanation for removing 805 trees is:  “In order to enhance the sensitive species habitat that persists in the urban forest understory and at the forest-scrub-grassland ecotone, invasive trees will be removed in select areas. Coastal scrub and grassland communities require additional light to reach the forest floor in order to persist.”
  • Interior Greenbelt:  The explanation for removing 140 trees is:  “In order to enhance the seasonal creek and sensitive species habitat that persists in the urban forest understory, invasive blue gum eucalyptus trees will be removed in select areas.”
  • Dorothy Erskine:  The explanation for removing 14 trees is:  “In order to enhance the grassland and wildflower community, removal of some eucalyptus trees is necessary.”

In not a single case does the management plan for the Natural Areas Program corroborate the claim made in the EIR that only dead, dying, diseased, or hazardous trees will be removed.  In every case, the explanation for the removal of eucalypts is that their removal will benefit native plants, specifically grassland and scrub.  The author of the EIR has apparently not read the management plan or has willfully misrepresented it. 

The track record of tree removals in the natural areas

Although it’s interesting and instructive to turn to the written word in the management plan for the Natural Areas Program to prove that the EIR is based on fictional premises, the strongest evidence is the track record of tree removals in the past 15 years.  As always and in every situation, actions speak louder than words.

Hundreds of trees have been removed in the natural areas since the Natural Areas Program began 15 years ago.  We’ll visit a few of those areas with photographs of those tree removals to prove that healthy, young non-native trees have been destroyed.  This track record predicts the future:  more healthy young trees will be destroyed in the future for the same reason that healthy young trees were destroyed in the past, i.e., because their mere existence is perceived as being a barrier to the restoration of native grassland and scrub.

Girdled trees, Bayview Hill, 2010
  • The first tree destruction by the Natural Areas Program and its supporters took the form of girdling about 1,000 healthy trees in the natural areas about 10 to 15 years ago.  Girdling a tree prevents water and nutrients from traveling from the roots of the tree to its canopy.  The tree dies slowly over time.  The larger the tree, the longer it takes to die.  None of these trees were dead when they were girdled.  There is no point in girdling a dead tree.

    One of about 50 girdled trees on Mt. Davidson, 2003
  • Many smaller trees that were more easily cut down without heavy equipment were simply destroyed, sometimes leaving ugly stumps several feet off the ground.

    Bayview Hill, 2002
  • About 25 young trees were destroyed on Tank Hill about 10 years ago.  The neighbors report that they were healthy trees with trunks between 6″ to 24″ in diameter and therefore fairly young trees.  The trees that remain don’t look particularly healthy in the picture because they were severely limbed up to bring more light to the native plant garden for which the neighboring trees were destroyed.  The neighbors objected to the removal of the trees that remain.  The Recreation and Park Department agreed to leave them until they were replaced by native trees.  Only 4 of the more than two dozen live oaks that were planted as replacements have survived.  They are now about 36″ tall and their trunks are about 1″ in diameter. 

    Tank Hill, 2002
  • About 25 young trees were destroyed in 2004 at the west end of Pine Lake to create a native plant garden that is now a barren, weedy mess surrounded by the stumps of the young trees that were destroyed.

    Pine Lake "Natural Area" 2011
  • About 25 trees of medium size were destroyed at the southern end of Islais Creek in Glen Canyon Park about 6 years ago in order to create a native plant garden. 
  • Many young trees were recently destroyed in the natural area called the Interior Greenbelt.  These trees were destroyed in connection with the development of a trail, which has recently become the means by which the Natural Areas Program has funded tree removals with capital funding.

    Interior Greenbelt Natural Area, 2010. Courtesy SaveSutro

There was nothing wrong with any of these trees before they were destroyed.  Their only crime was that they were not native to San Francisco.  There are probably many other trees that were destroyed in the natural areas in the past 15 years.  We are reporting only those removals of which we have personal knowledge.

If you care about the trees of San Francisco….

If you care about the trees of San Francisco, please keep in mind that the public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal to remove thousands of trees in the city’s parks.  There will be a public hearing on October 6, 2011, and the deadline for submitting a written comment is October 17, 2011*.  Details about how to comment are available here.

*[ETA:  The deadline for written comments has been extended to October 31, 2011, at the request of the Planning Commission.]

(1) Jacobs, Growth Habits of the Eucalyptus, 1955, page 67

(2) Doughty,  The Eucalyptus, 2000, page 6

(3) San Francisco Presidio’s Vegetation Management Plan, page 28

Photographic evidence that eucalypts are not invasive

One of native plant advocates’ favorite justifications for eradicating eucalypts is the claim that they are invasive.  But are they?  In one of our early posts (“ALIEN INVADERS!!  Another Scary Story”) we reported a scientific study, based on photographic evidence over a 60 year period, that eucalyptus and other non-native trees have not invaded public lands in Marin, Alameda and San Mateo counties.  In fact, the non-native forests in these public lands decreased in size, while native forests increased in size. 

Now we have photographic evidence that eucalyptus has not been invasive when planted in San Francisco.  Adolph Sutro purchased Mt. Davidson in 1881.(1)  He planted it—and other properties he owned in San Francisco—with eucalyptus because he preferred a forest to the grassland that is native to the hills of San Francisco.  Here is a historical photo of what Mt. Davidson looked like in 1885:

Sutro foretold the future of his property:

“…people… will wander through the majestic groves rising from the trees we are now planting, reverencing the memory of those whose foresight clothed the earth with emerald robes and made nature beautiful to look upon.”(2)

Since Sutro didn’t own all of Mt. Davidson, there was a sharp line between the forest he planted and the grassland when this photo was taken in 1927.

Over 80 years later, in a photo taken in 2010, there is still a sharp line between the forest and the grassland.  We see more trees in the foreground where residential areas have been developed and home owners have planted more trees, but the dividing line on the mountain is nearly unchanged.  The eucalyptus forest has not invaded the grassland.

Adolph Sutro would be saddened by a walk in the forest on Mt. Davidson to see over 50 dead and dying trees that have been girdled by native plant advocates.  And the Natural Areas Program’s management plans for Mt. Davidson also announce the intention to destroy 1,600 more trees over 15 feet tall.  Smaller trees to be destroyed are not quantified by the plan. 

Despite the lack of evidence, the California Invasive Plant Council (CIPC) has designated both the eucalyptus and the Monterey pine as “moderately invasive.”  There is even less evidence that Monterey pine grow where not intentionally planted.  These trees and many of the nearly 200 plants on the CIPC “hit list” are on that list because they aren’t native, not because they are invasive.  Few of these plants are truly invasive, but CIPC designates them as such so that their eradication can be justified.