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San Francisco’s Cloud Forest at Mount Sutro Under Threat
by SaveSutro
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 1:22 AM
The beautiful CLOUD FOREST on Mount Sutro is UNDER THREAT; UCSF is planning to "thin" 14 acres by CUTTING DOWN upto 90% of the the trees and bushes - because the 100-year-old trees are eucalyptus.

There’s a 100-year-old forest in the heart of San Francisco, on the foggy slopes of Mount Sutro. It’s full of birdsong and the calls of the juncos and woodpeckers and – at night – the Great Horned Owls that live there. All summer long, the tall trees capture the fog, dripping the water into the forest floor, a thick sponge of duff and dense undergrowth. When the grasses of nearby Twin Peaks turn dry and golden, the forest is green and damp.


(See for details.)

It’s a civic treasure, and though most of it is owned by UCSF, it is open to the public. (The easiest approach is through the Aldea student housing area off Clarendon Avenue. Other trails into the forest start off Christopher Drive and down in Cole Valley.) UCSF has applied for a FEMA grant to cut down most of the trees on 14 acres of it, ostensibly to reduce fire danger. In fact, this damp, foggy forest has less fire-risk than most places. Even in the fall, between the foggy summer and the rainy winter, the forest barely dries out for a few days each year.

The real reason for the destruction, many people believe, is that the Native Plant interests have influenced UCSF into believing that the non-native eucalyptus must go. The non-native blackberry bushes, which provide cover and food to birds and small animals, must go. They must be replaced with native grasses and shrubs.


The plan includes removing up to 90% of the vegetation on 15 acres of the forest, and using gallons of Roundup Herbicide to prevent resprouting. Once the forest is thinned in this manner, it will become drier, more flammable, and more dangerous. Even the trees that are saved will be at greater risk, without the windbreak protection of the other trees. United they stand.

What we expect, once this project is implemented, is a thinner, drier, windier space. It will be a forest no longer – just an open park with a few surviving trees, in which poisonous herbicides will be used year after year (since eucalyptus can resprout for seven years afterward). If we want windy, open, hills we already have Twin Peaks.


It is a tragedy that this amazing forest has fallen into the hands of those who despise the very trees and bushes that comprise it. Once it is gone, it will not return in my lifetime or yours. A hundred years of growth will end up as tinder on the mountain.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by mark
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 1:37 PM
Sorry but it's an exotic invasive species. I personally would like to see a return of the native cloud scrub biome.
by mark
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 1:39 PM
P.S. the grasses of Twin Peaks are also exotic invasive species. Bring back the native green grasses!
by joya
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 4:54 PM
So we get to demolish all the buildings also and get everyone to leave the city and revert back to sand dunes? Wow... how does one draw the line
by Scot
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 7:13 PM
Talk about smoke screens! These tree huggers want you to believe that trees don't burn!

"In fact, this damp, foggy forest has less fire-risk than most places. Even in the fall, between the foggy summer and the rainy winter, the forest barely dries out"

REMEMBER ANGEL ISLAND! How much damper and foggy can you get?
by Save Sutro
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 8:58 PM
Actually, Angel Island is not as foggy as San Francisco - its own visitor website says so. Nearly all the eucalyptus on Angel Island was cut down years ago; what we saw in October 2008 was a grass/ native shrub fire. (Chaparral has a fire ecology, it burns readily and comes back fast.) Before the trees were cut down, there were only fires in buildings. Now that it's grass and shrub, there have been at least 2 fires - in 2006 and 2008. There will undoubtedly be more.
by Save Sutro
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 9:07 PM
I understand the desire for a native biome, but it can't happen. This is a city, and the air is full of seeds of other, non-native plants, which adapt better to the changed conditions of city life. The only way a native biome can be preserved is through intensive gardening. There's a Native Garden at the summit; it needs weeding, mulching, and irrigation, and volunteers work there regularly. Take a look at Twin Peaks, which is probably what Mount Sutro would look like without trees. It's covered mainly in non-native grasses, shrubs, and flowering plants; they use herbicides to remove them; it doesn't work. There are clumps of natives like coyote brush - which is a lot more flammable than any tree - and some lupin. It's extremely windy.

There are other Native Plant areas in the city; why take this hundred-year-old forest to make it into one? Would you return Golden Gate Park to sand dunes? Or the Sunset district?
by Healthy Forest
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 9:14 PM
Although this story may seem well intentioned, it seems to be one sided and promotes a selfish agenda. I use the forest a couple times a week, and can only say the place is becoming amazing. To allude that it is in the hands of ill-intentioned stewards is way off base.

That alone is shameful enough for me to mistrust this groups other logic and historical reflection.

There may be some difference of opinion, but clearly it needs more care to become a truly healthy forest.

by Save Sutro
Thursday Jul 23rd, 2009 9:15 PM
You're right that Twin Peaks has non-native grasses. The problem is that making something a Native Garden needs - gardening. Parks and Recs doesn't have those kind of resources. It takes an army of volunteers to plant natives, remove non-natives, remove trash that becomes visible in the grass and shrub, and sometimes, to water the plants. In addition, since most native plants are adapted to fire ecology, they're pretty flammable - much more than eucalyptus. Chaparral burns easily. There was a nasty fire on Mt Vision in Pt Reyes that started with chaparral. In populated areas, they're sometimes managed with controlled burns - which can become uncontrolled, as happened on San Bruno mountain a few years ago.

Native Plants sound good, but the downsides have to be examined - especially in an urban context. They're Native, but they're not Natural any more. They're artificial constructs, and need the maintenance that implies.
by save sutro
Friday Jul 24th, 2009 4:27 AM
Selfish? Why do you say that?
Why are people who care about the forest as it is more selfish than people who want to chop down many of the trees?

The forest as a whole is healthy. There are some dead trees within it... but that's normal for a forest, and in fact appropriate, since some species depend on those dead trees.
by save sutro
Friday Jul 24th, 2009 4:30 AM
I was interested that you said it "clearly needs more care"- it's already a healthy cloud forest, depending on fog preciptation for about 30% of its moisture. What UCSF is talking about is making it drier and more open - which will change the essential character of the historic cloud forest, and increase the risk to nearby neighborhoods.

by treelover
Tuesday Jul 28th, 2009 12:07 PM
This is part of the reason we, in the neighborhoods surrounding the forest, are so afraid of this plan. It will make setting fires much easier, because of the increased wind and dryness that will occur after thinning the trees.

We're also afraid of the use of toxic herbicides in a watershed area. Rain washes down onto our streets and we will be right in line of the worst poison. The water table will also be poisoned. There are streams in the forest and around the forest.

Fire is serious business, and we are in the line of fire if this UCSF plan is implemented.

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