Environment

Sutro Forest DEIR Released; Public Looks At 4 Options

Debate Over Future of Non-native Species

By Thomas K. Pendergast

 

A plan to cut down thousands of dead, dying or unhealthy eucalyptus trees on Mount

Sutro and replace them with native vegetation and younger, healthier eucalyptus

trees drew plenty of criticism at a recent public meeting.

 

The 20-year plan for the 61-acre reserve behind the University of California,

San Francisco’s (UCSF) Inner Sunset District campus will be executed in four

phases, each taking about five years to complete. The Draft Environmental Impact

Report (DEIR) is now under review and UCSF planners will be taking public

comment until Sept. 8.

 

The first phase of the plan is set to begin later this year.

 

According to the DEIR, approximately 25 percent of the standing trees in the reserve

are dead, live trees have been stressed by drought and forest pathogens and the upper

crowns of most of the mature live trees have died.

 

There are four alternatives to the current plan listed in the DEIR, including a “no project

alternative,” which would scrap the plan currently being used.

 

Of the four alternatives, one got a lot of attention from members of the public who

showed up at the meeting, like Craig Dawson of the Sutro Stewards, a habitat

conservation organization and proponent of ecological restoration through native

plant propagation.

 

“I support and urge UCSF to adopt Alternative Four due to its strength in delivering

the most promising and sustainable result to Mount Sutro users and wildlife,” Dawson

said. “Based on the analysis in the DEIR, Alternative Four is the environmentally

superior alternative because it would avoid significant and unavoidable aesthetic

impacts from the seed tree and group selection treatment areas. This is a significant

factor to all user groups.”

 

According to the DEIR, with Alternative Four seed-tree and group selection

treatment areas would be set back at least 30 feet from trails, native shrubs would be

planted around the edges of treatment areas that abut trails, and individual tree

selection would be used to create feathered edges around treatment areas.

 

With this plan, 25 percent of the trees planted during the first phase, and 50 percent

of trees planted during the next two phases, would be native tree species, and

native species would be planted in separate group selection areas.

 

Mary Betlach, who describes herself as a UCSF retiree and a long-time birder, also

supported the fourth alternative.

 

“I strongly support UCSF’s efforts to deal with the decline of the Sutro Forest,”

Betlach said. “I urge for the maximum native plant and native tree coverage. Plant

diversity is needed to support native butterflies and birds. Thus, I support Alternative

Four, with modifications proposed by the Sutro Stewards.”

 

 

Denise Louie, on the other hand, said she did not want to see any more eucalyptus

trees planted on Mt. Sutro.

 

“(The DEIR) doesn’t provide adequate analysis of potential impacts on, for examp

le, biodiversity, our natural heritage” Louie said. “There are hundreds of species

of plants indigenous to San Francisco but these trees, this forest, has been planted a

hundred-some years ago as an artificial garden. The impact has been very bad for

the indigenous plants.”

 

Native San Franciscan Greg Gaar also opposed replanting Mt. Sutro with euca-

lyptus trees, although he supported the fourth alternative because, he said, it would be

“environmentally superior” to the current plan.

 

“The native plants are the foundation of all the Earth’s ecosystems, and that includes

here in San Francisco as well,” Gaar said. “I support the recommendations of the Sutro

Stewards. One of the recommendations is to increase the native plant community

restoration on Mt. Sutro from the proposed five percent to 50 percent. And with all of the

volunteers who work up there and the operation of a state-of-the-art native plant

nursery, I don’t see whey it can’t be done. Please don’t replant eucalyptus globulus on

Mt. Sutro.”

 

Rupa Bose said she represents two groups, Save Sutro and the San Francisco

Forest Alliance. She did not see the wisdom of removing all of the eucalyptus trees.

 

“We’re thinking (of the forest) at a point in time but this is a forest that has naturalized to

the area over 125 years” Bose said . “I think we need to look at it again and see how these

trees are really coming back. Obviously they retrench in the bad years. My fear is that

the measures we are talking about are dangerous to the forest. This is a really difficult

site. Its steep slopes, thin soils, strong winds. There aren’t that many trees that can grow

there, and eucalyptus has done very well. In fact, it’s providing wind shelter to other

trees, so there are in fact probably more than a dozen species of trees up there that

are enabled to be there by the fact that the eucalyptus is providing wind shelter.”

 

Anastasia Glikshtern spoke in favor of another alternative to the plan, which essentially

is to do nothing with the forest and let it be as it is now, because simple maintenance of

the forest will be enough.

 

“Hazardous trees can be removed with regular maintenance. Everything that the

plan wants to achieve can easily be done through then project’ alternative,”

Glikshtern said.

 

“Now, there was talk of the ‘superiority’ of native plants. The concept itself is kind of

flimsy, that something which might have been growing here 250 years ago, and in the

name of so-called ‘biodiversity,’ which is also a euphemism for deforestation, so many

trees are going to be cut,” she said . “There is absolutely no need  to extend grassland,

which, if you just look around, there are tons of grassland and not enough trees in this

city. There is no need to extend grassland at the expense of trees.”

 

Kate Bernier opposed the plan because of the amount of pesticides that will be

used to clear the land of unwanted vegetation.

 

“My biggest objection to deforesting is the use of herbicides and pesticides, Bernier said.

“These toxins move up the food chain at successively higher levels. And, pesticides create

an ever-increasing need for even more pesticides.”

 

University officials urge the public to review the DEIR and provide comments

before the Sept. 8 deadline.

 

A copy of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Mt. Sutra Forest can be

downloaded from the website at http://www.campusplanning.ucsf.edu.

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