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
“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
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,”
“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.