San Francisco’s Favorite Outdoor Volunteer Program
— University of California San Francisco
— San Francisco Parks Alliance
— Nature in the City
— San Francisco Urban Riders
— One Brick
— San Francisco Rotary Club
— Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, SF
— California Native Plant Society
— Cole Valley Improvement Association
— Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council
As the Executive Director of the Sutro Stewards, I am frequently asked to demystify and explain what is so contentious about UCSF's proposal to "manage" their open space area on Mount Sutro. My response begins with a deep breath since there is no short answer to this controversy. In many cases I have been known to avoid a direct response and instead make an offer for someone to accompany me for a walk through the forest. I enjoy being a guide to anyone willing to observe and develop a better understanding of the issues first hand.
We begin our walk in Woodland Canyon, along the Historic Trail. Yes, this is a lush green environment, pleasant on the eyes and delightful to walk through. However, what you are witnessing is the slow strangulation of a century old forest. As we stand and look up the invasive ivy in the crowns of every tree in sight and smothering everything on the ground, it slowly dawns on my companion that maybe this isn't the ideal situation after all. I point out one other critical issue while we are here, there are no young trees any where to be seen. The invasive English ivy, Cape ivy and blackberry understory have very effectively snuffed out every attempt by this forest to regenerate. Without management it's all downhill from here.
We proceed toward the summit and cross Medical Center Way to the North Ridge Trail. As we begin the climb I suggest we see how far we can get before we count 20 dead trees, still standing, on our way up the trail. Yes, this is a trick, most folks who casually hike these trails don't see anything more than a trail through the woods. We don't get far before we've counted the 20 dead trees and we stop for a moment and look up. Above us on the North Ridge is a tangle of dead trees, partially fallen but snagged on other trees. Around us on the ground are many other trunks and branches. If this is such a healthy forest and a safe environment which is what some of UCSF's critics claim, then what's up with all this dead stuff we are viewing out here?
We pass through Rotary Meadow at the summit and head out toward the South Ridge. I pause and break out an aerial photo I conveniently have with me. We're looking down at the South Ridge and the summit in 1958 and it's bald, clear-cut and bulldozed. It supports the next observation we make, which is that nearly all the full size trees out here grow in clusters of twos and threes. We're seeing the eucalyptus that re-sprouted from their stumps after the 1958 clearing! Which also means that we're no longer in a century old forest, but rather a 55 year old one. All around us we can see evidence of unsuccessful tree regeneration. These trees have sprouted and grown for 4 to 10 years and died. The dead trunks litter the forest in large numbers. What has caused this? Well, the situation here is fierce competition, survival of the fittest in an overcrowded environment with not enough moisture to go around and thin soil with few nutrients.
We head down the Quarry Road Trail and end up above the Sutro Nursery at Johnstone and Behr for one last observation. Take a look at the trees that run along Johnstone. Just a couple of years ago you couldn't see the sky through that portion of forest. Look down Behr to the east and you can see a healthy eucalyptus with a full upper story canopy of branches and leaves. Now look at the stand of trees above Johnstone, no canopy, very sparse leaves and many epicormic shoots which you can learn more about in the KQED Science link below. What you are looking at is the result of an invasive pest that has been at work weakening and killing the eucalyptus trees for 4–5 years. Many of the first trees attacked by the Snout Beetle are now dead and the jury remains out on the fate of hundreds of others. What does this mean? My short response is FUEL.
Please take a look at the following article recently posted on KQED Science "Eucalyptus: California Icon, Fire Hazard and Invasive Species"
I encourage you to explore the topic with an open mind and apply it to the conditions that can currently be found here in the heart of San Francisco. I also encourage you to support the management actions proposed by UCSF. Without action now we may not have a resource like Sutros forest to enjoy in the future. CD