A Rare Walk in Idyllic Threatened Forest – Sharp Park, Pacifica

Recently, the San Francisco Forest Alliance organized a walk in Sharp Park for a small group of supporters. Not on the familiar historic golf course; this was on the freeway’s other side, in the woods around the San Francisco Archery Range. Sharp Park is where the Natural Areas Program seeks to cut down 15,147 trees.

0 checking the map for the threatened trees

It was a rare opportunity. San Francisco Archery Range is an active range, open 365 days a year, dawn to dusk with bows and arrows in use. Safety can be an issue for walkers; no one wants to be punctured. It’s managed by an all-volunteer group, San Francisco Archers.  This walk coincided with a volunteer day, when no shooting was going on. (The Archers maintain the entire space through volunteer efforts.)

1 uphill trail in SF Archery range

In addition, Jim Robison, president of the group guided us through the trails – all of which have targets – and explained how to stay safe. For visitors, it’s critically important to sign in at the sign-in sheet beside the clubhouse, and then to follow the trails exactly as marked, with no back-tracking. No pets are allowed, even on leash. (The Archers are neutral on the issue of the trees, but have very strong views about range safety.)

2 Along the trail - lakeThe trail led uphill under the trees via a series of shallow wooden steps. Above us on the right, there was a steep forest hillside. On the left, we could see a small lake through the shrubs. It was a lovely sunny day, which was nice for a walk but yields some washed-out photographs…

3 Sharp Park Archery range trailAcross from the trail, another hillside was covered in trees. Further along, we got a clearer view of the lake. It’s made by damming a seasonal creek. On the left of the picture below, you can see the earthen dam covered with greenery.

All the water in the lake now comes from the watershed created by the hills and forest around. Before, it used to come from a cistern that has since been filled in, and formerly provided water to the golf course. Now the golf course gets water from other sources, and this lake is used by wildlife. It’s also, apparently, red-legged frog habitat.

4 Lake and trees in Sharp Park

We walked down past the lake on a little improvised bridge that crossed the creek, and up under the trees on the other side.

5 Target along trail - Sharp ParkAll along the trails, little markers indicated where archers should stand to aim at the targets backed by hay bales. The Archers do all the maintenance on the range, using volunteers and the funds raised from their members. They use no pesticides on the range. Recently, they called in arborists to trim tree branches that had become hazardous, as in the tree in the picture above.

This is the kind of maintenance that SF Forest Alliance strongly favors – dealing with hazardous trees where they could endanger people or property as a top priority.

5a Trees on opposite hillside

The beautiful green forest opposite climbed up the slope toward the ridge, a lovely sea of trees. There are no official trails into much of that forest, though some social trails do exist. Past the lake, the trail broadened into a shaded area with a picnic table, a green-painted wooden hut, an old outhouse with sun and moon tin appliques, and another target. Jim explained that the hut was used for refreshments during major tournaments, but the outhouse was an antique and nailed shut. They weren’t legal any more; instead, they had porta-potties.

antique outhouse Sharp Park

We turned onto a pathway that followed the old pipeline. It took us deeper into the forest, which was ever more idyllic. It was hard to believe that we were only minutes from the city, or that just over that ridge, there was Skyline College.

6 Along the old pipe trail in Sharp ParkThe ground was springy underfoot, and the whole place showed no signs of drought. Even the little lake, which depends on natural water, was quite full. Pacifica is foggy, and no doubt the trees had been harvesting the moisture from the fog and dripping it on the vegetation below.

7 Idyllic forest in Sharp Park archery range

8 forest wildlife habitat  in sharp park archery range

The area abounds in wildlife. We heard a lot of birds as we went through, hiding in the trees and bushes. On another visit, we saw rabbits and quail. Jim said the quail had raised two clutches of chicks this year. He also said there were deer, coyotes, and also bobcats. He described watching a mother bobcat teaching her kitten to hunt gophers, waiting for one to emerge and snagging it with a quick swipe of its paw. He knows of red-shouldered hawks and red-tailed hawks nesting in the area, as well as great horned owls. People think there may be mountain lions, too; they are known to range just over on the other side of the ridge, near Crystal Springs.

9 where the old tank was in Sharp Park Archery RangeThis is where the old cistern was filled in. It’s invisible now under wildflowers and shrubs.

10 meadow in the woods in Sharp park archery rangeWe ended our walk in a small meadow. Beyond, the trail was overgrown and we were running out of time; there was a meeting at the archery club-house at noon.  We hope that the trees will be saved; they are critical to the habitat and the ecology of the area. No herbicides are currently in use. There are large areas of undisturbed vegetation providing denning and nesting sites. We felt privileged to have had an opportunity to see this amazing place.

The San Francisco Forest Alliance plans more such walks in beautiful natural places, accompanied by people familiar with the area. If you would like to join us, please make sure we have your email address. (You can email us at SFForestNews@gmail.com ) We’ll be notifying our entire list.


Even though Sharp Park is in Pacifica, in San Mateo County, it is owned by SF Recreation and Parks Department, and has become part of the so-called “Natural Areas Program” (NAP). So converting this forested area into scrubland is part of their Plan – the “Significant Natural Resource Area Management Plan” (SNRAMP or “Sin-Ramp”). It calls for cutting down 15,147 trees.

In the idyllic areas we’ve described above,  they plan to remove three-quarters of the trees and encourage the rest to die out. It’s currently a deeply forested canyon east of the archery range, a true wild land and haven for wildlife. The long-term plan for it is “fewer trees and more scrub.”

Here’s the plan (based on a map from the SNRAMP – click on it to make it larger). The red numbers refer to tree removals – in most places, 75% of trees; in a few, 50%; and in some areas where there are few trees now, most of the existing trees.

snramp - sharp park- plan A

We strongly oppose this action. Aside from the beauty of the place, and the undisturbed wildlife habitat that would both be destroyed, we think it is environmentally irresponsible. Trees sequester carbon; eucalyptus, with its dense wood, its size, and its 400-500-year life-span, is particularly effective. In foggy areas, it captures moisture from the fog and drops it on the ground below, allowing for a dense damp understory that fights drought and resists fire. It cleans the air, especially fighting particulate pollution, by trapping particles on its leaves that eventually get washed onto the ground. It stabilizes hillsides with its intergrafted root system that functions like a living geotextile. And SNRAMP would require the use of large quantities of poisonous herbicides to prevent resprouting of the felled trees – herbicides that are likely get washed down the hillsides and into surface and ground water.

Pacifica actually has an ordinance prohibiting logging (removing more than 20 trees in a year). NAP’s answer to that is to see if the ordinance applies, and if it does, to try to get permission.

Don’t Cut Trees in the Nesting Season!

This year, the issue of tree-trimming or cutting during the nesting season was highlighted by the sad destruction of black-crowned night herons’ nests when the Oakland Post Office decided to get its trees trimmed. Five young herons were injured, others may have died. The tree trimmer potentially faced criminal charges, but was so remorseful – and so willing to pay for the care of the baby herons – that everyone was relieved when he didn’t.

Most people just don’t know that it’s a bad idea to trim trees (or worse, remove them) during the nesting season. Even aggressively trimming undergrowth could damage or destroy birds’ nests.  In San Francisco, the season extends approximately from February to September, depending on many factors including the weather.

Each year, Wildcare, a wonderful organization that rehabilitates hurt or orphaned wildlife,  gets a deluge of baby birds during the summer. Most of  them are displaced by tree-trimming or removal.

2012-04-11 bewick's wren nesting

Birds nests are difficult to spot, even for experts. Herons’ nests are large and noisy, and the Oakland Post Office staff surely knew the birds were there. But most birds hide their nests. Unless they are huge ones like nests of hawks or owls, the parent birds need to conceal their young from predators. Humans, who typically aren’t really looking out for them, would usually miss seeing them altogether. It may take even experienced birders hours of observation to be sure. Nests of hummingbirds, for instance, are around the size of a quarter. They’re common in San Francisco but very difficult to spot.


Here’s Wildcare’s page  “Stop! Don’t Prune Those Trees!”  It explains the problem in a user-friendly way, and also gives references of two bird-friendly arborists who can do emergency work if needed.

 “Spring (and summer!) are busy baby season— procrastinate now!

When is wildlife nesting? There is some variation, but most wild animals have their babies in the spring, between March and June. However, many species will also have a second brood in July or August if food supplies are sufficient. If you can plan to trim your trees in the winter months, you can completely avoid the possibility of damaging a nest. It’s also a healthier time for the trees, when the sap has gone down and trees will be in their dormant phase. Call WildCare at 415-456-7283 if you’re unsure when it is a safe time to trim or remove a tree. “

The Golden Gate Audubon Society has published an excellent brochure:  Healthy Trees, Healthy Birds that is available as a PDF on their website. Here are pictures of the brochure (the download will be clearer and can be printed).

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 1

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 2


Disturbing – or worse, destroying – a birds nest is illegal. It’s a strict liability offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine per offense.  There are laws at the Federal, State and City level. Here’s what they say:

  • Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This applies to over 1,000 bird species, including many that are found in San Francisco. It makes it ” …illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird…” (“Taking” means to harass, harm, or pursue a bird.)
  •  California State Code 3503, 3503.5: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any bird, except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation made pursuant thereto.”  California State Code 3503.5 relates to birds of prey: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or destroy any birds in the orders Falconiformes or Strigiformes (birds-of-prey) or to take, possess, or destroy the nest or eggs of any such bird except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation adopted pursuant thereto.”
  • San Francisco County Municipal Code 5.08: It’s unlawful “to hunt, chase, shoot, trap, discharge or throw missiles at, harass, disturb, taunt, endanger, capture, injure, or destroy any animal in any park...” (with exceptions for small rodents like gophers).

The general rule is to stay 50 feet away from song-bird nests, and 500 feet from raptor nests.


Sometimes, trees are removed because they’re in poor condition – dead or dying. Those are often the very trees that birds love, especially those that nest in cavities. Like this flicker (a kind of woodpecker) nesting in a half-dead eucalyptus tree. If you weren’t watching very patiently, you would have no idea that a family of young birds (three in this case) were being raised here.

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet KesslerPLAYING SAFE

The only safe way is to NEVER cut trees or thin dense bushes during the nesting season – and even when working in the off-season, typically September to February, to be very observant and watchful before starting work.

Young Great Horned Owls being raised in Eucalyptus tree

Bees in Glen Canyon – Update

 We’ve reported here before about the bee tree that was cut down as part of the “improvements” to Glen Canyon Park – and the one that was killed by mistake when someone thought it was a nest of yellow-jackets, not bees. This meant that only one of the three wild bee trees was still a living hive. We recently had both good news and bad news. There’s still only one bee tree, but the bees have proved resilient.

Karen Peteros wrote this note, which is published with permission. [This was originally published at Save the Trees of Glen Canyon Park.]


Scott Mattoon and I have been working with RPD [San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department] Capital Improvements since 2011 to minimize adverse impacts Glen Canyon Park improvements could have on our feral honey bee colonies.

exposed hive with bees (Photo- Scott Mattoon)

Exposed hive with bees (Photo – Scott Mattoon)

One bee tree was lost on the hill above the Rec Center. Despite many many meetings with RPD, and a negotiated agreement to cut that bee tree at 25′ and otherwise leave it alone, the subcontractor failed to get that instruction and cut the tree at 5′. The trunk split and the colony exposed, but I was able to save the remaining bees and queen and install them in a Langstroth hive.

The bee tree that Scott discovered to have had its hive opening spray-foamed shut a few years back (above where Islais Creek goes underground) due to mistaken identification as a culprit of a nearby sting incident, seems to have reopened and a swarm moved in last year. That colony has done well, and recently swarmed (I understand Philip Gerrie retrieved the swarm).

revived hive

Revived hive – Photo (c) Janet Kessler

the bee tree that was killed has bees again

The bee tree that was killed has bees again. Photo (c) Janet Kessler

After many discussions, emails and meetings with RPD, Scott and I have convinced RPD to leave that tree alone for now. It has a substantial lean but, if it were to fall, it would not cross the path especially if RPD would cut off the top limbs right above the crotch where the limbs grow out of the main trunk. That’s been our recommendation but it has not yet been done to reduce the risks if it were to fall.

As usual RPD does what it wants — under-doing things by not cutting the limbs to reduce the risks if the tree were to fall which has been their stated concern but also over-doing things by placing the orange fence around the tree unreasonably suggesting the bees are a safety hazard when they are not. Nonetheless, the orange fence has served to be educational to bring park goers’ attention to honey bees in a natural habitat.

Finally, the very large mother bee tree, fenced down near Silvertree, with the opening in the base is undisturbed but the colony died out after many years of perpetuating itself.

I have not seen any bee activity there since late last year. 

the remaining bee tree

The old bee tree. Photo (c) Janet Kessler

Give the wax moths another year or more and, hopefully, the cavity will be cleaned out sufficiently to be deemed suitable by a future swarm looking to set up residence.

Karen Peteros,
Glen Park neighborhood resident & beekeeper
San Francisco Bee-Cause

Fighting The NAP Nativist Agenda

Once in a while, we want to affirm the values that San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for. We’re a grass-roots organization of people who love nature and the environment, pay taxes responsibly, and want access to our parks and wild places – with our families.

Citizens care about their city Parks, and want to keep healthy trees and to open access to natural areas. Citizens expect city management to act responsibly and in the public trust, for FAIR allocation of 2008 Clean & Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond funds.

SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) and particularly the Natural Areas Program (NAP), obsessed with Native Plants, is cutting down trees, restricting access, using more toxic herbicides than any other section of SFRPD (excluding Harding Park Golf Course), and using financial resources that could better be used for things our city’s residents really want.


Watch our video on Youtube, (where you can also sign up for the SF Forest Alliance Youtube channel):


What we stand for can be summarized in four key areas: Trees, Access, Toxins, Taxes.


Improvements to the Glen Canyon Park Playground?

Last month we reported on the status of the Glen Canyon Park Playground Improvements.
We mentioned the new playground and that it will not be the same as it was:-  a steep staircase to the slide and bushes that were at the top – now gone. The kids loved that slide … they played games of imagination and adventure there. Instead of a quirky playground that used the advantages of the site, there’s a standard-issue place that could have been built anywhere. And the wonderful climbing tree the children loved, which was behind the Rec Center – it is now gone.

In honor of the Glen Canyon Park Playground re-opening on March 15th, we are re-issuing a relevant YouTube video

Help us save the urban forests in our San Francisco Parks

Glen Canyon Park: One Year after Start of Tree Destruction

The Glen Canyon Playground and Tennis Court Project – as the city is calling this – is nearly completed. In February or March 2014 there will be great fanfare at the completion of this project.

Video update to the Glen Canyon Park tree demolition project

Is it an improvement? Well, there is a new playground at least, but it will not be the same as it was: a steep staircase to the slide and bushes that were at the top – gone. The kids loved those; they played games of imagination and adventure there. Instead of a quirky playground that used the advantages of the site, there’s a standard-issue place that could have been built anywhere.  And the wonderful climbing tree the children loved, behind the Rec Center – also gone. The new kids will not know what they missed.

The City Arborist report stated that only 1 tree was truly hazardous, yet 42 trees were destroyed. Equally troubling is the deliberate relocation of tennis courts that destroyed 11 healthy and majestic Eucalyptus guarding the Park’s entrance.

Question: Why was there no attempt to incorporate these trees into the overall design goal that could have been achieved without sacrificing space for the playground and ball field?

Answer: San Francisco taxpayers “purchased” a native plant garden as part of the project and ensured all those “poor suitability / non-native” trees were eliminated.

Functional, Beautiful Ecosystems Should Be Left Alone; the Parks need maintenance, not destruction.


While you are on YouTube, why not Subscribe to our Channel and keep up with our latest videos by the San Francisco Forest Alliance?



Merely follow step one or two to Subscribe to our Channel:

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Any users who are logged into YouTube already need only to click that link and then confirm the subscription and they’ll be added to our Channel.

Step 2) Not on YouTube account yet? All you need to do is watch one of our YouTube videos, click on the”Subscribe” button / link, which is directly across from the Name of our Channel: San Francisco Forest Alliance. Or, the “subscribe” button may appear below the video title.

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