The “Natural” Areas Program Fells Trees

One would think the Natural Areas Program would be about preserving trees in our city. It’s not. San Francisco in its pre-European state had very very few trees if any, and almost all our trees are non-native. Despite the huge benefits of urban trees, NAP’s “Significant Natural Resource Area Management Plan”  (SNRAMP) wants to fell 3,500 in the city, and an additional 15,000 in Sharp Park. Here are the main areas besides Sharp Park:

  • 1600 trees on Mount Davidson (this would be in addition to trees already killed by girdling and other means).
  • 809 trees in McLaren Park.
  • 511 trees in Bayview Park (also in addition to trees killed by girdling).
  • 140 trees in the Interior Green belt on Mount Sutro (unclear whether this would be in addition to the 50 trees cut down along the Kill-trees Trail).
  • 134 trees in Lake Merced (presumably in addition to an unknown number that were already felled there in 2010).
  • 120 in Glen Canyon and O’Shaughnessy
  • 82 in Golden Gate Park
  • 15 in Corona Heights.
  • 14 in Dorothy Erskine
  • 10 in Buena Vista Park
  • 5 in Grandview Park
  • 3 in Brooks Park
  • 3 on Twin Peaks
  • 2 in Palou Phelps

[Related: Nine benefits of urban trees.]


As we noted above, there’s been deforestation under various guises, by the NAP or its supporters – or others –  even while the SNRAMP goes through the approval process. A lot of trees have been killed by girdling, particularly in Bayview and on Mount Davidson. (Girdling involves cutting bark around a tree so it starves to death, sometimes over years.)

Some may have been killed by other means.

Some have been felled as “urban forest” work – for instance in the Interior Greenbelt and at Lake Merced. Trees in Natural Areas are not evaluated for whether they are a hazard, but for their condition, including “poor form.”


No, despite the widespread belief to the contrary.

First, San Francisco is foggy or rainy round the year. Calfire considers the entire area a “moderate” fire risk – which is its lowest rating. (The other ratings are “High” and “Very High.)


Areas of dense trees, like Sutro Cloud Forest, or Mt Davidson, act like a Cloud Forest.  The tall trees harvest moisture from the fog, and the forest holds this moisture in.

It has been argued that in the fall, San Francisco has sunny dry weather and this is when there’s a fire hazard. In fact, SaveSutro maintained a daily Fog Log in the Fall of 2009. Even during sunny weather – there was night fog or rain many evenings. The longest “dry” period in the forest was 7 days.

At no time did the forest dry out.

Second, even in drier climates, eucalyptus is not more flammable than other trees; and the native grasses and shrubs that are actually planned as a replacement are much more flammable than the trees.

There’s more information about this at Death of a Million Trees (see Fire! The Cover Story)

In a firestorm caused by dry conditions and hot dry winds (which do not occur in the city) everything burns – oaks and fir, eucalyptus and pine. In fact, eucalyptus may even help fight wind-driven fires by trapping flying embers and disrupting wind flows because of its flexible crown. There’s more information about this and other myths at  Eucalyptus Myths on

Finally: Here’s the picture worth a thousand words. In a ruinous fire in Scripps Ranch in San Diego, a number of houses burned to the ground. The eucalyptus surrounding them failed to ignite. Not incidentally, the home-owners of Scripps Ranch fought to save the eucalyptus trees when the City tried to cut them down – after the fire – as a hazard reduction.

Photo credit: New York Times

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5 Responses to The “Natural” Areas Program Fells Trees

  1. Dolan Eargle, Director, Trees Company says:

    A few years ago I was part of a project sponsored by the SF Parks and a group of ecology scientists from SF State Univ. We surveyed all the SF parks ( Sharp and part of Hetch-Hetchy included). Every park was portioned off in large square blocks of about 100 feet . At the intersection of each block a 1-meter circle was marked off and the ecologist (there were several) in charge of the group surveying made a detailed analysis of EVERY plant there, its common and Latin name. The reports were never published owing to some discrepancy in the charts of two larger groups. Even so, there was no reason to withhold this info; nevertheless, no final report was published.
    Isn’t there someone out there who could see to these final results being published?? Then we might be able to make better decisions as to what these NAP people are up to?

    Webmaster: The management plan for the Natural Areas Program contains a detailed inventory of all plants and animals found in the “natural areas.” This inventory was conducted by EIP Associates, the organization hired by the Recreation and Park Department to write the managment plan. The management plan is available on the Recreation and Park Department’s website ( click on “About us”). The inventory was done between 1997 when EIP was hired and 2000 when the first draft of the management plan was completed. To our knowledge, it has not been revised since.

    In other words, the Natural Areas Program believes they know what plants and animals exist in the “natural areas.” It would be interesting to know if the studies done by San Francisco State are different from those done for the Natural Areas Program. Since you participated in those studies, you are in the best position to see them.

    Thanks for your comment and for your interest in this issue

  2. Carolyn Blair says:

    For the past 15 years as the founder of the SF Tree Council and 8 years founding member of the city’s Urban Forest Council, I have seen unnecessary and very costly destruction of our city’s healthy forests, for the pleasure of nativists.

    There are no natural, sustainable native plant areas that can compare with the many benefits and immense values of San Francisco’s man made forest. It is outrageous that these few people, just as developers, destroy neighborhoods by removing all the trees first, then after 15 years they still have nothing to show for it but little plastic flags – so they know where they had to replant their supposedly sustainable plants!

    They waste thousands of dollars each year to maintain the appearance of a natural area – but what is natural is what they still clear cut –lush, dense, secluded forest that the majority of people love; which only produces a profusion of weeds!

    They see weedy results and continue to do it!! Just like the emperor’s new clothes — they blindly agree because they don’t want to feel stupid for not seeing the native plants.

    It is a real shame and the same old “jealousy of the gods,” against Mother Nature who has been so creative for millenniums! These few idiots think they know better — better than the evolution of multifaceted combinations — truly amazing diversity, and a bazillion different variety of plants and trees!

    The reality of the past fifteen years of the (Un)Natural Areas Program is destruction, an attitude of arrogance and blindness to what they have done and what they are doing. They are creating an environment more naturalistic than what we have but with none of the beauty and so, they call it “natural”. They think they are God and can have illegally killed (girdle) large mature trees in our public parks – most recently on Mt. Davidson.

  3. Joel Schipper says:

    How are we to stop this craziness? And how does this get fiscal priority over funding CCSF police fire fighters etc?

    Webmaster: Please visit our Political Action page for suggestions about how to contact your supervisor and other responsible officials:

  4. Pingback: Forests Store Carbon and Fight Climate Change | San Francisco Forest Alliance

  5. Pingback: Why UC Berkeley’s Prof. McBride Wants to Save Mt Davidson | San Francisco Forest Alliance

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