A Response to Steven Chapman’s article in the Sierra Club Yodeler

The following letter was submitted as a Letter to the Editor to the Sierra Club Yodeler in response to an article which appeared in that newsletter about the Natural Areas Program (NAP) in San Francisco.

The Sierra Club rejected it for publication — they are clearly unwilling to present an opposing point of view. Please also take a look at Sierra Club cranks up the smoke machine for further discussion of the subject.

I wish to challenge the accuracy of some of the information presented in Steven Chapman’s article “San Francisco Natural Areas Plan in peril” in the October-November issue of the Yodeler. Mr. Chapman states: “Most of the trees in the designated natural areas will remain where they are…  In certain critical areas (such as small patches of Mount Davidson), the plan calls for limited tree removal.”

These statements are not accurate.

According to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), fully one-third of the urban forest on Mt. Davidson is slated for conversion to a “Pacific reed grass prairie scrub mosaic.”  Since “coastal scrub and reed grass communities require additional light to reach the forest floor in order to persist” approximately 1,000 out of 1221 small and medium-sized “invasive” trees will be removed from Management Area (MA) 1c.  That’s 82% of the trees in that area.  Approximately two hundred out of 644 “invasive trees” (31%) will be removed from MA-2c.  Approximately 300 small to medium-sized and 100 large “invasive” trees out of 1726 (23%) will be removed from MA-2e.  That’s a total of 1600 healthy, mature trees in the 10.2 acres that form the heart of the Mt. Davidson Forest. (See attached map)

Steven Chapman accuses a “small but vocal group of tree advocates” (i.e. the San Francisco Forest Alliance) of “campaigning loudly against any tree removal in any park, anywhere in the city.”  This is not true.  I have attended several community meetings organized by the SF Forest Alliance. They advocate the immediate removal of all hazardous trees and fault the Recreation and Park Department for not acting sooner in some cases.

Every meeting of the SF Forest Alliance has been attended by a large number of concerned citizens, usually numbering in the hundreds.  Over 3,000 San Francisco residents have signed their petitions.   At one neighborhood meeting a petition asking the Sierra Club to reconsider their support of the Natural Areas Program was signed by 28 Sierra Club members.  The West of Twin Peaks Central Council, an organization representing 20 neighborhood associations in the Mt. Davidson area, also submitted a letter to the Environmental Review Officer of the SF Planning Commission, opposing the implementation of the 2005 Significant Natural Resources Plan Project.

Mr. Chapman states that this “small but vocal group” has “exaggerated the envisioned amounts of tree-removal, and promulgated disinformation about the scope and objectives of the plan, wildly accusing advocates of ecological restoration of wanting to revert the entire park system to its former “wasteland” of dunes and scrub.”  The Natural Areas encompass 870 acres, approximately one-fourth of the city parkland in San Francisco. The SNRAMP plan proposes to cut 3500 healthy, mature trees in San Francisco city limits, plus 15,000 trees in Sharp Park. The SF Forest Alliance opposes the SNRAMP proposal to convert 70 of the 185 acres of existing forest in the Natural Areas to grassland or scrub in the name of “habitat restoration.” These forests are not remnant areas but are critical to forest dwelling wildlife, air quality, carbon sequestration, buffering of wind, rain, and sun, and the health and well-being of urban dwellers.  Trees are the “lungs” of a city and necessary to make cities livable for people and wildlife.

Mr. Chapman states that there are “some people who object to the use of any herbicide.” He does not mention the increased use of Tier I (Most Hazardous) and Tier II (More Hazardous) herbicides to prevent “invasive” plants from re-establishing themselves:  Garlon, Roundup, Imazapyr, Aminopyralid. (See the Herbicides section of the sfforest.net website for statistics.)  All of these chemicals have been associated with serious health problems in animal and human populations. The DEIR does not specify how much pesticide will be used to maintain any of the “Natural Areas.”

Finally Mr. Chapman speaks of the “countless public meetings’ that preceded the issuance and approval of the management plan.  Not one of those meetings took place on Mount Davidson, even though, if the DEIR is approved, Mt. Davidson will be more impacted than any other ‘Natural Area’ in San Francisco.  In fact the Miraloma / Mt. Davidson neighborhood association was not informed about the SNRAMP plan until the Planning Department sent them the Initial Study Notice for the SNRAMP in 2009.

I have been an active member and strong supporter of the Sierra Club for more than 40 years. This is the first article I have seen in the Yodeler about the effect of the Natural Areas Program within San Francisco city limits. (There have been many articles written about Sharp Park, where the Sierra Club supports the elimination of 15,000 ‘invasive’ trees to save an endangered frog and snake.)   It’s time to open up this issue to debate within the entire Bay Area Sierra Club membership.

Jane Risk
Sierra Club National Outings leader
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4 Responses to A Response to Steven Chapman’s article in the Sierra Club Yodeler

  1. Million Trees says:

    The Sierra Club has been shutting its eyes to the reality of the Natural Areas Program for many years. They have repeatedly published articles like this in the Yodeler. Those who actually read the written and approved plans and watch the destructive actions of NAP on the ground have tried several times to correct the written record by submitting Letters to the Editor of the Yodeler. The Yodeler has never published those letters.

    Observers of NAP have also tried to meet with the leadership of the Sierra Club to inform them of the hundreds of trees that have been destroyed and the thousands that will be destroyed in the future. We have also tried to tell them about the quantity and toxicity of the pesticides used by NAP. The Sierra Club has repeatedly refused those requests to listen to our concerns and they have not replied to many letters we have sent them.

    We have also asked the candidates for leadership positions questions about their opinion of this destruction so that Club members can make informed voting decisions during Club elections. Those questions have been ignored.

    The Sierra Club no longer deserves to be considered an environmental organization. They are an ideological organization that is willing to harm the environment in the service of their ideology. This is a big loss to those who consider themselves environmentalists.

  2. Pingback: Sierra Club cranks up the smoke machine « Death of a Million Trees

  3. Gene Geisler says:

    As a lifelong environmentalist I find the S.F. Natural Areas Program frightening. The suppression of your comments on Sierra Club policy is typical of the shortsighted policy of ramrodding through whatever seems dictated by their “faith” at the moment whether supported by the public or not.

    How long must a person or plant be in California to be a California “Native”. The Eucalyptus trees here date back to the 1770s. Most Californians came from the U.S. after 1849 but really got serious about settling the Bay Area after WWII.

    The only way to fight this case and many others (Ft Funston, The Presidio) is to recognize that This is politics pure and simple. Sierra Club has many politicos shaking in their boots: money and votes.

    I strongly support the SF Forest Alliance becoming a more active player in local elections: endorsing candidates, campaigning, etc.: money and votes. Lets get a few Supervisors beholden to the Alliance on the board to get the Park department back serving the park users TODAY.

    Gene Geisler

  4. Dave says:

    The Sierra Club capitulated to the real threats to the environment long ago and that is why they pick battles in parks and recreation areas that are protected from the true threats except for global warming. They represent their small band of committee heads but not the members who pay dues.