Open Letter to SF Weekly

Recently, journalist Rachel Swan saw our post Fighting the NAP Nativist Agenda and our video caught her attention. (Here’s  our video on Youtube, where you can also sign up for the SF Forest Alliance Youtube channel)

She  had some questions for us for an article she intended to write for SF Weekly. We sent her an email in response. Of course,  she didn’t repeat it in her short and hard-hitting article, but we thought our readers might be interested in seeing what we said. We’ve put it in this open letter to SF Weekly.


Dear SF Weekly,

Thank you for reporting on the rift within the environmental community, and to Rachel Swan for planning the article. This is something too few San Franciscans are aware of.

(We hope we’re not actually slinging mud when we oppose the destruction of trees, use of toxic herbicides, and access restrictions in our parks. We think it’s possible to oppose the Nativist Agenda in the strongest terms while being respectful of the people who support it.)

Your reporter sent us a few questions, which we answered at some length. Obviously she couldn’t include all of that in the article. But we’d like to share it with our readers, and perhaps you would like to share it with yours.


Her first question was what plant we thought was being preserved in Glen Canyon Park, justifying herbicides and tree-cutting?

We don’t actually think the tree-cutting and herbicide application in Glen Canyon is targeted at preserving any specific native plant. Instead, it’s a more generalized preference for “native” plants, so that herbicides are used to remove non-native plants naturalized to the Canyon, and non-native trees are cut down, to be replaced (if at all) with “native” shrubs and other smaller plants. Though the original Environmental Impact Report for the Glen Canyon project said it would not be in the Natural Areas of the canyon, in fact the work area did include a substantial “Natural Areas” portion.


Who, she wanted to know, did we target our video at, and what result did we wish to see?

Our video is intended to get the word out to people who care. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department policy is hostile to the 117,000 non-native trees in the park system’s Natural Areas. (They are on the wrong side of the climate change issue). We hope this video will show our concerns about tree removals, trail closures and herbicide usage, and show that native plant gardens provide very limited recreation opportunities and are not sustainable.

Most people don’t understand what’s happening in their parks until they see trees being removed or pesticide notices or trails being blocked, and then it’s usually too late. They also can’t understand why a program like NAP is funded at around $1.5 mn annually (which would go up by a factor of 4 or more if the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan is adopted), while recreation centers are closed because the Director was fired, or the retiring gardener in their local park was not replaced, or park patrols are infrequent because of staffing issues.

Here’s what we would like to see happen:

  • We would like trees to be preserved as far as possible unless they are truly hazardous (and it’s not used as an excuse). They should be the responsibility of a department that wants to protect them instead of one which wants them gone. San Francisco’s tree canopy at 13.7% is low compared to most major cities – and we lose more trees each year than we plant. Trees fight pollution and save lives. In this era of global warming, trees are a crucial resource, sequestering carbon. (Eucalyptus, a fast-growing and long-lived tree with dense wood, is particularly effective at doing this.) We want tree-felling for native plant “restoration” to be stopped and prevented.
  • We want to stop use of toxic herbicides in Natural Areas (all Tier I and Tier II herbicides).
  • We want no additional access restrictions on people or pets in Natural Areas.
  • We want financial resources to be allocated in line with people’s actual priorities – which would include functioning (and open!) restrooms, funding for recreational programs people enjoy, patrols that improve safety, trash removal.


Have we encountered different sub-groups within the native plants community, she asked, or did we really think there was one unified agenda?

Let’s be clear: We don’t object to native plants, or to the people who value them. When we speak of the “nativist agenda” we mean the ideological preference for native plants that drives such entities as the Natural Areas Program (NAP) to try to destroy existing trees, habitats, and recreation opportunities – and use powerful herbicides in natural areas. They are a small minority of our park users, and large areas of our parks shouldn’t be landscaped to their preferences, ripping out of plants that the rest of us enjoy and that are important to birds and other wildlife. (NAP has 1100 acres, about 1/4 of the total SFRPD land.) “Nature” does not favor one plant over another.

We have people from the “native plant community” among our supporters: they like native plants, but not the destruction of existing trees, wildlife habitats, and access opportunities.


Finally, she wanted to know who the San Francisco Forest Alliance was. Were we homeowners? Off-leash dog-walkers? Opposers of pesticides? (In the article – which we link below- she quoted Jake Sigg’s definition of us: “Forest lovers, feral cat activists, and off-leash dog walkers.”)

So who are we, really? We’re very broad group with one thing in common: People who enjoy nature and our parks and advocate for trees, the environment and for wildlife.  SF Forest Alliance is not a membership organization, so we don’t have a roster or dues. We’re a grass-roots organization with many supporters, some of whom are active in helping us to spread the word. Our petition to Mayor Lee is currently at over 1500 signatures – and this is only the latest of several of our petitions that got thousands of signatures (including many on paper only). If you want a better sense of who we are, read some of the comments on that petition – or on the earlier one HERE.

We have hikers, birders, and people who want public money spent on making parks more beautiful and accessible for recreation. We have homeowners, renters, and people who share apartments. Some of us have pets and walk them on- or off-leash; others don’t.  Some are parents or grandparents, others not.

We all want unrestricted access to our parks, for us and for our families (including children and pets) for active – not just passive recreation. We’re all opposed to toxic herbicide use in “natural” areas. We all oppose removing of healthy trees. We believe most people have these values.

The SFWeekly article said in conclusion: “So it’s not enough to be a tree-hugger anymore; you have to hug the right tree.”

For our part, we think all trees that aren’t actually hazardous are “the right tree” wherever they originated. Perhaps she referred to the Native Plants Community, who dislike non-native trees (and nearly all the trees in San Francisco are non-native, because it had hardly any trees before.)


The San Francisco Forest Alliance

If you’d like to read Rachel Swan’s article in the SF Weekly, it’s here: Going Native: A Plant Lovers’ War Turns Political


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2 Responses to Open Letter to SF Weekly

  1. milliontrees says:

    If the SF Weekly has questions about the SF Forest Alliance, why doesn’t it ask the Forest Alliance? Instead it turns to Jake Sigg, who asks another question that also could be answered if anyone had a sincere interest in the answers.

    Journalism has an ethical obligation to speak to both sides of an issue on which they wish to report. Ms. Swan’s article is not journalism. It is a hit-piece in service of advocacy for one side of a controversial issue. It does not illuminate. It inflames.

    [SFForest: Though we disagree with their premise – that calling it a “nativist agenda” amounts to mudslinging – we do think this is an important issue and we’re glad SF Weekly is raising it. We hope that another time they’ll choose to tell our side of the story.]

  2. Tony Holiday says:

    What an excellent reply! Sharing it.

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