San Francisco’s Tree Casualties

This article originated in a letter from one of our supporters, Matthew Steen, who is active in numerous causes including protecting street trees. San Francisco, as we have said before, is doing a very poor job of protecting its tree canopy, which, at 13.7% is well below the 25% benchmark for a Western city. Instead of seeking ways to expand this tree cover, to fight global warning and protect the health of residents, San Francisco is cutting down trees for any and every reason, whether on the streets and in the parks.

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City

Read the letter below.

LETTER ABOUT TREE DESTRUCTION IN SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco Forest Alliance,

There has been an ongoing mass removal of street trees and parklands canopy occurring throughout the City since the 2016 passage of Prop E and before. Keeping up with these proposed and ordered removals has proven a large challenge to me.

I have been speaking with individual city Supervisors, their staff and political candidates over the last year about this continuing war on trees and wildlife habitats, its negative impact on the city’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change locally and being out of conformity with the city’s General Plan and its 8 priority elements.

As we well know, our urban forest canopy provides many public benefits, from improved respiratory health, erosion and subsidence control, carbon sequestration, reduction of storm water drrainage into the aging sewer infrastructure, outfall discharges into the ocean and Bay waters, building heating and cooling and the urban aesthetic. According to the Urban Forestry Council, we had a total net gain of but 121 trees in 2017!! [Note: This is not even  fraction of a percent of the total number of trees.]

The case of the trees at 100 Portola in Upper Market is but one small example. A DPW hearing on this proposed removal was held last night as a result of filed protests by neighborhood residents. The reason for removal was because of re-routing a sewer line. There were also half a dozen other tree removal plans (all protested) heard, involving 20 trees at various locations —

https://sfpublicworks.org/project/tree-removal-hearing-monday-9242018-530pm-room-416

Clearly, neither I nor SFFA nor affected neighborhoods can take a piecemeal approach to slow down, impede or prevent this destruction that is rapidly depleting the number and volume of our forest canopy in all of its component parts. As a reminder, there are 29 separate city agencies and special districts reporting to UFC on the status of trees on their properties. Some, like GGNRA and Presidio Trust no longer even bother reporting to UFC.

I have personally intervened in dozens of tree removal plans and involved SFFA in some of these as a matter of record. The death of my partner has slowed me down in 2018 for obvious reasons. The link I provide above leads to hundreds of DPW tree removal hearings over the last several years that document the swathe and size of this destruction. SFFA’s efforts to preserve the canopies on Mt. Sutro and Mt. Davidson and opposition to NAP have valiantly attempted to halt, slow down and reverse this trend.

This is quickly devolving into a catastrophe.
Documenting is merely bearing witness. We need to assume a more proactive approach.

Thank you.

Matthew

MEANWHILE IN SEATTLE

Seattle is a city that’s growing very rapidly. Along transit corridors, small one- and two-story buildings on large lots are being demolished and replaced by 6-story structures for apartments and offices occupying the whole lot. In this atmosphere, San Francisco people would expect that trees would be removed wholesale as the footprint expanded.

Here’s an example of what’s actually happening. The worksite below was formerly a gas station, with a couple of low-rise buildings behind it. It’s on a main thoroughfare in the busy Ballard area. The mature trees along the building site are protected with orange netting and plyboard boxes during the construction period.

Similar scenes are repeated at worksites all over Seattle, including one only a few blocks from here. As a result, Seattle’s tree canopy cover is probably larger than in 2007, the basis of the graph at the beginning of the article – it’s been reported at 28%, with a goal of 30% by 2037.  Meanwhile, the city is proactively protecting trees. If a tree must be felled for development, the city requires a compensatory planting – or a payment into a tree fund. 

THE WASHINGTON SQUARE TREES IN SAN FRANCISCO…

… are gone. A construction company apparently damaged their roots. Not only did San Francisco fail to protect the trees during construction, they did not even try to save them. Rather than cordoning off the area and allowing the trees to recover, the city cut them all down. Will they be replaced? We don’t know. But these iconic mature trees are gone for ever.

All our street trees and park trees are at risk as soon as there are enough funds for any “improvements” – they all start with, Let’s Cut Down the Trees.

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THE END

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