A tree ponders life upon waking

Someone sent us this charming, incisive, bitter-sweet graphic about a eucalyptus tree. The artist, Charlotte Hildebrand, kindly gave us permission to reproduce it here.

Graphic of a eucalyptus tree 125 years old and home to 1000 birds pondering life

This tree, such an important part of the ecosystem – a shelter for birds, a splendid carbon sink, a catcher of fog, ponders its purpose in life. Like the trees on Mt Sutro and Mt Davidson, it’s 125 years old.

Thank you, Charlotte Hildebrand.

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Pesticide Usage in 2021: SFRPD Does Better – except for NRD

As we usually do, we compiled the pesticide usage data for San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department for 2021.  (We exclude Harding Park – but not the other golf courses – from this analysis because it’s externally-managed under a PGA contract to be kept tournament-ready at all times.) We’re pleased to note that SFRPD has reduced its pesticide usage in comparison to 2020 and 2019. 


But this is not true of the Natural Resources Division (this includes PUC areas managed in the same way – i.e. use of toxic herbicides against plants they dislike). Their usage has risen and is the highest it’s ever been from 2016.

The Natural Resources Department (NRD, formerly the Natural Areas Program or NAP) is the entity that in trying to bring “native” plants to more than a thousand acres of our parks, cuts down trees and restrict access to people and their pets.  NRD, which accounts for perhaps a fourth of the land area, used over 70% of the pesticides measured as active ingredients in fluid ounces.

NRD – and PUC lands that they are managing the same way – continued to increase their use of triclopyr since the new pesticide Vastlan has been designated Tier II (More Hazardous) instead of Garlon, which was Tier I (Most Hazardous). In both herbicides, the active ingredient is triclopyr. They also increased their usage of imazapyr, and continued to use Roundup, though in smaller quantities than before.

Here are the two earlier graphs lined up to show the comparison. The Native Plant areas used more herbicides in 2021 than they had ever used in the last six years – or that the other SFRPD departments together used in the same timeframe. Their failure to reduce usage in 2021 is in stark contrast to the more than 50% drop in the other SFRPD.

SFRPD Other (i.e. other than the Native plant areas) uses mainly Polaris (imazapyr) and Clearcast ( ammonium salt of imazamox). The native plant areas, NRD / SFPUC, use large amounts of triclopyr, (Garlon and Vastlan), as well as some glyphosate (Roundup).


The NRD’s continually growing usage of the herbicides is a sign that this strategy is failing. They have been using hazardous chemicals on some 50 target species of plants year after year. Theoretically, the point of using toxic herbicides on unwanted species is to allow the desired species to replace them.  Instead, the growing usage of these chemicals shows that if anything, the situation is only made worse.

This stands to reason; “invasive” plants are successful because they are better adapted to current conditions. If they are destroyed with herbicides, the replacement is likely to be the next best adapted (thus, invasive) species. Given 50 target species, the bench is deep. This leads to a vicious cycle of hazardous herbicide use, clearly visible in the graph above.


For many years since we started compiling these data, Sharp Park has been off-limits for pesticides. We’ve seen very minimal usage – maybe 3 or 4 times over all the years. It’s home to the red-legged frog, and the San Francisco garter snake.

In 2021, that changed. In the space of one year, pesticides were applied 9 times. We did anticipate this would happen as NRD extended its grip on this park.


San Francisco’s Department of the Environment (SFEnvironment) assigns Tier hazard ratings to the various pesticides it uses. Tier III is Least Hazardous, Tier II is More Hazardous, and Tier I is Most Hazardous.  Over the years we have been following this usage, we have seen various chemicals being moved from one Tier to another. Milestone was moved from Tier I to Tier II; Glyphosate (Roundup, Aquamaster)  from Tier II to Tier I; and triclopyr (Garlon, Garlon 4 Ultra, Turflon, Vastlan) from Tier I to Tier II (for Vastlan and Turflon). Avenger was moved from Tier II to Tier III, which we think makes sense and makes analysis easier. We analyze the usage of Tier I and Tier II herbicides.


SF Forest Alliance has been trying to encourage SFRPD to reduce or eliminate Tier I and Tier II herbicide use. Some years ago, it appeared that pesticide usage was declining, especially after the Roundup revelations. When we wrote our Pesticides report for 2016, the other areas of SFRPD had slashed their herbicide use; the NRD accounted for 74% of pesticide usage. The 2021 data have renewed our hope that SFRPD’s other departments will adopt a cautious approach to the use of toxic herbicides. Unfortunately, this does not appear true of the nativist departments, NRD / PUC.

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McLaren Park Loses More Trees

From Lance Mellon:

“This nativism is a strange phenomenon. I see every day, next to my community garden at Mclaren Park, the devastation caused when they cut down those beautiful woods to install their native garden. It is an unforgivable act of ignorance and destruction.”


Picture of beautiful trees destroyed to create a "native" garden

Beautiful trees at McLaren Park – copyright Lance Mellon

Beautiful trees destroyed to create a "Native" garden

Stately beautiful tree at McLaren Park – copyright Lance Mellon


Native garden – copyright Lance Mellon

Native garden 2 – copyright Lance Mellon

“This needs to be curtailed before all the trees are gone. The largest tree in those woods was a 100+-year-old Monterey Cypress that housed innumerable owls, crows, and a myriad of flora and fauna.”

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Good news: Tree Felling Plan in Napa Stops

In recent weeks, we heard of another project to cut down eucalyptus trees, despite the negative impact on climate change, wildlife, and neighborhoods. And today, we were pleased to learn that it had been reversed!

Someone wrote to us to say “… on the river in Napa where a lot of eucalyptus trees that have been here some over 50 years are scheduled to all be cut down. These trees are homes to owls, ravens, night herons, egrets and more.  Can you please help us to save the trees and wildlife that will be displaced?

We wrote back to describe our experience. Perhaps it was helpful, perhaps there were other reasons for the project being stopped. But today we were really happy to get this letter:

“Great News from the CDFW -they have decided to halt the assault on our trees along the Napa River on Milton Road!  I wanted to thank you for your support and suggestions and if I can help your organization, please let me know.

This will be good both for the human neighbors, and the local wildlife.

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Still More Trees Cut Down in Sutro Forest – March 2022

The article below is essentially a sequel to the previous one. More Trees Being Cut Down in Sutro Forest  and is also republished with permission from SutroForest.com


As readers of this site will know, a lot of trees are being felled in the portion of the forest closest to the hospital. One forest-lover wrote to us about it. That part is HERE.

A few days later, they wrote “The hillside now looks like an Oregon clearcut. I didn’t have a chance to take a pic today but at this point it’s like morbidly photographing a corpse at a funeral.


Here’s some photographs of the area from 2013, (from Tony Holiday’s blog, Stairways are Heaven,  and used with permission). The dense woods at the top right of the picture is what’s being felled now.


And here’s what’s happening now.

This is the staircase, from below – without its forest.

The chosen area for destruction is adjacent to the Parnassus campus and near the hospital that is to be substantially rebuilt and expanded. It’s an ugly thing to watch.

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More Trees Being Cut Down in Sutro Forest

This article has been republished from SutroForest.com with permission and updates.

“Can you tell me what’s happening on the north side of the forest? I’ve been watching them cut down a swath from a lunchroom at UCSF the last few days,” said an email to us a day ago.

Yes. It’s a continuation of the “Vegetation Management Plan” that we have been trying to oppose for over a decade, and which will result in an estimated 10,000 trees being cut down. Coincidentally, this recent action is close to the planned new (rebuilt) hospital at Parnassus.

It looks like they’re clearing for a road,” said a shocked follow-up email. Then we received this photograph, taken from the hospital. “A week ago you couldn’t see the houses up top. Men chainsaw the trees and the machine in the upper right clears the land. You have my permission to republish this as you see fit.”

This is what the forest looked like, back before they started the massive tree removals.

Group of people walking a trail through beautiful dense Sutro Forest in 2007

Mt Sutro Forest in 2007


UCSF recently sent out a notice that we reprint here for information to anyone who might not have seen it:

Tree Removal Along Medical Center Way

Starting February 15th through mid-March, there will be active tree work along Medical Center Way near Edgewood Avenue and Farnsworth Lane due to upcoming tree removal as prescribed in the Vegetation Management Plan.

To ensure the safety of tree workers, neighbors, staff, and visitors there will be no access to the Reserve via Farnsworth Lane and Edgewood Avenue. Chain-link fencing will be placed along the property line up to the Surge Parking Lot, and Medical Center Way will be closed.

Potential Impacts:
Intermittent loud noises from tree felling and wood chipping.
A crane will be placed in the Surge Parking Lot to assist with the tree removal.
Work will occur within normal business hours. No weekend work is anticipated at this time.

Please obey all instructions from tree workers and signage by not entering the work area.

See below for a map detailing the area. The blue rectangle outlines the approximate area of tree work, and the orange line shows where fencing will be placed as a safety precaution.

We apologize for any inconvenience this work may cause, and we appreciate your patience.


Meanwhile, aside from the loss of the trees, the “removal” is also taking place just as the nesting season is under way.  Wildcare, the not-for-profit that rehabilitates wild birds and animals – including a lot of babies – sent out a message: “RESPECT THE NEST! BABY HUMMINGBIRDS ARE HERE!

They tell us that apparently abandoned hummingbird nests are not actually abandoned, but that human activity close by may discourage feeding. And the also point out:

Don’t panic, those baby hummingbirds are most likely not orphaned, but their presence DOES mean it is no longer safe to prune or trim trees, bushes or shrubs! Wildlife Baby Season has begun!”

We don’t suppose UCSF is listening, since their plans for tree felling run through mid-March. Even though we know that hummingbirds nest in Sutro Forest.

Two tiny hummingbird nests collected from Sutro Forest after the nesting season

Hummingbird nests collected in Sutro Forest after the nesting season

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Herbicide Time – Triclopyr in Glen Canyon

It’s January, and San Francisco is brightened by the yellow oxalis springing up on green hillsides. Less bright, though, is the usual Blights of Spring – herbicides applied in our parks where our kids and pups play.

Here’s an idyllic scene in Glen Canyon – a beautiful trail, the grass dotted with yellow spring flowers. Not so idyllic: toxic herbicides are being sprayed in the hope of destroying those yellow spring flowers, even though they are less likely to damage the oxalis than the wildlife around and maybe children and pets.

The herbicides in use this time are Triclopyr (the active ingredient of Garlon, in a new formulation called Vastlan) and Aminopyralid (Milestone) – the very persistent pesticide. Also Polaris, or imazapyr.  This is why we support the ballot initiative to limit toxic herbicide use in San Francisco’s parks. Read about that here: https://stopherbicidessf.org/


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The Environmental Danger of Preferring Native Plants

This article is republished with permission and minor edits from Conservation Sense and Nonsense, an environmental blog about current ecological topics including “native plant restorations.” We are publishing it here because we think the opposition to “invasives” by nativist activists – and the focus on “native” plants – is not just a waste of resources but actually dangerous to the environment.


The need for diverse urban forest and the obstacles to achieve that goal

Matt Ritter is a professor of biology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Director of Cal Poly Plant Conservatory. He is the author of several books about California’s unique flora, including A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us. He is considered an expert on the horticulture, ecology and taxonomy of the Eucalyptus genus.

Click on picture to view Professor Ritter’s presentation

In October 2021, Professor Ritter gave a presentation to the California Urban Forests Council, entitled “Underutilized Species for the Future of Urban Wood and Urban Forestry.” He began by explaining why it is important to identify new tree species for our urban forest.

  • “Baja is moving to Oregon,” said Ritter to set the stage. Within 50-80 years trees living in California now will no longer be adapted to the anticipated warmer, drier climate. Trees killed by wildfire in California are not returning. Forests are quickly converting to grassland and shrub. As of 2018, California had lost 180 million trees to drought, disease, bark beetles, heat, and wildfire, which is nearly 5% of the total tree population in California. Adding subsequent years to date, we have probably lost 7% of all of our trees.
  • Trees in urban areas will help Californians cope with warmer conditions because they cool our cities and reduce energy consumption. Fewer trees will mean a lower quality of life, for us and for birds. The loss of our trees reduces carbon storage, which contributes to more climate change.

Ritter then explained why we must diversify tree species in our urban forests.

  • There are over 60,000 tree species in the world and only 7% of tree species are found in urban areas around the world. In California our urban forests are even less diverse. There are only 234 tree species on average in California’s urban forests. The average number of approved tree species for planting in California’s municipalities is only 49 and few species on those approved lists are native to California.
  • Diversity of tree species ensures greater resiliency that enables our urban forests to survive changing conditions.
  • Only 9% of tree species in California’s urban forests are native.
The native ranges of tree species in California’s urban forest.

An inventory of Oakland’s urban forest (street trees, medians, and landscaped parks only) was recently completed. With 535 tree species, the diversity of Oakland’s urban forest is greater than average for California. With 14% native trees, Oakland’s urban forest is more native than average. There are 59 species on Oakland’s list of approved trees, of which only 4 are native to Oakland. The most significant finding of Oakland’s tree inventory is that our urban forest is only 64% “stocked,” meaning that of existing tree wells, only 64% are currently planted with trees. When trees die in Oakland, they aren’t being replaced. I don’t doubt there is a will to plant trees in Oakland. I assume it is a question of means in a city with more pressing needs than resources.

Ritter and his colleagues at Cal Poly have created a website called SelecTree to help Californians choose the right tree for the right site and conditions. There are 1,500 tree species described on SelecTree, using 60 characteristics, such as drought tolerance. SelecTree rates blue gum eucalyptus “medium” for drought tolerance, the same rating as native coast live oak and bay laurel. Ritter clarified that drought tolerance on SelecTree is a measure of how much water the tree species uses. Claims that eucalyptus uses more water than native trees is bogus, like most bad raps about eucalyptus.

Ritter recommended specific tree species, based on their drought and heat tolerance. He said that when diversifying our urban forests “we have to think about Australia” because it is the hottest, driest, flattest, and oldest place on the planet, which is another way of saying that tree species in Australia have survived terrible conditions that are comparable to the challenging conditions in urban environments.

Ritter recommended oak species that are native to Texas; eucalyptus and closely related tree species; and several tree species in the legume family, especially acacia. In each case he mentioned the suitability of tree species based partly on the quality of its wood. Apparently, I’m not the only person in California who is disturbed by huge piles of wood chips wherever trees have been destroyed. Ritter also thinks we should be thinking about how we can use wood when trees are destroyed, rather than building potential bonfires.

Obstacles to diverse urban forests in California

When Professor Ritter took questions from the audience, we learned that the main obstacle to a diverse urban forest in California, adapted to our climate conditions, is the myopic focus of native plant advocates:

Question: “Are we introducing new pathogens to our natives by importing new species?”

Answer: There are many laws and rules that restrict the importation of plants to prevent that from happening. We also import only the seeds of plants, not grown plants. The seeds are sterilized and they don’t carry the pathogens that may exist on grown plants in their native ranges.

Question: “Do we know how quickly birds and insects adapt to new species?”

Answer: “No we don’t, but who cares? We are facing a climate emergency. We have 50 years before life in our cities becomes hell. We have a responsibility to protect the quality of life in our cities. We should stop developing the wild, but cities are different.”

Ritter anticipated a question that is often a concern of native plant advocates by saying we should not be concerned about “weediness,” AKA “invasiveness.” He said, “That should be far down on our list of priorities of what to worry about. We need to be primarily concerned about what tree species will grow in our changed climate.”

Rhetorical Question: “But insects need native plants!

Answer: Ritter instantly recognized the mantra of Doug Tallamy. He replied that it is not well established that there are more insects living on native plants than on introduced plants. He mentioned a single study that inventoried plant and animal species in eucalyptus compared to oak forests, presumably Dov Sax’s study which concluded: “Species richness was nearly identical for understory plants, leaf-litter invertebrates, amphibians and birds; only rodents had significantly fewer species in eucalypt sites. Species diversity patterns…were qualitatively identical to those for species richness, except for leaf-litter invertebrates, which were significantly more diverse in eucalypt sites during the spring.”

Rhetorical Question: “We are still dealing with a legacy of blue gum eucalyptus in the Bay Area. Why should we repeat that mistake?”

Answer: Ritter agreed that blue gum eucalyptus is “inappropriate” in many places where it was planted in the Bay Area, but we’re not planting blue gums. There are 800 eucalyptus species and many are ideal for our conditions. He said, “Why not plant eucalyptus? It would be dumb not to plant suitable eucalyptus species just because it shares a name.”

Ritter added that, “Planting only natives just doesn’t work in San Francisco. There would be no trees in Southern California because we don’t have very many native trees in California.” The pre-settlement coast of California was virtually treeless in most places and that’s a fact. For example, a study of historic vegetation in Oakland, California reported that only 2% of pre-settlement Oakland was forested with trees. “Vegetation before urbanization in Oakland was dominated by grass, shrub, and marshlands that occupied approximately 98% of the area.” (1)

San Francisco in 1806 as depicted by artist with von Langsdoff expedition. Bancroft Library

Oakland as a case in point

The San Francisco Chronicle recently published an article about a guerilla tree-planter in Oakland who is planting native oak trees on public land, wherever he wants. Oakland’s Director of Tree Services, David Moore, gently suggests that many of these tree plantings are ill-advised: “‘There is a part of all of us that loves with our hearts the coast live oak tree because of its heritage, the symbolism of our city, and just the legacy that they have,’ Moore said. ‘But we have to diversify, and we are diversifying to other ones that are recommended to be more adaptable to climate change…The reality is that we have created a world that is not the native conditions of these plants,’ Moore said. ‘If we want trees to survive in these non-native conditions, we have to pick trees from around the world that can survive these conditions.’…Moore said oaks, while beautiful, are not the ideal tree for today’s hot, dry and cramped urban landscape. Without careful and costly maintenance, he said, oaks could destroy sidewalks, block light from streetlamps and grow their branches into streets and walkways, creating hazards for motorists and pedestrians. The city still plants oaks, but mainly in parks rather than streets because that’s where they do better, Moore said…”


So, here we are. We have a pressing need for a more diverse urban forest that is adapted to present and anticipated conditions, but we are paralyzed by the ideological commitment of native plant advocates who are demanding that we destroy our urban forest because it is predominantly non-native. In a recent edition of Nature News, Jake Sigg [considered a doyen of Nativism in San Francisco, who runs a long-lived newsletter] said, “Hysterical tree planting is worse than a waste of time and resources…”

I am grateful to Professor Ritter for being bluntly frank with members of the arborist community who should know better. Dare we hope they learned something from that presentation?

(1) Nowak, David, “Historical vegetation change in Oakland and its implications for urban forest management,” Journal of Arboriculture, 19(5): September 1993

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EPA Acknowledges Herbicides Harm Wildlife

This article is republished with permission from the site, Conservation Sense and Nonsense. It points out that the Environmental Protection Agency has finally acknowledged what environmentalists have recognized (and nativists denied) – that herbicides are harmful to wildlife. They are ecologically problematic.


“Restoration” professionals aggressively defend their use of herbicides because it is their preferred method to eradicate non-native plants.  Herbicides are the primary method of killing non-native plants because it is the cheapest method.  When the California Invasive Plant Council conducted a survey of land managers about the methods they use, they learned that 62% of those surveyed reported using herbicides regularly.  Only 6% of land managers said they don’t use herbicides.

The public usually accepts this poisoning of their parks and open spaces because they believe that wildlife benefits from the eradication of non-native plants.  Although there is little scientific evidence that supports that opinion, it is widely considered the conventional wisdom.  Now we have scientific confirmation that wildlife is harmed by the herbicides used to kill non-native vegetation.  That new evidence is the focus of today’s report on the Conservation Sense and Nonsense blog.

EPA Biological Evaluation of Glyphosate and Atrazine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has published the final version of its biological evaluation of the most commonly used herbicide by the managers of our public lands, glyphosate.  EPA reports that glyphosate is “likely to adversely affect” 93% of legally protected endangered and threatened plants and animals.  EPA also published similar findings for atrazine that is available HERE.

Source: EPA biological evaluation of glyphosate

This evaluation is the result of a long-fought battle with the EPA.  The settlement of a lawsuit brought by Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network in 2016 required the EPA to conduct this evaluation.  A draft of the biological evaluation was published about one year ago and the final version one year later confirms the findings reported by the draft version.  Thank you CBD and PAN for your persistence!

Significance of EPA’s biological evaluation

The public tends to believe the law protects all wildlife, but that is not the case. The fact is, legal protection only applies to species designated by US Fish & Wildlife Service as threatened or endangered.  If a project is known to kill wildlife, there is no legal recourse unless the species has been officially designated as endangered or threatened. 

The more herbicide we use, the more likely wildlife is to become endangered and therefore eligible for endangered status.  Monarch butterflies are a case in point.  Their dwindling population is attributed to the widespread use of herbicides on weeds that provide nectar and pollen needed by all pollinators, including monarchs.  Monarchs and bees are also directly harmed by insecticides such as neonicotinoids.

Hence, the EPA’s responsibility to conduct a scientific evaluation of the effect of herbicides on wildlife applied only to legally protected species.  However, it is essential to understand that the finding applies equally to all plants and animals, whether they are legally protected or not because the physiological processes of all species are similar.  For example, all legally protected amphibians are “likely adversely affected” by glyphosate, according to the EPA’s biological evaluation.  We must assume that all amphibians—whether protected or not—are also adversely affected by glyphosate.

California red-legged frogs are legally protected as an endangered species. Source: USGS
Pacific chorus frogs are not legally protected because they aren’t designated as threatened or endangered. Attribution

What’s to be done about pesticides that harm wildlife?

According to Sustainable Pulse the next official step is:  “The EPA’s evaluations now go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service in the final step of the consultation process to determine what on-the-ground conservation measures are needed to minimize harm to these species and ensure these pesticides do not push any endangered species towards extinction” 

Defenders of wildlife and the public lands on which they live should not stop there.  These are the logical consequences of the fact that the most widely used herbicides should not be used on our public lands:

  • Where pesticides have been banned, they are often accompanied by exemptions for ecological “restorations.”  For example, when rodenticides were banned in California in 2020, exemptions were made for projects claiming to “restore” habitat.  When UC Berkeley banned the use of glyphosate on lawns and playing fields, they exempted glyphosate use off-campus to “restore” habitat.  When East Bay Regional Parks banned glyphosate for use in developed areas such as parking lots and picnic areas, they exempted glyphosate use to “restore” habitat.  These exemptions should be rescinded because they are harmful to wildlife living on undeveloped public land.  Wildlife does not live on parking lots and playing fields.  Wildlife lives in undeveloped areas vegetated with both native and non-native plants.
  • The State of California recently granted a 3-year exemption from CEQA requirements for environmental impact review for projects claiming to “restore” habitat. Available HERE; see (11) This exemption should be revised so that projects that use pesticides are not eligible for exemption from CEQA requirements. 
  • Native plant advocates and “restoration” professionals must quit claiming that projects using herbicides will benefit wildlife, because clearly, they DON’T!
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Season’s Greetings!

This December marks ten years of the San Francisco Forest Alliance. We’d like to reiterate our commitment to protecting our trees and access, and opposing toxic pesticides in the coming years.

The San Francisco Forest Alliance wishes all our readers and supporters Season’s Greetings and a much better 2022!



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Beautiful Trees at Stow Lake to be Cut

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is cutting down more trees. Several supporters alerted us to warning notices on eight large, beautiful trees at Stow Lake that have been marked for destruction. Why? Apparently to repair the perimeter path and bring it into ADA Compliance.

Stow Lake is a good place for birds and wildlife; and these trees are part of their habitat. As one person pointed out:  “People come to the park for these trees — the huge, gnarled, old growth — not for the path: I think the priorities have been convoluted here!  An upgraded disability path can be extended on the lake side of the path to preserve the trees, and the path itself can be raised a little to preserve the roots.”



These are some of the magnificent trees that are to be destroyed.

Here’s what SFRPD has to say:

“Stow Lake Perimeter Path Renovation

Stow Lake is popular destination in Golden Gate Park for strolling, boating and picnicking. The existing asphalt path that circles the perimeter of the lake has deteriorated and is in need of repair. The project’s design will keep the perimeter path in its current alignment to minimize impact on the overall site and the landscaping. Additionally, the site furnishings will be refurbished.

Scope of Work
The intent of this project is to renovate the existing perimeter path at Stow Lake and the site furnishings, including benches and picnic tables to achieve ADA compliance. The construction will be performed in two phases so that half of the perimeter path will be open at all times. No work will be occurring in the area in front of the Boathouse. Eight trees adjacent to the path will be removed based on an arborist’s assessment of the trees’ risk ratings and condition or due to construction impacts. The trees will all be re-planted in a 2:1 ratio.

Funding Source

This project is being funded by multiple sources including the following:
Recovery Stimulus and Critical Repairs
General Fund
Mayor’s Office on Disability

We are currently wrapping up the design phase of the ADA Perimeter Path Project. Later this year, we will be advertising the project to potential bidders. We aim to award the construction contract by Spring/Summer of 2022. The project is anticipated to be complete by early 2023.”


In this era of climate change, every tree counts. While across the world, governments are mobilizing to preserve existing trees – especially large and mature ones – here in San Francisco we seem to want to get rid of them. Every project starts with, first let’s cut down trees. It’s an easy way to spend money and disburse funds, and requires no metric of success.

Is this what the disability community wants?

Could this project have been done without felling eight mature and beautiful trees? Well, obviously. Had the trees been a priority, we are sure the planners would have found a way to keep the trees while rebuilding the path. Architects and landscapers are ingenious at finding solutions. Cutting down trees is a short cut, and a bad one. Planting 2:1 – which as far as we can tell, is not being monitored for compliance – is insufficient. The value of a large tree is huge both in terms of carbon sequestration and habitat, not to mention beauty. It will be decades before any saplings reach that size and ecological contribution.


Write to the Project Manager Alexis Ward, to  SFRPD (and its General Manager Phil Ginsburg), and to the Mayor:


You can also find SFRPD and Phil Ginsburg on Twitter at @RecParkSF and @PhilGinsburgSF
And on Instagram at: @SFRecPark and @PGinsburg

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Toxic Roundup Herbicide, Fruiting Blackberry

The SFRPD’ Natural Resources Department (NRD) is spraying toxic herbicides on Golden Gate Heights park. The pesticides being used are Roundup (glyphosate) and Polaris (imazapyr). Someone recently saw this notice:

Sign indicating pesticide spraying Golden Gate Heights, San Francisco, Sept 2021

On the next visit, the sign indicated that the spraying had been completed on September 2, 2021.

Toxic herbicide notice - imazapyr and glyphosate - Golden Gate Heights San Francisco CA, showing spraying was completed.What’s really bad about this is that one of the target plants is blackberry. Now, while it’s fruiting season.

Blackberry bushes with ripe and unripe fruit


Back in 2017, we caught another such instance, at that time on Mount Davidson. We wrote to the Commission for the Environment in protest, and we published an article here with the details: Pesticides on Blackberry in the Fruiting Season

Here’s what we wrote then: “It’s the time of the year when the blackberry bushes bear fruit, to the delight of children and the public in general (and not a few animals and birds)…. NRD seems willing to go by the letter of the rules, not the spirit of it. Blackberry should not be treated with persistent herbicides at all, especially not in the fruiting season. It’s going to affect children, wildlife, and anyone who loves picking the berries in season… most parkgoers.

At the time, they used only Tier II herbicides. (SF’s Department of the Environment has a three-tier rating system for herbicides: Tier III, Least Hazardous; Tier II, More Hazardous; Tier I, Most Hazardous.) This time, according to the signs, they have used both imazapyr, which is Tier II and Roundup, which is Tier I.


In 2016, the SF Department of the Environment engaged in a lengthy process of trying to improve its restrictions on  some of the most problematic use of pesticides in our parks. (You can read the entire compliance guidelines here as a PDF. It’s from the SF Environment website.  sfe_th_ipm_compliance_checklist – Copy )

Among them, they developed these restrictions:

✓ A written recommendation from a licensed Agricultural Pest Control Advisor (PCA) is required for any pesticide use. Departments that do not have PCAs on staff should contact the SF Environment IPM Manager.

✓ Only pesticides on the current SF Reduced Risk Pesticide List may be used. Usage must fall within the “limitations” listed for each product, along with label requirements.

✓ ‘Most hazardous’ (Tier I) herbicides have special limitations:

  • Use is prohibited for purely cosmetic purposes.
  • Use is prohibited within 15 feet of designated paths. If a park map exists, designated paths are those found on the maps. Otherwise, designated paths are those actively maintained by staff.
  • Use is prohibited within 15 feet of schools, preschools, playgrounds, or other areas frequented by children.
  • Use on blackberry bushes is prohibited when fruit are present 
  • If within the City limits, use requires onsite supervision by a licensed person (PCA, QAL/QAC) o No broadcast spraying with a boom is permitted except for golf courses (targeted spraying only)
  • Certain pesticide use is restricted in designated Red-Legged Frog habitat, which includes Golden Gate Park, Lake Merced, and several other areas in San Mateo and Alameda County.

Clearly, NRD doesn’t care about the preferences of park-goers, who enjoy picking these berries, or it wouldn’t be trying to spray them in the fruiting season.

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We Need to Reduce Toxic Herbicide Use in San Francisco

This note is from Anastasia Glikshtern, an officer of San Francisco Forest Alliance and a long-time San Franciscan.

Why We Need the San Francisco Toxic Herbicides Reduction Act

Most San Francisco residents do not know that the city routinely uses high-toxicity herbicides in parks and on watersheds such as Hetch Hetchy, Crystal Springs, and Alameda.

I was the same. Since 1991 I’d lived less than half a block from the Rockdale entrance to the Mt. Davidson Park and for 9 years had no idea that SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) regularly uses toxic herbicides in the park.

At the end of the year 2000 I got a dog. The entrance to Mt. Davidson was so close, Glen Canyon on my way to the Alemany Farmers Market on Saturdays. The dog needed walking. We started walking regularly on Mt. Davidson and in Glen Canyon.

I started seeing the signs – “NOTICE Pesticide Application” – regularly.
The chemical names on the notices were not yet familiar to me – except for Roundup.

At a weeding workshop by SLUG at the San Francisco Garden for the Environment in 1992, the instructor was asked for advice on using Roundup on some difficult-to-eliminate plant. Her answer: “Never even think about using this poison”. She distributed a Glyphosate/Roundup fact sheet – quite a damning one.

When I first called IPM (Integrated Pest Management – the phone number is on the notices) to complain about the spraying, I was told that Roundup is very safe and, because of the way it works, it doesn’t go anywhere.

Today it is everywhere, and it has never been safe.

• In March of 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate (active ingredient of Roundup) as a “probable carcinogen”.
• In July of 2017 glyphosate was added to California’s Proposition 65 list (chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive effects).
• In August 2018, in DeWayne Lee Johnson v. Monsanto Company, a San Francisco jury awarded $289.2 million in damages to a former Benicia School District groundskeeper with terminal non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
• In March 2019, a jury in a federal court in San Francisco unanimously ordered Monsanto to pay roughly $80 million in damages for failing to warn plaintiff Edwin Hardeman of the cancer risks of Roundup herbicide.
• In May 2019, after less than two days of deliberations, a California jury found Monsanto guilty and ordered it to pay over $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages to a married couple who both developed non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma they say was caused by their many years of using Roundup products.
• The 4th trial started in San Bernardino with opening statements on August 5th 2021: https://usrtk.org/monsanto-roundup-trial-tracker-index/
• More than 100,000 people have filed lawsuits against Monsanto/Bayer claiming that Roundup – and the company lying about its safety – caused their lymphomas.

In 2015, the Annual Public Hearing Regarding Pest Management Activities on City Properties was packed. Most of the attendees were speaking against herbicides in parks. You can read about it here : (https://sfforest.org/2016/01/09/report-on-san-francisco-pesticides-meeting-next-is-jan-11-2016/)

The SFRPD herbicide use noticeably decreased in 2016. Then it started going up again in the following years. In 2020 it’s the highest we have records for. It is particularly bad in the SFRPD’s Natural Resource Division (NRD, formerly NAP).

The IPM boasts of huge percentage reductions in some category of herbicides (Tier I toxicity) or in particular herbicide/active ingredient. (SF Department of the Environment uses a three-tier classification for pesticides, where Tier III is Least Hazardous, Tier II is More Hazardous, and Tier I is Most Hazardous.)

However, it is good to keep in mind that the pesticides are moved from one tier to another (Roundup, which is currently Tier I, was Tier II before 2015), or the same active ingredient suddenly becomes “much safer” with a new inactive ingredient (Vastlan – new for SF – has the same active ingredient as Garlon, but is assigned to Tier II instead of Tier I). You can read about it here.

When asked at one of the Commission on the Environment meetings, to commit to reducing herbicide use, the IPM’s answer was: it is impossible, because they might need any and each of the herbicides on the “Reduced Risk” Pesticide List, and the quantity needed is impossible to predict.

When San Francisco Forest Alliance’s representative spoke about the risks of pesticide use at the 2019 Commission on the Environment meeting she was rebuked by a Commissioner, who said the matter should be left to the experts. If all is to be left to “experts” – why bother with public hearings – or, indeed, an Environment Commission?

The attendance at the pesticide hearings and the Commission on the Environment meetings regarding pesticides have decreased to almost zero, even before Covid restrictions. When writing a letter on the subject, I always think “Why bother? Why waste my time?”

I really want the city to stop spraying Roundup (glyphosate) and other toxic herbicide products. Though Roundup has been the focus recently, that’s only because it is so well-known, well-researched, and widely used. Other herbicides may well be as dangerous (and we know for sure that some are).

Other neighbors of Mt. Davidson, Glen Canyon, Bernal Hill, Bay View Hill, McLaren, Marietta Rocky Outcrop, Pine Lake, Twin Peaks, and many other parks, who walk there frequently, also regularly see notices of pesticide applications, or even the actual sprayings. These are neighborhood parks where families go with children and pets.

Unless there’s a law, there’s no way to reduce the use of toxic herbicides in our parks and watersheds. It just will not happen. Going to the voters is the only way to get it.

The ballot proposition, San Francisco Toxic Herbicides Reduction Act, is ready.
The website, https://stopherbicidessf.org/, has a legal text of the measure among other things. The law would ban the use of all herbicides, except organic and EPA minimum risk, on city property, excluding only SFO’s airfields, and Harding Park Golf Course which is under PGA contract.

It can be done! The claim that managing land without herbicides is impossible isn’t true:
• France banned all use of synthetic pesticides in public spaces in 2017, and banned garden use starting in 2019.
• There is a petition to follow the French example and ban all pesticides in UK gardens and urban areas.
• In Canada 170 cities and towns are pesticide free.
• Right next to us, in Marin, the Marin Municipal Water District has been herbicide free since 2005 (which was formally incorporated in law in 2015). Most towns in Marin County don’t use herbicides at all, and in the Town of Fairfax, a neighbor notification is required prior to the use of pesticides on private property.
• Right next to us, the City of Richmond had completely banned use of herbicides in weed abatement activities by the city or its contractors in 2016.
• In 2000 the Arcata City Council banned the use of pesticides on all properties owned or managed by the city, by unanimous vote. (The city hadn’t actually used them since 1986.) http://www.eastbaypesticidealert.org/Arcata.html
• Non-toxic Irvine, started by parents of kids with cancers, convinced the city of Irvine to switch from regular use of herbicides and toxic fertilizers to eliminating all of them under all circumstances and adopting a completely organic pest-management program. The new program also costs less (even with initial investments in soil augmentation included), and water use was reduced by 30%. https://ocweekly.com/how-irvine-became-socals-first-non-toxic-city-7317638/

Using herbicides is expensive. Pesticides are expensive. They need to be stored in certain way. The applicators need to be certified and supervised. Warning posting is required. Reporting is required.

In 1986 Arcata’s task force cost analysis compared the use of pesticide application to manual vegetation removal and found that increased labor costs were balanced by decreased costs of purchasing, applying, reporting and storing of the pesticides. According to Dan Diemer, Arcata’s Park Superintendent, “From a management perspective it’s actually easier to not use pesticides. The amount of training and paperwork that is required for pesticide use is intense.”

The city of Irvine found that financial benefits come along with ecological and health benefits from eliminating toxic pesticides from landscaping routines.

The parks of San Francisco belong to the people of San Francisco. They have paid to acquire those properties for public use in the past and we are now paying the salaries of those who are managing the parks. The management must not include poisoning of the environment.

[ETA: SFO’s Airfields also excluded from the ballot proposition.]

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Nearly 50 Trees on San Francisco’s Market Street Threatened

Here we go again.

San Francisco’s cutting down more trees, as though its paltry tree cover – less than any other major city – needed further depleting. This time, 49 trees on Market Street are planned to be felled to make way for fancy new BART station entrances.

BART entrance with trees – Market St San Francisco. (Copyright Lance Carnes)

These trees are part of San Francisco’s green infrastructure that the city should strive to protect, not heedlessly destroy. And they’re habitat.


Aside from providing nest sites for birds, these trees are the nursery tree of the beautiful butterfly, the Western Tiger Swallowtail. As early as nine years ago, when the Market Street trees were threatened by an ill-conceived street plan, these butterflies were documented as breeding in the London Plane trees (sycamore) that line both sides of market street. (You can read about that here with photos of a just-born butterfly.) These are the famous “Tigers of Market Street” that have been written about in the Smithsonian Magazine, in National Geographic’s Field Notes, in Bay Nature. This little urban ecosystem is a San Francisco treasure – a street that to a bug or bird’s eye, resembles a tree-lined river canyon. Cutting down 50 of these trees is a terrible idea.

(Though the public hearing is over, please do write to SFDPW, your supervisor and to BART about these trees. The relevant Order numbers are: 204929, 204930, 204931, 204932, 204933, 204934, 204935, 204936, 204937, 204938, 204939, 204940, 204941, 204942, 204943)


Trees are a vital part of urban infrastructure.

  • Trees fight pollution, especially particulate pollution that is dangerous to human lungs.
  • Trees improve air quality
  • Trees are good for physical and psychological health; to get the same benefit as living on a tree-lined street, you would have to be ten years younger.
  • Trees provide habitat for wildlife, especially birds and butterflies.
  • Trees help regulate water by absorbing it into their roots and gradually releasing it through their leaves.
  • Trees reduce crime and improve business.

For a detailed list of benefits, read Twenty Reasons Why Urban Trees are Important to Us All

A group that is trying to save these trees estimates their value at $500,000. In fact, given the infrastructure benefits of trees, that is an underestimate. It’s like putting a value on air: It’s free until you don’t have it, and then it’s infinitely valuable.

San Francisco has too few trees.

Unfortunately, every project seems to start with destroying trees – and neighbors never know about it until it’s a done deal and the trees have 30-days-to-death notices on them. Then they object… but the odds are against them. Though they sometimes succeed in saving the trees, more often it’s too late.  Meanwhile, the City seems to be entirely accepting of tree destruction for any and all reasons.

As of 2013, San Francisco had a tree canopy of only 13.7%, the lowest of any major city, and nearly half the appropriate canopy cover of 25%.  Given that this data is now 8 years old, in an administrative environment that favors cutting down trees over saving them, we expect the current situation is worse.

(From SF Data: In preparation for the San Francisco Urban Forest Plan (2013), the Planning Department performed an Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Analysis using aerial imagery and additional data sets to determine a canopy estimate for the City & County of San Francisco. This analysis estimated San Francisco’s tree canopy at 13.7%  )

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

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

This is an embarrassment for a “green” city, quite aside from the ecological, environmental and health reasons for saving our trees. Unfortunately, between Nativists, developers, and project managers, there seems to be a wave of tree cutting hitting San Francisco. We’re not augmenting our canopy, we’re shrinking it.

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Nesting in the Eucalyptus

Of course it’s no surprise to any of our readers that eucalyptus stands are an excellent resource for nesting birds. A colony of double-crested cormorants nests (or did nest) near Lake Merced; great horned owls nest in eucalyptus trees in Glen Canyon and Golden Gate Park; and flickers nest in an old eucalyptus tree in the Presidio.
But we loved this article by Dr. Allison J. Gong, a life-long Californian, and a marine biologist, backyard beekeeper, columnist for Bay Nature Magazine, and college-level biology professor.

This article was originally published at Notes From a California Naturalist  and is republished here with permission.

(As a comment, we don’t think eucalyptus is dying of “sheer old age” because eucs in California have not reached the typical 200-400 lifespan of these trees, though we don’t know about guano! And we appreciate her question: “At which point, however, does a species cease to be considered non-native?”)


In Morro Bay, CA, there is a stand of eucalyptus trees that has been designated a natural preserve. In 1973 the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve was established to protect great blue herons (Ardea herodias) as they nested. Since then other bird species have taken to nesting in these same trees. When we were there at the end of May we saw these species with nests in the eucalyptus trees:

  • Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)
  • Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
  • Great egret (Ardea alba)
  • Snowy egret (Egretta thula)

This particular rookery is not at all removed from human activity. It is right across the street from the municipal golf course and next to a hotel, and there is a walking/biking trail that runs directly under the trees. Signs advise people to keep their voices down, but pedestrians are walking under the trees all day, dodging the rainfall of guano from above. The birds don’t seem to be bothered.

Unlike the Brandt’s cormorants (Phalacrocorax penicillatus), which nest on cliffs and rocks, the double-crested cormorants nest in trees. Birds build nests with local materials, and there is a difference in what I could see making up the nests of these two species. The Brandt’s cormorants at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz were using seaweeds as the main building material; I could see birds flying back with algae in their beaks, and then either handing it off to a mate on the nest or tucking it into the existing structure itself. In some cases I could see the pieces of algae well enough to make a tentative ID.

Brandt's cormorants (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) nesting on rock arch at Natural Bridges 2021-05-14 © Allison J. Gong

Brandt’s cormorants (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) nesting on rock arch at Natural Bridges 2021-05-14 © Allison J. Gong

Those are the Brandt’s cormorants. The double-crested cormorants nest in the trees, as we saw at the heron rookery. Here’s a pair that have a brood of three chicks:

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) parents and trio of chicks 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) parents and trio of chicks 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

At Morro Bay, which is an estuary rather than a rocky area, the double-crested cormorants use a lot of eelgrass (Zostera marina) in their nests. Eelgrass is very abundant in the Morro Bay harbor and Estero, whereas the birds would have to fly a bit farther to gather algae. Eelgrass, being a true plant, is less slimy than the algae are, and these cormorants’ nests look much drier than the mounds of algae used by the Brandt’s cormorants up in Santa Cruz.

A short distance up the coast at San Simeon the double-crested cormorants were nesting in a smaller rookery, also in eucalyptus trees. I liked the pattern of how these four nests were situated in three-dimensional space:

Double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) nesting at San Simeon 2021-05-23 @ Allison J. Gong

Double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) nesting at San Simeon 2021-05-23 @ Allison J. Gong

Returning to goings-on at the heron rookery in Morro Bay, the herons and egrets were also raising youngsters in that stand of eucalyptus trees. Remember, this rookery is very easily visited by humans. Here’s a view of the trees, taken from the small parking area:

Heron Rookery Natural Preserve in Morro Bay, California 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Heron Rookery Natural Preserve in Morro Bay, California 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

It’s difficult to photograph the nests because of all the branches obscuring the view. We were also there near mid-day, with the overhead sun making lighting conditions less than favorable for good photography. I did find one comparatively visible heron nest, containing one parent and one sullen punk-ass teenager of a chick. The nestling had started growing feathers but was still almost half fluff, clearly not ready to fly yet.

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) nest at the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) nest at the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Both great egrets (Ardea alba) and snowy egrets (Egretta thula) nest at the heron rookery. Here’s a great egret nest with two chicks:

Great egret (Ardea alba) nest at the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Great egret (Ardea alba) nest at the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

From what I could see, the herons and egrets don’t use any marine material at all to build their nests. One factor that determines the suitability of a potential building material is proximity—even if a certain material is fantastic in other ways, birds may not use it (or may use less of it, compared to other materials) if it costs too much energy to fetch and bring back to the nesting site. For the herons at this site, sticks are easy to come by. Another thing to consider is that herons and egrets are not marine birds. Although some populations live and nest in coastal areas, most do not. Thus it is not surprising that their nests are built from materials that are terrestrial rather than marine.

I did not see any snowy egret nests in areas where they could be photographed well. However, there were some adult snowies in their spectacular breeding plumage. There was enough of a breeze to ruffle up those long plumes that used to be harvested to decorate ladies’ hats.

Look at these beautiful birds!

Adult snowy egret (Egretta thula) in breeding plumage 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Adult snowy egret (Egretta thula) in breeding plumage 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Adult snowy egret (Egretta thula) in breeding plumage 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Adult snowy egret (Egretta thula) in breeding plumage 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

For several decades now, the cormorants, herons, and egrets have been nesting in these eucalyptus trees, which brings to mind the consideration of native versus non-native species. The trees themselves, blue gum eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) are non-native, having been imported to California from Australia starting in the 1870s. This introduction was encouraged by calls to replace native trees that had been cleared for fuel and building material, both of which were desperately needed during and after the Gold Rush. Since ecologists began considering the effects of non-native species in the 1980s there has been a backlash against the blue gums. Given their large size, their having been planted in groups to serve as windbreaks, and their propensity for dropping a lot of debris, they are very conspicuous, and it is easy to get all hot and bothered at how in certain places they dominate the landscape.

Great egret (Ardea alba) in flight 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

Great egret (Ardea alba) in flight 2021-05-23 © Allison J. Gong

At which point, however, does a species cease to be considered non-native? Having been established in California for 150 years, what is the role of E. globulus in the ecology of the Golden State? There are many people and organizations that would like to see the blue gums eradicated, or at least their populations greatly reduced. On the other side of the argument, groups such the San Francisco Forest Alliance posit that blue gums should be treasured as heritage trees.

At the Heron Rookery, some of the eucalyptus trees are dying. One reason is sheer old age. Another is the several decades’ accumulation of bird wastes onto the soil, which is slowly killing the trees. As the blue gums die, the birds will have to find other places to nest. One of the pro-eucalyptus arguments is that many species of native birds—not just these here but other species such as red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, and a whole host of songbirds—nest in eucalyptus trees throughout the state. If the blue gums are removed, then where will these undoubtedly native birds nest? Especially if the native trees have long been gone?

Taking the long view, my guess is that the birds will figure it out. Ecological communities evolve over thousands of years. The 150 years of the eucalyptus trees’ presence in California seems like a long time, but in terms of ecological time they are merely a blink of the eye. The herons, egrets, and cormorants have been nesting at the Heron Rookery for an even shorter period of time. When this stand of blue gums is gone, due to either natural attrition or removal by humans, the birds will find another place to nest. They might not choose a place that is so easily visited and observed by people, though.

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Why Large-Scale Native Plant “Restoration” Cannot Work

This article discusses two approaches to native plant restoration. One creates jobs and provides healthy outdoor opportunities. The other poisons plants with synthetic chemicals. Neither actually works to restore native plants.
Reprinted from Conservation Sense and Nonsense with permission and minor changes.



There are chemical and non-chemical approaches to native plant restoration. Neither succeeds.  Non-chemical methods are labor-intensive, which makes them prohibitively expensive.  Chemicals are cheaper and they kill non-native plants, but they don’t restore native plants because they kill them and damage the soil. Either strategy must be repeated continuously to be maintained.

This article is the 25-year story of reaching the conclusion that neither chemical nor non-chemical approaches are capable of restoring native plants on a landscape scale.  Where do we go from here?

In 2014, the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) conducted a survey of land managers to learn what methods they were using to control plants they considered “invasive.”  The Cal-IPC survey reported that herbicides are used by 94% of land managers and 62% use them frequently.  Glyphosate was the most frequently used herbicide by far. In 2014, no other eradication method was used more frequently than herbicides.

Pie chart showing land managers' use of pesticide to kill "invasive" plants. 72% used them Frequently or Always.r

Frequency of herbicide use by land managers in California to kill “invasive” plants. Source California Invasive Plant Council, 2014


We have learned a great deal about the dangers of herbicides since 2014. 

  • The World Health Organization has categorized the most frequently used herbicide—glyphosate—as a probable carcinogen.
  • The manufacturer of glyphosate, Monsanto-Bayer, was successfully sued by terminally ill users of glyphosate.  These product liability lawsuits resulted in multi-million dollar awards for damages. The awards were reduced on appeal but ultimately upheld.  Monsanto has agreed to pay more than $10 billion to settle close to 100,000 product liability claims.
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency has finally published its Biological Evaluation (BE) of the impact of glyphosate products (all registered formulations of glyphosate products were studied) on endangered animals (mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, invertebrates) and plants. The BE reports that 1,676 endangered species are “likely adversely affected” by glyphosate products. That is93% of the total of 1,795 endangered species evaluated by the study. Both agricultural and non-agricultural uses of glyphosate products were evaluated by the BE. Although only endangered plants and animals were evaluated by the BE, we should assume that all other plants and animals are likewise harmed by glyphosate because the botanical and physiological functions of plants and animals are the same, whether or not they are endangered. 


San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department has increased the use of herbicides in public parks every year since 2016.  In 2020, herbicide use increased significantly from 243 applications in 2019 to 295 applications in 2020.  SF RPD has been spraying herbicides on non-native plants for over 20 years.  They have been using hazardous herbicides on some 50 target plant species year after year. The longer they use them, the more resistance to the herbicides the plant develops.

Bar chart showing pesticide use in San Francisco's "natural areas" increased sharply from year 2016 to 2020.

Herbicides used by Natural Resource Division of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Source San Francisco Forest Alliance based on public records of pesticide use

Chris Geiger, director of the integrated pest management program at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, told San Francisco Public Press that although the city has reduced its use of glyphosate outside parks, it won’t ban glyphosate because it hasn’t found a more efficient or safer alternative for controlling some weeds. He said, “In habitat management, there are certain plants you cannot remove from a natural area by hand.”

San Francisco’s IPM program recently published  “Pest Prevention by Design Guide” that illustrates the bind they are in with respect to promoting native plants while trying to reduce pesticide use.  On the one hand, the Guide promotes the use of native plants in landscape design plans by making the usual claim that “Native species are generally best suited to supporting local insect populations and ecosystems.”  On the other hand, the Guide recommends the use of “pest resistant” species that are not eaten by insects and grazing animals and are capable of outcompeting weeds.  Can’t have it both ways, folks!!

East Bay Regional Park District has made a commitment to phase out the use of glyphosate in developed areas such as parking lots, playgrounds and picnic areas.  However, EBRPD remains committed to using glyphosate and other herbicides to eradicate non-native plants on undeveloped park land. In 2020, no glyphosate was used in developed areas, but about 23 gallons of glyphosate were used to eradicate non-native plants on undeveloped park land. Twenty-one gallons of triclopyr were also used to eradicate non-native shrubs and to prevent non-native trees from resprouting after they were cut down. They continued the 15-year effort to eradicate spartina marsh grass with imazapyr. A few other selective herbicides were used on other eradication projects. (2)

In the San Francisco Bay Area, most land managers are still committed to using herbicides, particularly in so-called “natural areas,” regardless of the damage herbicides do to human health, wildlife, and native plants.  In fact, the City of Oakland is planning to begin using herbicides on 2,000 acres of public parks and open spaces for the first time to implement its vegetation management plan.  The vegetation management plan is both a fuels reduction program and a “resource protection” program, which is a euphemism for native plant “restoration.”

Given what we now know about the dangers of herbicides, why are public land managers still committed to using herbicides?  The City of Oakland explains in the EIR for its vegetation management plan why it is proposing the use of herbicides where they were prohibited in the past:

“It is estimated that if the City were to rely on hand removal and mechanical treatments in place of herbicide, it would cost the City up to 40 times more to treat these areas than under the VMP. The cost for herbicide treatments, not including any associated physical treatments, is approximately $250-$500 per acre. This reflects a range of potential vegetation conditions, vegetation types, and densities. The cost for hand removal and mechanical treatments is estimated at approximately $1,000-$4,000 per acre, using the same range of site-specific conditions.” (page 5-9)

In other words, herbicides are the preferred method of killing non-native plants because it is the cheapest method.  However, there is another reason why herbicides are preferred to non-chemical methods.  There isn’t a non-chemical method that is more effective than using herbicides.


As we should expect, new information about glyphosate has increased the public’s awareness of the dangers of pesticides.  California Invasive Plant Council has responded to the public’s growing awareness and concern about the herbicides to which they are exposed in our public parks and open spaces.  They recently published a comprehensive 300-page brochure entitled “Best Management Practices for Non-Chemical Weed Control.”  (1) Many highly qualified land managers participated in the preparation of this credible publication.  The Cal-IPC brochure is credible because it frankly admits that no method of eradication is without problems.  Irrigation and intensive planting are required for good results, but without continuing regular maintenance the results are only temporary.  Few land managers have the resources needed for success.

If you wonder why herbicides are the preferred method of eradicating non-native plants, reading Cal-IPC’s brochure about non-chemical methods will tell you why.  There is no non-chemical method that achieves better results than using herbicide. 


Herbicides are the most frequently used method of killing non-native plants, but using herbicides does NOT result in a native landscape.  “Lessons learned from invasive plant control experiments:  a systematic review and meta-analysis,” analyzed 355 studies published from 1960 to 2009 to determine which control efforts were most effective at eradicating the target plants and which method was most successful in restoring native plants. The analysis found that “More than 55% of the studies applied herbicide for invasive plant control.” Herbicides were most effective at reducing invasive plant cover, “but this was not accompanied by a substantial increase in native species,” because, “Impacts to native species can be greatest when programs involve herbicide application.”  It’s not possible to kill non-native plants without simultaneously killing native plants and damaging the soil.


Public land managers in the San Francisco Bay Area have been trying to restore native landscapes for over 25 years.  Every project begins by eradicating non-native plants, usually with herbicides.  Our public parks have been poisoned repeatedly, but native landscapes have not replaced the plants that were killed.  Meanwhile, we have learned that herbicides are dangerous to our health and animals who live in our parks.

Oyster Bay is a park in San Leandro that was built on a former garbage dump on landfill in the San Francisco Bay.  The garbage was capped with barren soil and many acres were planted with native bunch grass, as shown in these photos.  This “restoration” method is called competitive planting. The bunch grasses did not survive and the ground was quickly colonized by weeds that were then sprayed with herbicides.

The only viable alternative to using herbicides to “restore” native plants is to change the goals for native plant restorations such that herbicides won’t be required: 

  • An exclusively native landscape cannot be achieved where native plants have never existed, such as the many parks along the bay waterfront that were built on landfill.  It is an unrealistic goal.
  • Given that no effective method of achieving this unrealistic goal has been found after 25 years and the most popular method is poisoning our environment, it is time to stop trying.
  • Smaller, achievable goals must be set.  Landscape scale projects should be abandoned and replaced with small scale projects where native plants already exist.
  • Smaller areas can be managed without using herbicides because they will be affordable to manage with labor-intensive methods that are more expensive.
  • If smaller projects are more successful, they will be less controversial.  The projects are unpopular partly because they aren’t successful.

The native plant movement in the San Francisco Bay Area has bitten off more than it can chew.  Native plant advocates need to back out of their dead end and regroup with plans that are less destructive and more realistic.  As the Economist magazine said in 2015, “you can garden in a garden, but you can’t garden nature.”

(1) California Invasive Plant Council offered free video training for non-chemical methods of killing “invasive” plants on May 4, 2021, 1-5 pm.

(2) 2020 IPM Report, East Bay Regional Park District available HERE.   

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The National Park Service has an Epiphany


This article is reprinted with permission and minor edits from Conservation Sense and Nonsense.

“We were probably always wrong to think about protected places as static.” – NPS Scientist

Featured Photo from RAD Natural Resource Report.  Photo caption: “Multiple federal agencies, including the National Park Service (Bandelier National Monument), tribes, and others steward the East Jemez Mountains ecosystem of New Mexico, an ecologically transforming landscape where massive forest die-off is projected to occur more frequently in the future. Piñon pines, normally evergreen, have reddish-brown foliage in October 2002 (left). By May 2004 (right), the dead piñon pines lost all their needles, exposing gray trunks and branches. The photos were taken from the same vantage point near Los Alamos, N.M. Forest drought stress is strongly correlated with tree mortality from poor growth, bark beetle outbreaks, and high-severity fire. Credit: C. Allen, USGS” (1)

During the Trump administration federal agencies were forced to be silent about climate change.  Behind closed doors, many federal agencies were quietly preparing for the day when they would be able to begin the process of adapting to climate change.

Shortly after the 2020 presidential election, the National Park Service published a natural resources report that announced a radical departure from traditional conservation strategy that was based on an assumption that nature is static and evolution a historical event.  “Resist-Accept-Direct—A framework for the 21st century resource manager” acknowledged that the rapidly changing climate requires a new approach based on the knowledge that nature is dynamic and evolution is a current and continuous event.  Many other federal agencies participated in the preparation of the report, which implies that other federal agencies may adopt the new conservation strategy. (1)

In April 2021, the National Park Service published policy guidance for park managers based on the principles of “Resist-Accept-Direct.” The New York Times interviewed the lead author of the policy guidance, who described the new conservation strategy of the National Park Service:   “The concept of things going back to some historical fixed condition is really just no longer tenable.” 

Acadia National Park, Maine

An ecologist and the science coordinator of Acadia National Park in Maine told NY Times what this new strategy meant to him and his colleagues.  He said that as recently as 2007 protected areas like the national parks were still being thought about as static places that could be preserved forever with the right techniques. “We weren’t being trained on how to manage for change,” he said. “We were being trained on how to keep things like they were in the past.”  That means nearly everyone in his line of work was caught unprepared for the current reality. “You have a whole profession of people having to shift how we think.  We were probably always wrong to think about protected places as static.”


The federal law that established the National Park Service in 1916, defined its mission:

“…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”   H.R. 15522, An Act to establish a National Park Service, engrossed August 5, 1916 (1)  

Preservation was the original mission of the National Park Service.  In 1963, the mission of the National Park Service was radically changed by the Leopold Report, written by A. Starker Leopold, the son of Aldo Leopold.  The Leopold Report recommended a goal for national parks of maintaining historical conditions as closely as possible to those “of primitive America.”  When the Leopold Report was adopted as official policy by the National Park Service in 1967, it committed NPS to restoring park lands to pre-settlement conditions:

“Passive protection is not enough. Active management of the natural environment, plus a sensitive application of discipline in park planning, use, and development, are requirements for today’ Simultaneously, that edition of NPS policies also described the primary management task as a seemingly simple undertaking: ‘[safeguard] forests, wildlife, and natural features against direct removal, impairment, or destruction,’ and ‘[apply] ecological management techniques to neutralize the unnatural influences of man, thus permitting the natural environment to be maintained essentially by natural agents’” (1)

In 1967, the land management goals of the National Park Service became more ambitious.  The goal of “preservation” was replaced by the goal of “restoring” historic landscapes and ecosystems.  The pre-settlement landscape of 500 years ago on the East Coast and 250 years ago on the West Coast was established as the baseline landscape that NPS was committed to re-creating.  The baseline landscape was presumed to be “pristine” although it had been actively gardened by indigenous people for thousands of years.


The National Park Service calls its new land management strategy the RAD framework, an acronym that summarizes three alternative strategies:

  1. “Resist the trajectory of change, by working to maintain or restore ecosystem processes, function, structure, or composition based upon historical or acceptable current conditions.
  2. “Accept the trajectory of change, by allowing ecosystem processes, function, structure, or composition to change, without intervening to alter their trajectory.
  3. “Direct the trajectory of change, by actively shaping ecosystem processes, function, structure, or composition towards desired new conditions.” (1)

Every land management decision will choose among these alternatives based on an analysis that will begin with a climate assessment. Instead of looking to the past for guidance, the planning process will assess current conditions and project future climate conditions.  Based on that assessment, the purpose of land management plans will be adaptation to current and anticipated conditions.  Every plan will be designed for a specific place, based on specific current and anticipated conditions.  There is no one-size-fits-all plan, only a framework for devising individual plans tailored for specific parks or ecosystems within parks.

The new strategy also makes a commitment to monitor the project as plans are implemented and modify the strategy as the environment continues to change and the ecosystem responds to land management.  This is called “adaptive management” and it is essential in a rapidly changing environment. The project doesn’t end, because nature never stops changing.  It’s a process for which there is no end-stage.

It’s a challenging strategy, but one that has the potential to be less destructive than the “restoration” paradigm that always began by destroying plants and animals perceived as intruders without historical precedents.  Precisely what it will mean remains to be seen.  There will probably be pockets of resistance from those who remain committed to the “restoration” paradigm and those who are economically dependent on existing projects.  All the more reason to continue to watch what is being done and participate in whatever public process is available


There are undoubtedly hundreds, perhaps thousands of NPS projects that are based on the ambitious restoration goals of the 1963 Leopold Report.  Perhaps some were successful.  My personal knowledge of NPS projects is limited to those in the San Francisco Bay Area, my home.

Point Reyes National Seashore

An attempt to eradicate European beach grass in the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) is an example of an NPS “restoration” project that should be abandoned if the new RAD framework is implemented.  The PRNS project was described by NPS staff at the 2018 conference of the California Invasive Plant Council, a source and a setting that should be considered credible by the most ardent supporters of ecological “restorations.”

About 60% of sand dunes in the Point Reyes National Seashore were covered in European beach grass when the eradication effort began in 2000.  The goal of the project was to restore native dune plants and increase the population of endangered snowy plovers that nest on bare sand.  The project began by manually pulling beach grass from 30 acres of dunes at Abbott’s Lagoon.  The grass grew back within one year, presumably because the roots of the beach grass are about 10 feet long.  Manually pulling the grass from the surface does not destroy the roots.

A new method was devised that was more successful with respect to eradicating the beach grass.  The grass and its roots were plowed up by bulldozers and buried deep in the sand.  The cost of that method was prohibitively expensive at $25,000 to $30,000 per acre and the barren sand caused other problems.  The barren dunes were mobile in the wind.  Sand blew into adjacent ranches and residential areas, causing neighbors of the park to object to the project.  The sand also encroached into areas where there were native plants, burying them.  The bare sand was eventually colonized by “secondary invaders.”  Different non-native plants replaced the beach grass because they were more competitive than the desired native plants.

In 2011, the National Park Service adopted a third strategy for converting beach grass to native dune plants.  They sprayed the beach grass with a mixture of glyphosate and imazapyr.  At $2,500 to $3,000 per acre, this eradication method was significantly cheaper than the mechanical method.  However, it resulted in different problems that prevented the establishment of native dune plants.  The poisoned thatch of dead beach grass was a physical barrier to successful seed germination and establishment of a new landscape.  Where secondary invaders were capable of penetrating the dead thatch, the resulting vegetation does not resemble native dunes.

Presentation at California Invasive Plant Council conference regarding attempt to eradicate European beach grass at Point Reyes National Seashore, November 2018

The concluding slides of the presentation of NPS staff about this project were stunning.  The slides said it is a “Restoration fallacy that killing an invader will result in native vegetation.”  My 20-plus years of watching these futile efforts confirm this reality.  However, I never expected to hear that said by someone actually engaged in this effort.  The presenter mused that such projects are like Sisyphus trying to roll a boulder up hill.

Presentation at California Invasive Plant Council conference regarding attempt to eradicate European beach grass at Point Reyes National Seashore. November 2018



The realization—or perhaps acknowledgement—that the NPS strategy of re-creating historical landscapes is unrealistic was a long time coming.  Over the 50 years that the “restoration” strategy was attempted much unnecessary damage was done.  Useful, functional landscapes were destroyed.  Healthy trees were destroyed solely because they were planted by Europeans.  Animals were killed because they were perceived to be competitors of “native” animals.  Herbicides poisoned the soil, preventing regeneration or germination of new vegetation.  Established landscapes that had not needed irrigation were replaced with native plants that required irrigation.  Stabilizing vegetation was destroyed, resulting in erosion and drifting sand. 

The National Park Service has awakened to the failure of their “restoration” strategy because of the combination of failed projects that were based on mistaken assumptions and the impacts of climate change. NPS led public land managers into the dead end of attempting to re-create historical landscapes. Now NPS will lead public land managers out of that dead end into the reality of a changed environment with a rapidly changing future. Better late than never.

  1. Schuurman, G. W., C. Hawkins Hoffman, D. N. Cole, D. J. Lawrence, J. M. Morton, D. R. Magness, A. E. Cravens, S. Covington, R. O’Malley, and N. A. Fisichelli. 2020. Resist-accept-direct (RAD)—a framework for the 21st-century natural resource manager. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2020/ 2213. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado. https://doi.org/10.36967/nrr-2283597
  2. Planning for a Changing Climate: Climate-Smart Planning and Management in the National Park Service, NPS, April 2021.  https://toolkit.climate.gov/reports/planning-changing-climate-climate-smart-planning-and-management-national-park-service


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NRD Herbicide Use Shoots Up in 2020 in San Francisco

As we have been doing for many years now, we compiled the pesticide usage data  for San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department for 2020.  It’s getting worse year by year. Toxic herbicide use (i.e. herbicides classified as “More Hazardous” or “Most Hazardous”) has risen for the fifth year in a row.

(We exclude Harding Park – but not the other golf courses – from this analysis because it’s externally-managed under a PGA contract to be kept tournament-ready at all times.)


San Francisco’s parks are increasingly doused in toxic herbicides. In 2020, SFRPD applied herbicides 295 times, up from 243 in 2019. It’s actually the highest number since 2013, when we started compiling these data.

Of these, 201 applications were by the NRD in “Natural Areas” (this includes PUC areas managed in the same way – i.e. use of toxic herbicides against plants they dislike). The Natural Resources Department (NRD, formerly the Natural Areas Program or NAP) is the entity that in trying to bring “native” plants to more than a thousand acres of our parks, cuts down trees and restrict access to people and their pets. This is up from 144 NRD/ PUC applications in 2019. NRD, which accounts for perhaps a fourth of the land area, used nearly one half of the pesticides measured as active ingredients in fluid ounces.

NRD – and PUC lands that they are managing the same way – have sharply increased their use of triclopyr since the new pesticide Vastlan has been designated Tier II (More Hazardous) instead of Garlon, which was Tier I (Most Hazardous). In both herbicides, the active ingredient is triclopyr. They also increased their usage of other herbicides: Glyphosate, imazapyr, Milestone.


The NRD’s continually growing usage of the herbicides is a sign that this strategy is failing. They have been using hazardous chemicals on some 50 target species year after year. Theoretically, the point of  using toxic herbicides on unwanted species is to allow the desired species to replace them.  Instead, the growing usage of these chemicals shows that if anything, the situation is only made worse.

This stands to reason; “invasive” plants are successful because they are better adapted to current conditions. If they are destroyed with herbicides, the replacement is likely to be the next best adapted (thus, invasive) species. Given 50 target species, the bench is deep. This leads to a vicious cycle of hazardous herbicide use, clearly visible in the graph above.


Besides NRD, the rest of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department also increased their usage of pesticides to the highest level since 2013. In the last couple of years, they have been using a range of herbicides all classified as Tier II. These include Axxe, Suppress, Clearcast, Lifeline and Sapphire.



San Francisco’s Department of the Environment (SFEnvironment) assigns Tier hazard ratings to the various pesticides it uses. Tier III is Least Hazardous, Tier II is More Hazardous, and Tier I is Most Hazardous.  Over the years we have been following this usage, we have seen various chemicals being moved from one Tier to another. Milestone was moved from Tier I to Tier II; Glyphosate (Roundup, Aquamaster)  from Tier II to Tier I; and triclopyr (Garlon, Garlon 4 Ultra, Turflon, Vastlan) from Tier I to Tier II (for Vastlan and Turflon). Avenger has been moved from Tier II to Tier III, which we think makes sense and makes analysis easier.

We analyze the usage of Tier I and Tier II herbicides.


SF Forest Alliance has been trying to encourage SF Environment to spearhead a reduction in herbicide use. Some years ago, it appeared that pesticide usage was declining, especially after the Roundup revelations. When we wrote our Pesticides report for 2016, the other areas of SFRPD had slashed their herbicide use; the NRD accounted for 74% of pesticide usage. By 2017, hazardous herbicide use was creeping up again.

In August 2019, we attended the annual meeting of the SF Environmental Commission about certifying the so-called Reduced Risk Pesticide List. When we spoke about the risks of pesticide use, we were rebuked by a Commissioner, who said the matter should be left to the experts.

We were dismayed. Aside from questions about why bother with public hearings – or indeed an Environment Commission – if it’s all to be left to “experts”, we were concerned the comment gave permission for much more pesticide use.

It seems the 2020 data have borne out that fear

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Respect the Nest – Wildcare Thinks of Baby Animals and Birds

Recently, Wildcare – a wild animal rehab organization – published a warning. It’s nesting season and they ask everyone to RESPECT the NEST. It’s republished here with permission.
Respect the Nest by Michael Schwab

With the help of nationally-acclaimed artist Michael Schwab, WildCare asks you to Respect the Nest this spring and summer! Learn more!

It’s almost springtime in the Bay Area, and even as you read this [post] email, birds, squirrels and other animals are nesting and preparing for their newborn and newly-hatched babies in your trees, shrubs and hedges.

First baby squirrels of 2021 Copyight Wildcare

WildCare has already admitted our first tiny, pink baby squirrels of the year!

Our Wildlife Hospital admits hundreds of injured and orphaned baby animals every spring and summer, many of them victims of tree-trimming and pruning accidents.

Michael Schwab created the Respect the Nest graphic to help us remind everyone to delay non-emergency tree-trimming and pruning until winter to avoid orphaning baby animals!

How can YOU Respect the Nest? Click to learn how to spot nesting activity and protect the wildlife in your yard.

Then join us for a free, informative Respect the Nest webinar presentation on Tuesday, March 9 [2021] at 6pm!

[The webinar is over. View the recording of the seminar on Youtube HERE.]

Attendees will learn:
– What animals may be using your trees and shrubs as a nursery… even as you read this!

– How to tell if there are active nests in your yard.

– What to do if you inadvertently cut down a nest or if you find an
injured animal.

– When it’s safe (and better for your trees) to prune and trim.

– How WildCare cares for baby animals orphaned by tree trimming.

Many people don’t know that timing our tree and shrub pruning is just one simple way we can minimize harm to wildlife.

Please Respect the Nest this spring and summer and help prevent baby animals from becoming orphaned.

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Toxic Herbicide on Mt Davidson – Triclopyr on Oxalis

In June 2020, we reported that SFRPD was using a new version of an old toxic pesticide: Vastlan, with the active ingredient Triclopyr. (The same as in Garlon, which was the single most toxic herbicide they used.)

Neighbor and videographer Ron Proctor took this video of a whole team of people applying this pesticide against oxalis, the popular pretty weed that Nativists love to hate. (The video is used here with permission.)

Click on the picture to go to the video


Oxalis is also known as sourgrass. Children like to eat it; it provides copious nectar for bees and butterflies; and wildlife eats the root bulbs, called bulbils. And lots of people like the sheer beauty of this early harbinger of spring.

See this ABC7 News report headlined Large flower bloom wows drivers on Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County

Glorious field of yellow oxalis in Santa Cruz CA

(CLICK on the picture above to go to the report.)

Toxic herbicides? Not so popular. Especially on a steep slope like this, in wind and rain conditions, the herbicide is bound to travel downhill. Whether intentionally or not, it’s going to spread through the soil.

We have for many years been asking San Francisco to stop using toxic pesticides. Only a loud public outcry is likely to have any impact.

Honeybee in oxalis flower

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