Trees Matter: Mc Laren Park and Environmental Justice

This is one of our park visitor posts, written by a neighbor of McLaren Park. The Natural Areas Program targets over 800 trees in McLaren Park for destruction.

TREES MATTER by Ren Volpe

My San Francisco neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by freeways. Interstates 101 and 280 are busy spewing exhaust all day and most of the night. Breezes and fog from the ocean help dissipate some of the smog, but on windless days the air hangs heavy and dense. The only thing saving our air quality is the trees.

The Excelsior is not your typical rich San Francisco neighborhood. It is mostly families and working class folks. The tech buses have not found their way down our streets and our main retail corridor is filled with nail salons, dollar stores, pot clubs, and boarded up storefronts. Despite having nearly 40,000 residents, sometimes it feels like we are a forgotten neighborhood. Tourist maps often omit the entire south end of San Francisco and visitors have been known to ask whether they are still in The City.

The wealthier a neighborhood, the more trees it has. Rich people have trees, poor people get cement. This is especially true in the Excelsior, Visitacion Valley, and the Portola, where the single-family homes are modest and many front yards are paved over and littered with old cars. Our sidewalks are “tree poor” compared to wealthy Noe Valley and posh Pacific Heights. But the working class neighborhoods on the southeast side of San Francisco have one thing going for them : McLaren Park.

McLaren Park San Francisco copyright Ren Volpe

McLaren Park is the second biggest park in San Francisco, after Golden Gate Park. It is as wild and isolated as Golden Gate Park is manicured and visited. It is possible to hike miles of trails without seeing another person. I have seen foxes, coyotes, red-tail hawks, and great horned owls on my daily walks. In many parts of the park birdsong drowns out the constant drone of the freeways and the tree canopy blocks the cityscape. McLaren is our little piece of paradise in this urban corner of the City.

McLaren Park sunrise copyright Ren Volpe in San FranciscoRecently I found out that San Francisco’s Rec and Park Department has big plans for this urban oasis: the Natural Areas Program. The plan calls for cutting down many hundreds of healthy trees in an attempt to recreate the native scrubland that existed in the 1700’s. The trees slated for removal are not only eucalyptus, but mature and healthy Monterey Pine and Cypress, among others. Millions of our tax dollars have already been spent on this boondoggle, while maintenance in our park is practically nonexistent.

The “Natural Areas Plan” claims about ⅓ of San Francisco’s city parks, but Rec and Park’s biggest conquest yet may be McLaren Park. Could it be because the southeast corner of the city is the least rich, the least white, and the least likely to oppose this butchering? Almost 50% of the population in adjacent neighborhoods are foreign-born and speak english as a second language. People on this side of town don’t have the same political clout and connections as those living in wealthier neighborhoods. Even chopping down dying trees in other parts of the city creates a community uproar. When it comes to environmental justice, our hood is just not rich enough and not white enough.

Trees clean the air, absorb traffic noise, and provide respite from our hectic city lives. As the Bay Area becomes more populated, we all need more access to public green space. John McLaren created the park in 1927 in order to save the area from development. Now we have to save it from clearcutting.

McLaren was originally mostly coastal shrubland. Three-quarters of lush Golden Gate Park was originally sand dunes. Sutro Forest was desolate, sandy and wind whipped. Whether you agree with “native plant restoration”, the bigger question here is, should a beautiful yet neglected city park surrounded by freeways and adjacent to tree-poor neighborhoods be slated for such a project?

san francisco sand dunes

Sand dunes in Golden Gate Park – source: sfbotanicalgardens.org

SF Rec and Park maintain that they just don’t have enough money to pay for proper garbage cans and trash pick ups, trail and tree maintenance, repairing crumbling playgrounds, and other upgrades that McLaren desperately needs. But the department apparently has enough money for spraying cancer-causing herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup), cutting down healthy trees, and fencing off large parts of our park to visitors. The Natural Areas Program may have a different budget category within the Rec and Park department, but it all comes from our tax money.

Our city and our neighborhoods need more trees, not less. San Francisco has the smallest tree canopy of any major U.S. city. Poor children and children who live near freeways have higher rates of asthma, and studies show that a dense urban tree canopy can decrease these high rates of childhood asthma. Children in the southeastern part of San Francisco have the highest asthma rates in the city, and all the residents this side of town on experience high rates of air pollution.

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City (data source: socketsite.org)

Tree-filled parks don’t just beautify our neighborhoods, they also improve our psychological well-being. Green urban neighborhoods with plenty of trees actually improve our health, according to several recent studies. Our 49 square-mile city is the second densest in the country, right behind New York. Attempting to return large swaths of our urban parks into the treeless landscape that they once were doesn’t make sense in present day San Francisco. Urban trees do more than just improve air quality; they improve our quality of life. Living in a city can be stressful, hectic, and cramped. We all need access to open, public, forested green space.

McLaren Park's Flowered Grassland and Forest

McLaren Park’s Flowered Grassland and Forest

San Francisco Fells More Trees – Treasure Island

DSCN0052 - the beautiful trees of Treasure Island San Francisco - soon to be gone 2016

People have started writing to us about hundreds, perhaps thousands, of trees being clear-cut on Treasure Island – beautiful, healthy trees being destroyed. It’s happening right now.

One person wrote: “Over on the area where officers quarters are, there appears to be clear cutting is there any thing that can be done to save the ones left?

Then he sent us these pictures with the note: “Thanks for your attention to these matters. I am just a beer drinking football watching person, but perhaps I am more naive than I thought, because what I saw as represented by these images … was disturbing to a city person like myself.

DSCN0008 trees felled and dumped -Treasure Island san francisco 2016

 

DSCN0021 stumps and piles of mulch are all thats left - treasure island san francisco 2016

“These trees appear to have been just killed and then ground down to saw dust with no thought of conservation, reuse or anything, unconscionable,” he added.  I doubt the proud city of San Fran will ever mitigate the amount of trees they are killing today.”

huge old trees cut down on treasure island san francisco 2016Another person wrote:

“[On Treasure Island] I drove past several spots on the island where eucalyptus have been completely clear cut. I was driving so I couldn’t really get a good estimate, but it looks like many hundreds. Many of the trees were VERY large and healthy looking. They are already being chipped and/or logged…

“The work of the nativists? Looks like it to me. Otherwise why remove entire stands of healthy trees?

“I, for one, am sick and tired of this disgusting, unsupportable destruction that has no scientific or practical basis. These actions go beyond normal landscaping or aesthetic decisions. The city will suffer the effects of these actions for decades to come.

“Frankly, I’m also disappointed that the main opposition relies so heavily  on scientifically unsupportable counter-arguments. It makes it very hard to find effective ways to combat the destructive philosophy that has taken over Parks and Rec.”

DSCN0020 stumps and piles of mulch are all thats left - treasure island san francisco 2016

The huge eucalyptus trees of Treasure Island are among the sites where Monarch butterflies have been known to overwinter. Eucalyptus trees are great at sequestering carbon because of their dense wood, their fast growth, their huge size, and their long lives… if they’re not cut down like these trees here.

  • How many tons of sequestered carbon are now being released?
  • How much monarch butterfly over-wintering habitat has been destroyed?
  • How much tree cover for birds and animals has been removed?

How can San Francisco call itself a green city with this tree canopy shrinkage going on in these times of global warming?

monarch butterfly in a San Francisco eucalyptus tree - copyright Janet Kessler

McLaren Park walk: Looking at the Future, Minus 800 Trees

[Apologies: Some glitch on the website caused Draft versions of this post to be published. Please ignore the earlier posts.]

On a Saturday in late August 2015,  the San Francisco Forest Alliance organized a walk in John McLaren Park – Natural Areas for a  group of our supporters and other interested people. It wasn’t just about a walk through this fascinating park on San Francisco’s southern edge – we all wanted to understand what was planned for its future.

DSC00001

The group wanted to learn about the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (“SFRPD”) plans for the Park:  elimination of 8.3 acres of dog play areas; the removal of 809 trees ( eucalyptus, Monterey cypress and Monterey pine);  and using herbicides to poison the  “non-native, invasive” vegetation. The idea is to expand native plants – mainly scrub – in the Park.

In McLaren Park, nearly all the areas that are not actually built up or used for sports, are designated as “Natural Areas.”The Natural Area covers 165.3 acres and is made up of grassland, scrub, and blue gum eucalyptus trees. These are subject to the “Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan” – or SNRAMP (pronounced Sin-Ramp).

mclaren NAP Map 1

All the colored areas in the map above – brown, tan, and olive – are subject to SNRAMP.

SNRAMP McLaren Map

Outlined areas (with diagonal lines) will be “restored.”  Trees and shrubs are to be removed. Native species will be planted.

The walk was led by Tom Borden, bicyclist, and Ren Volpe, long-time dog walker both of whom know the park and RPD’s plans for McLaren.

THE TREES THAT ARE GREEN NOW

So with SNRAMP maps in hand the group walked 3+ miles around the Park to see the trees that the city wants to remove. According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park:    “… Tree removal at McLaren Park is planned mostly for individual trees or small groups of trees within grasslands. …”

We started the walk parallel to the Mansell St corridor, where the city plans to change 4 lanes of traffic into 2 lanes for vehicles and 2 lanes for pedestrians and bikes.

We believe the city will remove these trees along Mansell.  See link to the City’s plans here.

Trees along the north and south side of Mansell will be removed

Trees along south side of Mansell Street will be removed ” to preserve the grasslands … “

These other trees will likely be cut in this area along Mansell:

DSC00004

Trees to be removed to “…allow coastal scrub and oak woodland communities to become established…”

“... In the area downslope of Mansell Street, near the water tanks, the overall plan is to remove enough trees to preserve the grasslands and allow coastal scrub and oak woodland communities to become established. This would involve thinning the stand, which would leave the edges intact and would not result in a substantial change in ground‐level wind hazards and windthrow.

We walked along the trail to the Upper Reservoir and saw where the removal of “invasive” trees is planned and the reintroduction of native plants will be undertaken.

Guide Tom points out the area

Our guide points out where “invasive” trees will be removed … to be replaced by “sensitive plants to prevent the extinction of rare or uncommon grassland plants”

According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park: “… in some locations, trees would be replaced by native scrub or grassland species, which would open up views that are currently blocked by trees….

We diverted our walk to take in the magnificent views from this part of the Park.  The views from the Water Tower provided us with a 270 degree view looking west and north to the downtown skyline:

We walked along the Philosophers Way trail where Tom noted that trees along the sides of John Shelly Drive will be removed. This is presumably to open up to yet more views of the downtown skyline  – and to the wind.

 

At the east end of the Redwood Grove and picnic area, Tom shows which trees are likely to be removed

RESTRICTIONS ON PETS

We observed signs around the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater that dogs would be allowed off-leash around the amphitheater “unless there is a permitted event“.   Someone pointed out that dog-walkers needed to know when there is a “permitted event’ so that they could avoid the area or leash their dogs.  No one knew how SFRPD planned to communicate a  “permitted event.”

According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park: “… DPAs [Dog Play Areas – off leash] would be reduced by 14%. The existing DPAs at this park are 61.7 acres…

Our walk continued to the open grassland area  south of the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater and parallel to Mansell Street.  This photo show where grasslands will created by cutting down trees, and will be closed to people (and dogs).

Open grassland with threatened trees

Grassland, now open as a dog play area, will be restricted use and probably fenced off

More dog walkers will be coming to McLaren Park when the GGNRA clamps down on dog access in areas controlled by the National Park system (the Presidio, Fort Funston, etc).  This will force more dog walkers into an ever smaller area. It’ll be smaller still if NAP further restricts the existing boundaries that NAP is planning for the off leash dog area (now within the John Shelley Drive loop) – which is entirely possible.

RESTRICTIONS ON BICYCLES

Tom reminded us that the SF Urban Riders and McLaren Bike Masters had donated thousands of hours for trail-building in McLaren Park – and then were shut out of the trails they’d helped to build.  (We wrote about that HERE.)

Our tour included the grasslands area that looks down to Visitacion Valley and the Gleneagles Golf Course. We were informed that trails have been closed to bicycles where previously biking was allowed.

Looking down to Vistitacion Valley

Looking down to Visitacion Valley and the Gleneagles Golf Course

Lower trails closed

This portion of the Philosopher’s Way trail has been closed to bicyclists since earlier this year

In the area south of Mansell Street, near the 2 water tanks, NAP plans to remove enough trees to allow establishment of a coastal scrub community. That means many of the trees in the picture above will be removed.

RUINING THE AMBIANCE AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

Local residents of San Francisco (people, bicyclists, dogs and wildlife) get enormous benefits from the beauty of McLaren Park.  It’s a  welcome respite for a very urban population, surrounded on all sides by freeways and boulevards. Local residents come here to enjoy the serenity and beauty that is just a few minutes from their homes.  A lot of that ambiance will be taken away when the City removes hundreds of trees.

It’s not just beauty. The trees in McLaren Park provide valuable ecosystem services. They fight climate change by sequestering carbon; and mature trees absorb more carbon than smaller young ones. They help fight urban pollution by trapping particles on their leaves, keeping them out of the air and our lungs. It cleans the air, especially fighting particulate pollution, by trapping particles on its leaves that eventually get washed onto the ground. They regulate water run-off and reduce the load on our sewer system.

In San Francisco, we have few wildland fires – and when we do, they’re grass fires. When the fog rolls in over the trees of McLaren Park, moisture drops on the ground, allowing for a dense damp understory that fights drought and resists fire. Trees  provide wind breaks, thus reducing the impact of wind on surrounding neighborhoods, and also reducing fire hazard.

TREES ARE GOOD FOR OUR HEALTH

Trees are good for our health. A New Yorker article linked here references a recent study that shows that ten additional street trees on a city block had the same health impact as giving each household $10,000 – or making all the adults seven years younger. Other studies have shown trees improve mental health, reduce stress, and aid healing.

SNRAMP is bad for health. Aside from blocking opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation, it would require the use of large quantities of poisonous herbicides to prevent resprouting of the felled trees – herbicides that are likely get washed down the hillsides and into surface and ground water.

The City plans to remove 809 trees in this park since they are labelled “invasive”.  We strongly oppose this action.   Aside from the beauty of the Park, and the undisturbed wildlife habitat that would both be destroyed, we think it is environmentally irresponsible. Trees sequester carbon; eucalyptus, with its dense wood, its size, and its 400-500-year life-span, is particularly effective.

MORE WALKS, AND STAYING IN TOUCH

We plan to organize more such small-group walks through beautiful areas that will be impacted by SNRAMP.  They are always free, and no donations are expected. They’re guided by people who know the place well.  (HERE is a post about our recent visit to Sharp Park in Pacifica.) If you would like to know about the planned walks, as well as get updates about issues of trees and access restrictions, please stay in touch. We encourage you to enter your email address at the top right (“sign me up”) in order to receive our updates directly to your email.

If you’re on Facebook, please “Like” our page. https://www.facebook.com/ForestAlliance  We currently have 475 “likes.” Help us to take it over 500!

Let us know how we can be more effective and inclusive  at this email address: SFForestNews@gmail.com

 

A Rare Walk in Idyllic Threatened Forest – Sharp Park, Pacifica

Recently, the San Francisco Forest Alliance organized a walk in Sharp Park for a small group of supporters. Not on the familiar historic golf course; this was on the freeway’s other side, in the woods around the San Francisco Archery Range. Sharp Park is where the Natural Areas Program seeks to cut down 15,147 trees.

0 checking the map for the threatened trees

It was a rare opportunity. San Francisco Archery Range is an active range, open 365 days a year, dawn to dusk with bows and arrows in use. Safety can be an issue for walkers; no one wants to be punctured. It’s managed by an all-volunteer group, San Francisco Archers.  This walk coincided with a volunteer day, when no shooting was going on. (The Archers maintain the entire space through volunteer efforts.)

1 uphill trail in SF Archery range

In addition, Jim Robison, president of the group guided us through the trails – all of which have targets – and explained how to stay safe. For visitors, it’s critically important to sign in at the sign-in sheet beside the clubhouse, and then to follow the trails exactly as marked, with no back-tracking. No pets are allowed, even on leash. (The Archers are neutral on the issue of the trees, but have very strong views about range safety.)

2 Along the trail - lakeThe trail led uphill under the trees via a series of shallow wooden steps. Above us on the right, there was a steep forest hillside. On the left, we could see a small lake through the shrubs. It was a lovely sunny day, which was nice for a walk but yields some washed-out photographs…

3 Sharp Park Archery range trailAcross from the trail, another hillside was covered in trees. Further along, we got a clearer view of the lake. It’s made by damming a seasonal creek. On the left of the picture below, you can see the earthen dam covered with greenery.

All the water in the lake now comes from the watershed created by the hills and forest around. Before, it used to come from a cistern that has since been filled in, and formerly provided water to the golf course. Now the golf course gets water from other sources, and this lake is used by wildlife. It’s also, apparently, red-legged frog habitat.

4 Lake and trees in Sharp Park

We walked down past the lake on a little improvised bridge that crossed the creek, and up under the trees on the other side.

5 Target along trail - Sharp ParkAll along the trails, little markers indicated where archers should stand to aim at the targets backed by hay bales. The Archers do all the maintenance on the range, using volunteers and the funds raised from their members. They use no pesticides on the range. Recently, they called in arborists to trim tree branches that had become hazardous, as in the tree in the picture above.

This is the kind of maintenance that SF Forest Alliance strongly favors – dealing with hazardous trees where they could endanger people or property as a top priority.

5a Trees on opposite hillside

The beautiful green forest opposite climbed up the slope toward the ridge, a lovely sea of trees. There are no official trails into much of that forest, though some social trails do exist. Past the lake, the trail broadened into a shaded area with a picnic table, a green-painted wooden hut, an old outhouse with sun and moon tin appliques, and another target. Jim explained that the hut was used for refreshments during major tournaments, but the outhouse was an antique and nailed shut. They weren’t legal any more; instead, they had porta-potties.

antique outhouse Sharp Park

We turned onto a pathway that followed the old pipeline. It took us deeper into the forest, which was ever more idyllic. It was hard to believe that we were only minutes from the city, or that just over that ridge, there was Skyline College.

6 Along the old pipe trail in Sharp ParkThe ground was springy underfoot, and the whole place showed no signs of drought. Even the little lake, which depends on natural water, was quite full. Pacifica is foggy, and no doubt the trees had been harvesting the moisture from the fog and dripping it on the vegetation below.

7 Idyllic forest in Sharp Park archery range

8 forest wildlife habitat  in sharp park archery range

The area abounds in wildlife. We heard a lot of birds as we went through, hiding in the trees and bushes. On another visit, we saw rabbits and quail. Jim said the quail had raised two clutches of chicks this year. He also said there were deer, coyotes, and also bobcats. He described watching a mother bobcat teaching her kitten to hunt gophers, waiting for one to emerge and snagging it with a quick swipe of its paw. He knows of red-shouldered hawks and red-tailed hawks nesting in the area, as well as great horned owls. People think there may be mountain lions, too; they are known to range just over on the other side of the ridge, near Crystal Springs.

9 where the old tank was in Sharp Park Archery RangeThis is where the old cistern was filled in. It’s invisible now under wildflowers and shrubs.

10 meadow in the woods in Sharp park archery rangeWe ended our walk in a small meadow. Beyond, the trail was overgrown and we were running out of time; there was a meeting at the archery club-house at noon.  We hope that the trees will be saved; they are critical to the habitat and the ecology of the area. No herbicides are currently in use. There are large areas of undisturbed vegetation providing denning and nesting sites. We felt privileged to have had an opportunity to see this amazing place.

The San Francisco Forest Alliance plans more such walks in beautiful natural places, accompanied by people familiar with the area. If you would like to join us, please make sure we have your email address. (You can email us at SFForestNews@gmail.com ) We’ll be notifying our entire list.

WHAT TREE-CUTTING IS PLANNED?

Even though Sharp Park is in Pacifica, in San Mateo County, it is owned by SF Recreation and Parks Department, and has become part of the so-called “Natural Areas Program” (NAP). So converting this forested area into scrubland is part of their Plan – the “Significant Natural Resource Area Management Plan” (SNRAMP or “Sin-Ramp”). It calls for cutting down 15,147 trees.

In the idyllic areas we’ve described above,  they plan to remove three-quarters of the trees and encourage the rest to die out. It’s currently a deeply forested canyon east of the archery range, a true wild land and haven for wildlife. The long-term plan for it is “fewer trees and more scrub.”

Here’s the plan (based on a map from the SNRAMP – click on it to make it larger). The red numbers refer to tree removals – in most places, 75% of trees; in a few, 50%; and in some areas where there are few trees now, most of the existing trees.

snramp - sharp park- plan A

We strongly oppose this action. Aside from the beauty of the place, and the undisturbed wildlife habitat that would both be destroyed, we think it is environmentally irresponsible. Trees sequester carbon; eucalyptus, with its dense wood, its size, and its 400-500-year life-span, is particularly effective. In foggy areas, it captures moisture from the fog and drops it on the ground below, allowing for a dense damp understory that fights drought and resists fire. It cleans the air, especially fighting particulate pollution, by trapping particles on its leaves that eventually get washed onto the ground. It stabilizes hillsides with its intergrafted root system that functions like a living geotextile. And SNRAMP would require the use of large quantities of poisonous herbicides to prevent resprouting of the felled trees – herbicides that are likely get washed down the hillsides and into surface and ground water.

Pacifica actually has an ordinance prohibiting logging (removing more than 20 trees in a year). NAP’s answer to that is to see if the ordinance applies, and if it does, to try to get permission.

Don’t Cut Trees in the Nesting Season!

This year, the issue of tree-trimming or cutting during the nesting season was highlighted by the sad destruction of black-crowned night herons’ nests when the Oakland Post Office decided to get its trees trimmed. Five young herons were injured, others may have died. The tree trimmer potentially faced criminal charges, but was so remorseful – and so willing to pay for the care of the baby herons – that everyone was relieved when he didn’t.

Most people just don’t know that it’s a bad idea to trim trees (or worse, remove them) during the nesting season. Even aggressively trimming undergrowth could damage or destroy birds’ nests.  In San Francisco, the season extends approximately from February to September, depending on many factors including the weather.

Each year, Wildcare, a wonderful organization that rehabilitates hurt or orphaned wildlife,  gets a deluge of baby birds during the summer. Most of  them are displaced by tree-trimming or removal.

2012-04-11 bewick's wren nesting

Birds nests are difficult to spot, even for experts. Herons’ nests are large and noisy, and the Oakland Post Office staff surely knew the birds were there. But most birds hide their nests. Unless they are huge ones like nests of hawks or owls, the parent birds need to conceal their young from predators. Humans, who typically aren’t really looking out for them, would usually miss seeing them altogether. It may take even experienced birders hours of observation to be sure. Nests of hummingbirds, for instance, are around the size of a quarter. They’re common in San Francisco but very difficult to spot.

BROCHURES AND INFORMATION

Here’s Wildcare’s page  “Stop! Don’t Prune Those Trees!”  It explains the problem in a user-friendly way, and also gives references of two bird-friendly arborists who can do emergency work if needed.

 “Spring (and summer!) are busy baby season— procrastinate now!

When is wildlife nesting? There is some variation, but most wild animals have their babies in the spring, between March and June. However, many species will also have a second brood in July or August if food supplies are sufficient. If you can plan to trim your trees in the winter months, you can completely avoid the possibility of damaging a nest. It’s also a healthier time for the trees, when the sap has gone down and trees will be in their dormant phase. Call WildCare at 415-456-7283 if you’re unsure when it is a safe time to trim or remove a tree. “

The Golden Gate Audubon Society has published an excellent brochure:  Healthy Trees, Healthy Birds that is available as a PDF on their website. Here are pictures of the brochure (the download will be clearer and can be printed).

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 1

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 2

IT’S ILLEGAL TO DISTURB BIRDS’ NESTS

Disturbing – or worse, destroying – a birds nest is illegal. It’s a strict liability offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine per offense.  There are laws at the Federal, State and City level. Here’s what they say:

  • Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This applies to over 1,000 bird species, including many that are found in San Francisco. It makes it ” …illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird…” (“Taking” means to harass, harm, or pursue a bird.)
  •  California State Code 3503, 3503.5: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any bird, except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation made pursuant thereto.”  California State Code 3503.5 relates to birds of prey: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or destroy any birds in the orders Falconiformes or Strigiformes (birds-of-prey) or to take, possess, or destroy the nest or eggs of any such bird except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation adopted pursuant thereto.”
  • San Francisco County Municipal Code 5.08: It’s unlawful “to hunt, chase, shoot, trap, discharge or throw missiles at, harass, disturb, taunt, endanger, capture, injure, or destroy any animal in any park...” (with exceptions for small rodents like gophers).

The general rule is to stay 50 feet away from song-bird nests, and 500 feet from raptor nests.

TREES IN “POOR CONDITION” ARE GREAT FOR BIRDS

Sometimes, trees are removed because they’re in poor condition – dead or dying. Those are often the very trees that birds love, especially those that nest in cavities. Like this flicker (a kind of woodpecker) nesting in a half-dead eucalyptus tree. If you weren’t watching very patiently, you would have no idea that a family of young birds (three in this case) were being raised here.

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet KesslerPLAYING SAFE

The only safe way is to NEVER cut trees or thin dense bushes during the nesting season – and even when working in the off-season, typically September to February, to be very observant and watchful before starting work.

Young Great Horned Owls being raised in Eucalyptus tree

Relentless War on Eucalyptus – The Example of Glen Canyon

This article is reproduced from MillionTrees.me – the website of Death of a Million Trees with permission and minor formatting changes.

A new front has opened in the relentless war on eucalyptus in California. The drought has given native plant advocates an opportunity to develop a new narrative to justify their demands for eradication of eucalyptus. The opening gambit in this new strategy is an item in Jake Sigg’s “Nature News” of May 16, 2014:

“The prolonged drought of the last 2-3 years seems to be taking its toll. The Tasmanian blue gums in Glen Canyon along O’Shaughnessy Boulevard strongly show drought stress. The stress is more evident from the high cliffs above O’Shaughnessy than it is at ground level. Thinning crowns and discolored foliage was striking. And that was before the recent heat wave. Barring substantial rains–unlikely, but not impossible–the trees are in serious trouble. The City could have an emergency situation and no money to address it.”

RECAP OF THE WAR ON EUCALYPTUS

When public land managers began the war on eucalyptus in the 1980s it did not occur to them that the public would object. So deep was their prejudice against eucalyptus, that they assumed the public shared their opinion. The first two massive projects in the 1980s on National Park Service and State Park properties were greeted with angry public protests. Land managers quickly learned that it was not going to be as easy to eradicate eucalyptus as they had thought. They developed a series of story-lines to justify their projects, which were designed to convince the public that the eradication of eucalyptus is both necessary and beneficial. This is a summary of some of their cover stories with links to articles that debunk them:

Based on our experience, we were immediately suspicious of the new claim that San Francisco’s eucalyptus forest is dying of drought. We know that our predominant species of eucalyptus—Tasmanian blue gum—grows successfully throughout California, all the way to the Mexican border in climates that are much hotter and drier than the Bay Area. We also know that the central and north coast of California is foggy during the dry summer months, which doubles the amount of annual precipitation in the eucalyptus forest. All reliable sources of horticultural information describe blue gum eucalyptus as drought tolerant. Frankly, we couldn’t see how our eucalyptus could be dying of drought.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR EUCALYPTUS FOREST IN GLEN CANYON?

The picture became clearer when Jake Sigg posted the following on his “Nature News” on June 12, 2014:

“The June 10 newsletter [see below*] included an editorial on an evolving catastrophe, mostly involving our numerous plantations of Tasmanian blue gums. The editorial focused primarily on the plantations on O’Shaughnessy Blvd in Glen Canyon and on Mt Sutro, and included a photo of a grove of Mt Sutro dying trees. Here is a photo of the Glen Canyon plantation, taken from above the high cliffs on O’Shaughnessy. The damage is most visible from high, looking down. The discoloration of leaves was very dramatic, but the foliage color and condition is not fully conveyed in the photograph. Some trees defoliated entirely in the prolonged winter dry spell. Look very closely at the juvenile blue leaves of the coppice shoots; anything that appears faintly bluish are new coppice shoots which grew in response to the late rains we had in February and March. Once you see coppice shoots on old trees you know the trees are in trouble. These trees are in double jeopardy, as they invested energy in new shoots, but were betrayed by another dry spell which, under normal circumstances, will last until autumn. Note that you can now see the grassland through the trees; that slope was not previously visible. Even a casual inspection of these groves reveals dead, dying, and stressed trees, and under normal circumstances we will have four or five months of dry. The fire situation is serious right now and is likely to become worse.”

 

View of west side of Glen Canyon Park from Marietta Drive, June 2014

View of west side of Glen Canyon Park from Marietta Drive, June 2014

With more specific information in hand about what Jake Sigg is looking at, we went to see for ourselves. We could see what he was describing from a vantage point on Marietta Drive, west of Glen Canyon Park. We could see lighter colored leaves, but they were more localized than Jake Sigg’s description implied. We didn’t feel qualified to speculate about why the leaves were lighter colored so we recruited an arborist to help us figure out what is happening there. We were fortunate to enlist the help of a certified arborist who has been responsible for urban forests on public lands in the Bay Area for several decades. This is what we learned.

EPICORMIC SPROUTS

Looking through binoculars from our vantage point on Marietta Drive, the arborist said immediately, “Those are epicormic sprouts.” The leaves of epicormic sprouts are distinctively lighter colored than the darker green of mature eucalyptus leaves. They are also a more rounded shape than the long, pointed mature leaves of eucalyptus. This is how Wikipedia describes epicormic sprouts: “Epicormic buds lie dormant beneath the bark, their growth suppressed by hormones from active shoots higher up the plant. Under certain conditions, they develop into active shoots, such as when damage occurs to higher parts of the plant. Or light levels are increased following removal of nearby plants.”

Epicormic sprouts on trees in Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

Epicormic sprouts on trees in Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

The remaining question was why some of the eucalypts, were producing these epicormic sprouts, when most were not. We went down to O’Shaughnessy Blvd to get a closer look, hoping to answer that question. This is what we learned:

  • The understory of non-native shrubs between O’Shaughnessy Boulevard and the trees with epicormic sprouts has been cleared in the past year. We could see the dead brush piled up next to the trees. We had to wonder how people who claim to be concerned about fire hazard could think such huge piles of dead brush were nothing to be concerned about.

 

Remains of dead non-native brush destroyed along O'Shaughnessy Boulevard, June 2014

Remains of dead non-native brush destroyed along O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, June 2014

  • We could see the stumps of some of the dead brush and we wondered if the stumps had been sprayed with herbicides after they were cut. Pesticide use reports for Glen Canyon indicate that O’Shaughnessy was sprayed several times in the past year, twice with products containing imazapyr. Imazapyr is known to be harmful to trees if sprayed in proximity to their roots. The trees with epicormic sprouts were downhill from the understory shrubs that were destroyed, in the probable direction of water and herbicide flow.
  • We found several trees that had been girdled in the past and are now dead.
Girdled tree in Glen Canyon Park, now dead, June 2014

Girdled tree in Glen Canyon Park, now dead, June 2014

THE TREES IN GLEN CANYON PARK

Then we walked into Glen Canyon Park from its southern end. It’s not a pretty sight. Many huge, old eucalypts have been destroyed. When they were destroyed, their stumps were immediately sprayed with herbicide to prevent them from resprouting. The stumps are simultaneously painted with dye so that workers can tell which trees have been sprayed. The dye is no longer visible, but regular visitors took photos of the painted stumps before the dye faded. The spraying of the stumps do not appear on the pesticide use reports of the Recreation and Park Department. We assume that’s because the spraying was done by the sub-contractors who destroyed the trees.

Poisoned and dyed eucalyptus stump, Glen Canyon Park, 2013.  Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

Poisoned and dyed eucalyptus stump, Glen Canyon Park, 2013. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

The arborist who walked in the forest with us said, “The painting of stumps with RoundUp or Garlon in proximity to trees that are being preserved can kill the neighboring preserved tree. Stumps near living, residual (preserved) trees should not be painted with RoundUp or Garlon if the stumps are within 40’ of mature, blue gums that are slated for preservation.” If the remaining trees are damaged by herbicides, their mature leaves fall and epicormic sprouts will then emerge as the tree recovers.

Some of the stumps of the trees that were destroyed in Glen Canyon Park in 2013.  Taken June 2014

Some of the stumps of the trees that were destroyed in Glen Canyon Park in 2013. Taken June 2014

While the trees were being destroyed in 2013, the Natural Areas Program was eradicating non-native vegetation in the Canyon. They sprayed ivy, blackberry, and valerian with Milestone, which is another herbicide that is known to damage trees if sprayed near their roots. In addition to these official applications of herbicide in this park, there is a long history of unauthorized, illegal herbicide applications by “volunteers,” more appropriately called vandals. We saw a lot of epicormic growth in the Canyon, sprouting from stumps that must be cut back and resprayed with herbicides. It usually takes several retreatments to successfully kill the roots of eucalypts that are destroyed. We also saw epicormic growth from eucalypts that had been severely pruned and were also exposed to a great deal more light because they had lost the shelter of their neighboring trees.

Epicormic growht, Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

Epicormic growth, Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

WRAPPING UP

The trees in Glen Canyon are reacting to the traumas to which they have been subjected: the loss of their neighbors that were either girdled or cut down thereby exposing them to more light and wind, the loss of the shelter of their understory, the application of herbicides known to be harmful to trees. The good news is that there are still plenty of trees in Glen Canyon that have not yet been destroyed and they are in great shape. Here is the view of the tree canopy in Glen Canyon taken from the east side of the park near Turquoise Way. The first picture was taken in December 2012 (before the current round of tree destruction in Glen Canyon Park) and the second picture was taken in May 2014.

Eucalyptus canopy on east side of Glen Canyon Park, taken from Turquoise Way December 2012, before tree destruction began.  Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

Eucalyptus canopy on east side of Glen Canyon Park, taken from Turquoise Way December 2012, before tree destruction began. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

Same perspective of Glen Canyon tree canopy, taken May 2014.  Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance.

Same perspective of Glen Canyon tree canopy, taken May 2014. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance.

These trees are doing just fine because the Natural Areas Program has not yet gone that deeply into the park. But NAP intends to destroy many more trees in Glen Canyon (and elsewhere) when the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for their management plan (SNRAMP) is finally approved. Then we will see more consequences of the destructive practices of the Natural Areas Program and we will probably hear more bogus explanations for that damage. We expect the EIR to finally be considered for approval at the end of 2014. We will do whatever we can to convince San Francisco’s policy makers that they should approve the “Maintenance Alternative” which would enable NAP to continue to care for the native plant gardens they have created in the past 15 years, but prevent them from expanding further. We hope that our readers will help to accomplish this important task.


*Jake Sigg’s Nature News of June 10, 2014, introduced the theories of Craig Dawson about the health of the Sutro Forest. Mr. Dawson’s speculations are different from Mr. Sigg’s and we will not address them in those post.

Wisconsin, Trees and Our Health

This is another of our first-person accounts. A reader visited Madison, Wisconsin and returned this report.

We were riding to the airport when traffic slowed on a tree-lined street owing to roadwork. I was reminded of a  friend’s comment about Minnesota: “We have two seasons – winter, and road repair.” Madison isn’t as extreme, but the warm days of spring are when this kind of  project gets done.

street lined with trees with yellow ribbons - madison WI

Necessary work, of course, but as I looked out the window I was saddened to see the trees on either side had yellow tape around their trunks. In San Francisco, colored tape  or paint spots usually mean the tree’s going to be cut down.

another tree with yellow ribbon in madison WINearly every tree along the road had a yellow ribbon. Madison’s a very green city with a lot of tree canopy, so perhaps they figured they could spare the trees that impinged on the road work or grew through power lines.

yellow ribbon tree in madison WI

But then, as we stopped completely, I could read what was actually written on the yellow ribbons. It said “TREE PRESERVATION ZONE.”

tree preservation zone madison WI

THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF MORE TREES

Perhaps they had paid attention to the research from University of Wisconsin (whose campus is only a few miles from where we’d paused). It showed less stress and depression in people who live in areas with more tree canopy. Here’s an excerpt from the UW-Madison press release on the research, which was published in April 2014.

“Across neighborhoods of Wisconsin, from the North Woods to the cities, the results are striking,” says Dr. Kristen Malecki, assistant professor of population health sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “Higher levels of green space were associated with lower symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress.”

The study, published recently in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, combines mental-health data from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW) and Landsat 5 satellite data from July 2009 that analyzed how much vegetation was present in each of the SHOW census blocks.

About 2,500 Wisconsin residents from 229 neighborhoods answered an assessment that asked them to rate their symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. The research team, which was also led by Dr. Kirsten Beyer of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, adjusted the results to make sure they weren’t confounded by race, age, income level, education, marital status, employment and other factors.

They found that across all strata of society, people who lived in a neighborhood with less than 10 percent tree canopy were much more likely to report symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. So, for example, a poor person living on a logging road in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest was more likely to be happy than a wealthier person living on a treeless block in Milwaukee.

San Francisco has among the smallest tree canopies of any major city, and the number of trees is shrinking each year. The “Natural Areas Program” plans to cut down 18,500 trees. Every project, whether it’s a playground renovation by SF Recreation and Parks, or road improvements by SFMTA, or water system work by the SF PUC, becomes an excuse to cut down more trees. If they replace the trees at all, it’s with saplings that will take decades to become mature and provide those health benefits.

Wisconsin has to contend with the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle that is killing off ash trees as voraciously as California’s Sudden Oak Death is killing our oaks. San Francisco, with its windy climate, doesn’t have many oaks or Sudden Oak Death, nor does it have ash trees and the Ash Borer. The main pest killing off San Francisco’s trees is the chainsaw.

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