Coyote, Playing!

Sometimes, we want to bring our readers some of the joys of our parks, not just the threats to them. Besides being our green spaces and forests, they are the habitat for all kinds of wildlife.

Watch this happy coyote having fun with a ball and a stick! It’s a delightful 3 1/2-minute short film by Wildlife photographer and coyote champion, Janet Kessler, who has spent the last ten years observing and documenting coyote behavior in our parks. It was shown at the Bernal Heights Film Festival, and is linked here with permission.

When we asked if we could use it, Janet had a message for us: “These animals need their habitat left alone. They need the thickets — that are being removed and thinned by the Natural Areas Program — as safe-havens and harborage areas.”

[The Natural Areas Program has renamed itself the Natural Resources Department.]

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Trees Cut Down in McLaren Park with No Warning

One of our readers has this news about trees being cut down in McLaren Park. The destruction has just begun. We’ve published letters in defense of McLaren’s trees before. See Trees Matter: McLaren Park and Environmental Justice.

.

— xxx—

Sept 14, 2017

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD’s Natural Areas Program has started cutting trees in support of their trail plan for McLaren Park.  So far 15 Monterey cypress and eucalyptus trees have been chain sawed around Brendt’s Knoll (a.k.a. Philosopher’s Hill, a.k.a. Labyrinth Hill) to make way for their new trail.  This is despite the fact SFRPD has not even presented their final trail plan to the public.

Further, the Natural Areas Management Plan states that, “any removal of trees over 6 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) requires coordination with, and evaluation by SFRPD’s Arborist.  In addition, prior to any tree removal, individual trees measuring 6 inches dbh or greater must be posted for 30 days (Section 1).”  Most of the trees cut down were larger than this and none of them were posted.

This just demonstrates, once more, SFRPD’s disdain for the public and disregard for the law.

The fact they cut down so many trees for just a short stretch of trail confirms our worst suspicions.  Their broad straight trails will not wind through the trees as today’s trails do, instead they will blaze a path of destruction through our forests.

Contact your supervisor and the Park Commission and let them know this is unacceptable.

— xxx—

Here’s the email of the Parks Commission: recpark.commission@sfgov.org  and Telephone: 415-831-2750
Here’s a current list of the emails of the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org,
Norman.Yee@sfgov.org,
sandra.fewer@sfgov.org,
Mark.Farrell@sfgov.org,
Aaron.Peskin@sfgov.org,
Katy.Tang@sfgov.org,
breedstaff@sfgov.org,
jane.kim@sfgov.org,
jeff.sheehy@sfgov.org,
Hillary.Ronen@sfgov.org,
Malia.Cohen@sfgov.org,
Ahsha.Safai@sfgov.org

 

Pesticides on Blackberry in Fruiting Season

Recently, one of our neighbors was walking on Mt Davidson. 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). She was unpleasantly surprised to find that the bushes were to be sprayed with herbicide.

“It’s the fruiting season!” she noted, wondering if this was legal.

Unfortunately, it is.  In 2016, SF Environment imposed restrictions on spraying blackberry bushes during the fruiting season. But the way the restrictions are written, they apply only to Tier I (“Most Hazardous”) pesticides and not to the Tier II (“More hazardous”) pesticides that the Natural Resources Division (NRD – formerly Natural Areas Program) also uses quite frequently. The NRD commonly uses “the fearsome four” pesticides: Garlon, Roundup, Milestone VM and Polaris (also called Habitat). All of them are toxic in some degree.

The herbicides used in this case are Milestone VM (aminopyralid) and Polaris (Imazapyr). Both are toxic and are classified as “More Hazardous” (Tier II). Imazapyr can damage eyes, and its breakdown product is a neurotoxin, which means it causes nerve damage. Aminopyralid is a newer chemical, but is known to be astonishingly persistent. It’s banned in some places because of that.

 

SF ENVIRONMENT’S PESTICIDE USE RESTRICTIONS

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:

 Pesticide use

✓ 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.

Notification

Posting for pesticide use must be done 3 days before treatment, and remain up for 4 days after treatment, except for least-hazardous (Tier III) products, which require posting only on the day of treatment.

✓ Postings must clearly identify the area to be treated. Signs should be placed at locations most likely to be seen by members of the public using the treated area.

✓ Posting is not required for median strips or rights-of-way when these areas are not intended for public use.

✓ Posting is not required for areas inaccessible to the public. [See our recent article on this: San Francisco Pesticides and Inaccessible Areas]

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

  • Blue dye must be used, and this must be noted on the posting sign. Blue dye is not required in areas where 1) posting is not required, and 2) staining may occur, such as ornamental stone median strips.
  • When treatment sites that cannot be readily identified by the posting sign alone, a map showing the general location of expected treatment area(s) must be attached to the posting sign.

MORE ACTION REQUIRED

Though the added restrictions in 2016 were a step forward, much more is needed. 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.

San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for Pesticide-Free Parks – including natural areas.

Restricting Access in McLaren Park

Plans are afoot in McLaren Park to close many of the trails people actually enjoy, and substitute a limited number of broad road-type paths. Most park users don’t realize this is going on – not just in McLaren, but all across the “Natural Areas.” SFFA supporter Tom Borden is trying to get the word out both to park users and to the decision influencers. He’s written to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission, to Supervisors in affected supervisory districts, to the Parks and Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC) and to the neighbors at McLaren Collaborative. We think it deserves wider attention: All across our parks, access restrictions are reducing the park space our families can actually use and enjoy.

McLaren Park’s Flowered Grassland and Forest

Here’s the letter:

to: Recreation & Parks Commission August 31, 2017
cc: Supervisors Ronen, Safai, Cohen, Fewer, Sheehy
Prosac, McLaren Park Collaborative

Subject: McLaren Park Envisioning Points One Way, RPD Goes another

Commissioners,

The Recreation and Parks Department has been hosting an “Envisioning Process” with the public to plan future improvements for McLaren Park and to decide which immediate needs should be addressed with funding from the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. RPD has focused the process on four areas, the amphitheater, the primary group picnic area, sport courts and trails & paths. The first three are moving along pretty well, but the trails & paths plan is headed in a direction that defies all public input.

The Bond Money
The 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks bond allocated $10M for capital improvements to McLaren Park. Additionally, it provides that:

TRAILS RECONSTRUCTION ($4 million). A portion of the proceeds of the proposed bond shall be used to repair and reconstruct park nature trails, pathways, and connectivity in Golden Gate Park and John McLaren Park. After identification and development of specific projects, environmental review required under CEQA will be completed.

Since the bond passed, RPD has further earmarked the funds to direct $2M of the trails reconstruction money to McLaren. RPD has modified the bond language in their documentation to specify the money must be used, “to enhance existing trails and their surrounding landscape”. The clear intent of the of this unjustified new language is to allow money to be diverted from building and repairing trails to performing native plant habitat work. This is not what the public voted for.

Further, RPD now says that $1.5M of the $10M must be spent “for projects that create or restore: Natural features, such as lakes, meadows, and landscapes & Habitat for the park’s many species of plants and animals.” That may be a choice RPD could make, but it is not a requirement of the bond ordinance.

Trail and Area Closures
If we subtract out the acreage devoted to the Gleneagles golf course, well over half the park is wild land with a web of small trails that has evolved over decades. In the Envisioning Process, the public has been quite emphatic this trail network, combined with the wild landscape, is the most iconic element of the park and must be preserved.

 

However, RPD has a completely different vision, driven by the desires of the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Under the cover of the Envisioning Process and using as much of the $12M as possible, they hope to turn the wild parkland into a nature preserve, accessible only to RPD staff and to supervised volunteer groups. To forward this goal, they plan to gut the interior of the park of 5.5 miles of trails (while adding less than 1.5 miles of new trail). This would roughly halve the length of trails in the park. Their plan focuses on developing primary paths that run around the outside perimeter of the park with the apparent intent of directing people away from the park interior. Some of the remaining interior trails would be substantially widened to carry the traffic displaced from the closed trails. In effect, the public are to be channelized on a few large trails.

If that was not bad enough, RPD have stated their intent to restrict public access in wild areas of the park to on-trail only. We will not be allowed to explore, climb on rocks and experience nature up close. In effect, they want to close over half of the park to public access.

Over the course of the Envisioning Process, RPD have refused to publish maps showing the existing trails that will be closed under their plan. The obvious intent of this is to avoid discussion of the trail closures. To help people understand what the RPD plan means, I have taken the RPD trail proposal presented at the last trail workshop and overlaid it with the existing trail alignments. These existing trails are ones shown on the current official park map and those that appear in the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan(SNRAMP). A few other trails missed by these maps are also included. Only well used trails appear on the attached map.

The other side of the coin is the area closures. RPD plans to completely remove trails from certain areas, meaning those areas will be closed to the public. On the second map [below] I’ve blacked out some of them and noted why they are special. Keep in mind, even where there are trails, if it’s a Natural Area, off-trail access is to be prohibited. The green shaded areas on the maps are Natural Areas. Leaving the golf course out of the calculation, well over half the park will be off limits. All we have left of our wild parkland is the shrinking network of trails running through RPD’s closed nature preserve.

Does the Department have a mandate?
RPD will say this is what the people want, that these trails closures and land closures are part of the SNRAMP. The SNRAMP EIR was certified by the Planning Commission, overcame an appeal at the BOS and was adopted by the Recreation and Park Commission. However, the currently proposed trail closures are much more extensive than what is presented in the SNRAMP. The intent to restrict the public to on-trail only in Natural Areas was not disclosed in the SNRAMP and not evaluated by its EIR. In the entire 711 page SNRAMP there is only one sentence that mentions the idea of restricting the public to trails and it is only in reference to MA2 areas. In the 1200+ page EIR there is no discussion of the impact of restricting the public to trails and closing everything else. RPD has not discussed the trail closures in the park. RPD has held no public hearings or had any other public process for the on-trail only restriction. There is no mandate for RPD’s current plans.

What the public wants
In 2004 RPD published its Recreation Assessment Report, “the culmination of a nine month planning effort and process to evaluate the recreation needs of residents and to ensure the future direction of recreation within the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.” It showed that by a very wide margin the most important recreational facility to the public is walking and biking trails. See the excerpt of the report at the end of this document [below]

The 2012 McLaren Park Needs Assessment revealed exactly the same result, that more hiking and biking trails are the most desired park improvement. Why is RPD closing almost all of the trails to bike riders and dramatically shrinking the trail network? All of the trails in McLaren Park have been in use by pedestrians and cyclists for decades, sharing the trails without incident. RPD has no reports of user conflicts or accidents due to the mix of cyclists and pedestrians.

The existing trails are well evolved to take people to the places they want to go. As a result, off trail excursions are dispersed and not frequent enough to lead to heavy trampling of plants. (Yes, things are different in the off leash dog area, but that does not apply to the park in general.) The surface area of the existing trails comprise less than 5% of the land area. The impact of park visitors on the viability native plants is trivial compared with the impacts of the changing local environment, global warming and the inevitable arrival and spread of plant species from outside the City.

The planned trail closures and access restrictions run completely counter to the needs of the public. On top of this, the Department wants to siphon off money to fund their closure plan that could be spent on sorely needed park improvements, all of this with no demonstrated need to override the public good.

Please consider asking the Department to:

spend the bond money as the bond ordinance states and the voters intended. The trail money is for trails. The rest of the money is on the table for all purposes. The bond ordinance does not require the NAP receive $1.5M. Spend it where it will do the most good.

Repair and improve McLaren’s existing trails. The public wants more and better trails, not fewer, wider, straighter, less engaging trails.

Conduct a transparent public process to work through any trail closures. Individually document the need for each trail closure, gather public input and act to serve the public.

Allow people to ride bikes on all park trails unless a need to restrict cycling is demonstrated.

Continue to allow the public full access to the wild areas of the park. Closing large areas of the park should require a substantial public process which has not taken place. The namesake of the park, John McLaren, famously declared, “There will be no ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs.”

Sincerely,

 

Tom Borden

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes access restrictions from closing the trails made by park users and restricting access only to on-trail use of our parks.

 

Tree at 826 Haight May Be Saved

In a little bit of good news, we recently received this letter from a supporters, telling of a possibly successful attempt to save a street tree on Haight Street, San Francisco CA. It’s published with permission.

Hi Folks,

Another partial win for a critical component of our urban forest — street trees, in this case a lone blackwood acacia at 826 Haight Street facing removal. The other day DPW [Department of Public Works] head Muhammed Nuru reversed a request to remove the tree after a Public Hearing was held for neighbors protesting its imminent removal.  The tree removal order was overturned, delayed for 90 days while BUF reassesses every means of saving this healthy, mature tree including construction of a larger basin and sidewalk repair that slopes to accommodate the tree roots and base.

See below for a copy of the decision #186300.  The decision urges BUF [Bureau of Urban Forestry] to consider all means to keep the tree in place and report back in 90 days.

The Bureau of Urban Forestry is starting to take notice of our objections to the summary removal of mature street trees after being schooled in the multiple benefits of a large urban forest canopy from the perspective of climate change, carbon sequestration, respiratory health, wildlife habitat, drainage, heating/cooling and mental health.   BUF has seen the necessity of taking a deeper dive into their usual standard operating procedure of posting a removal notice without seeing a stewardship role prioritizing street trees, especially after our opposition and intervention with Guy Place Park, 75 Howard Street and this lone acacia tree.

[We wrote something about that HERE: Killing our Street Trees in San Francisco ]

We organized 20 written protests, a change.org petition with 117 signatures and 5 neighbors giving oral testimony.  The organizing tool was Next Door.

Hopefully, this signals a small beginning and recognition by BUF and RPD of the need to preserve and expand each component in our dwindling urban forest canopy volume. And perhaps this can influence the City’s new responsibilities under Prop E and the minimalist approach both City Planning and MTA takes with area plans and streetscape improvement projects occurring throughout the City.

The Bureau of Urban Forestry is starting to take notice of our objections to the summary removal of mature street trees after being schooled in the multiple benefits of a large urban forest canopy from the perspective of climate change, carbon sequestration, respiratory health, wildlife habitat, drainage, heating/cooling and mental health. We organized 20 written protests, a change.org petition and 5 neighbors giving oral testimony.

Matthew Steen

DPW ORDER #186300:

“The Director of Public Works held a Public Hearing on Monday, July 24, 2017 at City Hall to consider Order No. 186127 for the removal with replacement of one (1) street tree adjacent to the property at 826 Haight Street.

Findings: Urban Forestry staff testified that the tree was initially posted for removal due to its age, species, structure, and sidewalk condition. Blackwood acacia, Acacia melanoxylon, does not tolerate root pruning well, once the root’s of a mature blackwood acacia are significantly pruned they tend to rot quickly. The accelerated root rot can often lead to full tree failures. Currently, the sidewalk is in poor condition, and must be repaired. The main branch union has poor structure, and all of the co-dominant scaffolding branches originate from the same location on the trunk, which can lead to large stem failures. Urban Forestry staff stated that if the tree were to remain, the sidewalk repair would have to be carefully completed without cutting any roots. The tree basin would also have to be expanded to at least 6’x12′. The canopy should be thinned & large scaffold branches with the worst structure should be removed or the weight reduced.

“The Bureau of Urban Forestry received approximately 20 removal protests from the public in writing, and five (5) members of the public spoke at the hearing against tree removal. A change.org petition was also created which received 117 supporters against tree removal. After the tree hearing Urban Forestry staff surveyed the underground utilities near the tree. It was found that high voltage electric lines run directly beneath the tree basin, and if removed, the tree will not be able to be replaced.

Recommendation: After consideration of letters and testimonies presented at the hearing the decision is to reverse the Bureau of Urban Forestry’s approval of tree removal with the following conditions: the sidewalk repair will consist of a basin expansion only and no roots shall be cut. Any additional concrete uplift will be shaved/sliced, not replaced. The tree canopy shall be pruned and significantly thinned within three (3) months to reduce the potential for large stem failures. If the Bureau of Urban Forestry concludes that the sidewalk repair cannot be made without pruning the roots, the tree removal will be approved and a courtesy notice and report documenting the efforts to retain the tree, will be provided to those who attended the hearing and/or submitted correspondence. The courtesy notices would also be placed on the trunk of the tree and nearby utility poles.”

So it’s not over yet, but we’re very encouraged that a good faith effort is being made to save this tree. Thanks, Matthew and everyone who worked on this.

 

San Francisco Pesticides and “Inaccessible Areas”

One of our supporters has been pursuing a concerning issue regarding pesticide application in San Francisco. As our regular readers will know, proper notices are required when spraying toxic herbicides (designated Tier II, More Hazardous and Tier I, Most Hazardous) on city property – including our parks. Recently, SF Environment made changes to its application guidelines to provide better protection to the public, and to workers applying the pesticides. This requirement includes adding a blue dye to the mix so the public can see what has been sprayed with these chemicals.

However, there’s a loophole. Neither notices nor dye are required if the area is “inaccessible to the public.”  As the Natural Resources Department (renamed from NAP, the Natural Areas Program) works to limit public access to only a few “maintained trails” we’re concerned that this will give SF Recreation and Parks a free pass to use toxic herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) without notices or dye.

So concerned citizen Tom Borden gathered information under the Sunshine Act. His research culminated in this letter to the Commissioners for the Environment.

Commissioners,

The department you oversee is willfully violating San Francisco’s Environment Code by offering City departments a loophole to avoid posting when pesticides are sprayed.  The Environment code Section 304 requires posting for all pesticide applications in all locations.  (One exception is noted, “right-of-way locations that the general public does not use for recreational purposes”.  This is intended to allow unposted treatments at places like roadway median strips, but certainly not in parks, adjacent to sidewalks and in watersheds.)

However, the IPM Compliance checklist says something very different, “Posting is not required for areas inaccessible to the public.”  This “publicly inaccessible” exception violates the Code and puts City workers and the public at risk.  According to IPM staff, they leave it up to individual departments to decide which areas are “publicly inaccessible”.  IPM staff have stated they do not make it their business to monitor these designations.

This clearly puts City employees at risk of unwitting exposure to pesticides.  It also puts the public at risk as land managers are left to their own devices to decide which areas qualify as “publicly inaccessible”.

On top of this, the Reduced Risk Pesticide List: Restrictions on “most hazardous”(Tier I) herbicides, was revised this March to remove the requirement that blue dye be added to Tier I herbicides if they are used in places where posting is not required.  In other words, if the land manager deems a location to be “publicly inaccessible”, there is no requirement to post and no requirement to use the indicator dye.  Anyone who goes through the area, City employee or member of the general public, will have no idea they are exposing themselves to Tier I herbicides.  (Why would you remove this cheap protection, even if it did only benefit the person applying the herbicide?  Also, the blue dye enables them to see where they sprayed, allowing them to apply the herbicide more efficiently.)

This posting loophole is not necessary under the precautionary principle and it violates the law.  It opens the City to lawsuits from employees who were not provided the protections the law promises.  I hope you will have the Department to rectify this.

See the email exchange below for additional information..

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Tom Borden

EMAILS IN THE BACKSTORY

If you want to see the email trail yourself, here it is:

This is a Sunshine request.

San Francisco Environment Code Section 304.(e) allows the Department of Environment to grant permanent (ongoing as opposed to one time) exemptions to the notification requirements of the code.

(e)   The Department may grant exemptions to the notification requirements for one-time pesticide uses and may authorize “permanent” changes in the way City departments notify the public about pesticide use in specific circumstances, upon a “finding” that good cause exists to allow an exemption to the notification requirements. Prior to granting an exemption pursuant to this subsection, the City department requesting the exemption shall identify the specific situations in which it is not possible to comply with the notification requirements and propose alternative notification procedures. The Department shall review and approve the alternative notification procedures.

Please provide a list of all “permanent” exemptions that have been granted in the last 10 years.  If any have been granted to the Recreation and Parks Department or the SFPUC, please provide copies of those “findings” and a copy of the exemption request from the department.

He got a response – a phone call with Chris Geiger, responsible for San Francisco’s Integrated Pest Management program. Chris performs a delicate balancing act between reducing pesticide use and dealing with land managers who want to use these chemical weapons against “invasive” plants.  Tom asked for confirmation of the discussion in writing. He got it from Anthony Valdez, Commission Secretary.

On 7/5/2017 3:14 PM, Valdez, Anthony (ENV) wrote:

Tom:
As Chris Geiger discussed with you – the Department of the Environment has not granted any permanent exemptions to the posting requirements of Environment Code Section 304(a) for publicly accessible parcels. We do allow variances from the posting requirements for some publicly inaccessible parcels, most notably certain areas of San Francisco International Airport and closed utility rights-of-way managed by the Public Utilities Commission.
Thanks, Anthony
Anthony E. Valdez, MPA
Commission Secretary

Okay, good. So just to make sure, Tom asked:

Anthony,

Are any areas managed by the Recreation and Parks Department considered “publicly inaccessible parcels”?
If so, please provide a list of those areas and the associated variances from the posting requirements.

Thanks, Tom

Anthony responded:

On 7/12/2017 2:48 PM, Valdez, Anthony (ENV) wrote:
Tom –
Apologies for my delay in coordinating a response – we have two Commission on the Environment meetings this week. Please see the response below from Chris Geiger. Again, I encourage you to feel free to email or call Chris with any questions you may have:

The Department of the Environment does not review individual parcels to determine if they qualify as “publicly inaccessible.” That determination is left to the individual departments, including the Dept. of Recreation and Parks. We therefore do not have any specific variances or exemptions on file.  The reference document for this policy is the IPM Compliance Checklist.

You mentioned on the phone that you want to ascertain whether park areas adjacent to trails might be considered “publicly inaccessible” if there were signage requiring users to stay on the trail.  The answer is no. The posting exemption for publicly inaccessible areas is meant to apply to work areas, such as the Rec & Park Corporation Yard, not to public parks. We have never and would not ever grant any posting exemption for this kind of situation, and in my tenure we have never had any discussions or written exchanges with the Dept. of Recreation & Parks where this question has even come up. In my experience, Recreation & Parks has been quite careful and responsible in complying with posting requirements.

Anthony E. Valdez, MPA
Commission Secretary

That sounded encouraging. Just to confirm, though…

Thanks Anthony and Chris,

It’s good to know all herbicide applications in regular parkland and Natural Areas will be posted and that blue marking dye will be used.

On a related topic, Aquamaster was sprayed on Mt Davidson on July 5 [2017].  The treatment was to control poison oak growing onto a primary trail.  The herbicide was sprayed on PO and grass that was literally on the trail edge.  The trail was not closed off as required.  Attached are photos of the sign and the application area. More training and better supervision needed?

Tom

.

 

He followed up with another email.

Chris and Anthony,

In your July 12 email to me you say:

“The Department of the Environment does not review individual parcels to determine if they qualify as “publicly inaccessible.” That determination is left to the individual departments, including the Dept. of Recreation and Parks. We therefore do not have any specific variances or exemptions on file.  The reference document for this policy is the IPM Compliance Checklist.”

I see the Compliance Checklist does say, “Posting is not required for areas inaccessible to the public.”  However, the actual law,  SF Environment Code Chapter 3, does not make any such exception.  The posting exception in the Checklist violates the language of the Environment Code.  How does the Department of Environment justify making this exception?

Chapter 3 is meant to protect everyone in the City.  The IPM Compliance Checklist note removes this protection for City employees.  Doesn’t this leave the City open to lawsuits by willfully removing protections the law promises City employees?

As you know, I am concerned the RPD will use this as a loophole to avoid posting requirements in Natural Areas since their position is that the public is prohibited from straying off trail into those areas.  You state above that your department will not provide oversight of the “publicly inaccessible” designations made by City land managers.  This leaves in doubt what really qualifies as publicly inaccessible and as a result, leaves the public open to exposure to herbicide applications that are not posted or marked with blue dye.

I appreciate that your email also makes assurances that you have not granted RPD any additional posting exceptions, beyond this one granted to all City departments.

Looking forward to your reply,

Tom Borden
415 252 5902

After that, there was the letter to the Commissioners to express the same concerns.

Thanks, Tom, for trying to protect everyone from toxic herbicides in our parks!

Mount Sutro Plan = Landslide Risk

The article below is reprinted with permission from the SutroForest.org website. It’s important because it discusses the issue of increased landslide risk from tree destruction on steep slopes. UCSF outlines the hazard – with a Mount Sutro map – but the mitigations are extremely inadequate.

This is relevant for Sutro Forest, but also for Mount Davidson and other areas where trees are being cut down on or above slopes.

Landslide under blue tarp. South Ridge at top left.

We’re reading the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the 2017 Sutro Forest Plan, and got to the section on landslide risk. This has been one of our concerns, especially since the tragedy at Oso, Washington, where the felling of trees in previous years was a factor in destabilizing the slope. (We wrote about that HERE: Cut Trees, Add Landslide Risk) We know this area is subject to landslides – we had a blue tarp covering unstable areas in Forest Knolls for a year when cutting trees destabilized a slope, and another just above UCSF’s Aldea housing area.

SHOCKING LANDSLIDE INFORMATION

We were shocked at what we found in the DEIR:
“Increased instability could cause a landslide that would impact Crestmont Drive, Christopher Drive, and Johnstone Drive. An existing landslide scarp is visible above Christopher Drive. Some homes along Christopher Drive could be placed at additional risk from localized landslides due to plan implementation. Phase I activities would result in a potentially significant impact…”

The map above is taken from the DEIR. All the dark green areas are potentially unstable. All the gold areas are potentially unstable. All the cream areas are potentially unstable. The little red blobs and stars are already unstable. The black arrows show the direction of potential landslides – right into our communities. Here’s the key to the map. The light yellow and light green areas are where they are cutting down trees in Phase I (five years, starting this fall – 2017):

Legend to Landslide Hazard Map Sutro Forest 2017

What’s the proposed “mitigation”? Avoiding work in the forest for 2 days when the soil is wet after rain. This completely ignores the fact that landslides are a MULTI-YEAR hazard after tree removal.

Here’s the proposed mitigation in their own words:
“After a significant storm event (defined as 0.5 inches of rain within a 48-hour or greater period), the following conditions shall be met prior to any vegetation management activities:

  • The maps detailing areas of historic slope instability or rock fall in the Final Geotechnical and Geological Evaluation Report for UCSF Mount Sutro shall be reviewed (Rutherford + Chekene 2013) 
  • If ground-disturbing or vegetation removal activities are proposed within or adjacent to areas of historic slope instability or rock fall, the saturation of the soils shall be estimated in the field; if muddy water drips from a handful of soil, the soil is considered saturated (Brouwer, Goffeau and Heibloem 1985) 
  • The areas of historic slope instability or rock fall shall be flagged if the moisture content of the soils is determined to be high (i.e., muddy) and ground-disturbing or vegetation removal activities shall be avoided for a minimum of 48-hours after a significant storm event to permit soil drying…”

In other words, we won’t chop down trees in the rain or when the soil is wet.

Other mitigations are palliative. They’re planning to build roads into the forest for trucks and heavy equipment, and those roads will follow the contour of the slope. The quarter-acre staging plazas – where they’ll remove trees so trucks can turn around and heavy equipment be parked – will be flattish, with a slight slope for drainage. None of this is as effective as not building these roads or bringing in heavy equipment in the first place.

WHY THE MITIGATION IS MEANINGLESS

The problem is, the effect of cutting down trees is a LONG TERM problem. The effect of tree removal takes years – not days, not months – to fix. In Oso, Washington, the slope gave way three years after the last tree-destruction. Here’s the story (from the article we published at the time). The tragedy was foreseen… but the regulators thought they had enough mitigations in place.

On March 22, 2014, a huge landslide destroyed the small Washington community of Oso. Rain was of course a factor, as was erosion at the base of the slope. But it’s probable that tree-cutting above the slide area was an important factor too. An article in the Seattle Times that quotes a report from Lee Benda, a University of Washington geologist. It said tree removal could increase soil water “on the order of 20 to 35 percent” — and that the impact could last 16-27 years, until new trees matured. Benda looked at past slides on the hill and found they occurred within five to 10 years of harvests [i.e. felling trees for timber].

There had been red flags before. The area was second growth forest, grown back from logging in the 1920s/30s. Over 300 acres were again logged in the late 1980s.

The first time regulators tried to stop logging on the hill was in 1988. But the owner of the timber successfully argued that measures could be taken to mitigate the risk. Eventually, the state only blocked it from logging some 48 acres, and the owners  gave in on that.

In 2004, new owners applied to cut 15 acres; when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) objected, they halved the area and re-located the cut. DNR gave approval, subject to no work during heavy rain and for a day afterward. The tree-cutting finished in August 2005.

In January 2006, there was a major landslide 600 feet from the cut zone. The state built a log wall to shore up the slope.

The owners continued logging. In 2009, they removed 20% of the trees. In 2011, they removed another 15%. In 2014, the hillside collapsed.

The regulators were aware of the risk; they thought they were mitigating it with their restrictions and reaching a compromise with the owners. But it wasn’t enough. Destabilizing the mountainside is a long-term thing; the effects can show up in months, but it’s more likely to take years.

THE LESSON FOR MOUNT SUTRO

Our mountains not only are potentially unstable, they actually have landslides. The picture at the end of this article shows one on Twin Peaks, where rocks tumble after nearly every heavy rainy season.

The roots of the trees are helping to hold the unstable soil in place and that as the roots rot, landslide risk will increase.  It is going to be more unstable 2-3 years after the trees are removed than 2 days after it rains.  The information that instability increases over time is a little counter-intuitive.

Moreover, removing the trees takes away their ability to suck water out of the soil. If the tree-cutting is done in dry years, it may take a wet winter to trigger landslides… which would not have happened if the trees had been regulating the water and functioning as a living geotextile.

Since UCSF are not going to use herbicides on the stumps to prevent them from resprouting, they say they will grind the stumps.  That is an effective way to prevent resprouting, but it will greatly increase the instability of the soil because the heavy equipment digs down several feet into the stump to destroy the roots.  That’s another reason why they should not destroy trees where slide risk has been identified.

Anyone seriously considering the map above can only hope that UCSF will draw a better conclusion than the Washington State loggers and regulators. The planned destruction of thousands of trees – many within the first five years – could cause landslides in surrounding communities not days or months later, but years after the event.

UCSF: First, do no harm!