Killing Our Street Trees in San Francisco

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799

Most of these Jefferson Street trees were saved due to neighbors’ efforts! Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

San Francisco has a lot of projects going on. SFMTA seems to be flush with wealth, and is “improving” a lot of roads. Developers are planning fancy new buildings.

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.

San Francisco has a tree canopy of only 13.7%, the lowest of any major city, and nearly half the appropriate canopy cover of 25%.

(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.

REASONS TO SAVE OUR TREES

  1. Trees fight pollution, especially particulate pollution that is dangerous to human lungs.
  2. Trees improve air quality
  3. 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.
  4. Trees provide habitat for wildlife, especially birds and butterflies.
  5. Trees help regulate water by absorbing it into their roots and gradually releasing it through their leaves.
  6. Trees reduce crime and improve business.

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

TREES AT GEARY AND MASONIC – GONE

Two years ago, neighbors fought to save this lovely grove of trees at Geary and Masonic. They were cut down because of plans that merely considered them as “green things that are in the way” and were not designed to preserve them.

These trees are now gone. Here’s what that grove looks like now:

THE TREES AT FULTON – GONE

This charming line of street trees, fighting pollution and climate change, and breathing out oxygen in downtown San Francisco, is also gone. In its place there will be a tower block with a footprint out to the sidewalk.

Where once there were trees.

THE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERING PLUM TREES AT FORT MASON – GONE

Plum trees the neighbors loved were removed at Fort Mason, leaving the neighbors in shock.

Fort Mason Flowering Plum Trees - Before

Fort Mason Flowering Plum Trees – Before

Shocked neighbor views the missing trees

TREES THAT CAN STILL BE SAVED

The tree destruction continues, but in some cases at least it may be possible for neighbors to prevail.

The Rincon Point Neighbors are fighting to save ten trees at Howard and Steuart streets. The hearing is May 31 at 5 pm in room 416, City Hall.  Comments should be submitted on the Thursday prior to the Hearing, May 25th, 2017 (Today!) according to Board of Appeals rules. You can email them at: Boardofappeals@sfgov.org

Neighbors are seeking to save this tree, one of the few large shade and habitat trees remaining on Haight Street. It’s disrupting the sidewalk, but an arborist has determined that the tree can be saved simply by enlarging the tree basin to accommodate its roots, fixing the sidewalk, and pruning some of the branches.

If you want to help save this tree, you can sign the Change.org petition here, and also email the Bureau of Urban Forestry  at urbanforestry@sfdpw.org and tell them you protest the removal of the tree at 826 Haight. — deadline June 21, 2017)

Threatened tree at 826 Haight Street San Francisco

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is acutely aware of the value of Green Infrastructure, and we support the efforts of neighbors and neighborhood groups to preserve non-hazardous trees.

Memorial for Peter Ehrlich, 1948-2017

The Presidio had a community work day and memorial for Peter Ehrlich today. Here’s a report from a friend who attended.

Peter Ehrlich’s memorial at the Presidio was very well done. There were at least 150 people there and they did a lot of work. Pete had planted many Monterey cypresses around the Spire and they needed to be weeded and mulched. So, the work directly benefited the trees Pete had planted.

The location of the memorial at the Spire was an appropriate location. The massive sculpture of cypress logs by Andy Goldsworthy was important to Pete because he had the pleasure of helping Goldsworthy find the wood for the sculpture.

He really enjoyed talking with Goldsworthy. The Spire was decorated with pictures of Pete and flowers all around the Spire. There was also a book of pictures of Pete that will be given to his daughter, Lily. People were invited to write in that book. There were eucalyptus leaves on which people were invited to write tributes to Pete that were hung on the trees. My message was, “We will watch the Presidio forest for Pete.”

Dee Seligman [former Interim President of SFFA] spoke explicitly for San Francisco Forest Alliance by reading a portion of her tribute that was posted to the SFFA website. When she read the last paragraph about the help he gave us regarding the plans of the Natural Areas Program, people applauded.

SFFA was well represented and Pete would have been proud of how he was remembered.

We would like to thank the author of this account, and thank Dee Seligman for the touching and appropriate remembrance.

Pesticides in our Parks, Jan-March 2017

Herbicide Spraying in Glen Canyon May 2017

Someone recently sent us this picture (above) of herbicide being sprayed at Glen Canyon.

Saw a guy spraying pesticides in Glen Canyon today. I didn’t want to get close enough to read the sign because he’s spraying right now and I’m pregnant.  I’m assuming its one of the same old for the same old reasons.  It’s right near a child’s classroom and right near someone’s backyard.  Somewhat related, did you hear that a coyote in Glen Canyon was killed by rat poison?

Clicking on the picture will bring you to a very short video of the spraying.

In other news, the petition opposing pesticides finally closed with 12,113 signatures!

PESTICIDE USAGE, FIRST QUARTER 2017

We recently received and compiled the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) pesticide usage reports for the first quarter of 2017. There’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: The first quarter continues to be Garlon time in the Natural Areas, which comprise the areas under the Natural Resources Division of SFRPD and the SFPUC areas that are managed by the same land managers.

In 2017, they applied Garlon 25 times, up from 23 in 2016. The volume applied is nearly the same; on an “active ingredient” calculation, it’s 61.2 fluid ounces in 2017 slightly down from 61.5 fl oz in 2016. Garlon is used only against Bermuda buttercups (oxalis, sourgrass, soursob, oxalis pes caprae).

The main parks where it was applied were Twin Peaks, McLaren Park, and Mt Davidson, though they did use it at other locations too.

This is especially bad news because Garlon is one the most toxic herbicides the city is allowed to use. Ever since we’ve been following it, not only has it been designated Tier I (Most hazardous), there’s been a notation against it: HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE.

Garlon is also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )

Oxalis is not considered terribly invasive. Its brilliant yellow color and early spring flowering make it very visible, but it needs disturbance to spread. If it is ignored, it will over time give way to other plants. In any case, after its explosion of spring color, it dies down and other plants take over. There is considerable doubt about the effectiveness of herbicides on oxalis, because it grows from bulbils (tiny bulbs) that are well protected, and will resprout the following season.

Here’s our quick presentation about Garlon and oxalis: Garlon vs Oxalis in Ten Easy Slides. In summary: San Francisco could get rid of this very toxic “HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND ALTERNATIVE” herbicide merely by calling a truce on its war with oxalis. (Here’s a longer article, with some lovely photographs: Five Reasons why it’s okay to love oxalis and stop poisoning it )

Now for the good news:

  • SFRPD has cut back a lot on its use of Roundup (also called Aquamaster), i.e. Glyphosate. This is the chemical that the WHO declared a probable carcinogen.  In 2017, Natural Areas used it three times, twice at Twin Peaks and once at Laguna Honda.
  • The main user of Glyphosate: Golden Gate Park Nursery, which Chris Geiger (the Integrated Pest Management person at SF Environment) explained is not a public area. They used either 25 fl oz or 40 fl oz of glyphosate (active ingredient basis), depending on whether one of the entries is a duplication. We have a question in about that to SFRPD and SF Environment, and will update this when we have an answer.
  • No Tier I herbicides were used in Glen Canyon from Jan-March 2017. Though Natural Areas elsewhere were sprayed with Garlon for oxalis, none was used in Glen Canyon – where neighbors are concerned because of the many small children who play there, as well as potential water contamination.

CONCERNS

We still have concerns, though we do acknowledge the efforts of SF Environment and SFRPD to control the use of toxic herbicides. We will go into those in detail another time, but here are a few, in brief:

  • Allowing the use of Tier I herbicides even in non-public areas does not prevent them from contaminating the environment.
  • This is especially true now that San Francisco will be adding its own ground water to the public water supply. No one wants pesticides coming from our taps.
  • The Natural Areas already severely restrict access by requiring people to stay on the limited number of “designated trails” – mainly broad paths that have been improved in some cases into stairways and mini-roads. Using Tier I herbicides will give them an incentive to block off much of the park, so it is accessible only to SFRPD staff or volunteers.
  • Instead of eschewing herbicides altogether, new combinations are being considered for addition to the list of permitted pesticides.

San Francisco Forest Alliance’s stance: No Pesticides in our Parks.

We continue to work toward this goal, and support the efforts of SF Environment and thousands of people to get there.

 

 

Peter Ehrlich, 1948 – 2017

This tribute to Peter Ehrlich was written by Dee Seligman, formerly Interim President of San Francisco Forest Alliance.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: if you plan to join the Presidio community work day on May 21, 2017 in Peter Ehrlich’s honor, please register HERE.

Peter Ehrlich (left), with Ron Proctor, Jacquie Proctor, and Larry Seligman in the Presidio – Dec 2016

 

Tribute to Peter Ehrlich

by Dee Seligman

On Sunday, May 21, from 10 am to 1 pm, the Presidio Trust will host a Community Stewardship Day in honor of Peter, where staff, volunteers, and friends can celebrate Peter by caring for the trees in the cypress grove surrounding Spire. We’ll pause at noon for reflections about Peter. Refreshments will be provided. We hope as many SF Forest Alliance supporters as possible will attend this event to honor Peter.

Peter Ehrlich was a mensch. This Yiddish expression describes a human being, one in the fullest sense of the word with integrity, humanity, and worthy of emulation. It’s an apt description of Peter, the Chief Forester of the Presidio and previously the Manager of the tree maintenance programs in all of San Francisco’s parks for 15 years, who died unexpectedly in a biking accident about a week ago.

This small man from the Bronx with a big heart, a passion for trees and birds, a man of science and of literature, had a special connection to the San Francisco Forest Alliance (SFFA). With his mischievous smile, ironic perspective, and regard for classic literature, he reached out to us as a group, and to many others in the Bay Area. Caring about trees was the common denominator to being Peter’s friend and ally.

He said he learned as a kid in the Bronx to stand up for what he believed in, and Peter believed in trees—boy, did he ever! He loved trees—all trees. He did not differentiate between native and non-native but found value, inspiration, and function in all trees. He understood equally well the physical comforts provided by trees but also, what he called, “the aesthetic experience” of forests.

Peter Ehrlich (on the left) and Ron Proctor planting trees at the Presidio - Dec 2016

Peter Ehrlich (on the left) and Ron Proctor planting trees at the Presidio – Dec 2016

He did his best to protect all trees. In the Presidio, which is controlled by the federal government through the National Park Service, there is forest management and ongoing rejuvenation, directed by Peter. He replaced some blue gums in the Presidio with related species of eucalyptus when absolutely necessary.

However, within the municipal parks of San Francisco, such as in Natural Areas like Mt. Davidson, there has been no ongoing rejuvenation. Peter looked out for the eucalyptus in these areas, too, by working with SFFA to evaluate the trees of Mt. Davidson and Mt. Sutro. He walked both forests with SFFA leaders at separate instances and documented in writing that he did not find them unhealthy nor unusually at risk due to drought, insects, or any of the other reasons dredged up by native plant advocates for the Natural Areas Program. He supported our point of view in a letter to the Planning Commission and to Rec and Park Commission when the EIR came up for certification.

He spoke at conferences, gave local talks, and guided walks in the Presidio. I witnessed his perceptive service on the Technical Advisory Committee for UCSF on Mt. Sutro, where he asked definitive questions, such as whether there were risk ratings done for all the trees on the mountain? He emphasized that “lack of vigor”  is different than “hazard,” in other words asking for more nuanced information from any assessment of the trees. In fact, Peter’s questions prompted the assessing arborist to explain that they had two different rating systems: one for individual trees in high-use areas, but another for all the rest of the trees. This fact was unlikely to have been revealed without his astute questions.

Peter did not mince words. After reviewing an early draft of an Urban Forestry Council’s proposed document on “best management practices for the urban forest”, he advised us that “if the goal of the document was conversion [i.e., of the type of species in the forest], it should be clearly stated as such.” He advised against references to fire or other objectives “if the real goal is type conversion.” He questioned, “What are San Francisco’s ‘priorities’? What are San Francisco’s endangered species on Mt. Davidson and Mt. Sutro? The Presidio has four. What are the endangered species on Mt. Sutro and Mt. Davison? The ‘sensitive species’ are impossible to define. The word ‘sensitive’ with respect to species is overused.”

And he would not accept easy answers. For example, “thinning,” as proposed by the Natural Areas Program is not a universal cure-all. He said: “Thinning is presented as an event that is self-explanatory. It is not, as thinning must be done, if it is deemed necessary, with low-impact techniques that preserve residual trees. A contractor without tree protection constraints could do a lot of damage. In fact, even with tree protection requirements in place, an on-site monitor would be necessary to make sure residual trees were not negatively impacted.”

Another glib answer he rejected was Rec and Park’s explanation that the eucalyptus were all “dying due to drought.” He differentiated between blue gum eucalyptus having no leaves at all, possibly signifying a lack of regeneration, from blue gums having a decreased canopy percentage, not necessarily a sign of poor health. In dry weather, blue gums often protect themselves by shedding some leaves, which would transpire water, and growing epicormic sprouts instead.

Although somewhat constrained by working in a politically sensitive position in the Presidio, he was clear-eyed about the environmental politics of San Francisco. Nothing could be more telling than a comment he once sent me about the long, contentious, and circuitous process to certification taken by the Significant Natural Resource Areas’ Management Plan (formerly known as SNRAMP, now called NRAMP, or Natural Resource Areas Management Plan).

Peter said, “As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear: ‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.’”
We all miss Peter very much. 


Peter also loved wildlife and birds. A few years ago, he sent us some pictures of young Great Horned Owls in a nest in the Presidio. He gave us permission to use them then, and we publish them here in grateful remembrance.

 

Ecological “Restoration”: “Someone Pays and Someone Profits”

The article below was first published on April 1st on MillionTrees.me – a site fighting unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Though it references mainly the widespread tree destruction planned for the East Bay, the same principles apply broadly.  The article is republished here with permission

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The Ecological “Restoration” Industry: Follow the money

Matt Chew is one of many professional academics that criticize invasion biology.  Unlike most, he emphasizes explaining the weaknesses of eco-nativism using scientific, historical, and philosophical methods, depending on the issue.  This has made him a useful collaborator and resource for like-minded but primarily science-oriented colleagues. Million Trees is deeply grateful for his willingness to speak publically about the fallacies of invasion biology, including the generous gift of his time in writing this guest post for us.

Dr. Chew is a faculty member of Arizona State University’s Center for Biology and Society and an instructor in the ASU School of Life Sciences.  He teaches courses including the History of Biology, Biology and Society, and a senior conservation biology course in “novel ecosystems,” described HERE on the university’s “ASU Now” news website.

He was also a speaker at the 2013 annual conference of Beyond Pesticides.  A video of his presentation is available HERE (go to 24:40).  He says that “invasive” plants are convenient scapegoats that are presenting a marketing opportunity for the manufacturers of pesticides. Invasion biology is at the core of the greening of pesticides.

In his guest post, Matt helps us to understand how he chose to pursue a multidisciplinary critique of one topic rather than adopting a single disciplinary approach and identity. He began his professional career as a practicing conservation biologist, experiencing firsthand the sometimes startling disconnects between laws, policies, aspirations, public expectations, and realities “on the ground.” 

We celebrate April Fool’s Day with Matt Chew’s article.  When we waste our money on ecological “restorations” the joke is on us!

Million Trees

Matt Chew with his class in novel ecosystems


Those familiar with my academic work know I invest most of my efforts documenting and explaining the flaws and foibles of “invasion biology.” But I got into this messy business as a practical conservation biologist, a natural resources planner “coordinating” the Arizona State Natural Areas Program during the late 1990s. I found the toxic nativism of natural areas proponents morbidly fascinating, and the practical politics of natural areas acquisition and management morbidly galling. I chose to follow my fascination. But as “Death of a Million Trees” marks the end of its seventh year as a WordPress blog, and in light of recent decisions by Bay Area authorities, it’s time for a galling reminder:  Follow the money.

Authorities responsible for suburban fire suppression and recovery necessarily view stands of living trees as liabilities. They can’t see the forest for the fuels. The prospect of eliminating them merely drives their value further into the negative. That it must be subsidized is ironic because eucalyptus and Monterey pine are plantation grown in many countries for timber or pulp. But they aren’t traditional sources of California wood products and a glut of more familiar drought-killed trees awaits salvage far from finicky neighbors.

So condemned trees can’t just be disappeared by pointing them out to eager loggers. “Concept planning” can be fairly vague, but “action planning” must be very specific. A job this big requires both general and sub-contracting. It requires hiring and training and supervising. Capital equipment will be acquired, maintained and repaired. Affected areas must be surveyed and material volumes estimated. Before trees can be felled, access routes must be surveyed and created. After trees are felled they must be sectioned, staged, loaded and hauled away for disposal. More often they are shredded in place. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Where “ecological restoration” is the objective, stumps must be pulled or blasted and roots must be excavated. The eucalyptus seed bank will need to be eliminated or rendered inert. Perhaps even a century’s accumulation of organic topsoil will need amending, or removing and replacing to reconstitute prehistoric substrates. Seed suppliers and nurseries will be contracted to provide plant “native” materials. After the armies of tree-fellers and stump-blasters will come waves of laborers, tractors, diggers, spreaders, and planters in an endless relay of trucks. Ecological restoration is farming, all the more so in proximity to a cityscape arrayed in exotic plants. If all goes well and the rain falls in judicious quantities at auspicious times, planting will be followed by perpetual weeding. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

It’s hardly surprising that FEMA has no intention of underwriting restoration on that scale. Their plans envision minimally spreading shredded wood, leaving a layer up to two feet deep to gradually decompose, and hoping whatever oaks and other present understory plants they haven’t accidentally fractured or flattened will thrive in the sudden absence of big trees. Two feet of material will gradually compact, but assurances that it will rot into organic soil within a few years are pretty optimistic. Whether and when it will support anything resembling a native plant assemblage is dubious. Meanwhile, some viable stumps will require recurring treatment with the herbicide du jour and occasional supplemental felling. It’s not a reset-and-forget strategy. It’s just the first step of a long and contentious cycle of interventions. And of course, at every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Whenever public property and expenditure is concerned there should be an open procurement process with a clear data trail. A call for proposals is written and published, bids are received, contracts awarded, and work commences. But we can be certain that by the time the prospect of deforesting the Bay Area was openly discussed by policymakers, potential bidders were positioning themselves to influence the shape of the emerging policy and take advantage of it. And various interest groups who saw deforesting the hillsides as a means to their ends became a de facto coalition of advocates. Some acted more openly than others, and some to greater effect. But prominent nonprofit organizations expect returns on their investments. Nothing happens unless someone pays and someone profits.

Some of the premises underlying the logic of the program will inevitably be faulty. Should it falter at any step due to unforeseen events (e.g., meteorological, horticultural, ecological, economic or political), contingencies will be implemented… if funds are available. There are only three certainties. Firstly, no action occurs unless someone pays and someone profits. Secondly, nature, within which I include all aspects of human society, is complex and capricious. No one can predict with much certainty how a post-deforestation landscape will look or function. Finally, a coalition of the discontented will emerge and agitate for improvements that require someone to pay, and allow someone to profit.  As Nancy Pelosi recently reminded us, “we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.”   

Matt Chew

Neighbor Activists on Mt Davidson

We received this report from  FRIENDS OF MOUNT DAVIDSON, neighborhood activists who staged some outreach on Easter Sunday morning at Mt Davidson

 

We gave out more than 100 flyers to visitors before and after the service, at the two most heavily trafficked trail entrances and at the top. Spoke to many, at least briefly. Our group did an awesome job with the yellow ribbons and signs at many spots, along the trails, and around the top plateau. Big visual impact.

That had a lot of people hungry for more information and answers, so the handouts then gave them some details. Most were supportive, confused, or surprised, a few were dismissive or claimed it to be untrue. Some signs had been torn down in the less trafficked areas even after we had monitored and replaced several, but most of the ribbons at the top and on the main trail road thankfully survived the morning.

Tree with Yellow ribbon on Mt Davidson – Easter, 2017. Photo credit Pavel Fedorov (PavelFedorov.com)

We went around and removed the ribbons and signs on a nearly all the trees after people had left, to clean up. Decided to keep a few of the prominent ones that were perfectly intact in the main areas, to last the day and inform more visitors. We were there by 6:30am and home by 9:30am, just as the rain started.

Please send an individual email message directly to Phil Ginsburg, Ed Lee, and your Supervisor as the flyer asks, to say how shocked you are as a citizen by this tree removal plan. Emails to:

MayorEdwinLee@sfgov.org; Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org; Philip.Ginsburg@sfgov.org

[You can see the flyers here: EasterMtD4.17 and here: MT DAVIDSON4.15.17 ]

Tree on Mt Davidson – photo credit Pavel Fedorov (pavelfedorov.com)

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So Much City, So Little Green

This beautiful aerial view of San Francisco, taken by Fiona Fay and used here with permission, shows just how important our urban forests are. At just 13.7% cover, San Francisco has amongst the smallest tree canopy of any major city. And yet, there are plans to cut down thousands of trees – even though we’re already behind on replacing those that die naturally.

Photo Credit: @FionaFaytv of the IRN- NutritionHub.org

It shows may of the places now vulnerable to the plans of the land managers – mostly SF Recreation and Parks’ Natural Resources Division, which uses toxic pesticides, cuts down healthy and mature trees, and limits access in the name of protecting native plants; but also UCSF, which owns most of Sutro Forest and partners with the Sutro Stewards that have the same nativist bias; and Treasure Island Development Authority, which is using a nativist plan similar to that of the Natural Resources Division.

Visit these places, make your memories and photograph their beauty. Send us pictures on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/ForestAlliance/] or by email to SFForestNews@gmail.com – we will publish and archive them. (If you want them shared on this website, please include permission to do so.)

Photo Credit: @FionaFaytv ; Labels: SFForest

Our trees provide enormous health and environmental benefits. Especially in these difficult times, every tree counts.

Read More: Twenty Reasons Why Urban Trees are Important to Us All

Yet, our tree canopy is small, and shrinking not growing.

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

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

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