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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Before and After in the “Natural” Areas

Satire… for when truth is so strange that most people don’t believe it

san-francisco-before-and-after2a

Felling Trees Will Harm Rare Frogs in Sharp Park

The Natural Resources Department (NRD -formerly called the Natural Areas Program) is planning to cut down more than 15,000 trees in Pacifica’s Sharp Park, mostly on hillsides east of Highway 1. This is supposed to benefit the two species that live around there – the threatened red-legged frog and the endangered California garter snake. It will most likely threaten them still further.

THE LAKE OF THE RED-LEGGED FROG

4 Lake and trees in Sharp Parkcalifornia-red-legged-frog-the-frog-book1906

This lake is red-legged frog habitat. And it’s not just good for the endangered frog, and presumably the endangered snakes that preys on it. All kinds of other wildlife use it. Observers have seen everything from bobcats to quail to rabbits in the area.

The lake, which lies to the east of Highway 1 in Sharp Park, was made by damming a seasonal creek. On the left of the picture above, you can see the earthen dam covered with greenery. Now a naturalized pond, it was originally part of the irrigation system for the Sharp Park golf course, and was fed water through pipes and a cistern. Now the golf course gets its water elsewhere, the cistern has been filled in, and the pipes in disuse or gone.

Where the old tank was in Sharp Park Archery Range

This is where the old cistern was filled in. It’s invisible now under wildflowers and shrubs.

All the water in the lake now comes from the watershed created by the forested hills around.  Since this park lies within the fog belt, the tall trees catch the water and rain it down into the pond, even in summer. As a result, the pond has water through the year. (The photos here were taken in June last year. Everything was lush and green and there was no sign of any drought.)

7 Idyllic forest in Sharp Park archery range

So what happens when the trees are felled? We expect two adverse impacts on habitat.

  • First, and immediately, there will be an increase in erosion, bringing mud and debris into the lake and affecting its water quality.
  • Longer term, the lake will start to dry up in summer, since without the surrounding trees it will no longer get the water from the fog. What water it gets will evaporate more quickly without the tree shade cooling its surroundings. In dry years, it may not even get much water in winter. Its function as habitat would be severely degraded.
  • The area will become a lot dryer and warmer in summer, just the time when the red-legged frogs are changing from tadpoles to frogs. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the California red-legged “frogs do not like very hot temperatures and will seek shade within tall grasses and reeds.”

OTHER NEGATIVE ECOLOGICAL IMPACTS

Besides damaging the habitats of endangered species, the tree-cutting plan is environmentally damaging in many ways.

  • Carbon sequestration: Trees sequester carbon, and preserving trees and thus fight climate change. Once they are cut down, they release this carbon back to the atmosphere. With 15,000 trees, the impact will be significant.
  • Trees fight pollution, especially particulate pollution. With Highway 1 running through it, and the city of Pacifica nearby, these trees are fighting the pollution that would otherwise drift into populated areas.
  • Trees prevent erosion. The trees help to prevent erosion on these steep hillsides, and reduce the likelihood of landslides.
  • Trees help water regulation. These trees not only increase the water available by precipitating water from the fog, they also help to store in by slowing evaporation and encouraging the growth of plants that slow run-off. This provides a green environment year-round.

There’s more about the plan for Sharp Park HERE in an article we wrote last year. In the map below , the red percentages show the percentage of trees to be felled at each site. In most places, it’s 75% of the trees. (You can click on the map to make it larger.)

snramp - sharp park- plan A

Imagine this hillside as a bald mountain with a few scraggly trees, brown and dry in summer.

7 a forest on the hillside - sharp park

What we wrote then in conclusion:

Aside from the beauty of the place, and the undisturbed wildlife habitat that would both be destroyed, we think it is environmentally irresponsible. Eucalyptus, with its dense wood, its size, and its 400-500-year life-span, is particularly effective at sequestering carbon. 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.  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). NRD’s answer to that is to see if the ordinance applies, and if it does, to try to get permission.

Hands Off Mt Davidson’s Forest – Take it Away from NAP

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) plans to remove 1/3 (10 acres) of the mature and healthy forest on Mount Davidson. We think the 30-acre forested area of the mountain should be removed from NAP’s control to prevent this destruction. The forest should be managed by professional foresters, like those in the Presidio, not gardeners.

In June, 3 years ago, U.C. Berkeley Forestry Management Professor Dr. Joe R. McBride (pdf link: MtDavidson_McBride_Ginsburg(06-29-13)) wrote about his inspection of the Mt Davidson forest, concluding that the Natural Areas Program’s  Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) for the removal and thinning of different portions of the eucalyptus plantation on Mt. Davidson is NOT justified.

He noted that the forest serves an important role in the history and visual characteristics of the city. Trees and the existing understory provide habitat for wildlife and wind protection for walkers.

mt davidson forest - hiker on trail

Summary of Dr. McBride’s letter to Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the SF Recreation & Park Dept (parent Department of Natural Areas Program (NAP)):

1) Historic importance and Visual Value.
The eucalyptus forest on Mount Davidson was planted under the direction of Adolph Sutro, philanthropist and former Mayor of San Francisco. The hilltops covered in eucalyptus trees and Monterey cypresses are a distinctive feature of San Francisco’s landscape. They’re been there for a hundred years and are an important historical heritage.

2) Eucalyptus is not invasive.
The Plan frequently refers to these trees as “invasive.” Prof. McBride’s studies indicate that eucalyptus does not invade adjacent grasslands; and this is also obviously true on Mt Davidson, where a stable boundary exists between the forested and unforested areas. [In fact, the California Invasive Plant Council, which had earlier considered eucalyptus as moderately invasive downshifted this classification in April 2015 to “Limited.]

3) Eucalyptus groves are biodiverse.
Eucalyptus groves are richer habitats for vertebrates than either redwood or Monterey cypress/pine forest; and are similar to dry chaparral and grasslands.

4) More Pesticides.
Removing the number of trees shown in the Plan will expose the ground to more light than existing understory plants can tolerate. In the disturbed ground and increase light conditions, existing exotic species will proliferate and will have to be controlled by using even more pesticides.

5) Increased wind-throw and breakage of remaining trees.
Removing trees in this windy area will affect the trees that remain, which are not wind-hardened. More trees will go down.

6) Reducing a wind-break.
This is a very windy part of the city, with winds blowing in straight from the ocean. Walking recreationally on Mt Davidson will be a less pleasant experience.

7) Reduction in habitat.
The Plan’s assumption that birds will quickly adjust to removal of 1600 trees is unfounded. Many birds return to the same nesting site each year. Cutting down large numbers of trees displaces these birds, and also causes a great deal of disturbance. Bird protection plans usually call for a 300-foot radius of protected area around a nest.

Girdled tree Mount Davidson

Girdled tree Mount Davidson

8) The forest is healthy.
The dead trees in the forest have been girdled by someone/s with a vendetta against eucalyptus; few trees – if any – have died naturally.

9) Ivy is not a problem.
English and Algerian ivy climbs up the trees, but cannot smother the trees by growing into the canopy. The only snags covered in ivy were those that had been girdled.

10) Regeneration is a 22nd Century issue.
It’s been argued that the understory of ivy, Cape ivy, and Himalayan blackberry may restrict the establishment of eucalyptus seedlings. If so – and it’s possible – this is a problem for the next century. The forest, though 100 years old, is comparatively young. This could be revisited in another 100 years or so. Meanwhile, the understory provides an excellent food source and cover for wildlife.

Mt Davidson 2 - fuschia flourishing despite drought, watered by the trees catching the fog

 

Below: Mt Davidson map shows where 10 acres of healthy, mature trees will be removed if the  SNRAMP plans for maximum restoration are approved.  The red, green and yellow notations highlight the information contained SNRAMP plans (as per notes on the lower, bottom left).

SNRAMP. p. 6.2-10, F-14

Source: SIGNIFICANT NATURAL RESOURCE AREAS MANAGEMENT PLAN p. 6.2–19, F-14

San Francisco RPD Map of Responsibility Areas for Pesticides (and Unrecorded Spraying)

If you’ve every wondered – as we have – which section a particular playground or park falls under, this map will help. This also determines who within San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is responsible for pesticide use in that area. The black stars represent the areas under the Natural Areas Program (NAP). As you see, they’re dotted throughout the city.

Click here for the full-size (readable!) PDF map: PSA & OS Map

sfrpd responsibility map

TOXIC GARLON FOR MEXICAN BERMUDA BUTTERCUPS

Honeybee in oxalis flower

Honeybee in oxalis flower

In other, somewhat related news: We received the pesticide usage reports for January 2016. The Natural Areas Program was the only section using herbicides in January,  all of it Garlon 4 Ultra against oxalis. SFRPD is convinced that oxalis is a Bad Thing. We’re not. See: Five Reasons it’s okay to love oxalis and stop poisoning it.) Neither are others – here’s an article by a San Francisco mother of two young children: Why this City Spends Millions of Dollars to Eradicate Wildflowers.

THE UNRECORDED SPRAYING ON MOUNT DAVIDSON

But remember this video, showing Garlon spraying on Mount Davidson on January 28th, 2016? (It’s a Natural Area.)

Video of Mt Davidson Garlon 4 Ultra spraying on Jan 28 2016

(If you don’t recall seeing it – it’s only a minute and a half.)

That wasn’t included in the usage report. No mention of Mount Davidson at all. The report only mentioned Garlon use on Bayview Hill, Corona Heights, Twin Peaks, and McLaren’s Geneva meadow.

Which of course leads to the question, what else might be missing from the pesticide usage reports?

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