Another Beloved Tree Gone – Buena Vista Park, San Francisco

We recently received a message about yet another tree that had been destroyed to the dismay of neighbors. This time it’s at Buena Vista Park (BVP).

The message is from neighbor Deborah Rodgers, who would love for more people to read the tragedy of this tree and its friend who fought back for its untimely demise:

Our beautiful canopy tree was butchered this morning at BVP – 7/11/18

This is the 5th healthy established tree that has been senselessly butchered by Park & Rec at BVP recently. This tree provided a lovely canopy shade on hot days. The directional pruning done the day before was adequate. It was really horrible to watch one of our most established beautiful shade trees get butchered this morning.

There was NEVER a notice put on this tree. It was damaged, according to Ms Sionkowski [Carol Sionkowski, Park Services Manager, SF Recreation and Parks], from splitting done to it by their Rec & Park tree department crew. Further, the canopy pine showed no sign of erosion or splitting from any of its branches. It was a healthy tree that provided much-needed shade for residents traversing the public pathway along BVP. It shaded cars which get so overheated on days like these past few that they are an oven upon entering. It was an established tree of at least a decade old.

It was a beautiful circular ball shaped tree that grew laterally with a very solid foundation on the right. Many circular ball-shaped trees when pruned back properly can last for years without eroding from the soil. This one did for over a decade. Why butcher it?

Our BVP exterior periphery is becoming an ugly graveyard of stumps where there once were beautiful shade trees.

Ms Rodgers was angry and contacted the SF Rec & Park Point Mgr on July 11, 2018, following the destruction of the tree at 8 a.m in the morning at BVP by SF Rec & Park dept. She was unable to stop the tree from being cut down.

 

We’ve talked before of San Francisco’s casual, even hostile, attitude to its trees. Little effort is made to preserve mature trees, and our urban tree canopy – already one of the smallest among big cities – is shrinking just at a time when trees are being recognized as a way to fight global warming via carbon sequestration.

 

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

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

Planting new trees is excellent, but it’s no substitute for preserving the mature ones. It takes a decade or more for saplings to provide the same benefits, whether carbon sequestration, or pollution reduction, or habitat. San Francisco must start caring for its trees, not chopping them down.

 

END

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The Very Long Life of Eucalyptus Trees

This article is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, a website that fights unnecessary tree killing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

 

PUTTING ANOTHER MYTH TO REST: LIFESPAN OF BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS

When the native plant movement began in earnest, about 25 years ago, its proponents weren’t expecting blowback from those who value the existing landscape.  As far as they were concerned, the trees had to be destroyed solely because they “don’t belong here.”

When they started destroying our predominantly non-native urban forest, they learned that it wasn’t going to be as easy as they thought.  They began to defend their destructive projects with cover stories to convince the public who didn’t share their devotion to native plants that it is necessary to destroy non-native trees because they are a threat to public safety and to wildlife.

One by one, we have debunked the myths that were used to justify the destruction of our urban forest:

Great horned owl in eucalyptus. Courtesy urbanwildness.org

  • About 20 years ago, one of the first myths was that eucalyptus trees kill birds. It is an absurd claim that is completely unsupported by reality.  With a lot of careful research, we were eventually successful in convincing the public that birds are not harmed by eucalyptus.  In fact, many bird species are dependent upon the trees for safe nesting and winter nectar.   That myth is dead.
  • The claim that eucalyptus and other non-native trees are more flammable than native trees was a powerful narrative that was more difficult to kill. As wildfires have increased in frequency and intensity in California, that claim is no longer credible because every wildfire occurs in native vegetation.  Again, this myth was eventually disproved by reality.
  • More recently, we have finally put to rest the claim that “nothing grows under eucalyptus.” This myth was based on a theory that eucalyptus emits allelopathic chemicals that prevent the growth of plants in the eucalyptus forest.  Thanks to a recent, rigorous study done at Cal Poly, we know with confidence that the allelopathy story is another myth.

It was not surprising that the nativists, having run out of bogus justifications, created a new narrative.  In parks that the East Bay Regional Parks District had been planning to thin, we began to see clear cuts.  When we inquired about why it was necessary to destroy ALL of the trees, we were told they were hazardous.  Then, in the minutes of a meeting of East Bay Regional Park District Park Advisory Committee , we saw the claim that eucalyptus lives only 50-60 years.  Simultaneously, this claim was made in San Francisco by proponents of destroying all eucalyptus trees there.

We eventually tracked down the source of that lifespan estimate to a website called SelecTree, which originally said that the longevity of blue gums is only 50-150 years.  We knew that isn’t an accurate estimate because of how long blue gums live in Australia and how long they have already lived in California.  We provided that information to the authors of SelecTree and were able to get the estimate corrected to “greater than 150 years.”  That’s not nearly long enough, but it is the longest lifespan estimate available on that website and it corresponds with many other trees, including native Coast Live Oak.

In the process of researching the lifespan of eucalyptus, we learned several interesting stories about blue gums that have lived in California for 150 years and are still going strong.  We would like to share some of this information with our readers today.

BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS IN AUSTRALIA LIVES 200-400 YEARS

Blue gum eucalyptus and all other species of eucalyptus are native to Australia.  They were brought to California shortly after the Gold Rush of 1849.  Since they haven’t been in California 200 years, we don’t know how long they will live here.  But how long they live in Australia is obviously relevant to answer that question because longevity is specific to tree species.  We can expect some variation by climate, but not much, and the climate of Australia is similar to the climate in California with wet, mild winters and hot, dry summers.

We know that blue gums live in Australia about 200-400 years because Australian scientists tell us that:

Growth Habits of the Eucalypts by M.R. Jacobs, (Institute of Foresters of Australia, 1955, 1986): Blue Gum eucalyptus lives in Australia from 200-400 years, depending upon the climate.” In milder climates, such as San Francisco, the Blue Gum lives toward the longer end of this range.

That reference was corroborated by John Helms, Professor Emeritus of Forestry at UC Berkeley and an Australian who said in response to our question about blue gums in California, “Blue gums would commonly live for 200 – 400 years, although I presume that some might live longer.”

We also asked the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  They said, “It’s possible that the average lifespan of a native species growing in the wild in Australia would differ to the average lifespan of the same species introduced in northern California, since introduced plants can often “escape” their natural predators when such introductions occur.”

In other words, since eucalyptus trees have more predators in Australia than they do in California, we should expect them to live longer here.  This is called the “predator release” hypothesis.  Ironically, that hypothesis is used by nativists to support their claim that eucalyptus is invasive in California.  (California Invasive Plant Council rates the “invasiveness” of blue gum as “limited.)  It’s only logical to apply that hypothesis to the question of how long blue gums will live in California.

MANY HEALTHY BLUE GUMS IN CALIFORNIA ARE 150 YEARS OLD

However, using actual experience in Australia to predict the future of blue gums in California requires some speculation.  Therefore, we turned to the question of how long they have lived in California for guidance.  We found several interesting local stories about blue gums that were planted in California 150 years ago and remain healthy and vigorous today.

There are many examples of blue gums being planted as street trees in California about 150 years ago.  One of the most well-known examples is the city of Burlingame on the San Francisco peninsula. When the City was founded in the 1870s, John McLaren was hired to plant trees to provide a much needed windbreak because the City was nearly treeless, as was the entire San Francisco peninsula.  McLaren planted over 500 eucalyptus (blue gum and manna) along the main highway through Burlingame, along with a row of English elms.  John McLaren was subsequently hired by the city of San Francisco, where he planted many more eucalypts while serving as superintendent of the parks department for 53 years.

The eucalypts in Burlingame are still thriving, but the elms have been dead for about 60 years.  SelecTree says the longevity of English elms is “greater than 150 years,” the longest category of longevity published by SelecTree and completely open-ended.

El Camino Real bordered by Eucalyptus trees. Burlingame, SF Bay area, California, USA

The people of Burlingame greatly value their eucalypts and designated them as “heritage trees” in 1975 under a local ordinance.  That local legal status did not protect them from several attempts by Caltrans to destroy the trees.  The people of Burlingame came to the defense of the trees and were eventually successful in getting permanent legal status to protect 2.2 miles of the trees.  That section of El Camino Real in Burlingame lined with eucalyptus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Caltrans is now working cooperatively with the people of Burlingame to address safety concerns while “also keeping an eye to the prized grove of eucalyptus trees along the street.”  A task force was formed in 2018 to discuss these issues.  The City of Burlingame remains committed to the preservation of these trees, which suggests that they have a future there. (1)

The life span of street trees is generally much shorter than trees planted as forests because they are subjected to more wind and polluted air of heavily traveled roads, such as El Camino Real.  Although blue gums have passed the test of those challenging conditions with flying colors, they have not been planted as street trees for decades.  Their out-sized scale makes them unsuitable for that purpose.  If blue gums can survive as street trees on heavily traveled roads, they can surely survive longer in the protection of their neighbors in forests.

BLUE GUMS AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY

The blue gums on the campus of Stanford University are another example of 150 year-old blue gums that are very much alive.  Although blue gums were included in the campus landscape design of Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s, many of the blue gums actually predate his design:  “Several hundred mighty giants on the campus date back prior to 1870 when Leland Stanford acquired several farm properties, one of which already had avenues of gum trees.  They are mostly Tasmanian blue gums and red gums with a sprinkling of manna trees.”

Eucalyptus on Stanford campus

That description of the old blue gums was written in 1971.  The trees are still alive and well.  I worked on the Stanford campus for 10 years and walked among those trees at every opportunity.

AN EVEN OLDER OLMSTED DESIGN IN OAKLAND

Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1860s.  Like most of the East Bay, the site was treeless.  Olmsted’s design was an eclectic collection of mostly non-native trees, including blue gums.  The cemetery is on steep, windward facing hills, where the windbreak provided by blue gums is particularly valued.

Eucalyptus in Mountain View Cemetery, planted on an unirrigated windward facing hill. 2017

Olmsted designed a straight avenue through the cemetery lined with magnolia trees.  Many of the magnolia trees have died and those that remain are in poor condition.  SelecTree claims that the life span of Southern magnolia is “greater than 150 years,” which is contradicted by our local experience.

The current owner of the cemetery destroyed many of the blue gums about 5 years ago, in the middle of the extreme drought.  He replaced many of the blue gums with redwoods.  The redwoods are irrigated and are still surviving.  I did not object to the removal of the blue gums because they are on private property.  I confine my advocacy to healthy trees on public land.

LONG LIVE THE BLUE GUMS!

SelecTree has revised its listing of blue gum longevity based on the information we provided.  The myth that our blue gums are dying of old age will not die as easily.  We will have to repeat this information many times and in many different venues, just as we did for every other myth.  If and when that particular myth dies, we can be sure there will be another waiting in the wings.  Ideologies stubbornly persist, despite contradictory evidence.  And yet, we just as stubbornly persist in defense of our urban forest.


(1) Here is the public record, on which my report about the trees in Burlingame is based:

https://burlingameproperties.com/articles/1607-burlingame-s-heritage-trees

https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/future-plotted-for-burlingame-s-el-camino-real/article_a27c43c4-1dd1-11e8-8a5d-b31dfaa94144.html

http://www.burlingamevoice.com/2012/03/nationally-historic-100-years-of-protection-rewarded.html

https://tclf.org/landscapes/howard-ralston-eucalyptus-rows

http://articles.latimes.com/2003/aug/10/local/me-sbriefs10.1

Why a NO vote on AB 2470 (June 2018 election)

AB 2470, “Invasive Species” is a bill to “establish the Invasive Species Council of California, composed as prescribed, to help coordinate a comprehensive effort to exclude invasive species already established in the state. The bill would establish a California Invasive Species Advisory Committee to advise the council on a broad array of issues related to preventing the introduction of invasive species and providing for their control or eradication, as well as minimizing the economic, ecological, and human health impacts that invasive species cause…”

Fortunately, the Bill has been amended so no funds are being allocated to this effort. We still think it’s a dangerous bill that will result in a massive increase in pesticide use and environmental destruction.

LETTER FROM SAN FRANCISCO FOREST ALLIANCE

Here’s our letter on the subject:

——————-

Our members attended a recent budget town hall conducted by Assembly Member Phil Ting. It sharpened our appreciation of California’s needs in the fields of housing, education and health care.

With many thanks for removing funding for Weed Management Areas and Invasive Species Fund from AB 2470, we question the necessity of establishing both an Invasive Species Council of California and a California Invasive Species Advisory Committee proposed in the Bill.

When councils/committees are established – the requests for funding will follow.
We have observed that the current California Invasive Plant Council (Cal IPC) is an organization dedicated to eliminating plants which they deem undesirable, by the use of highly hazardous herbicides. We find this unacceptable.

Spraying of calla lilies here, in San Francisco, with a high hazard herbicide is but one example of these damaging practices. While calla lilies don’t endanger the health of the residents, there is plenty of evidence that the chemicals used to kill these lilies do. Just last year the Cal IPC added over 50 “potentially invasive” plants to the list of those where they claim herbicide spraying is justified.

Some of the plants designated as “undesirable” are “non-native” trees, many of which have been here for over 100 years and had long since became naturalized and habitats for insects, birds and animals both “native” and “non-native.”

Tree removals cause array of problems.

According to Scientific American: “from logging, agricultural production and other economic activities, deforestation adds more atmospheric CO2 than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world’s roads.” “Native” restorations/removal of “undesirable” trees are activities destroying forests, although they present themselves as environmental endeavors.
When trees are felled they release the carbon they are storing into the atmosphere, the future carbon sequestration is lost, so is the air pollution reduction. There are issues of potential landslides in hilly areas, increase in wind and noise, loss of wildlife habitat.

And, of course, the stumps of killed trees are treated with high hazard herbicides.

According to the Bill, the Invasive Species Council of California and the California Invasive Species Advisory Committee would be established “to help coordinate a comprehensive effort to exclude invasive species already established in the state…” We contend that the means of such “exclusions” are far more damaging and cause far more severe economic, ecological and human health impacts than the “invasive” species possibly can.

We urge the NO vote on AB 2470.

Thank you,

San Francisco Forest Alliance


We have been disturbed by the tendency in the established environmental movement to villainize “non-native” “invasive” species as a basis for declaring a “war” on them. It provides an opportunity to raise or deploy funding, to use a great deal of pesticides, and to “take action” by cutting down trees and tearing out habitat – even when it is environmentally destructive. We oppose the establishment of further institutions that will have a vested interest in these activities.

Why We Oppose Prop 68 (June 2018 Election)

Proposition 68 is on ballot in the upcoming elections. It would authorize the State in California to sell $4.1 billion in bonds for “park and water” improvements. Unfortunately, roughly a third of the money will be allocated for “protection of natural habitats.”

 

MONEY TO FELL TREES AND SPRAY TOXIC HERBICIDES

Over time, we’ve learned what that means, and it’s not protection of anything. In public agencies’ vocabulary “protection of natural habitats,” “native restorations,” “protection of endangered species” usually mean attempts to convert “non-native ” vegetation to “native” by killing trees and using high hazard herbicides.  The actual actions are: (1) Cutting down trees, often thousands of trees (2) Spraying toxic herbicides – including probable carcinogens – in an attempt to prevent the “non-native” plants from growing. When money becomes available, the pace and extent of these activities increases. See: Oyster Bay: Firehose of Funds Means a Firehose of Pesticides

We oppose the felling of trees especially in this time of climate change. Trees sequester carbon, clean the air, stabilize the ground, and provide habitat.

We also oppose the use of toxic herbicides in so-called “Natural” habitats and in these destructive “restorations.” Over time, we’ve understood that herbicides are often more toxic and more persistent than the manufacturers originally claimed. Using them in this way contaminates soil and water, creating unknown dangers for the future.

 

We expect that San Francisco will obtain some of this money to finance implementation of Natural Resource Management Plan.

How many trees can be killed, and how much toxic herbicide can be poured into the Earth for $1.35 BILLION dollars? We recommend a “NO” vote on proposition 68.

FISCAL IMPACTS

We cannot see any pressing fiscal need either.

From the League of Women Voters website: “During the past 17 years voters approved almost $27 billion in general obligation bonds for various natural resources projects, of which the State still has almost $9 billion available. Repaying the bonds is expected to cost an estimated $200 million each year for 40 years, resulting in a total cost of $7.8 billion. There may be savings to local governments in tens of millions of dollars because the bond money available will relieve the local governments from paying for all of a project. There are unknown costs and savings associated with the actual operation and impacts of the projects produced.”

Roundup: Probably Carcinogenic, and What Else?

It’s now widely known that Roundup has been found to be a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. (We wrote about that here: WHO – Roundup Probably Carcinogenic).

This is particularly disturbing, because it’s a very widely-used pesticide and the amounts found in humans have increased 5x since 1994 according to a UCSD study. Not only is it used in agriculture, it’s (still) used in our parks. Marin County has prohibited its use on public properties, but San Francisco’s Department of the Environment only reclassified it from Tier II (More Hazardous) to Tier I (Most Hazardous). The Natural Resources Department (NRD) of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Dept (SFRPD) continues to use it.

Photo of warning sign. Garlon, Aquamaster, Milestone on Mt Davidson. March 2018

Garlon, Aquamaster, Milestone on Mt Davidson. March 2018

But it’s not just a probable carcinogen. Research indicates a bunch of other issues:

VERY LIKELY AN ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR

It’s very likely to also be an endocrine disrupter, which means it acts like a hormone in the human body, and can be a problem at very low doses.

Hormone disruption diagram - Source: NIH

Hormone disruption – Source: NIH

In a letter an EPA scientist Dr Marion Copley sent before she died, she not only said it was carcinogenic, she noted “glyphosate was originally designed as a chelating agent…” and lists the issues with chelating agents, including, “Chelaters are endocrine disrupters…” (That article is here: “It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer.”)

If you want to read about how endocrine disruptors work, that’s a link to the National Institutes of Health website. It notes: “Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.”

BIRTH DEFECTS IN VERTEBRATES

A paper published May 2010 in the journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology linked glyphosate to birth defects in vertebrates. We’d like people who have assumed that Roundup’s problems come mainly from its surfactant POEA to take a look. (This is not to say POEA is harmless. That has been implicated in embryonic cell death also, in a 2008 French study published in the same journal.)

In Argentina, glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup) is widely used on soybean. In soybean-growing areas, there were reports of increased birth defects of a particular type: malformed heads, eyes, and brains. A groups of researchers therefore decided to investigate whether glyphosate could indeed cause that type of birth defect.

The abstract of the article indicates that Roundup increased retinoic acid activity in vertebrate embryos, causing “neural defects and craniofacial malformations.”

Heart-breaking Birth Defects

Women of child-bearing age should be especially careful. The most vulnerable period, according to the paper, is in the first 2-8 weeks of pregnancy. Many people don’t even know they’re pregnant that early on. Furthermore, even the mature placenta is permeable to glyphosate. After 2.5 hours of perfusion, 15% of it crosses over.

The actual article, which we read elsewhere describes some of the birth defects: microcephaly (tiny head); microphthalmia (tiny undeveloped eyes); impairment of hindbrain development; cyclopia (also called cyclocephaly – a single eye in the middle of the forehead, like the picture here); and neural tube defects. These are quite devastating. Many fetuses do not come to term, and many babies with these conditions die within hours or days.

INTERFERING WITH REPRODUCTION

There’s some evidence that glyphosate interferes with male reproduction, too. A 2014 article published in Science in Society in the UK, entitled “Glyphosate/ Roundup and Human Male Infertility” links glyphosate to falling sperm counts and lowered testosterone levels.

National Institutes of Health published a  paper in August 2000 that indicated Roundup interfered with reproductive hormones in rats.

DISRUPTION OF GUT BACTERIA

Other research has implicated glyphosate in other risk factors, particularly since it can disrupt gut bacteria in humans. We wrote about that here: Pesticides and Cancer, Glyphosate and Gut Bugs.

A 2013 article at RodalesOrganicLife.com suggests the growing evidence against glyphosate, possibly the world’s most widely used herbicide: ‘Once called “safer than aspirin,” glyphosate’s reputation for safety isn’t holding up to the scrutiny of independent research. More and more non-industry-funded scientists are finding links between the chemical and all sorts of problems, including cell death, birth defects, miscarriage, low sperm counts, DNA damage, and more recently, destruction of gut bacteria.’

Researchers found that glyphosate residues on food interfere with certain enzymes, with the result that  “…glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”

[That paper, published in 2013 the journal Entropy, is HERE.]
It suggests that glyphosate might be causing a lot of the health problems that have been associated with Western diets – including “obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”

BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND MOST LIVING THINGS

Glyphosate is bad for most living things. Research by way of a review of literature published in December 2017 by Springer Publishing concluded:

“Glyphosate poses serious threat to multicellular organisms as well. Its toxicological effects have been traced from lower invertebrates to higher vertebrates. Effects have been observed in annelids (earthworms), arthropods (crustaceans and insects), mollusks, echinoderms, fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds.”

It’s very dangerous to frogs and other amphibians, and quite dangerous to fish.

It damages the soil. How? It binds to the soil, and acts as a “chelating agent” – trapping elements like magnesium that plants need to grow and thus impoverishing the soil. Research also indicates it kills beneficial soil fungi while allowing dangerous ones to grow.  There’s a good article about that on the Million Trees website: Gyphosate (AKA Roundup) is damaging the soil  that discusses a New York Times article on the subject.

WHO’S USING GLYPHOSATE?

Most of SFRPD has continued to decrease use of glyphosate in 2017 – except for the Natural Resource Department (NRD, formerly Natural Areas Program – NAP). Here’s the comparison.

These graphs are in fluid ounces of active ingredient. The blue section is the use in 2016, and the orange section shows 2017.  NRD actually used slightly less glyphosate in 2016 than the rest of SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course, which is managed under an outside PGA contract). But in 2017, it used nearly 2 1/2 times as much.

Bear in mind that NRD accounts for a quarter of our park land in San Francisco.

Though we are glad SFRPD has been reducing use, we should be wary: Why Low Dose Pesticides are Still HazardsEndocrine disruptors can act at very low dilutions, and in their case, the old adage that the “dose makes the poison” is not true.

Mt Davidson: Tree Destruction Imminent?

There’s a lot of activity at the Juanita entrance of Mt Davidson, and neighbors fear the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is rushing through its tree-felling program. At a time when we need trees more than ever to fight climate change, and mudslides in Southern California illustrate the devastating effects of destroyed trees and vegetation, this would be egregious.

Here’s a note from a forest-lover:

What I’ve seen so far as of last week is preparation and road, trail widening with landing areas for equipment, but no big cuttings or equipment in the interior yet. Just the one big landmark, living tree marked with dots, and all the prior destruction.”

Huge eucalyptus tree on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, marked with 3 green dots

Do these dots mark this iconic tree for killing?

TRAILS BEING WIDENED FOR HEAVY EQUIPMENT?


What equipment will go up here? Maybe a “Brontosaurus”?

TREES DESTROYED EARLIER

Tree have been destroyed on Mount Davidson some years ago, and this prior destruction gives some idea of what the desired end-condition is for the next round. The so-called “boneyard” has stumps of dead trees.

 

This tall mature tree was “girdled.” That’s a process of destroying cutting a deep ring around the tree, so that food and water cannot be transported and the tree starves to death.

A beautiful green and flourishing tree that provided food and habitat for birds, and brought joy to forest lovers, is a dead skeleton.

THE BEAUTIFUL FOREST WE ARE LOSING

The lovely forest we are losing is beautiful and historic, and provides habitat for a huge number of birds. But it’s not just beauty and habitat. These trees provide important eco-system services.  Some examples:

  • They stabilize the mountain, with their intergrafted roots forming a living geo-textile. The horrible mudslides in Southern California illustrate how important this is.
  • They fight pollution, especially pollution from particulate matter, by trapping the particles on their leaves until rain or fog drips them to the forest floor where they are not in the atmosphere – or our lungs.
  • They form a wind-break in what would be one of the windiest areas of the city, with the wind blowing in straight off the sea.
  • They regulate water flows, so that when it rains hard, the forest acts as a sponge, absorbing the water and letting it flow out gradually.
  • They catch moisture from the fog during summer, making the mountain damp and reducing fire hazard.

Please let City Hall and SFRPD know that you want this forest protected and saved, not gutted. The plan is to remove 1600 trees!

[Update 1/19/18:  We spoke with the contractor on site. Seven trees have been cut down, and that completes this contract. Hopefully we will have more public notice and explanation if other tree removals are planned.]

Important Pesticide Meeting at City Hall, 20 Dec 2017

Toward the end of each year, SF Department of the Environment (SF Environment), which runs the Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) holds an important public meeting. This year, it’s on December 20, 5-7 p.m. in Room 400 at San Francisco’s City Hall.

This meeting is to discuss three things, and take public comments and input: Changes to the approved list of pesticides for city use; the guidelines for pesticides use and public notification; and explaining the exemptions granted in 2017 to the rules.

Notice showing Pesticides to be used on blackberry on Mt Davidson, San Francisco - Nov 2017

Pesticides used on blackberry on Mt Davidson – Nov 2017

THREE THINGS ON THE PESTICIDE MEETING AGENDA

1. Changes to the approved list of pesticides for use on city properties. SF Environment publishes a list of pesticides that are okay to use on city-owned properties (our parks, lands owned by the Public Utilities Commission, Crystal Springs, the airport, Sharp Park and a few others). It divides these permitted pesticides into three tiers: Tier III (Least Hazardous), Tier II (More Hazardous) and Tier I (Most Hazardous). This meeting discusses pesticides added, removed, or having their Tier classification changed.

The DRAFT for 2018 is here: b_draft_2018_reduced_risk_pesticide_list

2. Guidelines for pesticide use and public notification. Over the last year, IPM has been trying to develop guidelines for when and where these pesticides are prohibited; and also for how the public can be informed when pesticides are used. Here’s the current DRAFT of the guidelines: c_summary_of_major_changes_to_2017_restrictions_of_most-hazardous_herbicides

3. They also explain the exceptions they’ve granted in the previous year, i.e. 2017. They approved 21 exemptions in 2017. The list of exemptions is here: a_summary_of_pesticide_exemptions_for_2017

The one that particularly concerns us is permission to use Garlon 4 Ultra (probably the most toxic herbicide still permitted on City properties) on oxalis within fifteen feet of designated trails at Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, McLaren Park, Bayview Hill and Corona Heights.

They argue: These parks have a diversity of native plants growing adjacent to trails including but not limited to: Grindelia hirsutula (gumplant), coast rock cress (Arabis blepharophylla), Pacific reed grass (Calamagrostis nutkaensis), stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), meadow white (Cerastium arvense), silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons), Mission bells (Fritilaria affinis), footsteps of spring (Sanicula arctopides), California buckwheat (Erigonium latifolium), soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), dichondra (Dichondra donelliana), varied lupine (Lupinus variicolor), California buttercup (Ranunculus californicus), checkerbloom (Sidalcea malvaeflora), campion flower (Silene scouleri) and coast red onion (Allium dichlamydeum). Many of these plants are considered sensitive species and some of them support important local wildlife, such as the lupine species that are host plants for the endangered Mission blue butterfly (Icaricia icariodes missionensis). SFRPD is obligated to manage the land at Twin Peaks for the Mission blue butterfly as part of the Recovery Plan with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including the management of oxalis. In recent years, Garlon 4 Ultra is being used to protect these sensitive areas from this invasive weed. The Oxalis pes-caprae is a major threat to the existing biodiversity of wildlife within the native grasslands. If left untreated these areas will greatly interfere with the progress already made in controlling this particular weed.

What it boils down to is the poorly-supported theory that oxalis will take over the world if they let it, an argument Nativist doyen Jake Sigg recently made in his newsletter while defending pesticide use. “Our most serious destroyer of biological diversity is the yellow oxalis, Oxalis pes-caprae. Because it is prolific, aggressive, and effectively practices chemical warfare, it is pushing out native species—the wildflowers that so delight us and which are needed as the base of the food chain for other creatures. Because it can’t be destroyed unless the bulb is killed, herbicides are mandatory.”

By contrast, actual research indicates oxalis is a poor competitor, and even the California Native Plant Society California Invasive Plant Council considers it only moderately invasive (mainly in sand dunes). [Edited to correct the organization reference.]

We understand that some opinions are influential even when opposing evidence surfaces, but in this case the tradeoff is the continued use of the most toxic herbicide that the city allows on its land. We’ve argued before that this tradeoff is not good for people, wildlife, or the environment. (See our presentation-format post: Garlon v. Oxalis in 10 Easy Slides ) We certainly do not wish it to be used near any trail where people go out with their kids and pets.

WE STAND FOR NO TOXIC PESTICIDES IN OUR PARKS

San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for an end to toxic pesticides in our parks. This can be done; the Marin Municipal Water District stopped using herbicides altogether some years ago. It means having a more practical approach to managing the landscape, and not declaring war on various species of plant.

However, we do have some concerns. Here are notes from Tom Borden, a public access advocate:

2017 exemptions
There is only one exemption from the posting requirements. It is for PUC right of ways. I understood pesticides were used at the GGP plant nursery without posting. Where is the exemption? I suspect herbicides are applied above the reservoir at 7th and Clarendon without posting. Where is the exemption for that?

Restrictions on Herbicides for City Properties
A2  Why are applications done by methods other than spray exempted from the requirement to use blue dye? If a stump has been daubed rather than sprayed, how will people know it’s not safe to sit on?

A2  Why say, “or in cases where posting is not otherwise required under the law”? Posting is always required by law, unless an exemption from posting is granted by IPM. Right now there is only one posting exemption on the IPM Exemptions log. If and when IPM issues another posting exemption, the land manager can also request an exemption from the blue marker dye requirement if there is a good reason to avoid the dye. Who does not want to use blue dye? Is it really expensive? Isn’t it beneficial to the people applying herbicides to be able to see what they already treated? Why shouldn’t people be able to see what was treated?

A7  Why can’t herbicides be used on green walls and green roofs? Whatever that logic is, why doesn’t it apply more broadly?

B9  Why don’t the protections for the public and employees extend to areas outside city limits? Do we only care about people in San Francisco?

B9  What is the relevance of public accessibility? The Chapter 3 of the San Francisco environment code protects City employees as well as the public. If “publicly inaccessible parcels” are to have lesser requirements for posting and demarcation, the law requires that the land manager apply for an exemption. As of today, there is only one posting exemption on file, for PUC rights of way. There should also be one for the GGP nursery. Other than that, we are not aware of any other “publicly inaccessible parcels” in the City. The general exception for “publicly inaccessible parcels” should be removed. It just introduces unnecessary ambiguity. If there is a genuinely publicly inaccessible parcel, and City employees can be protected, then IPM can issue an exception for that.

B9  Why are golf courses and areas managed for habitat conservation afforded less public protection? Don’t golfers, kids and hikers deserve protection too? Maybe the behavior of golfers is predictable, but people enjoying our wild parkland could be having a picnic, playing hide and seek, exploring, rolling down a hill, doing almost anything. There should be no exception to the demarcation requirements for “areas managed for habitat conservation”.

B12  If a trail exists, especially one not “actively maintained by City operations”, it is because people use it frequently. If the intent of these rules is to protect the public, all trails should be afforded the same protection. If the intent of these rules is to make life easy for land managers and punish people who use un-designated trails, you are on the right track.

B13  Please remove spray boom “definition” for broadcast spraying. The last part of the second sentence gets to the point, broadcast spraying means indiscriminately spraying all plants in an area, as opposed to targeting specific plants. In 2016 you saw video and photographic evidence that three men with backpack sprayers can perform broadcast spraying. Please use the definition for broadcast spraying that the rest of the world uses.

New thinking on Tier I
The new Restrictions do away with the idea that Tier I herbicides are only to be used when there is a critical need. Now Tier I can be used for anything except for prohibitions 10,11 & 12. The old restrictions limited where Tier I herbicides could be used based on a “need” that was balanced against the risks of use. Where has that gone? This seems like a real step backward.

Now land managers just need a reason that goes beyond cosmetics and they can apply Tier I herbicides anywhere as long as it is more than 15 feet from an area frequented by children and more than 15 feet from the land manager’s designated trails.

While we work toward the “No toxic pesticides in our parks” goal, we try to attend these meetings and believe that we have been able to work with SF Environment over the years to get some improvements.

  • SFRPD improved the signage for pesticide use, and is now encoding the use of colored dye to show where actual spraying has taken place.
  • More practical restrictions on pesticide use.
  • We’re encouraged by SF RPD’s reducing herbicide use in the last three years – excluding the Natural Areas (now the Natural Resources Division) and Harding Golf course, which is managed under contract by the PGA Tour. (The graphs below show pesticide usage by SFRPD ex NAP and Harding, and NAP/ NRD’s pesticide use. Please note that all measurements are in fluid ounces of active ingredient, but the scale on the two graphs are different.)