Mt Davidson’s Moist Green Forest in September 2015

Moisture content of vegetation is one of the key determinants of fire hazard. In Mount Davidson, the drier side is clearly the native plant area, not the forest. This visitor went up to the forest to see – and document –  how the drought has affected the plants under the trees. Here, after four years of drought, is Mt Davidson’s forest.
This is another of our Park Visitor series: First-person accounts of visits to our San Francisco parks.


Mt Davidson google map

This google earth view shows the forest on the west side of the park and the grassland on the east side. Homes surrounding the park are also visible. I walked from the north side from Rockdale Drive and ended on the south side along Myra Way.

A presentation by Michie Wong, SFFD fire marshal, to the SF Urban Forestry Council, stated that the condition of the forest floor is the key to fire hazard. If it is green it is not flammable, but dry grass and shrubs are.

How has several years of drought affected the understory in the forest at Mt. Davidson Park? I visited the forest to see and document the moisture conditions in the forest’s understory. This article comprises my pictures and notes.


Mt Davidson 1 - entrance with NAP warning sign and blackberry bushesNatural Areas Sign at trail entrance surround by green berry bushes.

Mt Davidson 2 - fuschia flourishing despite drought, watered by the trees catching the fogFurther up the trail on the north side of the park fuchsias thrive despite years of drought.

Mt Davidson 3 - greenery along pathwayHere’s a close-up of greenery on the forest floor.

Mt Davidson 5 - the girdled tree still has moisture and is sproutingWalking east to the grassland part of the park.  A eucalyptus tree has new sprouts — despite the drought and despite being girdled in attempt to kill it.

The greenery around it has been cleared or killed with herbicides for planting of natives species, now marked with green flags.

Mt Davidson 6 - the native plants are dry and flammableView of dead grass and shrubs among native coyote bush on east side of park.

Mt Davidson 7 - dead and dry plants near homesDead and dry vegetation next to houses.

Mt Davidson 8 - standing water while the native plants are dryHeading west in the park into the forest along the fire road.

A 4-foot wide puddle remains from the recent drizzle and thick fog that followed a week of record heat. It is typically muddier on Mt. Davidson in the summer (the “fire season” elsewhere) than the winter because of the fog.

Mt Davidson 9Heading down the fire road to the west side of the park.

Mt Davidson 10 Ferns on roadside despite the droughtFerns growing in the rocky slopes despite the drought.

Mt Davidson 11 - roadside grass and plants are greenGrass along the road is green and the ivy too.

Mt Davidson 12 - lush greenery on both sides of trailLush greenery on the both side of the road on the western side of the park.

Mt Davidson 13 - only watered by the trees catching fog its still green during droughtFurther down the hill, at the intersection with the Juanita trail.  No sign of drought here, despite no one ever watering this area like they do in Golden Gate Park.

Mt Davidson 14 - Southern side with sun exposure - still greenSouthern entrance to the park, with most sun exposure, is still green too.

Mt Davidson 15 - ivy is green and not flammableBoundary of park next to homes on Myra Way.

Ivy on forest floor has been cleared from fence but remains green and not a fire hazard.

We thank this Park Visitor for this report. We would especially like to draw attention to the picture of the girdled eucalyptus. Despite the effort to kill this tree, it still contains a lot of moisture – as evident from the sprouts. The grass and shrubs on the East side of the mountain are far more flammable.

Tree-vandals and a Reward

vandalized tree in Golden Gate Park - photo Richmondsfblog

Click here for report in RichmondSFBlog

San Francisco apparently has vandals that hate trees.

This is not the casual vandalism of drunk teenagers mowing down a tree because it’s in there, or a car reversing into a sapling. This is deliberate destruction of young trees in Golden Gate Park and elsewhere.  According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle:

” It all started in September, when crews found 28 damaged trees in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, many broken beyond saving. Crews noted the suspicious, almost meticulous nature of the damages. The 3-year-old trees were part of a reforestation plot near La Playa and Fulton streets, and every one of them had been attacked.”

The report goes on to say that over 200 trees have been destroyed since September, according to Eric Andersen, Golden Gate Park manager. It goes on to explain that most of the killed trees are Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress, and quote Andersen’s description of the damage:

“What they’ve done is gone through each of these areas in each of these instances and basically snapped off the top of the tree,” Andersen said. “They’ll go through and do every tree, in a very thorough and damaging way. It’s really malicious, and very thorough, and very methodical.”

This isn’t the first time it’s happened. There were reports of tree-vandals back in 2010, when 44 trees were destroyed. At the time, no one was caught, and a corporate sponsor offered to replace the trees. According to the RichmondSF blog, Chase paid $30,000.


San Francisco Forest Alliance would like to help stop this despicable activity. We’re pledging a $1000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the vandal/s.  We have sent the letter below to Eric Anderson:

Dear Mr. Andersen:

The San Francisco Forest Alliance was disturbed to hear about the destruction of hundreds of young trees in Golden Gate Park and the surrounding areas. Our city already has one of the smallest urban forest canopies in the country, and we support initiatives that would expand this, especially in this time of climate change. As it is, our trees are under threat from native plant supporters who wish to fell thousands of trees because they’re not native. A lot of trees have actually been killed. On Mount Davidson and elsewhere in the city, trees have been girdled and left to die for this very reason.

Our organization wishes to pledge a sum of $1,000 as a reward to be disbursed by the San Francisco Police Department as they see fit for information that leads to the arrest of people who committed these recent crimes. We call on other environmental organizations to match our pledge in the hope that the vandals can be found and stopped.

Please let us know if there if there is anything we may do to further assist you with this incident.

San Francisco Forest Alliance

We ask other environmental organizations to add their own pledges. Perhaps if the reward is attractive enough, someone will come forward with information.


We have come across tree vandalism before, but that was with Native Plant supporters girdling mature trees to kill them. It happened in a number of Natural Areas, including Bayview Hill and Mount Davidson. Someone also reported broken-off trees in Glen Canyon Park.

A few days ago, someone discovered more girdled trees on the north-eastern edge of Mount Davidson, in the vicinity of the slash in the mountain made to install the new water-pipe. These are not recent, but we think they may have been made within the last 5 years.  We have been told that the Native Plant supporters are no longer doing this. We hope that is true.

Girdled tree Mount Davidson

The “Natural” Areas Program Fells Trees

One would think the Natural Areas Program would be about preserving trees in our city. It’s not. San Francisco in its pre-European state had very very few trees if any, and almost all our trees are non-native. Despite the huge benefits of urban trees, NAP’s “Significant Natural Resource Area Management Plan”  (SNRAMP) wants to fell 3,500 in the city, and an additional 15,000 in Sharp Park. Here are the main areas besides Sharp Park:

  • 1600 trees on Mount Davidson (this would be in addition to trees already killed by girdling and other means).
  • 809 trees in McLaren Park.
  • 511 trees in Bayview Park (also in addition to trees killed by girdling).
  • 140 trees in the Interior Green belt on Mount Sutro (unclear whether this would be in addition to the 50 trees cut down along the Kill-trees Trail).
  • 134 trees in Lake Merced (presumably in addition to an unknown number that were already felled there in 2010).
  • 120 in Glen Canyon and O’Shaughnessy
  • 82 in Golden Gate Park
  • 15 in Corona Heights.
  • 14 in Dorothy Erskine
  • 10 in Buena Vista Park
  • 5 in Grandview Park
  • 3 in Brooks Park
  • 3 on Twin Peaks
  • 2 in Palou Phelps

[Related: Nine benefits of urban trees.]


As we noted above, there’s been deforestation under various guises, by the NAP or its supporters – or others –  even while the SNRAMP goes through the approval process. A lot of trees have been killed by girdling, particularly in Bayview and on Mount Davidson. (Girdling involves cutting bark around a tree so it starves to death, sometimes over years.)

Some may have been killed by other means.

Some have been felled as “urban forest” work – for instance in the Interior Greenbelt and at Lake Merced. Trees in Natural Areas are not evaluated for whether they are a hazard, but for their condition, including “poor form.”


No, despite the widespread belief to the contrary.

First, San Francisco is foggy or rainy round the year. Calfire considers the entire area a “moderate” fire risk – which is its lowest rating. (The other ratings are “High” and “Very High.)


Areas of dense trees, like Sutro Cloud Forest, or Mt Davidson, act like a Cloud Forest.  The tall trees harvest moisture from the fog, and the forest holds this moisture in.

It has been argued that in the fall, San Francisco has sunny dry weather and this is when there’s a fire hazard. In fact, SaveSutro maintained a daily Fog Log in the Fall of 2009. Even during sunny weather – there was night fog or rain many evenings. The longest “dry” period in the forest was 7 days.

At no time did the forest dry out.

Second, even in drier climates, eucalyptus is not more flammable than other trees; and the native grasses and shrubs that are actually planned as a replacement are much more flammable than the trees.

There’s more information about this at Death of a Million Trees (see Fire! The Cover Story)

In a firestorm caused by dry conditions and hot dry winds (which do not occur in the city) everything burns – oaks and fir, eucalyptus and pine. In fact, eucalyptus may even help fight wind-driven fires by trapping flying embers and disrupting wind flows because of its flexible crown. There’s more information about this and other myths at  Eucalyptus Myths on

Finally: Here’s the picture worth a thousand words. In a ruinous fire in Scripps Ranch in San Diego, a number of houses burned to the ground. The eucalyptus surrounding them failed to ignite. Not incidentally, the home-owners of Scripps Ranch fought to save the eucalyptus trees when the City tried to cut them down – after the fire – as a hazard reduction.

Photo credit: New York Times

The Natural Areas Plan for Mt Davidson: a Walk with Jacquie Proctor

Most people have no idea that the Natural Areas Program calls for cutting down 1600 trees on Mt Davidson.

Jacquie Proctor, the historian of Mt Davidson (who quite literally wrote the book on it), led a tour there last Saturday, to show people what was planned and where. About 40-50 people attended.  The most frequent comments we heard were “Can they do that?” and “Why would they?” and “I live here and I had no idea!

She started with the history of the mountain – and then the map of NAP’s plan. It plans to clear-cut a huge swath through the forest, right down to the road. (Click here to link to an article with a video with the details, and here for an article from the West Portal Monthly.)

This would expose the remaining trees to the strong winds we get in this area, and more trees would be lost to wind-throw. Trees under 15 feet tall wouldn’t count as trees and would be removed at will. The number 1600 is large enough; the actual losses will be higher.

In fact, the native plant people have already been at work here. A number of trees have been killed by being “girdled” — bark is cut away all around the tree so it starves to death. The most visible one is the Murdered Tree of Dead Tree Point.

We walked up to the Cross, which Jacquie fought to save when there was a legal challenge against it. (The Atheists said it was mixing church and state. The City compromised by selling 1/3 acre under the cross to the Council of  Armenian-American Associations.) All the trees to the right of the cross in this picture would be felled.

As the group went down to the little plateau behind the cross, she explained that most of the trees they were looking at would be killed.

We continued on through a lush forest… and Jacquie pointed that many of the trees were slated for destruction. This was part of the planned clear-cut.

Further on, there was a broad gash through the forest. It’s nicknamed “the ski jump.” The PUC built a new pipeline there. Native plant interests prevailed on the PUC to move its pipeline away from the existing route (which ran through a patch of scrub) and instead run it through the forest. It reportedly doubled the cost of the pipeline from $300,000 to $600,000. It also cut down a whole lot of trees, which the Native Plant interests consider a bonus.

Further on, we encountered more girdled trees. The one at the center of this picture is dead, still reaching for the sky. This other one has been girdled near its base, and still clings to life. But it’s dying.

We emerged  into an area called The Boneyard. It’s lined with dead trees.
In addition to felling trees (or girdling them so they die, or driving in nails of poisonous metals to kill them), they also want to block many of the trails. And pesticides are being used, to kill non-native plants.

It’s not to kill poison oak as some had hoped – poison oak is native, so they’re fine with that. The only compromise is they’ll remove it from beside the trails… and too bad if you explore off-trail. You’re not allowed to do that.

And this tree was near the exit as we left… it had a pink ribbon tied to it. Will it be gone by the next time we visit? Maybe.

Most of the people who attended the walk signed the petition.Very few of them had any idea this was happening. Some had wondered about the forest growing thinner and sparser over time, but didn’t know why.

Jacquie knew. “Everything dead you see? Very little of that is natural. It’s the NAP or their volunteers killing things.”

If you’d like to stop this desecration of the mountain – please help spread the word.