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.]

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San Francisco Pesticides and “Inaccessible Areas”

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

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

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

Commissioners,

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

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

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

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

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

See the email exchange below for additional information..

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Tom Borden

EMAILS IN THE BACKSTORY

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

This is a Sunshine request.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony,

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

Thanks, Tom

Anthony responded:

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

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

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

Anthony E. Valdez, MPA
Commission Secretary

That sounded encouraging. Just to confirm, though…

Thanks Anthony and Chris,

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

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

Tom

.

 

He followed up with another email.

Chris and Anthony,

In your July 12 email to me you say:

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to your reply,

Tom Borden
415 252 5902

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

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

Can The Public Trust the Pesticide Notices in Our Parks?

2016-11-02_mtd-imazapyr-blackberry-thumbnailOne of the main issues the public has with the use of pesticides in our parks is the lack of transparency. There is no way to know in advance where the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) plans to use pesticides. The only way to track pesticide use by SFRPD is to do as we do – get the monthly pesticide use reports each month and compile them. This is of course after the fact, sometimes as much as a month or two after the fact. Right now, the latest report we have is for August 2016.

THE FIRST EIGHT MONTHS OF 2016

In the first 8 months of 2016, the Natural Areas Program – now rebranded as the Natural Resources Department (NRD), as though they were handing out mineral rights or something – was the most frequent user of the most hazardous herbicides. They made 87% of the applications, and used 72% of the four hazardous herbicides, though they are responsible for a quarter of our San Francisco parks.  (These are all herbicides the San Francisco Department of the Environment classifies as Tier I, Most Hazardous, or Tier II, More Hazardous) The SFRPD has done an excellent job of reducing the use of toxic herbicides in other sections, but the NRD, the former NAP, has not kept up.

  • Of the 95 applications of herbicides, 83 were by the NRD.  This is important to park-goers because the NRD controls major park areas where people recreate and explore with family and pets, and this frequent use increases the probability of an encounter.
  • The NRD also applied 72% of SFRPD’s total use of the four major herbicides: Roundup (glyphosate); Garlon; Imazapyr and Milestone VM. The first two are Tier I and the second two are Tier II.
  • Though NRD has sharply reduced its use of Roundup, it used more of the other three chemicals in 8 months than it did all year in 2015.
  • In addition to the four major herbicides, SFRPD did use Avenger, an organic – though Tier II – herbicide in the Polo fields and the Golden Gate Park nursery. We are not very concerned because this is a safe organic herbicide.
  • Aside from NRD, the most frequent SFRPD user of herbicides was the nursery, which applied herbicides only seven times in eight months. The nursery is not commonly used by the public and pets .
  • This summary excludes Harding Golf Course, because it’s managed under contract by the PGA Tour and is required to maintain tournament-readiness at all times.

INFORMING THE PUBLIC – A RECENT CASE IN MT DAVIDSON

At the site, SFRPD is supposed to post notices three days in advance of herbicide applications. People have complained that the notices are not very visible. We are also finding they are not always accurate.

This notice on Mt Davidson clearly indicated that Imazapyr was to be used against blackberry. It gave dates and times, and said blue dye would be used to show pesticide use. Okay.

2016-11-02_blackberry-imazapyr-mtd

A couple of walkers saw the actual herbicide activity. Here’s the gist of their report:

Herbicides used on Mt. Davidson today, November 2, 2016.

  • Three RPD trucks, two Shelterbelt trucks.

2016-11-02_131027-small

  • Saw 3 notices – two on western slope, one on eastern. All mentioned Imazapyr (Polaris, Stalker) for use on blackberry.

2016-11-02_135834-small

  • Saw an NRD staff person as he pulled up to the top of the mountain in the truck. He said they were daubing (not spraying) cotoneaster and blackberries. The notices didn’t mention cotoneaster.

2016-11-02_mtd-cutting-eucalyptus-herbicide

  • Saw another NRD staff person on the western side, just where the vegetation changes from grass/brush to trees. He was cutting down “a nice-looking small (but over 15 feet tall) eucalyptus tree and applying herbicides to the stump.” He said he was protecting 1000 year old biodiversity by cutting the tree to prevent it from shading the “important” plants.

    “He may have cut more trees,” the observers noted, “But we had to leave and didn’t see how many.”  The notices didn’t mention eucalyptus.

So the notices are incomplete, at best. This one didn’t mention cotoneaster, though the NRD employee said it was being targeted. What the observers actually saw was eucalyptus being cut down, also not mentioned. And unless the herbicide being put on the stump was imazapyr – unusual in this application – then the notices  also omitted the actual herbicide used – generally Roundup or Garlon.

Since the notices and the pesticide use reports are the only primary information source, if these are corrupted, then there is actually no accurate record available.

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?

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.

A WALK THROUGH MT. DAVIDSON PARK ON SEPT 15, 2015

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.

Mt Davidson Ethereal in the Fog

This is one of our “park visitor” series – first person accounts of our parks, published with permission.

Last month, I walked up mysterious and beautiful Mt Davidson on a foggy day with a friend.

pics45 081We entered through this gate, just to the left of the bus stop on Myra Way. I wondered why the gate had so many different locks on it.

six locksWe continued up the path and into the lovely  forest.

Mt Davidson forest Aug 2014In other parts of California – and even on the other side of this very mountain – the plants are dry and brown. The forest was damp and green and lush.

Brilliant nasturtiums in fog-filled Mt Davidson forestThe nasturtiums bloomed in bright orange highlights in the misty forest.

wild strawberries on Mt DavidsonWild strawberries provided little pops of red.

Mt Davidson Misty ForestEven though I know this forest, it felt like walking into a fairy-tale.

Fairytale forest on Mt DavidsonIt was easy to understand how people in ages past thought forests might have enchanted deer or birds or other beings living in them.

enchanted animals or birds could live hereAs we climbed up, I could see Mount Davidson’s Cross among the trees.

climbing up toward the cross

We passed the vista point, where the Murdered Tree fell over last year. But the view was only of Karl the Fog, denser now.

Murdered tree point with no vista

The little plateau of the Cross was completely misty.

Mt Davidson Cross in the fogSomeone was conducting a memorial ceremony of his own there, at the foot of the cross.  A few people wandered around. For some reason, this picture reminds me of an Ingmar Bergman film.

Mt Davidson Cross in the fog - aug 2014

Appropriately, forget-me-nots bloomed a light blue nearby.

forget-me-nots near Mt Davidson Cross Aug 2014As we made out way down from the cross, we found this little cave, where someone had erected tiny cairns of stones. It was half hidden by the Pacific Reed grass, the moisture-loving grass that grows like green hair over the rocks above the trail.

tiny cairns in a little cave - mt DavidsonHere’s another picture to show the scale of the cave.

cairn cave handWe wandered back down the trail, looking at the moss in the trees of the mist forest…

moss and fern in Mt Davidson tree

… and the epiphytes, like these ferns.

ferns on tree in Mt Davidson Forest

It was time to leave. In the words of Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep.”

But as long as  this forest and I are around in San Francisco, I’ll be back.

stone steps in Mt D forest

 

Damp Forest on Mt Davidson – Tony Holiday

This is another of our Park Visitor series: First-person accounts of visits to our San Francisco parks. This photo-essay is by Tony Holiday, a San Francisco hiker and blogger.  It’s adapted from his blog, Stairways are Heaven and published with permission. (Visit his blog for more pictures, and for the second post that details the route out of the forest down the Bengal steps.)

It’s high summer now, and elsewhere in California, fires have started. In our forests, it’s damp, even wet. We were struck by the contrast between the wetness of the forested area, and the dry open space adjacent to it on Mount Davidson. This is the cloud forest effect: The trees harvest the moisture from the fog and keep the forest cool and damp.

DAMP FOREST by Tony Holiday

The #36 Teresita stops at Mount Davidson Park’s main south entrance (Dalewood & Myra) where a steep trail climbs to the openspace part of the park. I love this trail: forested to start out, with a vast view to the east a little way up.

Here’s the south trail head.

4334894_orig - 1 South trailhead

And a small offshoot trail…

8176020_orig 2 offshoot trail

I climbed out of the forest to the open space.

7570617_orig 4 curving around

7082684_orig 3 climbing to the open space

THE OPEN SPACE AND VIEWS

This is the open space part of the mountain, with views to the east  and south over the city.

5027966_orig 5 view east

7960836_orig 8 looking south

2513967_orig 9 openspace bench

3514794_orig 10 view north

7411013_orig 11 view north

It’s a good place to pause for tea and admire the view…

5093980_orig 12 pausing for tea

Climbing 22 steps from the open space brings you to the plateau on top of the mountain with the 103-foot cross.

2858920_orig 16 summit cross

BACK INTO THE COOL LUSH FOREST

Down 22 old wood steps from the north side of the cross…

4275316_orig 17 old wood step start down from the side of the monument

… there’s a short trail…

5819148_orig 19 ferns and a damp trail

2691069_orig 20 down to a main trail

…then 12 more stone steps to the next main trail down.

1660245_orig 22 foot of one of the short stone stairways

Up here the trails were damp or muddy, including some actual puddles.

7940036_orig 23 muddy upper trail

Another short stone stairway:

572463_orig 24 anothr stone stairway

Following the trailing down, enjoying the cool, lush forest…

6294871_orig 25 trees and rocks

3227413_orig 26 down through the forest

… and the greenery below the trail…

4428599_orig 27 below the trail

4787964_orig 28 forest view

The trail went winding down…
3864834_orig 29 winding around

… and it was just me, the forest, and birdsong.

8763025_orig 30 just me, the forest, and birdsong

The forest was peaceful…

806571_orig 31 peaceful and cool

… as I followed the narrow and winding path to its end.

1526681_orig 33 narrow and winding

Love the ferns here!

6534432_orig 34 love the ferns