Refuting Allegations – and a Candidate who “Gets It.”

One of the organizations that support the Natural Areas Program is called, ironically, “Nature in the City” (NIC). In a recent newsletter, they accused opponents of the NAP  “a handful of people” who were “still propagating misinformation.” Before we could respond, we saw this excellent riposte in “Death of a Million Trees.”  It’s reprinted below by permission, with minor changes.

Certainly, we’re finding a groundswell of opinion against NAP‘s so-called “ecological restoration”, which has actually meant a loss of trees and habitat, a growing use of the strongest pesticides San Francisco permits on city-owned land, and restrictions on public access and useat a cost of millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours that could have better been used elsewhere.  This is the “celebrated” program NIC refers to.

One candidate for supervisor, Joel Engardio, considers this an important enough issue that he’s running on it: See his video here:

If you’re interested in NIC’s allegations and the reality – read on!


Response to “Nature in the City”

from Death of a Million Trees

Nature in the City (NIC) is one of many organizations that support native plant “restorations” in San Francisco as well as the principle entity which engages in them, the Natural Areas Program (NAP) of the Recreation and Park Department.

NIC is consistently critical of anyone who questions the value of these restorations, but in their most recent newsletter they confront our objections directly.  Although we don’t presume to represent the many constituencies which are critical of the Natural Areas Program, we are responding in this post to NIC based on our knowledge of the issues. (The NIC newsletter is in quotes and is italicized.  Our response is not italicized.)

“Natural Areas in 2012

Last fall saw the Planning Commission public meeting for the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan.  Some time later this year, the City will issue a Final Environmental Impact Report, which may be appealed by opponents of the Natural Areas Program.

Unfortunately, a handful of people are still propagating misinformation about the rationale, values, and intention of ecological restoration, management and stewardship, and of the City’s celebrated Natural Areas Program.”

Webmaster:  Critics of the Natural Areas Program cannot be described accurately as a “handful of people.”  We now have four websites[i] representing our views and there have been tens of thousands of visits to our websites.  Comments on our websites are overwhelmingly supportive of our views. Our most recently created website, San Francisco Forest Alliance, lists 12 founding members.  That organization alone exceeds a “handful of people.”

Our objections to the Natural Areas Program have also been reported by three major newspapers in the past month or so (San Francisco Examiner, Wall Street Journal,  Sacramento Bee).

Many critics of NAP have been engaged in the effort to reduce its destructive and restrictive impacts on our parks for over 10 years.  Scores of public meetings and hearings have been held to consider our complaints.  We consistently outnumbered public speakers in support of NAP until 2006, when the NAP management plan was finally approved by the Recreation and Park Commission.  Although we were outnumbered for the first time, there were over 80 speakers who asked the Recreation and Park Commission to revise NAP’s management plan to reduce its negative impact on our parks.

The public comments on the NAP DEIR are the most recent indicator of the relative size of the groups on opposite sides of this issue.  These comments were submitted in September and October 2011.  We obtained them with a public records request.  The Planning Department reported receiving about 400 comments.  In analyzing these comments, we chose to disregard about half of them because they were submitted as form letters, even though they were from dog owners who were protesting the loss of their off-leash privileges in the natural areas.  We also leave aside the comments from golfers whose only interest is in retaining the golf course at Sharp Park.  In other words, we set aside the majority of the comments critical of the NAP management plan in order to focus on those comments that demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the impact of NAP on the city’s parks.  Of the comments remaining, those critical of NAP and its deeply flawed DEIR outnumbered comments in support of the NAP DEIR about 3 to 1.  We urge NAP supporters to read these public comments to learn about the wide range of criticisms of NAP, including pesticide use, destruction of trees, recreational access restrictions, loss of wildlife habitat and more. 

We will challenge NIC’s accusation that we are “propagating misinformation” within the context of their specific allegations:

“Contrary to the many myths that continue to percolate, the Natural Areas Plan and Program seek to do the following (among other worthwhile endeavors):

1.       Protect and conserve our City’s natural heritage for its native wildlife and indigenous plant habitats and for the overall health of our local ecosystem;”

Webmaster:  Since the majority of acreage claimed as natural areas by NAP 15 years ago had no native plants in them, there is little truth to the claim that NAP is protecting our “natural heritage.”  The so-called “natural area” at Balboa and the Great Highway is typical of the “natural areas.”  There is photographic evidence that it was built upon for about 150 years.  It was the site of Playland by the Beach before it was designated a “natural area.”  Sand had to be trucked onto the property and disked down 18” into the construction rubble, then shaped into dunes by bulldozers before native plants could be planted on it.

Natural Area at Balboa & Great Highway under construction

We don’t make any distinction between “native wildlife” and any other wildlife currently living in our city.  We value them all.  Most are making use of existing vegetation, whether it is native or non-native.  They do not benefit from the loss of the blackberries that are their primary food source or the loss of the thickets or trees that are their homes.  We do not believe that wildlife in San Francisco benefits from the destructive projects of the Natural Areas Program.  See photos of insects, birds, and other wildlife using non-native plants in the natural areas here.

Damselflies mating on ivy, Glen Canyon Park

We do not think an ecosystem that has been sprayed with herbicides qualifies as a “healthy ecosystem.”  NAP sprayed herbicides at least 86 times in 2011.  Their use of herbicides has increased over 330% in the last 4 years.  NAP uses herbicides that are classified as more toxic than those most used by other city departments.  Last spring, 1,000 visitors to Glen Canyon Park signed a petition, asking the Natural Areas Program to stop using pesticides in their park.  This petition was given to Scott Wiener, the Supervisor representing the district in which Glen Canyon Park is located.

These are statements of fact that can be easily verified by the public record.

2.       “Educate our culturally diverse city about the benefits of local nature and about helping with natural areas stewardship in your neighborhood;”

Webmaster:  Although we value education, we do not consider the staff of NAP and/or its supporters qualified to provide it.  We hear them make statements that are demonstrably not true, such as “grassland stores more carbon than trees.”  We see them spray herbicides in the dead of winter that are supposed to be sprayed in the spring when the plants are actively growing.  We watch them plant things where they won’t grow, such as sun-loving plants in deep shade and plants in watersheds where they will soon be drowned by seasonal rains.

And we also have had bad experiences with the volunteers who are called “stewards” by NAP, but sometimes act more like vandals.  We see them spraying herbicides that they aren’t authorized to use.  We see them hacking away at trees that haven’t been designated for removal.  NAP is not providing the necessary guidance and supervision to the volunteers many of whom seem to consider themselves the de facto owners of the parks.

3.       “Manage the City’s wildlands for public access, safety and the health of the “urban forest.””

Webmaster:  We do not oppose the removal of hazardous trees.  However, we also know that most of the trees that have been designated for removal by the NAP management plan are NOT hazardous.  They have been selected for removal solely because they are not native and are perceived to be obstacles to the reintroduction of native plants.  Claims to the contrary are inconsistent with the management plan as well as our experience in the past 15 years.  (Watch video about the destruction of 1,600 trees over 15 feet tall planned for Mt. Davidson.)

“We hear occasional complaints about public access and tree removal. Three simple facts are thus:

1. Every single natural area in the City has at least one trail through it, where one can walk a dog on a leash;”

Webmaster:  The loss of recreational access in the natural areas is real, not imagined.  The following are verbatim quotes from the NAP management plan:

  • “Approximately 80 percent of the SFRPD off-leash acreage is located within Natural Areas.” (page 5-8).  The NAP DEIR proposes to close or reduce the size of several off-leash areas.  The DEIR provides no evidence that these areas have been negatively impacted by dogs.  It also states that all off-leash areas in the natural areas are subject to closure in the future if it is considered necessary to protect native plants.  Since NAP has offered no evidence that the proposed immediate closures are necessary, one reasonably assumes it will offer no evidence if it chooses to close the remainder of the 80% of all off-leash areas in San Francisco located in natural areas.  We know from the DEIR public comments that NAP supporters demand their closure.
  • Public use in all Natural Areas, unless otherwise specified, should encourage on-trail use… Additionally, interpretive and park signs should be installed or modified as appropriate to include “Please Stay on Trails” with information about why on-trail use is required.”  (page 5-14)   In other words, the only form of recreation allowed in the natural areas is walking on a trail.  Throwing a ball or frisbee, having a picnic on the grass, flying a kite, climbing the rocks are all prohibited activities in the natural areas.  And in some parks, bicycles have been prohibited on the trails by NAP.
  • “Finally, this plan recommends re-routing or closing 10.3 miles of trail (approximately 26 percent of total existing trails).” (page 5-14)  So, the only thing visitors are allowed to do in a natural area is walk on the trails and 26% of all the trails in the natural areas will be closed to the public.

2. “The act of removing (a small subset of) non-native trees, e.g., eucalyptus, that are in natural areas has the following benefits:
a. Restores native habitat for indigenous plants and wildlife;
b. Restores health, light and space to the “urban forest,” since the trees are all crowded together and being choked by ivy;
c. Contributes to the prevention of catastrophic fire in our communities.”

Webmaster:  Destroying non-native plants and trees does not restore indigenous plants and wildlife. Native plants do not magically emerge when non-native plants and trees are destroyed. Planting indigenous plants might restore them to a location if they are intensively gardened to sustain them.  However, in the past 15 years we have seen little evidence that NAP is able to create and sustain successful native plant gardens.  Native plants have been repeatedly planted and they have repeatedly failed.

NAP has not “restored” the health of the urban forest.  They remove trees in big groups as they expand their native plant gardens.  They are not thinning trees.  They are creating large openings for the grassland and dune scrub that they plant in the place of the urban forest.  Every tree designated for removal by the NAP management plan is clearly selected for its proximity to native plants.  It is disingenuous to suggest that NAP’s tree removal plans are intended to benefit the urban forest.

Of all the fictions fabricated by native plant advocates to justify the destruction of our urban forest, the claim that its destruction will “prevent catastrophic fire” is the most ridiculous.  The native ecology of California is highly flammable.  Most fires in California are in native chaparral.  According to San Francisco’s hazard mitigation plan, there has never been a wildfire in San Francisco[ii] and one is unlikely in the future because the climate is mild and moist.  When it is hot in the interior, it is foggy in San Francisco.  The hot winds that drive most fires in California never reach San Francisco because it is separated from the hot interior by the bay.  San Francisco is surrounded by water, which moderates its climate and virtually eliminates the chances of wildfire. The tall non-native trees precipitate moisture from the summer fog, which moistens the forest floor and reduces the chances of ignition.  In the unlikely event of a wind-driven fire, the trees provide the windbreak which would stop the advance of the fire.

3. “The overall visual landscape of the natural areas will not change since only a small subset of trees are planned to be removed over a 20-year period.”

Webmaster:  In addition to the 18,500 trees over 15 feet tall which NAP proposes to destroy, the NAP management plan also states its intention to destroy non-native trees less than 15 feet tall.  In other words, the future of the forest will also be killed.  The intention is to eliminate the urban forest in San Francisco’s parks over the long term.  Yes, this will take some time, but the long-term intention to eliminate the forest is clear.

“Please feel free to email if you would like more clarification about the intention, values and rationale of natural resources management.”

Webmaster:  We urge our readers to take NIC up on this offer to provide  ”more clarification” of its spirited defense of the Natural Areas Program. 

  • Do you think NIC is deluded about there being only a “handful of people” that are critical of the Natural Areas Program?
  • Did you notice that NIC does not acknowledge the use of herbicides by NAP?  Do you think that a fair representation of criticism of NAP can omit this issue?
  • If you visit a park that is a natural area, do you think NAP has demonstrated in the past 15 years what NIC claims it is accomplishing?
  • Do you think NIC has accurately described recreational access restrictions in the natural areas?
  • Do you think that San Francisco’s urban forest will be improved by the destruction of 18,500 mature trees and countless young trees?

[i] Save Sutro Forest, Urban Wildness, San Francisco Forest Alliance, Death of a Million Trees

[ii] “The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has no record of any wildfire in San Francisco.” San Francisco Hazard Mitigation Plan, 2008, page 5-18.

Action Alert: Destroying the Character from Glen Canyon Park

One of the things everyone loves the most about our Glen Canyon is that it’s a wilderness park with rough and tumble Huck Finn paths in the back area. It’s about to be ruined. We need your help to try to stop this. (Scroll down for what you can do.)

This is the wonderful path that is going to be changed into just another trail.

Here, you can return to a wildness for a while, escaping from all that is civilized, modern and managed. The path winds through dense growth and has lots of “down” trees that you need to step over, or tunnel under — these bent and twisted trees are particularly beloved by those of us who walk it daily.

There is a “log” over the creek, and there is a rope swing if you go back far enough. Hardly touched at all, this has been our haven for so long — it has been my haven for 35 years.

Recently NAP has been thinning the thickets, cutting into the willows, removing the the ground cover. And now, they want to raze the fabulous trees which give the park its character. Trees have been ribboned in pink — though walkers have pulled most of these off as a way to protest, but the trees still retain the condemning splash of green paint which marks them for removal.

We need to protest loudly, and to everyone who even might listen.

Appendix J of the NAP DEIR page 3 says, “The SFRPD’s Tree Removal Procedures require that all trees designated for removal be posted at 30 days before removal. The public is invited to comment about the proposed removal, and the SFRPD may or may not modify its plan based on public input.”


We should call/email:

  • Ana Alvarez, the NAP Supervisor,
  • Supervisor Scott Wiener (Glen Canyon is in District 8),
  • Mayor Ed Lee.

These trees in Glen Canyon should reference this procedure, request a copy of it, and the name and address of who the public is invited to comment to about this tree removal. We expect they are not following their own procedure and we need to point that out. The designated trees don’t have any information on them about who to contact or no 30-day notices. And they probably will cut them down before 30 days are up.

Let your friends and neighbors know that they, too, can help by calling and writing letters — our power will come from the number of people who do something about this.


We want to retain our park — the wilderness we cherish — as it is. Please do not cut down any trees, including those that are “down”, forming tunnels over the paths and little bridges to step over. The entire community is extremely upset at all the clearing that has gone on, and now at the prospect of losing our trees. The trees give this particular park it’s character — a wild feeling where one can truly feel and play Huck Finn.

We all stated during the community meetings last Spring that we wanted the park kept wild — we have not been listened to. We are also concerned that no 30-day notices have been posted on the trees, telling us where we may meet to comment — isn’t this required? Please do not cut our trees. Please tell us what we can do to stop this destruction.


Send an email to  letting us know if you would like to help, and signing up for our newsletter.

For those that haven’t seen it, here is the Draft Assessment of the Urban Forestry Operations that is pretty insightful:

How Unnatural can San Francisco’s “Natural” Areas get?

This post is republished with some modifications and permission from Save Sutro Forest.


Why San Francisco’s Natural Areas are – Unnatural

by Save Sutro Forest

WHEN I first heard about San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program (SF NAP) some years ago, I was charmed. Over 1000 acres of city-owned land would be left to Nature, more wild and free than the orderly, gardened lawns and playgrounds (which I also appreciated, in a different way). Kudos to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) — which owns the SF NAP — was my reaction.

These would be spaces, I thought, where plants and animals and people could interact naturally. Birds and animals could safely breed in tangled thickets; so could bees and butterflies and other insects. They’d provide enough cover for birds and animals to hide from dogs, cats, hawks, coyotes, raccoons — and people. These spaces would be free of the toxic chemicals used in managing parks. Dogs could be allowed to romp through areas wild enough to tolerate disturbance. The only intervention, I assumed, would be to maintain some degree of safety on trails that animals and people would blaze through these areas.

If like me, you thought that Natural Areas were going to be, well, natural… then like me, you were mistaken.


San Francisco’s “Natural Areas” program is really about is Native Plants, most of which no longer grow in these places naturally. These plants grew (or may have grown) in these 46.9 square miles some 300 years ago. Some are still there. Others, even though common elsewhere, aren’t found in the city any more. Instead, other plants grow there, adding to the biodiversity of the area. According to Peter Kareiva of the Nature Conservancy, there are 25% more species in California than there were before “non-native” plants got here.

What we’re actually getting, then, is Native Plant Gardens, 32 of them. Trying to push these spaces back in time means they must be managed and maintained, because San Francisco now is a different place and a different ecology from the windblown hills and sand-dunes of its pre-colonial past.

What does this management and maintenance imply?


Since there’s a lot of area, and a lot of plants, this means a lot of pesticides. According to the records, Natural Areas had 69 applications of pesticides in 2010, most of them Tier I and Tier II pesticides like Garlon and Roundup. (San Francisco groups permissible pesticides into three tiers, with Tier I being the most dangerous and Tier III the least. The SF NAP hasn’t used Tier III pesticides, they’re all Tier I or II.)

Some — including Native Plant doyen Jake Sigg — have argued that one or two applications in a decade are all that’s needed, and are thus justified. That hasn’t been our experience. Two nearby Native Areas — Twin Peaks and Glen Canyon — have been sprayed many times annually for many years. According to their communications with some concerned neighbors, the SF NAP does not expect to stop.


Some years ago, Save Sutro Forest ran an article on museum-ification. This is the fate of many of these “natural” areas: they come with more, not fewer, restrictions than gardens and parks. Many of the paths animals and people made naturally, called “social trails” are blocked. (They current plan closes or relocates over 9 miles of trails.) There are formal trails, and people must stay on them. They are discouraged from actually interacting with these environments, except as gardening or trail-building volunteers.

Some 86% of the city’s dog-play off-leash areas are in areas controlled by the SF NAP. They plan to close up to 80% of these. (This comes on the heels of a plan to ban all dogs from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.)


Trees are being chopped down. San Francisco had some wonderful eucalyptus forests, many of them over a century old with a complex habitat and dense understory. Most of these are already gone.

The eucalyptus trees — defined as “invasive trees” despite the evidence that they are not invading anything — are non grata. So too the Monterey pine and the Monterey cypress; those are native to distant Monterey, all the way down the peninsula. Many trees have already been felled, and many thousands more are doomed. (That’s only counting those over 15 feet tall; the SFNAP counts smaller trees as “saplings” or “seedlings” and cuts them at will.)

The plan, for “urban forests” is to cut down trees until they’re down to a “basal area” of 200-600 feet per acre. This gives an estimated 60-200 trees per acre. (By comparison, Sutro Forest averages 740 trees per acre.)

In addition, the plan calls for removing blackberry thickets, one of the richest and safest habitats for birds and animals. It calls for removing fennel, another tall and dense habitat plant which, just incidentally, is the nursery plant for the native Anise Swallowtail butterfly. It calls for removing vines from the trees, all of which provide some of the complex habitat small birds need.

In fact, it seems to call for removing anything that grows lush and dense and useful to birds and animals. The result wouldn’t be a forest (urban or otherwise); it would be a garden with some trees in it.


We’d like to clarify what SaveSutro supports:

We are for preservation of existing habitats and ecosystems. We think places like the coastal scrub area on the slope above Laguna Honda Reservoir, (which has not been invaded by the contiguous eucalyptus forest!) deserve protection. This area is, incidentally, owned by the SF Water Department, not the SF Recreation and Parks Department. It’s visible from the road, but is not publicly accessible.

We’re fine with planting scrappy semi-industrialized areas like Heron’s Head Park into Native Plant gardens; that area had a recent win when Clapper Rails nested there and successfully produced chicks.


  • We object to converting parks devoted to other uses into such Native Gardens by imposing numerous restrictions.
  • We object to habitat destruction; birds, insects and animals all use these “non-native’ habitats.
  • We object to felling thousands of trees.
  • Most of all, we object to the use of toxic pesticides in areas that should, naturally, be free of chemicals.

Mt. Davidson Park – An Open Space Preserved for Recreation or Native Plants?

Native plant interests threaten trees throughout the city, and in particular, in one of San Francisco’s significant century-old forests: Mt Davidson. A favorite area for the residents of Miraloma Park, the Significant Natural Areas Management Plan calls for felling over 1600 trees.

Photo credit: Peter Earl McCollough

In the map below, the brown areas would be… well, brown. At least in summer. They are to be turned over to native plants.

This diagram is reproduced from public documents of the city of San Francisco, and used here for the purpose of discussion and education.

The article below by Jacqueline Proctor was published in Miraloma Life in November 2011, and is republished here with permission and added emphasis. [ETA: The publication followed up with an even longer article by Dan Liberthson.]


Mt. Davidson Park – An Open Space Preserved for Recreation or Native Plants?
By Jacqueline Proctor

In 1995, the City transferred Mt. Davidson Park to the Natural Areas Program with the result that protection and restoration of native plants—rather than public recreation, aesthetics, or forest maintenance—has become the first priority of the few City staff assigned to maintain the park. A recently completed Draft EIR has determined that the Natural Areas Program Plan will have a significant impact on the environment. Indeed, the Plan envisions the negative consequences to public enjoyment of the Park to be beneficial.

While the City is busy planting 1000s of street and median trees to “clean the air,” it is giving the OK to spend limited Recreation and Park funds to cut down 1000s of the historic trees along the trail and road areas of Mt. Davidson, restrict public access through native plants areas by installing barriers, prohibiting benches in the best view areas, and fostering the growth of poison oak (a native plant now thriving where non-native shrubs and trees have already been removed).

The Miraloma Park Improvement Club Board plans a letter to the City advocating for the Final EIR to recommend preservation of the forest as an historic, natural, recreational, and aesthetic resource, as well as advocating for full access to the native plant area and installation of benches in the view areas.


(The Board did write such a letter in comments to the Draft Environmental Impact Report on the SNRAMP.)

Recently, the Wall Street Journal covered this in its December 15th 2011 issue; and the San Francisco Examiner had an article about it on the same day. The San Francisco Forest Alliance (SFFA) has links to both articles on its Facebook page. Click here for WSJ, and here for the article in the Examiner.

The picture at the top of this post is the one used in the Wall Street Journal article. It’s reproduced here with permission from photographer Peter Earl McCollough, who also provided the the picture in the article by Jacqueline Proctor.  (His photography website is at )

Aquamaster (Glyphosate) on Mt Davidson

“I saw this sign posted on the road going up to the top of Mt. Davidson today,” noted the member who sent in this sign. “I guess people and birds won’t have as many berries to eat. This appears to be a second round of chemical use up there as the other signs were for Nov…”