Spinning the Bee-Tree Fiasco

We received this letter from Scott Mattoon, a bee advocate who is concerned not just by the killing of the bee tree in Glen Canyon Park’s Natural Areas, but by the reaction of San Francisco Recreation and Parks. If, like us,  you were expecting a heartfelt apology – as when the first bee-hive was killed – it didn’t happen. Instead, there’s spin. We publish the letter below with his permission.


Rec & Park recently posted an update to their website on the Glen Canyon renovation that I found rather disturbing.

[That link is HERE: Glen Canyon Park Renovation: Progress update – work proceeding…]

In reference to the plan to preserve the colony of honeybees living in the trunk of a ponderosa pine originally designated for removal, Rec & Park claimed that “the bees … have been preserved“.  That’s an interesting spin on what I would describe as a fiasco and careless blunder.  The vast majority of that colony died, and with it the likelihood of propagation this year.  Rec & Park’s contractor, DeKay, mistakenly cut the trunk at a height of 5 feet, despite an agreement  with Rec & Park to cut it at 20 feet.  They cut right into the top combs of the colony’s nest, and split the trunk open in the process, leaving the entire nest of this majestic old honeybee colony exposed.

red arrow on bee tree (Photo - Scott Mattoon)

If not for the perseverance, vigilance, stewardship, and expertise of two local residents, the colony would have certainly been lost completely.  In particular, I commend Karen Peteros for rescuing the queen and a small retinue of nurse bees, and hiving them in another part of the city.  We hope they will pull through.

Before the cutting began, I was impressed with Rec & Park’s willingness to work with myself and Karen to come up with a plan to save these bees.  It felt like we had a true partnership in the making, and that Rec & Park recognized the importance of preserving these bees, especially since their department had recklessly exterminated another colony of honeybees in the vicinity less than two years earlier.

[Webmaster: For a link to a report on that unfortunate event, go HERE: When the First Glen Canyon Beehive Was Killed]

It’s easy to assume that losing a colony of bees from the park will have no significant effect on the health or recreational value of the surrounds – just the flap of a butterfly’s wings.   But the loss of confidence in Rec & Park’s ability to effectively manage contractors, to coordinate with residents, and to accept responsibility for mistakes is significant for me and others who followed this story.  It was an opportunity for collaboration and for preservation of a natural resource squandered.


exposed hive with bees (Photo- Scott Mattoon)

Fire at McLaren Park: Letter from a Park-Lover

We received this letter from a frequent visitor to McLaren Park. It’s published here with permission and minor edits.

Only a small part of the grassland that burned south of Mansell Drive

Dandelion and thistle seeds survived the fire – a feast for the birds

I was at McLaren a few days ago and the seasonally dry, “Natural Areas” grassland south of Mansell is burnt. I can’t find anything on the web about the fire but it looks like it started about 50 feet from a homeless encampment at the bottom of the hill close to lower Visitacion.  (It also could have been started by fireworks.)

Unlike the Stern Grove fire last week, which burned a small area in the ivy-covered forest, the McLaren grass fire burned a pretty large area – I’d guess 5 to 8 acres. Interestingly, a few coyote bushes burned but most didn’t. The non-native dandelions and bull thistle seeds did not burn, and were blowing across the burnt area. Loads of birds were eating the white fuzzy seeds. It will be interesting to see what the grassland looks like as it grows back.

Leaf litter didn’t burn

Burning certainly is a concern in the city but fire was a key part of the Native American ecosystem when Europeans arrived.

Fire, missing grazing, large predators, climate changes, and air pollution, are all reasons it is futile to pretend San Francisco Native Heritage can be restored.


In the forest south of Mansell,  I saw several young pines, which contradicts a Rec & Park forestry report that says pines and cypress are not naturally regenerating in San Francisco parks.  (I’ve also seen young cypresses deep in the forest at Mt Davidson.  Sadly, even when I showed a seasoned Native Plant Advocate the young cypresses and eucalyptus, he still insisted that trees can’t regenerate in the forests and the forests are unsustainable.)

Recently cut young trees

San Francisco is paying millions for “reforestation” projects at the same time they are cutting down healthy pine trees and self-sustaining forests?

Of course, even Rec & Park can’t deny that eucalyptus is self-sustaining because of the young sprouts throughout the park forests that they haven’t managed to cut down.  It is so sad to see the many poles of young pines and eucalyptus cut and lying on the ground in piles of dry leaves throughout the McLaren forests. Are the Natural Areas “volunteers” or staff surreptitiously implementing the Natural Areas tree-thinning program even before the environmental impact report is completed?

Strange that the city spends millions for a plan and draft environmental impact report but appear to be moving forward with their plans as if it is just an expensive formality.  What is sad is the proposed plan isn’t even the “environmentally superior plan” per the city’s own analysis.  It is bizarre that native plant advocates have hijacked the term “environmentalist” to mean native plants.  Other cities recognize the health and environmental benefits of a healthy forest, while “environmentally conscious” San Francisco is deliberately chopping healthy trees down as if they are garbage.


The road/trail at the bottom of the hill also has fennel sprayed with pesticides along the trail right above the homeless encampment, which is visible from that trail. I wish Rec & Park would clean up the garbage that they walk by instead of spending their time spraying pretty, green fennel.

Garbage left from a homeless encampment near the trail/road.

I really think it is disturbing that the Natural Areas are the only parks exempt from any maintenance standard, even the one that says no more than 15 pieces of litter visible in a 50′ by 50′ area.   This means Rec & Park has exempted one-fourth of the land managed by Rec & Park from the voter-passed Prop C requirements for park maintenance standards and monitoring.

A few months ago, I broke my habit of walking the trails between the reservoir and the tennis courts for the less-travelled trails of McLaren.  I particularly love the rolling hills with flocks of birds, trees, wildflowers, and meadows and that our walks are so much longer.  However, I’m not as thrilled about spending much of my walk trying to make a dent in the accumulated litter.

I’m surprised anyone was taking the trails, considering the uninviting litter accumulated at the Visitacion Avenue/Mansell Street entrance.  I cleaned about half, but the other half still looks like a dumping zone in an abandoned park.  It makes me appreciate the daily dog-walkers and others that clean up in the more-travelled park areas.  At least Rec & Park should routinely pick up at the entrances and parking areas and keep them relatively clean.

DESTRUCTION OF PLANT-LIFE: The “Natural” Areas Program

Personally I prefer the green left side to the “restored” right side with bare ground

On the other side of McLaren in the forest area, I found a volunteer working alone, pulling up the English ivy from the forest floor to leave bare ground. He has, he said, a “permit” from Rec & Park and has been trained to pull the ivy and that it is overrunning the park.  I’d personally rather see green ivy than bare ground covered in pine needles.  Especially since ivy, which flowers and bears berries early in the season, provides some wildlife food and shelter, absorbs carbon dioxide and air pollution, and makes the park feels more alive.

It is quite bizarre that Rec & Park and native plant advocates claim nothing grows under the non-native trees.  In reality that is true only because Natural Areas contingent is out there constantly pulling up the dense and diverse vegetation, which is prolific in eucalyptus, pine and cypress forests that are left natural or are lucky enough to be protected in Golden Gate Park.  (I still find it bizarre the maligned “invasive” plants and trees protected in one of San Francisco’s most precious gems, Golden Gate Park, are being sprayed, pulled and cut in neighborhood parks.)


When I mentioned that the Natural Areas plan has not been approved, he said it was okay to proceed because the plan was developed long ago. He implied dog people are the problem and that it wasn’t right that the dog people think the area is just for them. I said that people with dogs are about 40% of the population. Did having a dog mean that one shouldn’t have a voice in how the parks are used?

I wonder how many people are native plant gardening purists who want trees removed simply because they aren’t San Francisco Native Heritage?  Dog play areas are only about 100 acres, yet  native plant advocates call people with dogs greedy while The Natural Areas Program claims over 1000 acres. It’s concerning to take a dog or a child to an area that has been sprayed with herbicides.

Sadly, I saw at least 4 places with glass in the parking lots from broken car windows. (It’s the first time I’ve personally seen that at McLaren.) The broken glass and homeless encampment suggest that what McLaren Park really needs to make it safer is more visitors, not fewer trees, dogs or activities.

“Natural Areas Program” Restricts Access

When people hear “Natural Areas” they often have visions of wild areas where trails wind their way through rampant plants, and you can bushwhack your way into interesting nooks and discoveries. Maybe there are wild berries or flowers to be plucked, maybe a tree or a rock formation a kid can climb,  a clearing where a fallen tree makes a balance-beam or a rope can be tied to a branch for a swing. When people hear about “Trail restoration” they think maybe some fallen trees will be moved aside, some bushes trimmed back, eroded areas filled in and stabilized.

That’s not the plan laid out by SF Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program.  Instead, they plan to restrict access in a number of ways.


The plan calls for removing or “relocating” ten miles of trails, and adding only one mile of new trail – not necessarily in the same park where trails are closed. (The table at the bottom of this post has the list by park.) The trails being closed are “social trails” – the ones that exist because people use them.

Trail restrictions are also being used to deny access to park features people love, like rocks they climb on. For example, from the Plan for Glen Canyon calls for:

“…closing social trails to the northwestern rock outcrop in Glen Canyon Park, discontinuing rock climbing, and closing social trails in O’Shaughnessy Hollow.”


For most adults who are jogging or walking through a park, it seems like a reasonable request: Stay on the trails. For a child, it’s meaningless. A trail offers no real chance of exploration or engaging with the environment. (And it’s not just kids. When we presented this to a group of people, several said, Wait, I like to wander off the trail sometimes…)

So what happens when a natural area becomes a “Natural Area” ?

A whole bunch of rules, starting with “Stay on Designated Trails.”

On Mount Davidson, someone told us, there used to be a big sign saying “Welcome to Mount Davidson Park.” It made you feel that it was an area for recreation, that belonged to everyone. That sign is gone, victim to time and vandals. “When the Natural Areas Program came in and put up a sign,” she said, “I thought maybe they’d put up the Welcome sign again. Instead, there’s this strict list of rules.”

By restricting access only to trails, a 10-acre park can be reduced effectively to a 0.25-acre park – the narrow area of the actual trail.


Perhaps the most frequent users of natural areas are people with dogs. After all, a dog needs to get out of the house at least a couple of times a day, and their people go with them. Ideally, they need some time off their leashes, when they can play and explore.

But once these areas aren’t natural but instead “Natural” – they start to close dog-play areas. The Plan calls for removing 20% of the areas immediately, and putting another 60% on a watch-list for possible closure (that’s the column of “Maybe’d” areas in the table below).

Of course this is important to dog-owners, and particularly to people who feel more secure walking along if they have a dog with them – older people, for instance, or a mom with small children.

But this doesn’t affect only dog-owners. For other users of parks, especially those who use them on weekdays and during the daytime, it’s important to know that the park won’t be deserted when you get there. Having other people around adds to the feeling of safety in the park. Typically, especially at off-peak times, the people who are out there are walking their dogs. The dog-walkers are also the people who are most familiar with the parks, who can see if there’s something unusual happening.  Dogs in our parks means eyes in our parks.


[Edited to Add (15 Mar 2012): The table above has been corrected to remove a typo.]

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.

Run, Forest, Run!

The NAP’s going to get you!