No Pesticides in Our Parks and Watersheds

Below is the text of a letter San Francisco Forest Alliance sent yesterday to the Environment Commission and the SF Department for the Environment. We stand for no toxic pesticides in our parks and watersheds.

 

To: Director Deborah Raphael, Dr Chris Geiger, and the Commission for the Environment
From: San Francisco Forest Alliance

Dear Dr. Geiger,
Dear Director Raphael,
Dear Members of the Environment Commission

Your Notice of Annual Public Hearing Regarding Pest Management Activities on City Properties incorrectly states that “San Francisco city staff have been national leaders in integrated pest management (IPM) since the City passed its Integrated Pest Management Ordinance in 1996.”

In fact, 1996 Ordinance was gutted in 1997.
While San Francisco has made some progress, we are far from being national leaders. Our current system enshrines the routine use of herbicides.
At present, the city can use whatever pesticide it wishes, wherever it wishes, as much as it wishes – as long as the pesticide is on “Reduced Risk Pesticide List” (Reduced compared to what?). If it wishes to go outside the list, it can seek an exemption. Such exemptions are seldom refused, particularly in “Natural Areas.”

The Marin Municipal Water District has been herbicide free since 2005.
Meanwhile San Francisco continuously uses hazardous herbicides in our watersheds.

In a 2017 pilot project, Marin successfully demonstrated that traffic medians could be maintained without glyphosate (the only synthetic herbicide previously used on medians). Marin County will continue to move forward without herbicides on all medians and roadside landscapes.

The City of Richmond had completely banned use of all herbicides by the city in 2016.
The use of all synthetic pesticides in parks, open space parcels and public rights of way and buildings owned and maintained by the Town of Fairfax is prohibited and a neighbor notification is required prior to the use of pesticides on private property.

In 2000 the Arcata City Council approved by unanimous vote the ordinance which bans the use of pesticides on all properties owned or managed by the city.

In France the pesticides are banned from public forests, parks and gardens since the end of 2016.

The city of San Francisco, on another hand, cannot even commit to use reduction targets for herbicides. In 2017, herbicide usage by the Natural Resources Department rose 57%.

The city claims that the high hazard herbicides are used only as a last resort. In fact, they are used regularly throughout the year, and have been used regularly for many years.

The city claims that the high hazard herbicides are necessary to help “sensitive species,” while in accordance with the court order their use is prohibited in Sharp Park precisely because of the presence there of the endangered California garter snake and threatened red-legged frog. A 2002 paper from UC Davis pointed out that over 40% of Californian butterfly species depend on non-native plants in urban-suburban areas, and notes, “Were certain alien weeds to be eradicated or their abundance greatly reduced, the urban-suburban butterfly fauna would disappear.”

Last week the trial of DeWayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company – the first of over 4,500 such cases – got underway in San Francisco Superior Court.
Meanwhile, glyphosate remains on the SF “Reduced Risk Pesticide List” and is being used by the city – three years after it has been classified as a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization.

San Francisco Forest Alliance brings to your attention that:

• herbicidal chemicals are more toxic, more dangerous, more persistent, and more mobile than their manufacturers disclose;
• the “danger” from “weeds” is aesthetic or ideological rather than to health and welfare;
• scientific studies associate exposure to herbicides with cancer, developmental and learning disabilities, nerve and immune system damage, liver or kidney damage, reproductive impairment, birth defects, and disruption of the endocrine system;
• there is no safe dose of exposure to those chemicals because they persists in soil, water, and animal tissue for prolonged periods of time, so even low levels of exposure could still be harmful to humans, animals, and the environment;
• infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and chemical sensitivities are especially vulnerable to herbicide effects and exposure;
• herbicides are harmful to pets, wildlife including threatened and endangered species, soil microbiology, plants, and natural ecosystems;
• toxic runoff from herbicides pollute streams and groundwater, and therefore the drinking water sources;
• people have a right not to be involuntarily exposed to herbicides in the air, water or soil that inevitably result from chemical drift and contaminated runoff.

Because of above considerations we ask that all synthetic herbicides classified as Tier I and all non-organic herbicides classified as Tier II by the San Francisco Hazard Tier Rating System shall be banned on all City property and the lands managed by the city, with the only exemption for Harding Park Golf Course which is under PGA contract.

We also ask that:
– no other herbicide exemption shall be granted for any other City Property or the land managed by the city,
– such herbicides would be immediately removed from the Reduced Risk Pesticide List with the special exception for use on Harding Park Golf Course only,
– the City stop purchasing hazardous herbicides, and disposes of any remaining stock immediately, following the city’s hazardous waste disposal protocols; again exempting the herbicides intended for use on Harding Park Golf Course only.

We ask SF Environment to lead San Francisco toward the goal of No Pesticides in our Parks and Watersheds.

Sincerely,

San Francisco Forest Alliance

 

– END –

Season’s Greetings!

With this holiday season rolling around again, we’re pausing to realize that the San Francisco Forest Alliance is six years old! Our first post – about pesticide use on Twin Peaks – was on Dec 19, 2011.

It’s been six years of advocating for our trees, our trails, our wildlife habitats. Six years of fighting against toxic herbicides used in our parks.  This year we’re gearing up to bring our message of inclusive environmentalism to a broader audience.

To all our supporters and readers – SEASON’S GREETINGS!
We hope you’ll continue to stand with us and spread the word.

 

 

SF Forest Alliance: Problems in the Sutro Forest DEIR – Part II

On September 22, 2017,  the Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group, on behalf of its client, San Francisco Forest Alliance, submitted the following comments and questions to the University of California, San Francisco (“UCSF”) regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) for the UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan (“Plan”).

[We are publishing it in two parts, owing to its length. This is Part II.
For Part I, Click HERE: SF Forest Alliance: Problems in the Sutro Forest DEIR – Part I
The pictures in these articles are illustrative only, and were not submitted to UCSF. Most legal references and citations in the original have been removed for easier reading.]

D. The DEIR Fails to Adequately Assess or Mitigate Erosion Impacts.

The DEIR fails to include meaningful analysis or mitigation measures for erosion controls. Again, to some extent, this deficiency flows from the fact that neither existing conditions nor the exact scope of the project is defined. Nevertheless, numerous members of the public have submitted comments based on scientific review and personal experience highlighting that widespread tree removal in the forest will expose soils and degrade soil integrity in an area with steep slopes and high moisture accumulation. Many of these effects may not be immediately evident—for example, only years after a tree is removed may the root structure left behind totally rot—yet the DEIR describes and attempts to mitigate only impacts short-term impact such as access road construction and landing area. (DEIR 2-22 to 2-24.) Thus, the DEIR fails to completely analyze the project’s significant adverse impacts, and fails to support its conclusions with substantial evidence.

Blue tarp following a landslide in Forest Knolls San Francisco

E. The DEIR Fails to Adequately Assess Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

The DEIR fails to disclose fundamental information for an accurate greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions analysis. The DEIR acknowledges that tree removal will cause GHG emissions, but fails to meaningfully analyze the numbers and types of trees to be removed and replaced. For example, the summary on page 3-27 does not sum up how many trees will actually be removed. Table 3.5-2, column 6 provides the net reduction or increase in trees, but this does not indicate how many living trees will be removed. That is because the numbers presented are net removals, i.e., living trees removed, plus dead trees removed, minus new trees planted.

The DEIR’s treatment of old trees as equivalent to new saplings is also incorrect. Based on best current scientific information, large, old trees do not act simply as aging carbon reservoirs but rather continuously fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees. (N.L. Stephenson et al., Rate of Tree Carbon Accumulation Increases Continuously with Tree Size (2014) 507 Nature 90.) This study determined that the oldest trees gained the most mass each year and subsequently, accumulating more carbon, capitalizing on their additional leaves. (Id. at 91-92.) The DEIR fails to account for this information when it claims that “[y]oung, healthy forests absorb carbon more rapidly than older, dense forests (Wayburn 2010).” (DEIR at 4.6-18.)

It is also false to assume that carbon sequestration in a forest ceases at a certain point. The DEIR presumes “the Reserve’s mature eucalyptus are well past peak growth, and are no longer sequestering much if any additional carbon.” (DEIR at 4.6-19.) Per the Stephenson paper, supra, and Peter Ehrlich’s updated forest assessment of eucalyptus trees in San Francisco post-drought described below, this is incorrect, insufficient, and inadequate. Additionally, these assumptions result in an inadequate baseline. Given the end of the drought, a significant number of trees deeming “dying” by the DEIR have likely recovered their canopies and are sequestering more carbon than in April 2016. Conversely and without evidence, the DEIR assumes 100% survival rates for new saplings planted, incorrectly ignoring the mortality rate for these new trees, especially given the lack of irrigation. When removing mature trees, the U.S. Forest Service recommends a 3:1 replanting ratio to account for the loss of carbon sequestration and expected sapling death.

The DEIR also lacks calculations regarding the projected biomass and CO2 of the replacement trees in future years. To fully understand the impacts of the Plan, information about carbon sequestration at incremental years, such as 2020, 2030 and 2050, would more fully disclose the Plan’s impacts. Executive Order S-3-05 and Executive Order B-30-15, have targets that need to be reached by 2020, 2030 and 2050, but without presenting GHG impacts at these critical years, the public cannot know whether the Plan will conflict with applicable plans, policies, or regulations as required by CEQA. (Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (b)(3) [“A lead agency should consider . . . [t]he extent to which the project complies with regulations or requirements adopted to implement a statewide, regional, or local plan for the reduction or mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.”].)

The DEIR is lacking information on other critical GHG measurements. The DEIR does not provide estimates for changes in soil carbon, though the changes to the surface throughout the Reserve will disturb the soil. (DEIR at 4.6-15.) This is especially true because the plan for understory removal is to dig out the understory plants by the roots. Additionally, the DEIR fails to provide estimates have for carbon contained in the woody shrubs and understory that will be extensively removed and destroyed. (Id.)

Finally, the DEIR fails to account for the Plan’s cumulative impacts on climate change, stating that “a single project is very unlikely to measurably contribute to a noticeable incremental change in the global average temperature, or to the global, local, or microclimate.” (DEIR at 4.7-16.) When making this determination, however, an EIR may not conclude that a cumulative impact is insignificant solely because the project’s contribution to an unacceptable existing environmental condition is relatively small.  “[T]he impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change is precisely the kind of cumulative impacts analysis” that agencies must conduct. (Center for Biological Diversity v. Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Admin (2008) .) One project may not appear to have a significant effect on climate change, but the combined impacts of many sources can damage California’s climate as a whole.

Therefore, CEQA requires that an agency consider both direct and indirect impacts of a project and fully disclose those impacts to adequately inform the public and decisionmakers. (Guidelines, § 15064.) The DEIR, because “[c]arbon sequestration in the forest would exceed GHG emissions generated from equipment and loss of carbon stock/uptake from tree removal,” concludes the Plan’s impacts will be less than cumulatively considerable. (DEIR at 4.7-17.) This failure to consider the Plan’s impacts in conjunction with other plans and projects flouts CEQA’s mandate.

Ultimately, the DEIR’s Greenhouse Gas analysis is deficient. UCSF’s conclusion that the Plan will not have a significant impact on the environment is unsupported without a full disclosure and analysis of the Plan’s greenhouse gas impacts. CEQA “requires full environmental disclosure.” (Communities for a Better Environment, supra, 184 Cal.App.4th at 88; see also Guidelines, § 15121, subd. (a).) Although “technical perfection” is not required, an EIR must be “adequa[te], complete[], and a good-faith effort at full disclosure.” Because the DEIR fails to include and consider recent scientific information, fully describe the Plan, analyze compliance with relevant regulations and policies, account for significant sources of carbon, and analyze cumulative impacts, it fails as an informational document and does not present an accurate picture of the Plan’s impacts to the public or decisionmakers. UCSF must correct these areas and recirculate the EIR.

F. The DEIR Fails to Adequately Assess and Mitigate Wind and Local Climate Effects.
Commenters have pointed out that Sutro Forest was originally created in part to help calm winds from the Pacific Ocean into the City. The effect has considerable influence on the microclimate of the immediate vicinity, as well as nearby areas, such as Noe Valley, Dolores Heights, Castro, Bernal Heights, or the Mission, allowing more fog and wind to pass through the forest into nearby areas. Commenters have noted that Sutro Forest has the highest moisture content of any location in the City, and massive vegetation removal may logically have the effect of changing this moisture collecting condition and changing weather patterns in the City. San Francisco is well-known for its micro-climates, and this project effect cannot be simply ignored. Without collection and evaluation of micro-climate data in the City, the DEIR fails to assess this project effect.  A revised and recirculated DEIR should include detailed observation about the microclimate and forest conditions.

G. The DEIR Fails to Adequately Assess and Mitigate Impacts to Biological Resources.

First, the DEIR fails to provide a meaningful assessment of impacts to avian species and their habitat. Principally, the removal of thousands of standing dying trees deprives protected bird species of next, perch, and boring spaces. (See: Eucalyptus tree hosts a flicker family)

A loss of understory also impairs habitat and foraging opportunity. (See: Mount Sutro Forest Ecosystem and Wildlife Habitat)  These project effects must be analyzed.

Second, the DEIR fails to adequately mitigate impacts to Monarch Butterflies. BIO-PH-1 is inadequate because it enables UCSF still to cut down the trees on which the monarchs were found after the butterflies have left. This is destroying essential monarch butterfly habitat and the exact trees that the butterflies are likely to try to return to the following year. Aggregation on trees themselves are hard to spot. Monarch butterflies are often seen flying around San Francisco’s eucalyptus forests, but where are their home trees? How will the biologist determine whether the aggregation has dispersed or not, and what is the time frame? This is unclear in the DEIR. A 200-foot buffer is inadequate for species protection given the significant disturbance that the Plan’s deforestation will create around the aggregation trees including heavy equipment, the construction of landing areas, and clear cuts of 1 acre or more.

The DEIR concedes that “Implementation of forest treatments including eucalyptus removal could cause a significant impact on monarch butterfly by removing trees that monarch butterfly may use as roosts during winter months” and “Impacts would remain significant.” (DEIR 4.3-22) Given recent studies’ finding the species to be severely imperiled throughout the West, the lead agency may be unable to justify a statement of overriding considerations to approve this project, and the No Project Alternative should be selected, and/or the project denied.

Commenters have noted that Eucalyptus oils act as natural deterrents to pests such as mosquitos and fleas, while the area is known as a frequent destination for dog walkers. The DEIR should assess project effects to reduce this natural defense. In addition, because the Eucalyptus blooms in winter, it is an off-season food source for bees, which have also suffered alarming population declines. The DEIR should investigate and analyze this effect.
Again, the DEIR fails to completely analyze the project’s significant adverse impacts, and fails to support its conclusions with substantial evidence.

E. Conclusion

For each of the foregoing reasons, we urge that the project be denied, that the No Project Alternative be adopted, or that the DEIR be substantially revised and recirculated for public and agency review and comment.

SF Forest Alliance: Problems in the Sutro Forest DEIR – Part I

On September 22, 2017,  the Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group, on behalf of its client, San Francisco Forest Alliance, submitted the following comments and questions to the University of California, San Francisco (“UCSF”) regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) for the UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan (“Plan”).

[We are publishing it in two parts, owing to its length. This is Part I.
For Part II, Click HERE: SF Forest Alliance: Problems in the Sutro Forest DEIR – Part II
The pictures in these articles are illustrative only, and were not submitted to UCSF. Most legal references and citations in the original have been removed for easier reading.]

Members of the public have commented with deep and justified concerns that the possible benefits of this project are unclear or unlikely, while the effects are significant. What is now a peaceful, historical refuge from City life threatens to become a multi-decadal vegetation removal project that would drastically alter the biological landscape of the forest, its quietness, degrade its air quality, increase greenhouse gas emissions, construction traffic and congested city parking . . . the list goes on. Yet the basic purpose and actual scope of the proposed project are not clearly conveyed, and are not compelling at all. The forest has survived countless drought cycles on its own, without this type of intrusive intervention. As a result, the lead agency may be unable to support a statement of overriding considerations to approve the project. The proposed project should be denied, and the No Project Alternative accepted.

Sutro Forest

A. CEQA Overview

An EIR is an “informational document” meant to “provide public agencies and the public in general with detailed information about the effect which a proposed project is likely to have on the environment” and “demonstrate to an apprehensive citizenry that the agency has, in fact, analyzed and considered” the environmental impacts of a project. As an informational document, CEQA “requires full environmental disclosure.”  Although “technical perfection” is not required, an EIR must be “adequa[te], complete[], and a good-faith effort at full disclosure,” with “informed and balanced” decisionmaking. (CEQA Guidelines, § 15003, subds. (i)-(j).) “[A]n agency must use its best effects to find out and disclose all that it reasonably can.”

For each of the reasons discussed, below, the DEIR falls short of CEQA’s informational and substantive requirements, and should be revised and recirculated. In the alternative, the proposed project should be denied, as the No Project Alternative would meet the project goals while reducing or avoiding significant and unavoidable effects of the proposed project.

B. The DEIR Conflates the Proposed Project with its Attempt to Describe Existing Conditions – and so Fails to Provide Either a Legally-Sufficient Project Description or Baseline.

An accurate project description and a baseline are two legally crucial elements of the CEQA process. Furthermore, an agency can accurately describe a project’s impacts only if it accurately describes the existing environmental baseline, measuring the project’s impacts against “real conditions on the ground.”

1. The DEIR’s Stated Project Objectives are Unclear and Inadequate.

A proposed project’s statement of objectives must include the underlying purpose of the project, and be clearly written to guide the selection of mitigation measures and alternatives to be evaluated in the EIR.

Alternatives that cannot achieve the project’s underlying purpose need not be considered; “a lead agency may not give a project’s purpose an artificially narrow definition, a lead agency may structure its EIR alternatives analysis around a reasonable definition of underlying purpose and need not study alternatives that cannot achieve that basic goal.”

The DEIR summarizes the four plan objectives as follows:

1. Protect the safety of Reserve users and adjacent campus and residential properties
2. Improve and enhance the health and stability of the ecosystem
3. Enhance the visual design and aesthetic experience in the Reserve
4. Maintain and ensure public access to the Reserve

(DEIR at 1-2 [pg. 20].) Regarding the first objective, the DEIR explains that aim is to reduce “the risk of tree failure and fire through vegetation management.” (DEIR at 3-13 [pg. 77].)

However, the DEIR fails to provide meaningful information by which to understand these goals. For example, are existing forest conditions unsafe? By what measure? Similarly, are public access limitations currently a problem? The DEIR is not specific, and fails to consider whether years of significant “vegetative management” in the Forest would impede public access more so than not pursuing this project at all. Only through better-articulated project goals can the DEIR and the public meaningfully assess whether alternatives to the project would also meet project goals with fewer significant environmental impacts.

The DEIR also acknowledges that UCSF is already doing work to mitigate these risks – and will continue to do so whether or not the project is approved. The DEIR states that under the proposed project, “UCSF would continue to manage the risk of trees that may fall and injure Reserve users or damage property, and vegetation management would be focused in areas where people and buildings may be affected.” (DEIR at 2-12 [pg. 36], emphasis added.) The DEIR adds that the forest is already “actively managed” for safety. (DEIR at 4.5-1.) And crucially, it explains that:

If the proposed plan is not approved by the Regents, it is reasonable to assume that UCSF would continue to conduct ongoing maintenance in the Reserve to reduce fire hazards and hazards to people and structures from falling trees. Ongoing maintenance would include, but would not necessarily be limited to, pruning trees and bushes, removing hazardous trees, removing debris, and maintaining trails.

(DEIR at 2-14 [pg. 38]; see also DEIR 5-6 [pg 406] (under the No Project alternative, UCSF would “continue to conduct ongoing maintenance in the Reserve”).) So how can the first and foremost objective of the proposed project be to reduce “the risk of tree failure and fire through vegetation management” if the DEIR asserts that such management will happen whether or not the plan is approved? In light of the fact that the proposed project would result in significant and unavoidable impacts, and since the No Project Alternative satisfies the first and foremost objective of the proposed project, the No Project Alternative should be selected.

Unfortunately, the DEIR barely describes this pre-existing / active management program.  At one point, the DEIR describes safety assessment of trees up to 25 feet on either side of trails (DEIR 3-18 [pg. 82]), but does not describe to what extent trees have been removed based on the assessments. In those few places where the pre-existing program is described, it tends to mirror the proposed project precisely. For example, under the proposed plan, vegetation would be trimmed “within 5 to 10 feet of trails” to “allow trail users to see further into the forest.” (DEIR at 4.1-23.) But the DEIR indicates that UCSF already trims “vegetation within 5 to 10 feet on either side of trails to maintain sight lines through the forest.” (DEIR at 4.6-11.) As a result, because the DEIR barely describes the existing program of active forest management, it has failed to establish an adequate baseline.  And because core elements of the proposed project (the vegetation and tree management plan) will continue under this existing program of forest management, whether or not the proposed project approved by the Regents, the DEIR has also failed to establish an accurate project description.

2. The DEIR Fails to Provide an Accurate Stable Description of the Number of Trees Existing or to be Removed.

The DEIR’s description of the baseline conditions that are integral to the proposed project activities are inaccurate and unstable, giving rise to an inaccurate and unstable project description. A description of important environmental resources that will be adversely affected by the project is critical to a legally adequate discussion of the environmental setting. And specific information about particular characteristics of the environmental setting are be required when necessary to determine the significance of an impact.

First, a huge discrepancy exists between estimated tree numbers from previous years and the current estimates. In 2013, UCSF “estimated that there are approximately 45,000 or more trees in the Reserve.” (UCSF Mount Sutro Management DEIR (Jan. 2013) at 3-5.) The DEIR estimates there are approximately 12, 135 trees in the Reserve. (DEIR at 3-9, tbl. 3.4-1.) The DEIR fails to realistically account for this vast difference in its own calculations, whether consultants’ prior calculations were wildly inaccurate, or there were an inordinate number of trees between 1 and 2 DBH at that time. The DEIR gives short shrift to these implausible explanations, and the discrepancy casts significant doubt on the accuracy of the DEIR’s estimations and the public’s ability to rely on its description.

Second, the DEIR proposes to remove “approximately 6,000 trees predominately dead and/or dying trees” during Phase I. (DEIR at 3-24.) Yet the DEIR fails to even estimate how many “dying” trees exist in the Plan area. Unsurprisingly, the DEIR lacks a clear definition of the words “dead” and “dying” when describing trees. It merely characterizes trees with a live crown ratio of 25% or less as “dying” without recognizing that crown die-back is a normal adaptation to drought for eucalypts and many of the trees have a good chance of recovery.

The Live Crown Ratio is the ratio of the crown to the total height of the tree, simply a measure of how high the crown is. For similar reasons, this measure is of questionable value with considering eucalyptus which goes through cycles of extension and dieback. This is especially true when the eucalyptus is growing in a forest environment, where a long trunk and high crown is the natural growth habit of Tasmanian blue gum. A Live Crown Ratio of 33% would be standard, and so 25% seems well within the normal range of variability, especially during a drought. (See, “Forest
Trees of Australia” by Douglas Boland, Maurice William McDonald.)

The DEIR presents two varying estimates of the number of live trees in Forest Type 4. In Table 3.4-1, it estimates there are 50 live trees per acre and 50 dead trees per acre in Forest Type 4, for a total of 100 trees per acre. (Id. at 3-9, tbl. 3.4-1.) But in Table 3.5-2, it estimates there are 128 live trees per acre and a total of 178 trees per acre in Forest Type 4. (Id. at 3-27, tbl. 3.5-2.) The Vegetation Management Plan published in February 2017 provides the 128 live trees per acre figure. (Vegetation Management Plan (Feb. 2017) at 24, tbl. 6.) This is a significant difference. Table 3.4-1 lists 8,665 live trees in total for the entire forest. If applying the 128 live trees per acre number for Forest Type 4, the total number of live trees increases to 10,069. This is an increase of 16% and is significant with respect to the ecosystem value of the forest and impacts from removal. Given that the number of live trees impacts all of the analyses and conclusions, these discrepancies render the DEIR insufficient as an informational document.

Additionally, the “Net Trees Removed or Planted per Acre” thresholds in Table 3.5-3 are significantly higher than needed to achieve the Desired Final Stand Density in Forest Types 1, 3 and 4. If UCSF implements these maximum thresholds, then only 243 original trees would remain by Year 10. Examining Appendix 4.2 shows that at least 12,101 trees (99.8% of the current total) would be removed by Year 11 alone. This near-complete-deforestation is internally contradictory with the Plan’s stated objective to improve the health and stability of the Mt. Sutro open space reserve.

The DEIR proposes to remove over half of the live trees on the Reserve in the first year of the Plan, estimating that there are 8,665 trees in the Reserve (DEIR at 3-9, tbl. 3.4-1), but proposing to cut down a maximum of 4,640 lives trees (DEIR at 3-27, tbls. 3.5-2 & 3.5-3)—a staggering 53.5% of the live trees at the Reserve. This is a significantly high percentage and poses threats to public safety and wildlife, yet the DEIR concludes the impacts will be less than significant with mitigation. The DEIR must be amended to accurately depict the impact of its forest clearing plan.

The DEIR also fails to provide an accurate baseline description of existing tree health, relying on drought year data that ignores the extent to which the wet 2016/2017 winter may have revived trees on Mt. Sutro. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “During times of defoliation, crown dieback may be overestimated. This can be due to the difficulty of distinguishing dead twigs from defoliated ones.” On December 4, 2016, the Chief Forester of the Presidio, Peter Ehrlich, described the eucalyptus forests in San Francisco as follows: “The trees are recovering from a three-year drought. Those trees that were of moderate vigor showed recovering canopies that no longer had evidence of epicormic growth that was produced in a drought-response. This crown retrenchment was a survival strategy for some of the trees in order to cut water loss during drought. The trees are recovering due to the increased rainfall last year and early this year.” Even the DEIR admits that “the drought conditions have ended in 2017” and “future conditions are unknown.” (DEIR 3-11.) Since this is a forest with over 100 years of adaptation through numerous drought cycles, it should be permitted to recover prior to making any new and drastic vegetation management decisions. Eucalyptus in the tropical and arid areas of Northern Australia tend to get killed by termites and fire before they’re 200 years old. In temperate, rainy Southern Australia they live 400-500 years. San Francisco’s Sutro Forest is much closer to Southern Australia in climate, since it lacks wildfires and cyclones and receives rain as well as summer fog drip.

Accordingly, both the existing conditions and the project need and scope are fatally undermined without relying on more accurate data.

Finally, the DEIR wrongly claims that vegetation in the forest is “even-aged.” (DEIR at 4.1-25.) But any visitor to the forest can see—and even the photos in the DEIR show—a wide range of tree sizes and ages. (See, e.g., id. at 4.1-4, 4.1.5, 4.1-12 to 4.1-21.) This occurs in part because eucalyptus globulus can regenerate readily from lignotubers, younger trees will sprout from trees that are cut down or broken off. Over the 125-year life of the forest, it is evident that many of the trees now standing are younger.

These errors, inconsistencies, and failures to disclose important facts result in an inaccurate and confusing Plan description and baseline by which to compare the Plan’s impacts. As a result, the DEIR fails as an informational document the public and decisionmakers can rely on.

C. The No Project Alternative Should be Selected, but the DEIR Skews Decision-making by Failing to Adequately Assess the No Project Alternative.

The CEQA Guidelines require that:

The specific alternative of “no project” shall also be evaluated along with its impact. . . The “no project” analysis shall discuss the existing conditions at the time the notice of preparation is published, as well as what would be reasonably expected to occur in the foreseeable future if the project were not approved, based on current plans and consistent with available infrastructure and community services.

The No Project alternative is distinct from the environmental baseline, from which the impacts of a project are evaluated.  The no-project alternative is a fact-based forecast of the environmental effects of maintaining the status quo.  When a project involves a proposed change to an existing land use plan, regulatory plan, policy, or ongoing operation, a decision to reject the project would leave the existing plan, policy, or operation in place. In such a situation, the no-project alternative should be defined as a continuation of the existing plan, policy, or operation. The EIR’s discussion of the no-project alternative then compares the impacts of the change that would result from approval of the proposed project with the impacts that would occur if the existing plan, policy, or operation remained unchanged.

The Sutro Forest DEIR addresses a No Project alternative in which the proposed plan would not be implemented, but UCSF would “continue to conduct ongoing maintenance in the Reserve.” (DEIR 5-6 [pg 406].) As a result, the DEIR expects that eucalyptus would thin and “either understory vegetation or blackwood acacia [would] colonize areas of eucalyptus dieback.” (DEIR 5-7 [pg 407].)

There are serious problems with the DEIR’s treatment of this alternative. Although it presents a No Project alternative, the DEIR describes that alternative in conclusory and pejorative terms, with little explanation.

1. With Nearly No Explanation, the DEIR Concludes That the No Project Alternative Would Lead to Significant Impacts on Visual Quality.

California courts have struck down EIRs that reject project alternatives on aesthetic grounds without providing sufficient explanation of why one alternative is visually less desirable than another. (See Save Round Valley Alliance v. County of Inyo (Ct. App. 4th 2007) 70 Cal. Rptr. 3d 59 (“If the BLM parcel is indeed an unsuitable site for the project due to whatever the County referred to as ‘aesthetic/view issues,’ much more must be said to adequately inform the public and decision makers.”))

Here, the DEIR describes the No Project alternative’s hypothetical transition from eucalyptus to understory vegetation or blackwood acacia as having significant “impacts on visual quality.” (DEIR 5-6 [pg 406].) But the DEIR does not explain anywhere why it views eucalyptus as of higher visual quality than acacia blackwood. (Neither species represents an indigenous California visual landscape; both species are transplants from Australia.1) Are eucalyptus prettier than acacia? The DEIR does not say.

In contrast, some Bay Area residents extol the visual appeal of blackwood acacia. For example, one local science writer and environmental consultant wrote that:

“I first noticed [Blackwood acacia] for its flamboyant seeds. When the pealike seed pods split open later in the year, they will reveal a shiny black seed surrounded by a wild curlicue of orange ribbon. I hate to love an invasive, but I think they are just beautiful.”

Others describe the tree as “beautiful and dependable,” possessing seeds “wrapped in an unmistakable coral-colored ribbon.” It may be the case that eucalyptus is prettier than the blackwood acacia. But it is certainly not self-evident, and the DEIR provides no justification for this conclusion.

The DEIR is also inconsistent about whether gaps in the forest canopy are appealing or not.
When it is describing the proposed project, the DEIR says that “gaps in the canopy that create patterns of sun and shade and offer views of the ocean and Golden Gate Park” are visually appealing. (DEIR at 2-2 [pg. 26].) But when it is talking about the No Project alternative, the DEIR says that “as the canopy becomes patchier” the “visual quality of the Reserve would decline.” (DEIR at 5-6 [pg 406].) It sounds the DEIR has a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose approach to aesthetics – openings in the canopy represent appealing gaps when the DEIR is describing the proposed project, but unappealing patches when it is describing an alternative.

Finally, and bizarrely, the aesthetic analysis of the DEIR’s describes the forest resulting from a No Project alternative as potentially “less alive.” (DEIR 5-6 [pg 406].) (It does not explain what it means by this.) But elsewhere the DEIR admits that “[a]lthough the dominant species in the forest may change, the Reserve would likely continue to be forest land under the No Project Alternative.” (DEIR 5-7 [pg 407].)

2. With Nearly No Explanation, the DEIR Pejoratively Characterizes a Transition from Eucalyptus to Acacia as “Forest Decline”.

Similarly, in terms of Biological Resources, the DEIR pejoratively characterizes “understory vegetation or blackwood acacia” colonizing potential areas of eucalyptus dieback under a No Project alternative as “forest decline.” (DEIR 5-7 [pg 407].)

The DEIR does not explain why a transition from mostly one species to mostly another species constitutes “decline,” but it may be based on a misreading of another section of the DEIR. In Section 3, the DEIR points out that the “condition of the blue gum eucalyptus trees has declined over the past decade” and that “[w]ithout management, it is likely that the existing eucalyptus will continue to decline and die, and other types of trees and vegetation will take over.” (DEIR 3-6 [pg 70].)

Thus, the DEIR appears to have conflated the decline of one species in the forest – eucalyptus – with the health of the overall forest. (More generally, the DEIR repeatedly employs language like this to create the image of a forest that is aged, ill, dying, and infirm. The aim may be to create the idea that the forest is not worthy of the land itself.)

In fact, California arborists praise the blackwood acacia’s role in a forest, calling it “a good choice where a large, fast-growing tree is desired.”5 Elsewhere it is described as a “durable tree for quick growth, screening and erosion control.”6 The acacia’s seed pod is “rich in protein, which makes the seed package rather appealing to ants, which consume the aril and discard the seed, in a fertile rubbish heap, or in the nest.”7

It is particularly misleading for the DEIR to describe the No Project alternative as “forest decline,” because that term is often understood to refer to the removal of trees. It is the DEIR’s proposed project – not the No Project alternative – that involves cutting down lots of Mount Sutro’s trees. (DEIR at 219, 4.1-26, etc.) As a result, if the DEIR wishes to characterize the transition from eucalyptus to acacia as “decline,” it will have to show its work. (See City of Arcadia v. State Board:  “a public agency must explain the reasons for its actions to afford the public and other agencies a meaningful opportunity to participate in the environmental review process.”) As noted, above, a Eucalyptus forest can be expected to live up to 400-500 years without human disturbances such as the proposed project.

3. Without Meaningful Explanation, the DEIR Concludes that Leaving the Forest Alone Would Have Greater Impacts Than Cutting Down Many of Its Trees.

The DEIR concludes that “the No Project Alternative would result in greater environmental impacts than the proposed plan.” (DEIR 5-10 [pg 410].) While this could be true, it is certainly counterintuitive that cutting down many or most of a forest’s trees would have less of an impact than leaving the forest alone.

The only explanation that the DEIR provides for this conclusion is to point to the seven categories in which it assesses the No Project alternative’s impacts to be higher than the proposed project – “aesthetics, biological resources, cultural resources, landslides and topsoil loss, fire hazards, emergency access, and windthrow.” (DEIR 5-10 [pg 410].)

But the DEIR acknowledges that the impacts from a No Project alternative would be comparable or less than the impacts from the proposed project in eight categories – air quality, forestry resources, greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, noise, recreation, transportation and traffic. (DEIR at 5-6 to 5-10.)

For that reason, CEQA requires more explanation regarding the DEIR’s counterintuitive conclusion that the No Project alternative would have greater environmental impacts than the proposed project. (See Guidelines: “The EIR shall include sufficient information about each alternative to allow meaningful evaluation, analysis, and comparison with the proposed project.”)

[For Part II of this article, click HERE: SF Forest Alliance: Problems in the Sutro Forest DEIR – Part II]

 

Pesticides on Blackberry in Fruiting Season

Recently, one of our neighbors was walking on Mt Davidson. It’s the time of the year when the blackberry bushes bear fruit, to the delight of children and the public in general (and not a few animals and birds). She was unpleasantly surprised to find that the bushes were to be sprayed with herbicide.

“It’s the fruiting season!” she noted, wondering if this was legal.

Unfortunately, it is.  In 2016, SF Environment imposed restrictions on spraying blackberry bushes during the fruiting season. But the way the restrictions are written, they apply only to Tier I (“Most Hazardous”) pesticides and not to the Tier II (“More hazardous”) pesticides that the Natural Resources Division (NRD – formerly Natural Areas Program) also uses quite frequently. The NRD commonly uses “the fearsome four” pesticides: Garlon, Roundup, Milestone VM and Polaris (also called Habitat). All of them are toxic in some degree.

The herbicides used in this case are Milestone VM (aminopyralid) and Polaris (Imazapyr). Both are toxic and are classified as “More Hazardous” (Tier II). Imazapyr can damage eyes, and its breakdown product is a neurotoxin, which means it causes nerve damage. Aminopyralid is a newer chemical, but is known to be astonishingly persistent. It’s banned in some places because of that.

 

SF ENVIRONMENT’S PESTICIDE USE RESTRICTIONS

In 2016, the SF Department of the Environment engaged in a lengthy process of trying to improve its restrictions on  some of the most problematic use of pesticides in our parks.

(You can read the entire compliance guidelines here as a PDF. It’s from the SF Environment website. sfe_th_ipm_compliance_checklist – Copy )

Among them, they developed these restrictions:

 Pesticide use

✓ A written recommendation from a licensed Agricultural Pest Control Advisor (PCA) is required for any pesticide use. Departments that do not have PCAs on staff should contact the SF Environment IPM Manager.

✓ Only pesticides on the current SF Reduced Risk Pesticide List may be used. Usage must fall within the “limitations” listed for each product, along with label requirements.

✓ ‘Most hazardous’ (Tier I) herbicides have special limitations:

  • Use is prohibited for purely cosmetic purposes.
  • Use is prohibited within 15 feet of designated paths. If a park map exists, designated paths are those found on the maps. Otherwise, designated paths are those actively maintained by staff.
  • Use is prohibited within 15 feet of schools, preschools, playgrounds, or other areas frequented by children.
  • Use on blackberry bushes is prohibited when fruit are present 
  • If within the City limits, use requires onsite supervision by a licensed person (PCA, QAL/QAC) o No broadcast spraying with a boom is permitted except for golf courses (targeted spraying only)
  • Certain pesticide use is restricted in designated Red-Legged Frog habitat, which includes Golden Gate Park, Lake Merced, and several other areas in San Mateo and Alameda County.

Notification

Posting for pesticide use must be done 3 days before treatment, and remain up for 4 days after treatment, except for least-hazardous (Tier III) products, which require posting only on the day of treatment.

✓ Postings must clearly identify the area to be treated. Signs should be placed at locations most likely to be seen by members of the public using the treated area.

✓ Posting is not required for median strips or rights-of-way when these areas are not intended for public use.

✓ Posting is not required for areas inaccessible to the public. [See our recent article on this: San Francisco Pesticides and Inaccessible Areas]

✓ ‘Most hazardous’ (Tier I) herbicides have special notification requirements:

  • Blue dye must be used, and this must be noted on the posting sign. Blue dye is not required in areas where 1) posting is not required, and 2) staining may occur, such as ornamental stone median strips.
  • When treatment sites that cannot be readily identified by the posting sign alone, a map showing the general location of expected treatment area(s) must be attached to the posting sign.

MORE ACTION REQUIRED

Though the added restrictions in 2016 were a step forward, much more is needed. NRD seems willing to go by the letter of the rules, not the spirit of it. Blackberry should not be treated with persistent herbicides at all, especially not in the fruiting season. It’s going to affect children, wildlife, and anyone who loves picking the berries in season… most parkgoers.

San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for Pesticide-Free Parks – including natural areas.

Natural Areas EIR Approved

We’re reporting back on the Board of Supervisors  hearing on the appeal for the Appeal on the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)  for the Natural Areas Management Plan on Feb 28th. Supervisor Yee (District 7) voted for our appeal; unfortunately the other 9 supervisors voted against.  (Jane Kim, District 6, was absent).

GREAT RALLY

We had an excellent rally before the meeting, with about 40 people attending with signs and leaflets outside City Hall. We had banners and music, and chants of “EIR is Flawed: SEND IT BACK!”

Unfortunately, many of those who attended the rally could not stay for the public comments, but they had sent them in earlier in writing or on the phone. One of the supervisors said they got more comments and phone calls on this issue than any other.

DELAY, AND WILD EQUITY WITHDRAWS APPEAL

The hearing itself was considerably delayed. We were told it would start at 3 p.m. but in fact, the Chair accepted other items first, pushing it back to 5.30 p.m. Some of our supporters had to leave, but some stuck it out anyway for the extra hours it took. If you were one who came, thank you – whether or not you were able to comment. As soon as we had made our 7-minute presentation, we were informed that the other appellant – Wild Equity Institute et al – had withdrawn their appeal in response to San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) committing not to use the dredged material from the Laguna Salada at Sharp Park to raise the golf course fairways.

Supervisor Yee voted in favor of our appeal, primarily because he was concerned that the pesticide issue was not completely covered in the EIR. The other Supervisors opposed the appeal.  Some thought that because it was a “program level” EIR, they could expect that each individual project would be reviewed separately later. To make this actually happen will require a lot of vigilance, because it’s easier to give each project a ‘negative declaration’ – saying that it does not require a new EIR.

A SUPPORTER’S ANALYSIS

Here’s an analysis by one of our long-time supporters who watched the TV and video of the proceedings:

  • The comments of our speakers were far more substantive than those of NRD supporters.  Our speakers demonstrated deep knowledge of the complex issues.  They were well informed and their criticisms of the EIR were significant.
  • Of the 26 speakers in support, 16 (over 60%) were new.  This reflects both the success of our outreach efforts and the public’s growing awareness of what is being done in their parks.  The more  NRD does, the more the public will react, which predicts that opposition will only grow in the future.
  • Of the 29 NRD supporters, 6 were golfers who really had no interest in any of the other NRD issues; they want to preserve the Sharp Park golf course. The other NRD supporters were the regular activists who have spoken in support of NRD many times, some of them as long as 20 years ago.  They had nothing new to say.  In other words, new recruits to nativist ideology are not materializing.
  • Surprisingly, not a single NRD supporter bashed dogs or blamed NRD opposition on dog owners.  This is a significant departure from previous strategies.  The fact that two of the Supervisors specifically expressed concern about maintaining off-leash recreation was equally remarkable.
  • This EIR is a “programmatic review” – a sort of overall acceptance of the Project’s environmental impacts. A programmatic review does not contain details about each project, such as the amount and type of herbicide that will be used.  Theoretically, each individual project (except Sharp Park, which is a project EIR) would be reviewed before implementation, and some Supervisors were concerned about the lack of such information and were placated by RPD’s “promises” of project level environmental reviews. In fact, such projects often get “negative declarations” (i.e. a declaration that no EIR is needed) and those will not be visible to anyone.

OUR WINS

Even though the vote went against us, we have definitely communicated our concerns. Both SFRPD and the Board of Supervisors have had to recognize that the public has serious doubts about the theoretical benefits of “biodiversity” and turning San Francisco’s parks into native plant museums fuelled by Tier I herbicides like Roundup and Garlon.

San Francisco Forest Alliance Appeals to Board of Supervisors

Our supporters are aware that we intended to file an appeal when the Planning Commission certified the deeply-flawed Environmental Impact Report on the “Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan.”

Here’s our letter:

sffa-appeal-letter-pg-1 sffa-appeal-letter-p-2(Then it continues into details of the failings of the EIR and the mitigations required.)

[Edited to Add the details!

Here is the final (amended) appeal letter: sf-forest-alliance-primary-appeal-document

Here are the detailed, information-packed, appendices to our letter.

Table relating the issues to the appendices: appendicesrelation-to-sffa-appeal-of-eir

Appendix A:  Greenhouse Gas calculations from The Quercus Group, an expert consultant: appendix-a-quercus-group-snramp-eir-comments

Appendix A1: Greenhouse Gas calculations from Heart of Green: appendix-a-1-heartofgreen_technical-memo

Appendix B:  ESA study: appendix-b-esa-sequestration-study-of-greenhouse-gases-for-snramp

Appendix C: Cal EEE Mod calculation: appendix-c-caleemod-user-manual-calculation-details

Appendix D1: SNRAMP Tree removal maps: appendix-d1-snramp-tree-removal-maps-mclaren-1

Appendix D2: SNRAMP Tree removal maps: appendix-d2-snramp-tree-removal-maps-other

Appendix E (though labeled D): Forest photos showing regeneration: appendix-e-forest-photos-1

Appendix F: Trail closure maps: appendix-f-trail-closure-maps

Appendix G: Bicycle Policy: appendix-g-rpd-bicycle-policy

Appendix H: Access control fencing: appendix-h-access-control-fence-photos-1

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