Mt Davidson: Tree Destruction Imminent?

There’s a lot of activity at the Juanita entrance of Mt Davidson, and neighbors fear the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is rushing through its tree-felling program. At a time when we need trees more than ever to fight climate change, and mudslides in Southern California illustrate the devastating effects of destroyed trees and vegetation, this would be egregious.

Here’s a note from a forest-lover:

What I’ve seen so far as of last week is preparation and road, trail widening with landing areas for equipment, but no big cuttings or equipment in the interior yet. Just the one big landmark, living tree marked with dots, and all the prior destruction.”

Huge eucalyptus tree on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, marked with 3 green dots

Do these dots mark this iconic tree for killing?


What equipment will go up here? Maybe a “Brontosaurus”?


Tree have been destroyed on Mount Davidson some years ago, and this prior destruction gives some idea of what the desired end-condition is for the next round. The so-called “boneyard” has stumps of dead trees.


This tall mature tree was “girdled.” That’s a process of destroying cutting a deep ring around the tree, so that food and water cannot be transported and the tree starves to death.

A beautiful green and flourishing tree that provided food and habitat for birds, and brought joy to forest lovers, is a dead skeleton.


The lovely forest we are losing is beautiful and historic, and provides habitat for a huge number of birds. But it’s not just beauty and habitat. These trees provide important eco-system services.  Some examples:

  • They stabilize the mountain, with their intergrafted roots forming a living geo-textile. The horrible mudslides in Southern California illustrate how important this is.
  • They fight pollution, especially pollution from particulate matter, by trapping the particles on their leaves until rain or fog drips them to the forest floor where they are not in the atmosphere – or our lungs.
  • They form a wind-break in what would be one of the windiest areas of the city, with the wind blowing in straight off the sea.
  • They regulate water flows, so that when it rains hard, the forest acts as a sponge, absorbing the water and letting it flow out gradually.
  • They catch moisture from the fog during summer, making the mountain damp and reducing fire hazard.

Please let City Hall and SFRPD know that you want this forest protected and saved, not gutted. The plan is to remove 1600 trees!

[Update 1/19/18:  We spoke with the contractor on site. Seven trees have been cut down, and that completes this contract. Hopefully we will have more public notice and explanation if other tree removals are planned.]

Restricting Access in McLaren Park

Plans are afoot in McLaren Park to close many of the trails people actually enjoy, and substitute a limited number of broad road-type paths. Most park users don’t realize this is going on – not just in McLaren, but all across the “Natural Areas.” SFFA supporter Tom Borden is trying to get the word out both to park users and to the decision influencers. He’s written to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission, to Supervisors in affected supervisory districts, to the Parks and Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC) and to the neighbors at McLaren Collaborative. We think it deserves wider attention: All across our parks, access restrictions are reducing the park space our families can actually use and enjoy.

McLaren Park’s Flowered Grassland and Forest

Here’s the letter:

to: Recreation & Parks Commission August 31, 2017
cc: Supervisors Ronen, Safai, Cohen, Fewer, Sheehy
Prosac, McLaren Park Collaborative

Subject: McLaren Park Envisioning Points One Way, RPD Goes another


The Recreation and Parks Department has been hosting an “Envisioning Process” with the public to plan future improvements for McLaren Park and to decide which immediate needs should be addressed with funding from the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. RPD has focused the process on four areas, the amphitheater, the primary group picnic area, sport courts and trails & paths. The first three are moving along pretty well, but the trails & paths plan is headed in a direction that defies all public input.

The Bond Money
The 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks bond allocated $10M for capital improvements to McLaren Park. Additionally, it provides that:

TRAILS RECONSTRUCTION ($4 million). A portion of the proceeds of the proposed bond shall be used to repair and reconstruct park nature trails, pathways, and connectivity in Golden Gate Park and John McLaren Park. After identification and development of specific projects, environmental review required under CEQA will be completed.

Since the bond passed, RPD has further earmarked the funds to direct $2M of the trails reconstruction money to McLaren. RPD has modified the bond language in their documentation to specify the money must be used, “to enhance existing trails and their surrounding landscape”. The clear intent of the of this unjustified new language is to allow money to be diverted from building and repairing trails to performing native plant habitat work. This is not what the public voted for.

Further, RPD now says that $1.5M of the $10M must be spent “for projects that create or restore: Natural features, such as lakes, meadows, and landscapes & Habitat for the park’s many species of plants and animals.” That may be a choice RPD could make, but it is not a requirement of the bond ordinance.

Trail and Area Closures
If we subtract out the acreage devoted to the Gleneagles golf course, well over half the park is wild land with a web of small trails that has evolved over decades. In the Envisioning Process, the public has been quite emphatic this trail network, combined with the wild landscape, is the most iconic element of the park and must be preserved.


However, RPD has a completely different vision, driven by the desires of the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Under the cover of the Envisioning Process and using as much of the $12M as possible, they hope to turn the wild parkland into a nature preserve, accessible only to RPD staff and to supervised volunteer groups. To forward this goal, they plan to gut the interior of the park of 5.5 miles of trails (while adding less than 1.5 miles of new trail). This would roughly halve the length of trails in the park. Their plan focuses on developing primary paths that run around the outside perimeter of the park with the apparent intent of directing people away from the park interior. Some of the remaining interior trails would be substantially widened to carry the traffic displaced from the closed trails. In effect, the public are to be channelized on a few large trails.

If that was not bad enough, RPD have stated their intent to restrict public access in wild areas of the park to on-trail only. We will not be allowed to explore, climb on rocks and experience nature up close. In effect, they want to close over half of the park to public access.

Over the course of the Envisioning Process, RPD have refused to publish maps showing the existing trails that will be closed under their plan. The obvious intent of this is to avoid discussion of the trail closures. To help people understand what the RPD plan means, I have taken the RPD trail proposal presented at the last trail workshop and overlaid it with the existing trail alignments. These existing trails are ones shown on the current official park map and those that appear in the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan(SNRAMP). A few other trails missed by these maps are also included. Only well used trails appear on the attached map.

The other side of the coin is the area closures. RPD plans to completely remove trails from certain areas, meaning those areas will be closed to the public. On the second map [below] I’ve blacked out some of them and noted why they are special. Keep in mind, even where there are trails, if it’s a Natural Area, off-trail access is to be prohibited. The green shaded areas on the maps are Natural Areas. Leaving the golf course out of the calculation, well over half the park will be off limits. All we have left of our wild parkland is the shrinking network of trails running through RPD’s closed nature preserve.

Does the Department have a mandate?
RPD will say this is what the people want, that these trails closures and land closures are part of the SNRAMP. The SNRAMP EIR was certified by the Planning Commission, overcame an appeal at the BOS and was adopted by the Recreation and Park Commission. However, the currently proposed trail closures are much more extensive than what is presented in the SNRAMP. The intent to restrict the public to on-trail only in Natural Areas was not disclosed in the SNRAMP and not evaluated by its EIR. In the entire 711 page SNRAMP there is only one sentence that mentions the idea of restricting the public to trails and it is only in reference to MA2 areas. In the 1200+ page EIR there is no discussion of the impact of restricting the public to trails and closing everything else. RPD has not discussed the trail closures in the park. RPD has held no public hearings or had any other public process for the on-trail only restriction. There is no mandate for RPD’s current plans.

What the public wants
In 2004 RPD published its Recreation Assessment Report, “the culmination of a nine month planning effort and process to evaluate the recreation needs of residents and to ensure the future direction of recreation within the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.” It showed that by a very wide margin the most important recreational facility to the public is walking and biking trails. See the excerpt of the report at the end of this document [below]

The 2012 McLaren Park Needs Assessment revealed exactly the same result, that more hiking and biking trails are the most desired park improvement. Why is RPD closing almost all of the trails to bike riders and dramatically shrinking the trail network? All of the trails in McLaren Park have been in use by pedestrians and cyclists for decades, sharing the trails without incident. RPD has no reports of user conflicts or accidents due to the mix of cyclists and pedestrians.

The existing trails are well evolved to take people to the places they want to go. As a result, off trail excursions are dispersed and not frequent enough to lead to heavy trampling of plants. (Yes, things are different in the off leash dog area, but that does not apply to the park in general.) The surface area of the existing trails comprise less than 5% of the land area. The impact of park visitors on the viability native plants is trivial compared with the impacts of the changing local environment, global warming and the inevitable arrival and spread of plant species from outside the City.

The planned trail closures and access restrictions run completely counter to the needs of the public. On top of this, the Department wants to siphon off money to fund their closure plan that could be spent on sorely needed park improvements, all of this with no demonstrated need to override the public good.

Please consider asking the Department to:

spend the bond money as the bond ordinance states and the voters intended. The trail money is for trails. The rest of the money is on the table for all purposes. The bond ordinance does not require the NAP receive $1.5M. Spend it where it will do the most good.

Repair and improve McLaren’s existing trails. The public wants more and better trails, not fewer, wider, straighter, less engaging trails.

Conduct a transparent public process to work through any trail closures. Individually document the need for each trail closure, gather public input and act to serve the public.

Allow people to ride bikes on all park trails unless a need to restrict cycling is demonstrated.

Continue to allow the public full access to the wild areas of the park. Closing large areas of the park should require a substantial public process which has not taken place. The namesake of the park, John McLaren, famously declared, “There will be no ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs.”



Tom Borden

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes access restrictions from closing the trails made by park users and restricting access only to on-trail use of our parks.


Rally for Trees & Against Pesticides in Our Parks!  Feb 28, 2017


Rally for Trees & Against Pesticides in Our Parks!

Join Our City and San Francisco Forest Alliance to demand that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors vote to reject the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that allows the Recreation and Park Department to cut down over 18,000 trees and spray toxic herbicides to ‘manage’ our public parks.

After the rally we will assemble in the City Hall Board of Supervisors chamber, room 250, to speak in favor of the appeal to block Rec & Park’s plan.

WHEN:       1:00 pm Tuesday February 28th
WHERE:     SF Civic Center Plaza (across from City Hall, Polk St. steps

WHEN:       3:00 pm Tuesday February 28th
WHERE:     Board of Supervisors Chamber, SF City Hall, Room 250
(come early to get a seat)

Map –
Directions –

More information: and

See you at City Hall!

San Francisco Forest Alliance

Public opinion does make a difference!

Thank you for your support

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is a non-profit 501(c)4 environmental organization working to protect urban forests, reduce pesticide use, and preserve access to our parks.


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







Disturbing Story of the Mt Davidson Bench

Here’s the story of the Mount Davidson Eagle Scout bench, from its sudden removal by the Natural Areas Program, to the silly lie included in the Environmental Impact Report on the Natural Resource Areas Management Plan.  The Natural Area Program’s disregard for the public is illustrated at every twist and turn along the way.

Once upon a time, there was a nice little bench on Mt. Davidson.  It was built by Boy Scouts.  It wasn’t much, but people liked it and it was well used.



Then one day the bench disappeared.  Who were the vandals?

It turns out it was actually the work of our RPD Natural Areas Program.  When people complained they received this response from NAP management:

Subject: Re: Bench missing on Mt. Davidson
Date: Thu, 27 May 2010 08:42:45 -0700


The bench that you’re referring to was installed by the Recreation and Park Natural Areas Program. It was installed a number of years ago on this site to take advantage of the views, beauty and serenity of the plateau. We monitored the use of the bench and it unfortunately became an attractive nuisance. The secluded location was a draw for night time drinking and smoking. Bottles were thrown down the hill slope and most often broke, causing a hazard for both animals and people. Secondly the bench became a draw for commercial dog walkers, at times with more than 12 dogs in the area at once. This activity resulted in trampling of this sensitive slope, disturbance of wildlife and the creation of trails around the bench. One of the trails remains in the grassland below the bench location. After consideration we concluded it was best to remove this bench.

Over the coming year we will evaluate the installation of benches city-wide. This will be done in correlation with a natural areas trail project . Due to the activities associated with this bench we unfortunately do not have intentions to re-install one on the lower plateau at Mount Davidson.

Sorry for the disappointment this may bring,

Christopher Campbell
Natural Areas Program


Why does NAP management take credit for installing this popular bench?  They had nothing to do with it.  Why did they remove it?  Because people liked it and it attracted them to this area of the park. Clearly the NAP does not want us in their Natural Areas.



After much pressure, the NAP finally installed a replacement bench a bit higher up the mountain.  For some reason they sited it right under a dead tree.  In fact, it was a tree they had killed by girdling some years earlier.  Given the NAP’s zeal for removing even slightly hazardous trees along its “trail Improvement” projects, it seems especially odd they would site a popular amenity directly under this tree.

Can you guess what happened next?  The tree fell over right across the bench.  Thankfully no one was sitting there at the time.


In the photo below you can see where a wide ring of bark was cut away to kill the tree.


It appears when the facts don’t suit the writers of the EIR, they substitute other “facts.”

That brings us to today.  The final Environmental Impact Report for the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) has been released.  In the section addressing public comments made during review of the draft EIR the bench makes another appearance. (page 4-340)  In response to questions raised by the public about the removal of benches from NAP areas, some specifically citing the Mt Davidson bench, the NAP offers the following response,

“These comments refer to prohibition benches and the removal of a bench at Mt. Davidson Park. In 2011, SFRPD removed a bench on the northern portion of Mt. Davidson because it was rotting and unsafe for sitting. In late 2012, SFRPD installed a replacement bench close to where the unsafe bench had been located.”

“rotting and unsafe for sitting”?.  That is a bold lie.  How many other items in the SNRAMP EIR are based on fabrications like this? (Quite a few)

Claiming the original was unsafe and installing a replacement right under a tree they purposefully killed – That is disturbingly ironic.



This little story is just the tip of the iceberg.

See the rest of the problems with the SNRAMP EIR at:

Additional coments against EIR organized on CA Environmental Quality Act Criteria

Ten Reasons Why the Environmental Impact Report for Natural Areas is Flawed

After many years, millions of dollars, and a changing cast of consultants, the final Environmental Impact Report for the Natural Areas Management Plan has emerged. It’s deeply flawed.  (This is the Plan known as the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan or SNRAMP or N-Ramp.)

Whenever there’s a major project, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, pronounced seek-wa) requires the project’s sponsor to make an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department wants to implement a plan in the “Natural Areas” which will require cutting down thousands of trees, closing trails, and using toxic herbicides. However, we’ve written about the Plan (which in the EIR is called the Project) separately. The focus of this article is the flaws in the EIR.

(This article is a summary. Here’s a more detailed note by Tom Borden: arguments-against-certification-of-snramp-eir and his amendment: arguments-against-snramp-eir-correction )

The situation now is that the Planning Commission will be looking to certify the EIR. They have to evaluate only three things: Is it adequate? Is it accurate? Is it objective?

This EIR does not meet these criteria and should not be certified.


The EIR is inaccurate because the carbon sequestration numbers are wrong. They have been based on false assumptions, and the actual calculations are wrong. According to the correct calculations, there will be a net release of carbon of over 70,000 metric tons – and that’s a conservative figure.

The EIR’s authors purport to use the calculation methodology incorporated into CalEEMod. However, they actually don’t. Instead, the authors have made up their own method – one that fails to account for the carbon released from the trees destroyed!

View looking west; Miraloma Park

Mt Davidson – where is more carbon being stored?

The carbon sequestration calculations in the EIR reach the conclusion that grasses and shrubs will sequester more carbon than trees. This is obviously untrue. And there’s data. For example,  A research study in Australia concludes that forests store about 10 times more carbon than perennial grasslands.

It also does not account for the carbon released from disturbing the ground and from the actual machinery and vehicles used in this implementation.


Furthermore, even the industry standard is outdated. It assumes that trees stop sequestering additional carbon after 20 years. This is a false assumption. Research now shows that to the contrary, bigger trees sequester more additional carbon than young trees. Reference from Time Magazine Of January 2014:

“But according to a new study published in Nature, it turns out that the oldest trees are actually still growing rapidly, and storing increasing amounts of carbon as they age. An international research group led by Nate Stephenson of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center reviewed records from forest studies on six continents, involving 673,046 individual trees and more than 400 species, going back as far as 80 years ago. For 97% of the species surveyed, the mass growth rate—literally, the amount of tree in the tree—kept increasing even as the individual tree got older and taller.”

Glen Canyon Doomed Trees 2

Hundred-year old trees continue to sequester more carbon than young ones – until you cut them down


The EIR is inadequate because it does not consider the effect of cutting down the so-called “saplings” – young trees that are less than 15 feet tall. According to the Plan, they can be cut down without any notice, at will. However, small trees account for some 15-30% of San Francisco’s trees. There are an estimated 11,000 such trees in “Natural Areas”, already established and growing. Left alone, these are the ones that will regenerate our forests and become the carbon-sinks of the next decades. Instead, the plan is to just cut them down without any notice or consideration, and instead plant at great expense other saplings which will require care for the first few years, have a fairly high mortality rate, and never grow as large as the removed saplings would have.

Picture 005 downed oak on Mt Davidson

Downed oak sapling


Based on the data for the first 10 months of 2016, The Natural Resources Department (NRD, formerly known as Natural Areas Program or NAP) used more herbicides than any comparable area of SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). Other SFRPD departments applied herbicides 19 times, while the NRD used them over 100 times! They use only Tier I and Tier II herbicides (most hazardous and more hazardous) including Roundup, which is a likely carcinogen. Since April 2016, SFRPD (without Harding Park) has all but eliminated its herbicide use – except for the “Natural” areas!  This does not include undocumented usage where the use of herbicides is not reported.


Herbicide application on eucalyptus stump – Mt Davidson

The EIR says there will be no increase in herbicide use. This is impossible, since the Plan calls for cutting down over 18,000 trees and treating the stumps with herbicides. The NRD has clearly shown a considerable willingness to use toxic herbicides, including for eucalyptus stump treatments. If the Project is implemented, thousands of trees are cut down, the stumps will all be treated with herbicide – probably several times. This includes the saplings, as in the picture above. A massive increase in herbicide use is inevitable.


The Plan call for closing 95% of the parks in Natural Areas to public access, by limiting people to using only the trails and also by closing many miles of trail. This makes most of the park “look don’t touch” areas.

mclaren park 2 sign 2015

You can’t go off the trail to explore, to play a game with your child or pet, to view a bird or pick a flower. These parks are not remote inaccessible areas – they are the place where we walk, where we take our families to be in nature, where we picnic or take our pets. They are our backyards and we are being shut out of them.


The “Response to Comments” section of the EIR, it states all removed trees will be replaced. EIR says roughly on a 1 to 1 basis and not necessarily at the same location or within the same Natural Area. The actual Project – the SNRAMP or NRAMP – does not talk about replacement other than by native plants or scrub. The actual language: “…the trees in the San Francisco Natural Areas would be replaced with either native trees or other native vegetation, such as native scrub or grassland species…”

In any case, when a tree is removed from a specific location, it impacts that area. In McLaren Park, the trees lie between the freeway and dense residential areas, and help improve air quality for the residents. If over 800 trees are removed and – for argument’s sake – replanted in Golden Gate Park, the impact would be significant.

Furthermore, a sapling does not have the same effect, whether aesthetically or in its ecological benefits, as a 100-year-old mature tree. Going by the experience of Glen Canyon, only a few large native trees would be planted in Natural Areas; it would mostly be shrubs or small trees, which do not have the same aesthetic and environmental benefits.


By inserting the word “native” into the definition of biodiversity – which actually does not exist in the reference on which it is based, the very definition of the term is changed. All trees and plants, whether native or non-native are part of our local biodiversity, just like people from everywhere are part of our city’s population diversity. Adding the word “native” to “biodiversity”, demonizes any non-native species. In fact, our urban forests are historically a part of the totality of variation in San Francisco and have been so for almost 150 years.

We traced the paper trail of the definition of biodiversity. It originates in a 1997 paper called The Sustainability Plan that references a definition from E.O. Wilson. Only, here’s that definition: “…the totality of all variation in life forms of Earth” –  Planet Earth, The Future (2006), p. 27

“Native” was inserted into the Sustainability Plan, into SNRAMP and into the EIR by local native plant advocates who have an agenda to push. This indicates lack of objectivity.


The EIR claims native plants with being more drought-tolerant, more adaptable to climate change and require less irrigation than other plants. No evidence is provided. These attributes can be found in both native and in non-native plants. The very fact that over three dozen species of non-native plants are so successful in our Natural Areas that the NRD has repeatedly been using Tier I and Tier II pesticides against them for years shows that native plants have no particular claim on sustainability. It’s just a gardening preference – and one that is the opposite of sustainable because it requires constant application of herbicides and manual labor to maintain them.


The EIR is inaccurate it its many references to eucalyptus being “invasive.” In fact, the California Native Plant Society classifies it as having only “Limited” invasiveness. Blue gum eucalyptus trees are not causing economic, environmental, or human health harm, which is the standard for invasiveness.

mt D comparison 1927 -2010

The eucalyptus didn’t invade east side


The Response to Comments indicates thinning will help encourage growth and the health of the forest. But thinning would not help because thinning is only beneficial when trees are young (in the pole stage) and vigorous enough to take advantage of the reduced competition. Otherwise, the benefits obtained from thinning mature trees will be negligible.

The possible damage likely to result from the thinning, including exposure to windthrow and damaging their intergrafted roots of surrounding eucalyptus, will very likely outweigh any benefits from reduced competition. (source: Florence, R.G. 2004, Ecology and silviculture of eucalypt forests and Silvicultural Guidelines published by State of NSW and Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water )


Though the EIR has not been certified, the SFRPD has already started implementing the project under the guise of trail restoration, park improvements, and other capital projects.


  • SFRPD had a trail slated for closure under the SNRAMP Project. But it’s already been closed. People protested that it had been done ahead of the EIR being certified and the Project being approved. In the Response to Comments, The EIR claimed SFRPD had closed the trail prior to the start of the EIR, in a sort of “it was grandfathered” argument. Except, it wasn’t true. The EIR started in 2005 – and the trail was still on SFRPD’s official project maps in 2006 and 2011. (And in fact the trail was used by an observer in 2013.)
  • In Glen Canyon, a project that purported to be only a Recreation Center renovation confined to  playing areas of the park actually impinged substantially into the Natural areas, and was “regularized” after the fact. A large number of trees were cut down and replaced with native shrubs.

In addition, the EIR is inadequate because it does not consider the impact of the actual extent of trail closures – now 53% of trails in “Natural Areas,” as opposed to the 22% closures described in the Project. This has a significant impact on recreation that the EIR ignores. Similarly, the EIR ignores fences and their effect on aesthetics. The Project says “fencing shall be considered as a last resort…” But that’s not what’s happening (already, despite the EIR not being certified). Fences have gone up in many Natural Areas, in some places giving it all the charm of a cattle chute.

grandview park fenced trail


The EIR should not be certified. It needs to be replaced with one that more accurately reflects what the Project actually intends, what is going on already (despite CEQA), and uses correct information.

If the Project proceeds, one important mitigation needs to be in place regarding trees. SFRPD must undertake to keep accurate records of all trees removed, and of all trees plants, including size, type, location and date of removal or planting. Planted trees should be inspected annually and failed trees replaced. Without this mitigation measure, there is no way of knowing whether there is sufficient replacement – or any replacement. It’s the least they can do.

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet Kessler

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker – San Francisco. Janet Kessler

Ten Reasons to Oppose the Natural Areas “Project”

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission (SFRPC) is planning to approve the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (here called the Project) on December 15, 2016.

This will happen if the Planning Commission certifies the Environment Impact Report, which we hope they won’t do. That document is seriously flawed, far from objective and containing numerous inaccuracies. But if it does get certified, then at the same meeting, SFRPC will vote on the Project. If they must approve a plan, we ask them to approve instead the Maintenance Alternative that allows the Natural Resources Department (formerly the Natural Areas Program) to keep doing what they’re doing now but not make it worse.

[Edited to Add for clarity: What we would like SFRPC to do is: Make a motion to approve the Maintenance Alternative for the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Project.]

To recap, the Project would:

  • Fell trees:  Some 18,500 trees are to be cut. (For more details about where, CLICK HERE.)
  • Block trails and access:  Around 10 miles of trails would be closed or “relocated”; dog-play areas would be closed down; public access to park features would be blocked or restricted. (CLICK HERE for more details of what and where.)
  • Apply toxic pesticides: The Natural Resources Department uses more Tier I (most hazardous) herbicides than any comparable park area, including Roundup, a probable carcinogen. For more information about NAP’s pesticide use, CLICK HERE. For information about the chemicals they use, CLICK HERE.


-1-  IT’S BASED ON XENOPHOBIA. The Project is inherently xenophobic, trying to destroy successful and adapted plants and trees that are “non-native” or “not from here.” This is a dangerous point of view, especially now, when we should welcome all those who make our wonderful city a better place, whether its trees that clean our air and trap the carbon we and our vehicles emit, or people who add to its wonderful diversity. We should not, as a city, buy into any plan that’s based on Nativism.


-2- DESTROYING MAGICAL FORESTS. San Francisco is hugely fortunate to have dense forests over a century old. Elsewhere, these magical woodlands would be treated as a special thing, something to tell tourists about. These forests are some of the most beautiful places in San Francisco, especially on foggy days when the tops of these 200-foot tall trees disappear into the mist and the internal rain patters on the undergrowth.  How can we to cut them down? It’s like vandalism.

-3- EUCALYPTUS, A PARTICULARLY SAN FRANCISCO TREE.  Not only is it a historic part of our landscape, and contributing significantly to its beauty, people love them. Other trees can’t stand our windy hills, but eucalyptus grows there and makes a wind-break. They’re adapted to our climate, self-watering by catching moisture from the fog. They also provide moisture that keeps the forest green through the year, even during drought.  They live for hundreds of years, they’re amazing at storing carbon because of their height, the density of their wood, and their longevity. They came, like so many of us or our ancestors, from someplace else and have adapted to improve our city.

-4-  OUR EUCALYPTUS TREES IMPROVE LIFE IN THE CITY. The San Francisco of 200 years ago was a difficult place for humans – bare, extremely windy, very sandy. Blown sand got everywhere, including into people’s lungs. The trees provide a windbreak, reducing wind speeds. Without them, these would be windblown sandy hillsides. The intergrafted roots stabilize our hillsides, and help regulate water flowing through so our sewer systems don’t get overwhelmed. If they weren’t there, we’d have a lot more flooding of low-lying areas. Even Islais Creek flows through Glen Canyon – and ends up in our sewer system. Forests hold water like a sponge, and release it gradually over days or weeks.

Great horned owlets in eucalyptus. San Francisco. Janet Kessler-5-  EUCALYPTUS IS HABITAT. It’s important habitat for our wonderful birds, providing nesting sites for birds like great horned owls, flickers – a kind of woodpecker, and hawks. It’s the world’s largest flowering plant, and provides nectar in winter to honeybees and other insects, wintering roosts for Monarch butterflies, and foraging sites for birds like kinglets and brown creepers. Cutting down eucalyptus trees is ecologically destructive.

-6-  HAZARDOUS HERBICIDES. The Natural Resources Department, in the first ten months of 2016, used more herbicides than any comparable area of SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). In 2016 through October, other SFRPD departments (excluding Harding Golf Course, which is managed under contract by the PGA Tour) applied herbicides 19 times. The Natural Resources Department used them over 100 times! They use only Tier I and Tier II herbicides (most hazardous and more hazardous) including Roundup, which is a likely carcinogen. Since April 2016, SFRPD (without Harding Park) has all but eliminated its herbicide use – except for the “Natural” areas! Endorsing this Plan will only make it much worse as thousands of trees are cut down and herbicides used to prevent resprouting.

-7-  “STAY ON DESIGNATED TRAILS” MAKES NATURE BORING FOR KIDS. Children enjoy nature by interacting with it. They want to run through tall grass, pick flowers, carry sticks as staves, eat sourgrass and blackberries straight from the plant. They want to watch birds and animals in the trees. They want to climb trees and swing from rope swings tied in trees, not just the metal chain ones in playgrounds. Natural areas should allow for exploration, for impromptu picnics off the trail, for hide-and-seek among the trees. This is how you foster a love of nature. The Natural Areas prohibit all these things. The only thing that’s allowed is walking along a narrow path and looking at the park. And all that does is to convince kids that Nature is boring, and they’re better off with video-games where they can actually do something.

Tree 22 with kids

SFRPD cut down this tree in a “renovation”

-8- DOGS NEED PARKS SPACE TOO.  A very large number of San Franciscans have dogs. They’re part of dog and frisbeeour family, dear to our hearts. They need space for recreation, too, and taking our dogs to these parks encourages their people to appreciate nature too. Most of our dog-play areas are in the Natural Areas. And yet the spaces available to them has been shrinking.

-9-  DOGWALKERS HELP MAKE PARKS SAFER FOR EVERYONE. Even if you don’t have a dog, it’s dog-walkers who are the eyes and ears of our parks. They’re the most consistent users, and they’re there in all weathers, all day. Paws in our parks means eyes in our parks.

-10- BICYCLES IN OUR PARKS. Riding bicycles is an important value for us and our children, and a wonderful low-impact way to recreate. But the Natural Areas block most of our parks to bicycles, thus discouraging this excellent way to appreciate the outdoors.