Save the Mt. Davidson Forest in San Francisco

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We the people of San Francisco hereby ask SF Rec and Park and the SF Board of Supervisors to save the beautiful Mt. Davidson Forest on the highest peak in San Francisco.

In the near future, they will vote on whether to protect the Mt. Davidson Forest or destroy it.

Please save the 1,600 interior trees slated for logging on Mt. Davidson and halt toxic pesticides.

Why does SF Rec and Park want to log Mt. Davidson?  Because they want to return parts of the hill to what it looked like in the 1700s when there were no trees. SF Rec and Park does not plan on replanting these trees on Mt. Davidson. This is not a thinning project as 82% of the trees in a 3.5 acre area will be cut. Rec and Park is already using toxic herbicides like Roundup to kill trees on Mt. Davidson.

This heartbreaking plan to cut down 1,600 trees on Mt. Davidson and apply pesticides is a hazardous use of taxpayer money and would have significant negative impacts on public safety, public health, and the environment.

This is part of a larger plan called Natural Resource Areas where SF Rec and Park would cut down over 18,000 trees across parks using chainsaws and Roundup.

Public Health:  The Mt. Davidson Forest is a beloved sanctuary visited by thousands of San Franciscans for rejuvenation, exercise, health and well-being. People take refuge in this green oasis because of its beauty and tree canopy. Interviews with residents along the trails revealed shock and despair over SF Rec and Park’s deforestation and pesticide plans. The Mt. Davidson Forest is making a significant positive contribution to public health in San Francisco and should be preserved.

Herbicides:  SF Rec and Park’s current spraying of herbicides including Roundup on Mt. Davidson’s hiking trails is posing a threat to public health. At the Urban Forestry Council meeting on November 8, Lisa Wayne said, "If you don't treat a felled eucalyptus with herbicides, it will come back." Glyphosate in Roundup is a probable carcinogen per the World Health Organization. The four toxic herbicides being used on Mt. Davidson and in other parks are Roundup (glyphosate), Garlon (triclopyr), Milestone (aminopyralid), and Habitat (imazapyr). Per the U.S. Geological Survey, glyphosate contaminates groundwater and is even found in rainfall. Given that San Francisco is now mixing groundwater into tapwater, this could lead to a water crisis. San Francisco residents are very concerned that SF Rec and Park is polluting children's parks and groundwater with cancer-causing toxins in order to kill trees that the public wants to stay standing.

Home for Birds & Wildlife:  The diversity of wildlife living on Mt. Davidson is awe-inspiring. Over 40 species of birds have been spotted recently including Great Horned Owls, Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, 4 types of hummingbirds, American Kestrels, Black Phoebes, blackbirds, bushtits, California Scrub-Jays, Caspian Terns, Cedar Waxwings, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, European Starlings, finches, flycatchers, goldfinchs, Lazuli Buntings, Northern Flickers, Northern Mockingbirds, nuthatches, orioles, robins, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Steller's Jays, swallows, warblers, woodpeckers, wrens and more. Mt. Davidson is one of the top birding locations in all of San Francisco. SF Rec and Park’s matrix of wildlife sightings lists 3 types of bumblebees that make their home on Mt. Davidson. The California slender salamander is another inhabitant of the forest. The public does not want San Francisco to use taxpayer dollars to destroy the home of so many birds and wildlife.

Climate Change:  Cutting down 1,600 trees on Mt. Davidson and 18,448 trees in total without adequate replacement will cause climate change. Climate change threatens San Francisco’s waterfront, Treasure Island, SFO airport, and all biodiversity. If San Francisco wants to be a climate resilient city, then SF Rec and Park’s proposed new 0.19 replacement rate needs to be increased to 3 actual trees or higher. There was no tree replacement rate in the original official plan. The Department now plans to replant only 3,448 trees out of the 18,448 felled. Per the U.S. Geological Survey, larger older trees continue to sequester much more carbon than younger trees. Mature forests sequester 10x the amount of carbon as grasslands. To recreate the climate benefits of killing 18,448 trees, San Francisco would need to plant over 55,000 new trees. If the City doesn't replant 3-to-1, then this plan will cause climate change.

Alternative Facts:  SF Rec and Park is remarkably presenting alternative facts about climate change to get this plan approved. The greenhouse gas calculations in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) are wrong. They contain math errors, and they incorrectly assume that 90% of the trees alive today are absorbing 0 carbon. This is how SF Rec and Park can claim that this plan would have a "beneficial" effect on the climate. Correcting these errors shows that the plan would result in a significant Net Loss of Annual Carbon Sequestration of -2,401 MT of CO2 per year and Total Net Carbon Emissions of 65,101 MT of CO2. This doesn't even include the potent methane emissions from the decomposing wood. If one uses the Forest Projects Protocol methodology recommended by the California Air Resources Board for AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, the Carbon Emissions from the plan are a significant 177,572 MT of CO2. Thus, the deforestation will cause climate change.

Historic Trees | Long Lifespan:  According to the Presidio's Chief Forester and U.C. Berkeley Forestry Professor Joe McBride, the eucalyptus trees planted in San Francisco in the 1800s can and should live to be approximately 350 years old. The eucalyptus trees on Mt. Davidson were planted by Adolph Sutro in the 1880s and are now 136 years old on average. This means that SF Rec and Park would be logging Mt. Davidson’s trees prematurely by two centuries. In general, the Presidio Trust is going to allow their eucalyptus stands to survive for another 200 years. Like in the Presidio, the historic Mt. Davidson trees are a valuable part of San Francisco's natural and cultural heritage and should be preserved.

Trees in Good Condition: According to a forestry survey completed by the Presidio Chief Forester on December 3, 2016, the majority of the trees in the interior Mt. Davidson forest are healthy and do not require thinning or removal. The only dead trees seen were ones that had been deliberately vandalized.

The trees were under stress from the drought, as were millions of trees in California. The good news is that they survived and are recovering their canopies now. Here is what the Presidio Forester wrote about this pivotal issue:  "What I saw on my hike were trees recovering from a three-year drought. The majority of the trees in these two areas were of good vigor. Those 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." This forester manages the eucalyptus forests in the Presidio that were remarkably planted at about the same time in the 1880s as those on Mt. Davidson.

In general, SF Rec and Park staff continues to claim that "80% of the trees in the Natural Areas are in poor to fair condition and need to be removed" as justification for deforestation and conversion to scrub and grassland. This was presented to the Urban Forestry Council on November 8 and December 9, 2016 and to the Park, Recreation, and Open Space Advisory Committee on December 6, 2016. Looking at the backup studies, only 4 Natural Areas out of 32 were surveyed in 2012. They focused on trees primarily on the edges of the parks along streets, parking lots and adjacent properties. On December 9, 2016, Lisa Wayne said, "We don't have any resources to reassess the areas."

For Mt. Davidson specifically, SF Rec and Park hired HortScience to assess Mt. Davidson’s trees in April 2012. They were instructed to look only at trees along the park’s periphery, not in the heart of the forest where the majority of the logging would occur. Some of these peripheral trees followed a power line and had already been topped and damaged by PG&E. Even with that, HortScience found only 4 trees (5%) with a poor rating of 9 out of 78 surveyed. SF Rec and Park’s policy is to abate risk for trees ranked 9 or greater.

Trees Not Invading:  Top foresters have surveyed the hill and concluded that “the meadow on Mt. Davidson has not been invaded or harmed by eucalyptus after many years of growing in proximity to the meadow.” HortScience reported that “small trees were not common.” 

Subjective Tree Evaluation:  The city’s main hired arborist, HortScience, unfortunately uses a biased tree evaluation form that gives negative points to eucalyptus. When they evaluate Tree Suitability for Preservation, they deem eucalyptus to be “invasive,” “unsuitable” and “undesirable” and give them mostly poor ratings. Everyone admits that San Francisco’s eucalyptus trees were planted and have not invaded any habitat since. The trees are not receiving a fair trial.

18,000 Trees At Risk:  The entire SF Rec and Park Natural Resource Areas Plan calls for cutting down 3,448 trees across all of San Francisco’s parks plus 15,000 trees in Sharp Park for a total of over 18,000 trees. Here is the proposed deforestation by area:

Trees To Be Removed By Park

Mt. Davidson:                       1,600
Lake Merced:                          134
Glen Canyon Park:                  120
Corona Heights:                        15
Bayview Park:                          511
McLaren Park:                         809
Interior Greenbelt:                   140
Dorothy Erskine:                        14
Golden Gate Park & Other:    105
SF Parks Total:                     3,448
Sharp Park:                         15,000
Plan Total:                             18,448 Trees

Per Table 5 in the Plan, there are 117,433 identified trees in the Natural Areas. The plan calls for removing 18,448 of them or 16%. SF Rec and Park continues to say that only 5% of the trees are being targeted which is very confusing.

The 15,000 trees in Sharp Park will be destroyed and not replanted. The stumps will be left and sprayed with toxic herbicides.

Outdated Plan:  The SF Rec and Park’s deforestation plan for multiple natural areas including Mt. Davidson was created 10 years ago in February 2006. Lisa Wayne said that "the plan hasn't changed much since then" and that the "surveys were done some time ago.” The genesis for the plan began twenty-one years ago in 1995. The world has changed greatly in the last two decades. Climate change has blown past predictive models. San Francisco has become more crowded, and people rely on sanctuaries like Mt. Davidson to maintain their physical and mental health. Cities are investing in green infrastructure like Mt. Davidson for local security, flood control, and climate resilience. The SF Rec and Park’s tree removal plans need to be modernized to mitigate and guard against climate change. On December 15, 2016, it was explained to me that this plan simply had to be approved because so much work had gone into it. This is an argument based on inertia and sunk costs, not merit. In the business world, a 20-year-old plan would be obsolete.

Erosion, Mudslides, Flooding:  Logging 1,600 trees on Mt. Davidson poses a safety risk to the houses below from increased soil erosion, mudslides, and flooding. SF Rec and Park has told residents that they will not be responsible for negative impacts to private property from the deforestation. The trees on Mt. Davidson are capturing and slowing stormwater runoff and helping to protect the houses below.

Logs To Be Left on Mt. Davidson:  Incredibly, the 1,600 trees cut down by SF Rec and Park would likely be left on the mountain. On December 9, 2016 at City Hall, Lisa Wayne said, "Hauling off material is very expensive. Access is not great on sites like Mt. Davidson and so we would likely have to leave the logs on the ground." This presents a significant risk to public safety as the logs could roll down the very steep hill onto the houses below. This will also release the powerful greenhouse gas methane into the air.

Not Fire Hazards:  Mt. Davidson is an extremely wet area of San Francisco. U.C. Berkeley forest scientists have proven that eucalyptus decreases temperature by -10% and increases fog drip by +300% versus grasslands. Removing trees and reverting to a deforested hill on Mt. Davidson could actually increase the chance of fire. As shown by the Rim Fire, thinned forests are far more susceptible to damage in a fire than old-growth forests that have been left alone.

Threat to Hiker Safety:  Clearing 1,600 trees on Mt. Davidson poses a public safety risk to hikers by increasing the probability that one of the remaining trees will fall from the wind. Mt. Davidson is the highest peak in San Francisco, and the wind speeds are substantial. The proposed deforestation is concentrated on 10 acres of the mountain’s windiest slope. Per Berkeley Professor Joe McBride's letter to Phil Ginsburg, "The proposed cutting of trees will increase the windthrow and wind breakage of the remaining trees. When individual trees are exposed by the removal of surrounding trees, they become very vulnerable to the wind." McBride continues that the tree removal plan poses a "hazard to walkers using the Mt. Davidson area." In light of the tragic incident in Washington Square Park where a tree fell and seriously injured a woman in August 2016, this is not a liability risk that the City of San Francisco wants to take.

$1 Billion in Unfunded Park Maintenance:  SF Rec and Park has over $1 billion in unfunded deferred maintenance. The public would prefer that the City of San Francisco invest in critical basic park maintenance needs rather than spending millions of dollars on cutting down beloved historic sanctuaries like Mt. Davidson. To recreate the climate benefits of the total 18,448 trees lost in the deforestation plan, San Francisco would need to plant at least 55,344 trees. These reforestation numbers should really be even higher because not all of the newly-planted trees will survive. San Francisco is already facing budget limitations, and this program is fiscally unsound.

Negative Environmental Impacts:  The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) says that the proposed deforestation project would cause significant unavoidable negative impacts individually and cumulatively on Air Quality, Biological Resources, Cultural Resources, and Recreation. The EIR inaccurately states that the impact on Forest Resources would be the same and “less than significant” across ALL of the alternatives, from the most deforestation to the least. Overall, mitigation for the proposed environmental harm appears inadequate, and more is needed.

Maintenance Alternative:  Per the EIR, the option that would be the least damaging is called the Maintenance Alternative. The EIR continues, “The Maintenance Alternative would preserve the existing distribution and extent of biological resources and was determined to be the environmentally superior alternative under CEQA.” The public requests that the Maintenance Alternative be adopted by SF Rec and Park. Many people are persuaded to support the Plan because "these trees need to be managed." The reason they have not been managed is because the forests were transferred from Forestry to Natural Resources within SF Rec and Park. Natural Resources' goal is to cut down healthy trees and replace them with bushes. They have been trying to win approval for this deforestation for 10 years. If we want tree management, then the forests should be transferred back to Forestry where they belong to preserve their ecological and human health benefits.

San Franciscans treasure the wooded urban forest on Mt. Davidson and do not want to see it harmed with chainsaws and pesticides.

We ask the SF Board of Supervisors, SF Rec and Park, and SF Environment – please do not destroy one of the few sanctuaries with significant tree canopy left in San Francisco. This would be a grave mistake that would harm public health, public safety, and the environment.

Please save as many healthy trees as possible in the Mt. Davidson Forest and halt the pesticide plan. Please consider saving the full 18,000+ trees slated for removal across all parks.

Please include an actual, guaranteed tree replacement rate (ideally 3:1 or higher) in the plan itself to prevent climate change.

Thank you for your consideration and help.

Organizations in Support of Saving the Trees include: (ForestEthics)
Center for Environmental Health
Global Green USA
International Bird Rescue
Rod Mast, President, Oceanic Society
Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham
Jayni Chase
Shannon O'Leary Joy, Oceans 5
Paul Hawken
Bill Weihl, Director of Sustainability, Facebook
Julia Butterfly Hill
Nikki Reed, Ian Somerhalder Foundation
Peter Coyote

Calls to the Departments and Supervisors are really helpful too.
Phil Ginsburg
General Manager, SF Rec and Park
(415) 831-2701

Peter Brastow
SF Department of the Environment
(415) 355-3733

San Francisco Board of Supervisors