Goats: New Plan for Fire Safety at UCSF/Mt. Sutro

goats grazing
Goats prevent fires on Mt. Sutro - Photo: City Grazing

The 61-acre Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve where fire is considered a serious risk with dead trees and a profusion of dry ground cover from the ongoing drought. UCSF Parnassus announced it has contracted with City Grazing, to remove flammable undergrowth and ivy and to trim branches.

And Mt. Sutro’s dead trees, a product of the drought, are at risk of falling, arborists predict— exacerbated by th expected El Niño winter. UCSF will begin extensive tree removal on Johnstone Drive. SF Fire Department will team up with UCSF to clear a 100-foot defensible space zones around the reserve, an estimated 16 acres.

Native plants such as madrone and elderberry are slated to be replanted to promote soil stability and to restore habitat.

December 2015

MT. Sutro Forest indangered

Oops! There Goes Mt. Sutro ForestMt Sutro Forest

Soon you could be hearing the whine of chainsaws if UCSF has their way.

The continued existence of the beautiful “Cloud Forest” on Mount Sutro is being threatened; UCSF is planning to “thin” 14 acres by cutting down up to 90% of the trees and bushes — because the 100-year-old trees are eucalyptus trees.


The eucalyptus trees comprise a 100-year-old forest in the heart of San Francisco, on the foggy slopes of Mount Sutro. It’s full of birdsong and the calls of the juncos and woodpeckers and — at night — the Great Horned Owls that live there. All summer long, the tall trees capture the fog, dripping the water into the forest floor, a thick sponge of duff and dense undergrowth. When the grasses of nearby Twin Peaks turn dry and golden, the forest is green and damp.


Mt Sutro Forest FogCloud Forest is a civic treasure, and although most of the property is owned by UCSF, it is open to the public. (The easiest approach is through the Aldea student housing area off Clarendon Avenue. Other trails into the forest start off Christopher Drive and down in Cole Valley.)

UCSF has applied for a FEMA grant to cut down most of the trees on 14 acres, ostensibly to reduce fire danger. In fact, this damp, foggy forest has less fire-risk than most places. Even in the fall, between the foggy summer and the rainy winter, the forest barely dries out for a few days each year. So what is the real reason?

Many people believe that the real reason for the destruction is that the “Native Plant” interests have influenced UCSF into believing that the non-native eucalyptus trees and blackberry bushes must go. The non-native blackberry bushes provide cover and food to birds and small animals. The gist of the their stand is the non-native trees and plants must be replaced with native grasses and shrubs.


The plan includes removing up to 90% of the vegetation on 15 acres of the forest, and using gallons of a “Roundup” type of herbicide to prevent resprouting. Once the forest is thinned in this manner, it will become drier, more flammable, and more dangerous. Even the trees that are saved will be at greater risk, without the windbreak protection of the other trees. United they stand.
As critics of the proposal, we expect, once this project is implemented, a thinner, drier, windier space. It will be a forest no longer — just an open park with a few surviving trees, in which poisonous herbicides will be used year after year (since eucalyptus can resprout for seven years afterward). If we want windy, open, hills we already have Twin Peaks.


It is a tragedy that this amazing forest has fallen into the hands of those who despise the very trees and bushes that comprise it. Once it is gone, it will not return in our lifetime. 100 years of growth will end up as tinder on the mountain.

Save Sutro Cloud Forest

The 120-year-old Cloud Forest on Mt Sutro, a place of ethereal beauty and birdsong, is in danger. Owner UCSF has applied for FEMA funds to chop down 3000 trees on 14 acres — ostensibly to reduce Very High Fire Hazard.

This 61-acre forest lies squarely in the fog-belt, captures fog all summer, holds moisture like a sponge, and protects it with dense undergrowth. When Twin Peaks is dry and brown, Sutro Forest is green, its trails damp or even slushy. To date, this year has seen only seven consecutive fogless days in the forest. It’s one of San Francisco’s wettest places.

Many neighbors believe UCSF wants FEMA to fund conversion of the forest to native plants, (like Tank Hill or Twin Peaks), at the behest of Mt Sutro Stewards, a volunteer group doing excellent work building trails, but also doing native plant “restoration.”

Here’s why neighbors oppose it:

1. Greater fire hazard. Gutting the forest will make it windier and drier; the brush that grows instead will increase, not reduce, the fire hazard — and affect home values and insurance rates.

2. Toxic herbicides. Roundup and Garlon will be used to prevent resprouting. These persist in the soil up to a year and infiltrate water run-off, potentially a danger to hikers, dog walkers, wildlife, the water-table, and downslope communities.

3. Landslides. Mt Sutro’s steep slopes risk landslides, once the eucalyptus and blackberry that hold them are removed. In the Forest Knolls neighborhood just below the forest, a landslide destroyed a house. More recently, a large landslide area was stabilized with blue tarpaulin. Twin Peaks, for example, has persistent rockslides and rockfalls.

In view of the neighbors’ response, UCSF held a meeting on Oct 19 to seek community input. This roughly polarized between Mt Sutro Steward volunteers, who naturally supported the plan; and neighbors, who mostly did not. (However, some neighbors did support the plan; and some volunteers were dubious.) Across positions, some agreed about toxic herbicides risk, about the need for Environmental Impact Reports (UCSF sought an exemption); and for an approach to managing the forest.

(For more information and details access the following website: http://www.savesutro.wordpress.com)

November 2009