In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mount Davidson and the Natural Areas Management Plan – what happens next,
by Jake Sigg and Linda Shaffer.

Sometime in the next year or so, Mount Davidson (and Mount Sutro for that matter) will cease to be the laissez-faire woods they have been for 130 years.  They will begin to go through a process of change, as problems that have been evolving and clamoring for attention are addressed.  The problems of the two mountains are identical, but different landowners have devised different approaches to address them.  Here the focus is Mount Davidson and the document of concern has the lengthy tongue-twister name Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan, or SNRAMP (pronounced sin-ramp).

These Mount Davidson trees are dying; the thinning foliage is due to drought and the ivy is increasingly choking off light needed to photosynthesize, as well as competing with tree roots.  Even a winter of heavy rain can only delay death, and they should be considered dangerous to hikers and workers. The number of such trees on the mountain is in the hundreds, possibly thousands.  Mount Sutro offers identical scenes. Photo by Randy Zebell

Some people are understandably apprehensive about what changes will occur, and about whether concerns they have will be heard.  The purpose of this article is to explain processes a bit, and, the authors hope, alleviate some unnecessary stress.

It should help to understood that the process of approving and implementing a management plan is lengthy and goes through stages, at each of which the public is able to offer comments.  There are two upcoming stages to explain.

First stage:  The Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR, which has taken almost 10 years to produce and which takes into account massive amounts of public input) is currently expected to come before the Planning Commission and Recreation and Park Commission (probably in a joint meeting) early next year.  The Planning Commission decides whether to certify the EIR as being sufficiently accurate and complete, and the RecPark Commission votes whether to approve the management plan.   This latter Commission can make changes to the plan, but only changes that conform to options that have already been subjected to the CEQA analysis done in the EIR.  There will be ample opportunity for public comment at the joint hearing.

Second stage:  If the Commission approves a management plan, that just means a twenty year Plan has been approved.  Next the Plan must be implemented, which involves more planning because, with one exception (a project at Sharp Park in Pacifica) the SNRAMP EIR is a programmatic EIR -- a sort of complicated road map.  Yes, the SNRAMP contains what looks like detailed information about the management plans for each of the city’s 31 Natural Areas.  But it should be understood that these area plans are based on estimates, and include the maximum amount of possible change envisioned.  (This is a necessary part of planning: while RPD is under no obligation to do every single thing mentioned in the area plans, they cannot take actions that were not been subjected to environmental impact analysis.  So it’s best to over-estimate.)

The bottom line:  it is our understanding that before any of the plans for individual natural areas can be implemented, those plans have to be turned into specific projects, with budgets and timetables, etc.  There have to be community meetings, similar to those held when bond-financed capital projects are carried out in individual playgrounds or parks.  For example:  the area plan for Mount Davidson includes the possibility that an estimated number of trees will be removed.  An implementation project would state how many and which trees are to be removed from what location, when, why, and how much it would cost to do so.  The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on all this information.

It is also good to be reminded that this is a plan to be carried out over 20 years, and that only about one-third of the area planted in trees is even covered by the Plan -- those areas designated as Management Area 1 (MA1).  There are also MA2 and MA3 areas, which will have to be covered by a separate plan yet to be proposed.

There was initial public concern about the number of trees proposed for thinning.  Ironically, due mostly to severely dry weather, there are at least that number of trees which are either dead or dying, meaning in retrospect the Plan may seem overly conservative.  Be that as it may, the Plan is what it is and cannot be substantially changed, so other exigencies must be attended to under a different document.

Discussion so far has focused on thinning trees.  Perhaps the largest changes likely will be the understory.  This has been dominated by ivy and blackberry almost to the point of exclusion of other kinds of plants, leading to large stretches of trail that are dreary and monotonous.  This is unfortunate, because there are a huge number of native plants to be planted that are a delight to the eye and provide rich support for wildlife and that thrive under these conditions.  Imagine trails graced by red columbine, five different kinds of ferns in profusion, fringe cups, self-heal, scarlet monkey flower, carpets of strawberry, robust native bunchgrasses, rushes, and sedges.  The present condition of the plantation is unsatisfactory from all points of view, and the increasing danger from tree failure--aggravated by extended dry periods--is creating an intolerable situation.

It may be as well that nature is forcing the City's hand in coming to terms with a difficult problem.  Proposed changes promise to make the tree stands healthier, and to make the experience of walking its trails more diverse and exciting to humans while also being supportive for a wider variety of wildlife.

All the green you see in this picture is ivy.  Large blocks of dead trees around Aldea Housing are being clearcut, as they are a clear and present danger. Photo on Mount Sutro by Craig Dawson

Linda Shaffer is is completing her 8th year of service on PROSAC (Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee).