SAN FRANCISCO
02/21/2013 12:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 22, 2013

Sutro Forest UCSF Plan To Thin Grove Of Century-Old Trees Draws Ire Of Environmentalists

As neighborhood blog Uppercasing notes, a proposal to cut down up to 60 percent of the tress in San Francisco's 45,000-tree Mount Sutro Forest is drawing the ire of activists who worry that the action would cause irreparable damage to the century-old grove by uprooting eucalyptus trees in the 61-acre preserve.

The University of California San Francisco proposed the plan, which was detailed in a draft environmental impact report released by the university last month and is intended to improve the forest's overall health and decrease wildfire risk by thinning both the tress and surrounding undergrowth, restoring native plants and construct a number of new hiking trails.

"We're developing a management plan to keep the forest beautiful, accessible to the community and safe for both our own campus and our neighbors," said UCSF Director of Community Relations Barbara Bagot-López.

The land encompassing the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve has been owned by UCSF for over three decades and, even after these changes take place, will still be held as a development-free zone by the university. Smaller portions of the forest are owned by the city or are held in private hands--those sections will not be affected.

The forest initially stretched through much of the city, well over 1,000 acres; however, it gradually gave way to the city's encroaching development.

An online petition to save the forest, circulated by the group Save Sutro, argues that the university's fears about the overall health of the forest are misguided and removing the trees will not only destroy a unique ecosystem and increase the overall fire danger by replacing the relatively fire-resistant eucalyptus trees with more flammable ferns, but also fundamentally alter the climate of the entire region by eliminating a significant windbreaker for the Haight-Ashbury and NoPa neighborhoods.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had gathered nearly 1,400 signatures.

The university pushed back against these criticisms of its plan, saying that, while much of the underbrush will be cleared as a way to mitigate the fire risk that would occur if the forest's growth were left unchecked, the tree removal will come far short of 30,000 number floated by opponents of the plan and represents the upper bound required to be set in the environmental impact report.

"The forest is not being 'clear cut,'" a university spokesperson said in a statement to the Huffington Post. "The appearance of Mount Sutro will not substantially change for those looking toward it from a distance, and it will remain a forest--a unique outdoor experience in the heart of the city."

UCSF will be holding a public meeting about the proposed changes to the forest at 7 p.m. on February 25 at the Millberry Union Confrence Center's Golden Gate Room (500 Parnansus St., San Francisco).

Check out this trail map if you want to go on a hike through Sutro Forest and take a look at this UCSF-produced video about the forest:

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