Sunday, April 21, 2013

Urban forest issues debated

Organizer Dee Seligman speaks to a
lunch discussion group at Quesada Gardens. She also spoke
to the Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association of which Marsha
Pendergrass is a member. Photo: Footprints
It’s A Question of Priorities in our Neighborhood Parks
By Dee Seligman and Marsha Pendergrass

With all of the budget cuts over the last few years residents have been forced to pay even more for the basics like water, power, trash, gasoline, libraries and parks. So when we hear of a City Department proposing to spend money on the most irrelevant, self-serving project of the decade, we have to stand up and say something!  Where are our priorities?

The proposal: Convert San Francisco Natural Areas back to their original state.
The meaning: Cut down healthy trees, rip up pretty flowers and use toxic herbicides to keep them from growing back. Eliminate recreation areas to increase native plant vistas.
The cost: Between $36 and 216 million over 20 years.
Our supervisor just returned from Washington where she was advocating for the priorities of San Francisco and specifically for District 10. Priorities continue to be economic development, job training, disaster preparedness and improving local infrastructure.  How do the big changes coming to many of our neighborhood parks fit into these priorities? 

Did anybody ask us if we want the existing ecosystem significantly changed:  healthy trees cut down, pretty flowers ripped up, and toxic herbicides applied to keep them from growing back? All this to satisfy an ideological preference by a small – but vocal – minority for “native” plants rather than the “immigrant” plants that arrived here since the late 1700s.

The Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) started out as a good idea – to preserve existing remnants of San Francisco’s pre-European-settlement habitat, even though it was a sandy, mostly treeless, barren windy landscape. Over time the program morphed into wholesale habitat conversion of 25% of the parkland within San Francisco, to create native habitats where few seldom existed.
A central argument provided is the need for biodiversity. In fact, San Francisco has MORE biodiversity now than it had in the 1700s. We have lost few of our native plants – only 19 of 695 species of plants that were here in the 1800s are extinct—while many new “immigrant” plants have taken up residence. Ironically, NAP’s plans to destroy non-native plants could REDUCE our biodiversity, and ultimately harm our environment.

Most concerning are NAP’s plans to cut down 18,500 trees, or 16% of urban forests in NAP, simply because they are not native. We are not talking about dangerous trees, which should be removed. At Bayview Hill, Rec and Parks will take out 511 healthy trees.  On Mount Davidson alone, 1,600 trees will be removed. The Plan doesn’t even promise to replace the trees one-for-one at the same location.
It doesn’t make sense to cut down healthy non-native trees when San Francisco has the second sparsest tree canopy of any large US city. Trees keep out tons of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, of the atmosphere, prevent water run-off and wind. The important role trees play in slowing global warming was not fully understood in the 1990s when the NAP’s Management Plan was developed, yet it has not been changed.
NAP also uses large quantities of toxic herbicides every year, including “most toxic” category. The environment has changed since the first European settlers (more atmospheric pollution, soil composition is different, temperatures have changed, etc.), so some plants growing here in 1700s adapt less successfully than non-natives. NAP must apply toxic herbicides repeatedly to kill non-natives.
Recreation and Parks Department is starved for money. They say they can only afford to maintain park trees once every 50 years. Clubhouses are closed, and directors are laid off. Yet RPD finds the money to cut down healthy non-native trees and hire companies to spray herbicides to support NAP.  What benefits you most?  It’s a question of skewed priorities.
To protect fragile new plants, NAP routinely restricts access with protective fencing or signage. A NAP area is a one-use area – you can’t play catch with your kid or picnic—but you can look at native plants. As the City’s population increases, recreational open space becomes precious. Yet NAP wants to turn 25% of San Francisco’s total parkland into a plant museum.
Fortunately, there is a win-win compromise. NAP’s Management Plan is currently undergoing an environmental impact review (EIR). The Draft EIR, published last year, identified the “Maintenance Alternative” as the “environmentally superior” alternative. The Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association agrees. This moderate approach will maintain existing “natural” areas to show future generations what San Francisco once looked like, and to allow NAP advocates the chance to continue their preference for native plant gardening. But the wholesale habitat conversions called for in the NAP Management Plan would be stopped.

1 comment:

Dee Seligman said...

Please contact Mayor Lee, Supervisor Cohen and the Recreation and Park Commission to tell them to support the Maintenance Alternative and stop NAP’s plans to make significant changes to our neighborhood parks.