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Summer 2014 Update

Earlier this year, UCSF performed hazardous tree work in the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve to ensure the safety of all who use the trails and visit the Reserve.  The work entailed the trimming, pruning, and/or removing of hazardous trees, branches and limbs that were either overhanging or in close proximity to trails and posed a potential danger to trail users.  The total number of trees removed during this process was 212—click here for photos of some of the trees that were removed to see the extreme state of decay that was found inside the trunks.

UCSF has commissioned an independent assessment of the current condition of the forest to determine the extent of additional hazardous tree work that will be needed in the coming year.  This assessment is needed as conditions have drastically changed since the original report was done due to pest infestations and drought conditions.

In September of last year, UCSF completed urgent fire safety measures to help protect residents and homes adjacent to the Reserve, as well as the UCSF Medical Center and facilities at Parnassus Heights.  We cleared vegetation around all structures within and bordering the Reserve to create up to 100 feet of “defensible space,” focusing on shrubs, small trees and dry vegetation that could have provided a fire ladder into the forest canopy.  We are already seeing lush and green regrowth in these areas that remains close to the ground, so could not easily function as a fire ladder.   

Please see Sutro documents page for FAQ and photos. 

Proposed Hazard Reduction Measures – November 2013

As part of its ongoing effort to increase the safety of Reserve visitors and nearby structures, UCSF retained a professional forester to help develop a plan for the Reserve that focuses on reducing the danger of wildfire. The plan presented to the community in November 2013 is consistent with best management practices applied throughout California in urban forests. UCSF planned to recirculate a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in February 2014 with an updated project description. However, due to an unforeseen workload, UCSF has delayed the completion of the DEIR until further notice.

UCSF is using this time to carefully assess the public feedback it has received to date—to both previous forest management proposals and to the proposed fire hazard reduction measures—to consider the best path forward.  Please see the Sutro documents page for November 2013 meeting materials. 

All community meeting information/presentations can be found here.


VIDEO: Managing and Maintaining UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve

History of the Reserve

Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve is a peaceful 61-acre area in the midst of San Francisco homes, businesses and the University of California San Francisco campus (UCSF). Named for its former owner and San Francisco Mayor Adolph Sutro, the Reserve has a history of transition much like many San Francisco neighborhoods.

A successful engineer and real estate investor, Adolph Sutro served as San Francisco Mayor from 1894 to 1896. Sutro’s many land holdings included Mount Parnassus, now named Mount Sutro in his honor. Like most of San Francisco’s higher terrain in the 1800s, the hill was covered primarily with native grasses, wildflowers and shrubs. In celebration of San Francisco’s first Arbor Day in 1886, Sutro began planting the hill with imported blue gum eucalyptus, Monterey pine, Monterey cypress and possibly other species. The eucalyptus quickly adapted to the new location and soon became the predominant tree species on the hill.

Sutro donated 13 acres of land on Parnassus Avenue to the UCSF Regents in 1895 for development into the UCSF Parnassus Heights campus. It wasn’t until 1953 that UCSF purchased a 90-acre parcel to the south, which included Mount Sutro. Most of this land is now the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve.

UCSF is committed to maintaining the Reserve as a resource for San Franciscans and takes seriously its responsibility to keep the site safe and accessible.

Visiting Mount Sutro

UCSF welcomes the use of the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. The hiking trails are maintained by volunteers under the supervision of the Sutro Stewards, in partnership with UCSF. The Sutro Stewards, a program of the non-profit San Francisco Parks Trust, have developed a trail map [PDF] and have outlined suggested hikes.

The Sutro Stewards were founded by Craig Dawson, who grew up on Christopher Drive near Mount Sutro and has been a member of the UCSF Community Advisory Group since 1992. The Stewards regularly turn out volunteers to work on Mount Sutro. Everyone who walks the trails of Mount Sutro owes their nature-walk-in-the-city to the Stewards volunteers, who have logged thousands of hours clearing the trails. In addition, Stewards volunteers helped to develop Rotary Meadow, the native plant demonstration area identified in the 2001 Sutro Plan and funded by the Rotary Club.

The Sutro Stewards work closely with the UCSF Facilities Management department, gaining the University’s approval for the work they propose to do in the Reserve. The Stewards organize, plan, and manage all volunteer days, supervising and training volunteers to perform habitat and trail maintenance work. Recognizing the value of the contributions of the San Francisco Parks Trust/Sutro Stewards program, in 2010 UCSF began providing $1,000 per month to ensure the continuation of this valuable service. UCSF provides hand tools, a staging area, and tool storage for use on volunteer days, and supplies pizza and water for the volunteer workers. UCSF very much appreciates the hard work of all the volunteers who donate their time to help the Reserve.

The Sutro Stewards were recently recognized by San Francisco Magazine as a group that makes the Bay Area one of the best places to live, work and play. The San Francisco Neighborhoods Parks Council recognized Stewards founder Craig Dawson, as volunteer of the month for July 2009. For information on volunteering and on these awards, please visit:

Managing Mount Sutro

During the 1990’s, while working with the campus on the UCSF Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), the UCSF Community Advisory Group advised that the LRDP include recommendations for a maintenance and restoration program for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve’s vegetation and hiking trails. This became the impetus for the 2001 Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Management Plan. The plan was developed over three years with substantial involvement from members of the community. The plan strikes a balance between neighborhood interests and UCSF concerns, and it is organized around seven planning principles, or goals:

  • Ensure public safety and property protection
  • Improve the health of the forest
  • Protect and expand native plants
  • Enhance wildlife habitat values
  • Maintain scenic quality
  • Improve public access
  • Implement the resource management plan

UCSF has worked to implement the Management Plan, focusing on top priorities in the plan related primarily to hazardous tree removal. The priorities that have been accomplished are: hazardous tree removal in Crestmont-Christopher, Edgewood, Upper Medical Center Way, Chancellor’s Residence and East Aldea; screen planting at Aldea, a UCSF housing community; and coast scrub demonstration planting and needle grass enhancement on the Mount Sutro Summit. Work has been done outside the scope of the Management Plan as the need has arisen, and this work includes: understory clearing to recover a newly discovered historic trail and other trail improvements and maintenance by the Mt. Sutro Stewards; rehabilitation of a mudslide area caused by a water line break; and additional hazardous tree removal as needed.

Other projects have also been completed as needs have arisen, but no tree thinning projects or other types of demonstration areas have occurred in the Reserve, with the exception of the native plant demonstration project on the summit, which was funded by a generous grant from the Rotary Club of San Francisco and planted by Rotarians and community members.

Currently, UCSF has identified its primary responsibility as the steward of the Reserve to be ensuring the safety of our students, employees, patients, visitors and neighbors, as well as ensuring the safety of campus and neighboring structures, particularly in light of an elevated fire danger resulting from California’s drought conditions.

To ensure the safety of visitors and nearby structures, UCSF retained a professional forester to help develop a plan for the Reserve that focused on reducing the danger of wildfire.  The plan is consistent with best management practices applied throughout California in forests located near urban areas and was developed and presented to the community in November 2013.

Maintaining Mount Sutro

As with all of its facilities and properties, UCSF conducts ongoing, regular maintenance of Mount Sutro. The regular maintenance of Mount Sutro is independent of the longer-term management plan or potential fire mitigation demonstration projects.

Mount Sutro maintenance is conducted by UCSF Facilities Services. The Facilities Services staff is committed to the highest level of service to both its campus customers and to the community.

Regular ongoing general maintenance on Mount Sutro includes: removal of storm debris, downed trees or branches and hazardous trees; removal of broom; trash or campsite removal; managing overgrown vegetation, including along Medical Center Way, parking areas, walkways, stairs and buildings; drain clearing; weekly blowing along Medical Center Way, parking areas, walkways, stairs and buildings.

In addition to the first three tasks listed above, regular maintenance work on the Mount Sutro summit also includes removal of invasive sprouts, at least bi-annually.

Regular maintenance of the trails includes: maintenance to better allow usage and ensure continued accessibility, including keeping a clearance of up to 5 feet on both sides; removal of trash and debris; management of overgrown vegetation; removal of storm debris, downed trees or branches and hazardous trees; removal of broom; security patrol; and trash or campsite removal. 

UCSF has agreed to discontinue the use of herbicides to manage the forest. Herbicides have not been used in the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve since 2008.

Community Planning Process

UCSF is committed to a community process that fully communicates with neighbors on what work will be done on Mount Sutro to achieve the goal of reducing the risk of wildfire and improving the health and safety of the remaining trees while maintaining scenic quality. Documents related to community meetings are here.

UCSF underwent a lengthy community planning process to develop the 2001 Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Management Plan, another extensive community planning process in 2009 and 2010 to involve the community in forest management planning, and is now working with the community on its hazard reduction measures.

A report documenting the extensive community involvement that UCSF facilitated in 2009 through 2010 to develop forest management goals for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve (the Reserve) and a plan for their implementation is available (see links below).

Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Community Planning Process Summary (2010)

The Community Planning Process Summary report outlines several changes that were made to the demonstration project plan as a result of the community’s engagement and input over the year-long planning process and also contains commitments that UCSF will follow going forward.

UCSF Issues Report Documenting Extensive Community Involvement in Mount Sutro Planning

Environmental Review Process

Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) January 2013

The Draft EIR for the UCSF Mount Sutro Management Project was published on January 18, 2013.  Previously, UCSF held an EIR scoping meeting, held in January 2011, provided an opportunity for the community to discuss the scope and content of the environmental information they expected to see included in the Draft EIR. As required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Draft EIR (1) assesses the potentially significant environmental effects of the proposed project, including cumulative impacts of the proposed project in conjunction with past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future development; (2) identifies feasible means of avoiding or substantially lessening significant adverse impacts; and (3) evaluates a range of reasonable alternatives to the proposed project, including the No Project alternative. 

At the request of some community members, the original 45-day public comment period was extended to March 19, 2013, bringing the comment period to 60 days. The public hearing on the Draft EIR was held on Feb. 25, 2013. The purpose of this hearing was to solicit public comments on the adequacy and accuracy of information presented in the Draft EIR.  UCSF Campus Planning has published the public comments for the Draft EIR on the Campus Planning website. The next step of this process would be the preparation of responses to comments received on the Draft EIR, certification of the final EIR, which would be followed by community meetings before implementing small demonstration projects to identify the best approach to managing the entire Reserve.


To ensure the safety of visitors and nearby structures, UCSF retained a professional forester to help develop a plan for the Reserve that focused on reducing the danger of wildfire.  This proposed hazard reduction plan is consistent with best management practices applied throughout California in forests located near urban areas and was presented at a community meeting in November 2013.  UCSF planned to recirculate a Draft EIR in February 2014 with an updated project description based on the plan presented to the community in November 2013.  However, due to an unforeseen work load, UCSF has delayed the completion of the DEIR until further notice.  


For information about this project, please see CGR Staff Contact Information.