UCSF Video Depicts Story of Mount Sutro

August 31, 2010

A video that describes the history and health of the 61-acre Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, as well as proposals for the ongoing management of the forest, is now available to the campus community and the public.

The reserve is located on UCSF’s Parnassus campus and is a resource enjoyed by neighbors and visitors.

Titled “Managing and Maintaining Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve,” the video highlights the history of the land, which was named for San Francisco Mayor Adolf Sutro, and showcases efforts to promote the health and beauty of the publicly accessible hill.  Watch the video.

In the 1800s, the land was originally covered 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.

Today, the density of trees – all fighting for sunlight, moisture and nutrients – has resulted in a lack of optimal growth conditions, causing the Sutro forest to decline in health.

Managing Mount Sutro


During the 1990’s, while working with the campus on the UCSF Long Range Development Plan (LDRP), the UCSF Community Advisory Group, comprised of neighborhood residents, advised that the LRDP include recommendations for a maintenance and restoration program for the reserve’s vegetation and hiking trails. This became the impetus for the 2001 Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Management Plan, which was developed over three years with substantial involvement from members of the community.

The management plan 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

In the years since the Mount Sutro management plan was published, UCSF has worked to implement the plan, focusing on top priorities in the plan related primarily to hazardous tree removal.

Hiking and biking trails also have been maintained and improved, and a native plant demonstration project on the summit was implemented, says Barbara Bagot-Lopez, director of Community Relations at UCSF.  Community volunteers have been integral to the maintenance and improvement of the forest.

In addition, two independent professional foresters were retained by UCSF to evaluate the Reserve. They concluded that the forest has continued to decline in vigor as evidenced by a variety of factors, including the increase in dead trees as well as dying trees with thin crowns and small tree trunks.

One of those foresters, Ray Moritz, is featured in the video and shows viewers’ areas of the Reserve that are potential fire hazards, as well as areas with proper tree spacing to allow for healthy tree development. 

Moritz is an arborist, fire ecologist and certified urban forester with 30 years experience in park and urban forest restoration and management. He is a former Battalion Chief for Marin County Fire District and co-founder of FIRESafe Marin, a non-profit organization that promotes fire safety and stimulates communities to collaborate when solving problems related to wildland fire protection.

Maintaining Mount Sutro


“UCSF is committed to managing and maintaining the reserve as a resource for San Franciscans and takes seriously its responsibility to keep the site safe, healthy and beautiful,” Bagot-Lopez says.

As with all of its facilities and properties, UCSF conducts regular maintenance of Mount Sutro. This work includes removing downed trees or branches, hazardous trees and debris and managing overgrown vegetation.

In spring and summer 2010, UCSF partnered with the community to identify four small demonstration project areas in the Reserve.  The intent is for UCSF to work within these prescribed areas to demonstrate the visual effects of different forest management practices and to determine the best methods for controlling regrowth. It is proposed that, after evaluation and additional discussion with the community, effective and acceptable techniques would be applied to a broader area of the forest in the future.

Photos by Craig Dawson

Related Links:


Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, Community & Government Relations website

UCSF Seeks Community Input on Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve
UCSF Today, October 19, 2009