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UCSF Proposes New Management Plan for Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve

hikers standing in a clearing of trees on Mount Sutro
A group of visitors stop during a wildflower walk on Mount Sutro in August 2016. Years of drought and pest infestation have damaged or killed many of the trees, and UCSF's draft management plan aims to restore the Reserve's ecological health. Photo by Susan Merrell

UC San Francisco has released a draft management plan for the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve aimed at restoring the health of its trees following years of drought and pest infestation in order to protect the safety of its students, faculty, staff, patients and surrounding neighbors.

UCSF staff and forest management consultants estimate that tree mortality in the 61-acre Reserve is currently at 24 percent – double the rate of 12 percent tree mortality documented in 1999. The problems extend statewide: The U.S. Forest Service recently announced that at least 66 million trees have died since 2010 across California, and the unprecedented tree die-off prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency last fall.

Mount Sutro Draft Management Plan

The plan, released on Aug. 18, was developed by forestry consultants, with guidance from a Technical Advisory Committee composed of experts with extensive experience in forestry, fire hazard-reduction, biology and habitat restoration.

“Up and down the coast, I’ve seen evidence of increased tree mortality due to the state’s extended drought,” said Matt Greene, UCSF’s forestry consultant who is a Registered Professional Forester and a biologist. “I’ve observed that the health of the blue gum eucalyptus, which make up a majority of the dominant trees on Mount Sutro, are declining in health, and younger trees are currently not making it to maturity to replace the older trees.”

Last year, UCSF hired Greene and Jim Clark, PhD, vice president of Hortscience, a horticultural, arboricultural and urban forestry consulting firm, to assess the current health of the vegetation on Mount Sutro and develop a management plan to improve the health and sustainability of the Reserve. The University also formed a Technical Advisory Committee composed of experts with extensive experience in forestry, fire hazard-reduction, biology and habitat restoration who volunteered their time to provide guidance on the scope, techniques and best practices.

Retaining a ‘Forest’ Experience

The dense woodland that rises more than 900 feet above the heart of San Francisco traces its beginnings to 1886, when Adolph Sutro, a successful mining engineer and former mayor of San Francisco, planted the hill with blue gum eucalyptus, Monterey pine, Monterey cypress and possibly fruit trees and other species. UCSF acquired Mount Sutro in 1953 and declared it permanent open space in 1976.

Since then, UCSF has provided public access to Mount Sutro through regular vegetation management and, in partnership with the non-profit Sutro Stewards, through five miles of multi-access trails. In the past few years, the declining tree health and increased risk from hazardous trees near roads, trails and structures led the University to form a team to assess the current conditions and provide the funding to develop a management plan to increase the health and safety of the Reserve.

The draft plan, released Aug. 18, aims to retain the “forest” experience on Mount Sutro while increasing its safety, health and sustainability.  Specifically, its goals are to:

  • Protect the safety of Reserve users, UCSF students, faculty, staff, patients, neighbors and adjacent campus and residential properties
  • Improve and enhance the health and stability of the ecosystem;
  • Enhance the visual design and aesthetic experience;
  • Maintain and ensure public access to the Reserve.
map of Mount Sutro divided into 4 Forest Types
The draft management plan divides the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve into four areas, designated as Forest Types based on similar characteristics and tree conditions. Click on the map to view larger

The draft plan divides the Reserve into four areas, designated as Forest Types based on similar characteristics and tree conditions. For each Forest Type, the draft plan contains a set of management recommendations to clear out dead and stunted trees, plant new trees to regenerate the canopy, promote biodiversity and maintain public access to the trails. 

The management actions would take place over three phases: the first five years as the first phase, six to 10 years as the second phase, and 11 years and beyond as the third phase. The final phase includes an assessment of the success of the previous phases to allow the plan to adapt management strategies based on the success of the interventions.

“We’ve spent a year developing this comprehensive plan for Mount Sutro, and worked with top independent experts to ensure that it reflects best practices in forest management,” said Paul Takayama, assistant vice chancellor of UCSF Community & Government Relations. “We are confident that this draft plan presents the best approach for increasing the health and sustainability of the Reserve and helps address the safety of the UCSF community, neighbors and adjacent campus and residential properties.”

Community Feedback Process

UCSF will hold two community meetings in October to listen to neighbor feedback on the draft plan. Once the plan is fully reviewed by the Technical Advisory Committee, as well as local environmental and community leaders, UCSF will begin an environmental review process, under the California Environmental Quality Act, to identify potential environmental impacts of the plan. 

Pending completion of that process, the University hopes to begin implementing the forest management recommendations in the fall of 2017.