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Sunday, March 31, 2013

It’s A Question of Priorities in our Neighborhood Parks

By Dee Seligman and Sally Stephens

Big changes are coming to many of our neighborhood parks, but no one asked you if you want them. The existing ecosystem will be 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.

Anise Swallow Butterfly thriving on non-native fennel
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 nearby McLaren Park, more than 800 healthy trees will be felled. 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, directors are laid off, and pools’ schedules are limited. 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. You must stay on the trail, and some trails will be closed (3 miles in McLaren). 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. 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. Contact Mayor Lee mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org, Supervisor Avalos John.Avalos@sfgov.org and the Recreation and Park Commission recpark.commission@sfgov.org to tell them to support the Maintenance Alternative and stop NAP’s plans to make significant changes to our neighborhood parks.

Read more at: http://milliontrees.me/2011/11/01/our-cosmopolitan-viewpoint-embraces-all-nature/

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