Nature program wasting millions to kill trees 

San Francisco likes to proclaim it leads the way in environmental sensitivity.

Imagine, a metropolitan city with too few trees wastes precious millions of taxpayer dollars to demolish thousands of trees in its parks, targeting eucalyptus trees as its main offending species.

An unaccountable bureaucracy operating in secrecy and defying science perpetrates all this. In a messianic zeal to fix that which isn't broken, city government bureaucrats squander millions of dollars and employ sham science, all to destroy greenery our city's founding fathers wisely planted.

The Recreation and Park Department's Natural Areas Program started in 1995 to preserve small remnants of native vegetation in our compact 49-square-mile city. It was a program most people could logically support. That support has vanished.

Instead of preservation, this program would abolish existing habitats, landscapes and recreational uses in order to introduce native plant museums. In so-called natural areas, it'll be forbidden to leave the trail. Children won't be allowed to explore or collect leaves or flowers. Pets must be leashed. No ballgames, no chasing butterflies, no picking blackberries will be permitted. Much of the department planting dies because it's not maintained.

Even successful native landscapes turn brown and lie dormant for many months of the year. The NAP encompasses 32 areas and 1,100 acres, about one-third of all city parkland. In some smaller parks, the entire park constitutes a so-called natural area and thus is unavailable for active recreation.

Embarking upon a heedless quest to convert those lands to pre-1769 shrubby vegetation and grassland, NAP managers will use some of the most toxic herbicides San Francisco permits on its properties. The Significant Natural Resources Areas Management Plan, currently in the environmental impact report process, includes the following acts: destroying about 18,500 healthy trees, including 1,600 on Mount Davidson, eliminating 9 miles of trails and closing 19 acres of dog-play areas. To implement the program, NAP requires an increase in herbicide use to destroy non-native vegetation and kill the roots of the trees so they don't re-sprout.

Eucalyptuses are large, with dense wood, fast-growing but long-lived, possessing a lifespan of 300 to 500 years.

Other than reducing our carbon emissions, preserving our trees constitutes probably the best single way to fight global warming. Instead, NAP would eliminate them, releasing their stored carbon as the trees are chipped and left to rot.

The program will cost millions of taxpayer dollars. It's difficult to calculate how many millions, because City Hall data are unclear, and funding emanates from many sources. Operational costs alone approximate $1.8 million annually, not counting extensive separate payments to loggers.

Meanwhile, the department has reduced programs that served the public, abandoned neighborhood parks without the gardeners who tended them, and shuttered recreation centers because they couldn't find, for example, even $50,000 annually to pay a part-time director.

Consultants' fees for preparing the management plan and environmental impact report already total nearly

$2 million, but the process is not over yet. Should the management plan receive City Hall approval, its costs will soar exponentially.

If James Watt were still in office, most San Francisco officeholders would scream bloody murder if he tried to annihilate trees in our national parks. But the Natural Areas Program under execution in environmentally observant San Francisco is something President Ronald Reagan's former interior secretary might enjoy.

Let's stop it now, and spend money prudently on beneficial environmental and recreational activity. Contact the San Francisco Forest Alliance (www.sfforest.net) if you want to get involved or need more information.

Quentin L. Kopp is a former Board of Supervisors member, state senator and Superior Court judge.

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Quentin L. Kopp

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