[maxgallery name=”mount-sutro-forest-december-2014″]Enveloped in cool moist air, we started our journey up a black muddy footpath and immediately passed areas filled with medicinal fragrances. Tentacles of fog hung low in the forest canopy and broad trunks of the Blue Gum Eucalyptus tree stood majestically like Ents along the trail’s edge. As we continued our ascent towards Mount Sutro’s summit, sections of thinner foliage allowed glimpses of the surrounding city and reminded us that urban pressures and pollution were only a short distance away. Like a monk’s tonsure, the hill’s top is a small bald spot devoid of tall vegetation and encircled by the mighty trees of Sutro Forest. City views and scenic landscapes are left for neighboring Twin Peaks and other hills, as Mount Sutro’s summit is devoid of vistas and best appreciated for its surrounding forest.
All is not pristine in the world of Sutro Forest, as the area has been under siege by forest thinning campaigns. We often passed tree carnage in the form of stumps and felled timber along either side of our trail. Taking advantage of reduced forest cover and increased light in thinned areas, English Ivy, Himalayan blackberry, and other vines were veraciously suffocating low lying plants and attacking the remaining high trees. In addition, our trail’s muddy conditions were potentially exacerbated by removal of under story and floor level vegetation that exposed loose soil and increased rainfall runoff.
The current stewards of the forest, University of California San Francisco, maintain the thinning is needed to remove non native species, prevent fires, and increase safety and accessibility to hikers, mountain bikers, and tourists. However, opponents think this forest management disrupts the forest’s natural balance and ecosystem. Regardless of your view, the forest still maintains a distinct charm and natural urban getaway within the borders of San Francisco.