If a tree falls in Glen Canyon Park, does anyone hear it? Yes — but what they make of it depends entirely on personal politics.
A long-awaited $5.8 million renovation of Glen Canyon's aging playground, tennis courts, and restrooms this fall is prompting the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department to cut 58 trees surrounding the project site, including many non-natives: several acacia, cypress and pine trees, an olive tree, and one eucalyptus, says Rec and Park spokeswoman Sarah Ballard.
But some locals are accusing the department of massive deforestation — and of having it in for San Francisco's arboreal immigrants.
"The motivation behind the elimination of these trees is the native plant lobby," says Eric Miller, a Glen Park resident and member of the San Francisco Forest Alliance. "There's this hardcore attitude that if it's not native, it needs to be removed."
But considering San Francisco was once a landscape of rolling sand dunes, those technically aren't native either, Miller says. "Glen Canyon has these mature, wonderful trees. The species they put in their plans are not considered trees — they're shrubs. Or they'd be pretty small trees."
Rec and Park plans to plant 163 new native trees, including madrones, coast live oaks, and evergreen elms.
To block Rec and Park's plans, the alliance has gathered more than 500 signatures on a petition protesting tree removal and recently circulated a flyer to "Stop the deforestation in Glen Canyon." Members claim that with the renovations, as well as other projects and maintenance, Rec and Park plans to cut upward of 400 of Glen Canyon's 2,000 to 6,000 trees.
However, 52 of the 58 trees set for imminent chopping were identified in 2004 as safety hazards; renovation funds finally gave the department the chance to weed them out, Ballard says.
In 2008, a woman was killed at Stern Grove when a tree tagged as a hazard dropped a large branch onto her car. Over the past 20 years, the city has paid out more than $2 million in settlements related to city-owned trees and branches falling on citizens and their property, according to the City Attorney's office.
Workers began marking Glen Canyon's trees for removal in mid-September, prompting neighborhood outcry. In response to the "deforestation" flyer, Supervisor Scott Wiener circulated an e-mail on Sept. 30 urging calm.
"Everyone agrees that hazardous trees should be removed if they cannot be made safe," Wiener wrote. "This portion of the canyon is the active recreational portion of the canyon, with a rec center, playground, tennis courts, and play fields."
As if to prove his point, a Monterey pine tagged for removal fell in Glen Canyon on Oct. 1, toppling a neighboring tree and bringing down live power lines near a footpath just above the tennis courts and playground.