Clear-Cutting a Path for Butterflies: Eucalyptus groves on San Bruno Mountain being felled

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: John Wildermuth

With a roar of chain saws, loggers this week began chopping down thousands of eucalyptus trees on San Bruno Mountain - local nature lovers urged them on.

In a reversal of the usual battle lines, environmentalists are welcoming the loggers, who plan to clear-cut as much as 150 acres of the mountain to open habitat for two species of endangered butterflies.

"We don't call it logging," said Roman Gankin, an environmental planner for San Mateo County . "It's habitat restoration activity and it's long overdue."

Eucalyptus trees, which were brought to California from Australia more than a century ago, are public enemy No. 1 for many local environmentalists. The fast growing trees can spread rapidly over grasslands, pushing out many native plants and grasses and keeping anything else from growing.

"I'm never sorry to hear about eucalyptus trees being cut down," said Lennie Roberts of the Committee for Green Foothills. "They were planted in a lot of areas for various reasons in the 1800s, but now we're a lot more careful about what plants we bring in."

On San Bruno Mountain, large groves of eucalyptus, some planted more than 75 years ago, are encroaching on the lupine and viola plants that provide homes for the mission blue and San Bruno elfin butterflies, both endangered species.

"The federal permit issued for the exotic species calls for control of pest plants, like eucalyptus," said Victoria Harris of Thomas Reid Associates, a Palo Alto environmental consulting firm that manages the butterfly habitat for the county. "The trees also act as a barrier that keeps the butterflies from dispersing to other areas."

For Jeff Holland, the logger running the operation on San Bruno Mountain, this is one of his more unusual jobs. A veteran of logging in the Sierra around his home in Long Barn, Tuolome County, he is used to seeing the restrictions on timbering operations.

"You can't hardly cut down a tree in the forest anymore without getting arrested," he said as he watched loggers and bulldozers strip a once-wooded area just off the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway at the entrance to San Bruno Mountain Park, a state and county park within sight of San Francisco Bay.

Holland's seven-member crew started work Tuesday and will be cutting trees on the mountain for about three months. The trees, mostly about 120 feet tall and two feet around, are hauled from the groves by skidders and grapple bulldozers and then stacked along the roadway by a huge log loader.

Twenty truckloads of logs a day will be taken from San Bruno Mountain to the port of Sacramento, where they will be shipped to Japan and used for wood chips and pulp, Holland said. Planned Sierra Resources is logging the mountain free, in exchange for the logs.

When the logging is finished, it will be a very different San Bruno Mountain, Harris said. The tall, green trees that now line much of the parkway that runs from Daly City to Brisbane will be gone, replaced by open grassland. About the only remnants of the sprawling eucalyptus groves will be a few trees screening the parking lots at the park's trailheads.