Conservation and Restoration of Mount Sutro
Sutro Stewards' Conservation Program
To protect and enhance Mount Sutro as one of the wildest and greenest open spaces is a tall order, but nothing that Sutro Stewards is not ready to tackle. Almost 14 years ago, Sutro Stewards built a multi-use trail system that now allows for usable public access and recreation in the once impenetrable Sutro forest. But in ensuring that Mount Sutro was a space for people, we also identified the need to ensure the open space would be a life sustaining refuge for our animal and plant companions. And so our conservation program was created! Our goal is to restore the characteristic Eucalyptus understory from a leaf laden, ivy overrun, blackberry thicket into a biodiverse, healthy and self-sustaining native understory. With almost 10 years of conservation and restoration experience specific to Mount Sutro under our belts, we have gained extensive observational, hands-on experience and knowledge of Mount Sutro's unique ecology. Armed with the know-how, we are so excited to be taking the next steps to expand and connect our existing native plant communities and high performing restoration sites into large expanses of contiguous native habitat. All for the benefit of all people who visit and the ecological health of our favorite open space in San Francisco, Mount Sutro.
Why Native Habitat Matters
Not All "Green" is Healthy
So, you may be asking yourself now, why would native plant habitats be so important to the health of Mount Sutro? Great question! We love to say that not all green is healthy, and here is what we mean. Simply put, non-native plants cannot and do not provide all of the ecological services to humans and wildlife that native plants do. Ecological services are anything an ecosystem provides, from carbon sequestration and water filtration to food and habitats for non-human species. Functioning native plant habitats will perform and provide these services at a significantly higher rate. Also, native plants have this unique relationship with the lands in their natural ranges. These plants have spent thousands of years evolving with local climates and conditions, making them the ideal choice. Even more so, these plants have coevolved with other species to form these tight knit relationships where each species depends on the existence of the other. Like our California native Coastal Green Hairstreak butterfly needs California native buckwheat, and only this species, to complete its life cycle. Without buckwheat plants, the butterfly simply cannot exist. Not to mention, native plants promote biodiversity! Simply put, biodiversity means an ecosystem has more species. More species translates into more complexity, a sort of checks and balances, and allows an ecosystem to be more resilient. A resilient ecosystem will more easily adapt to change, such as a changing climate or disease. Plants are the foundation of an ecosystem and if you have an unhealthy foundation, you have an unbalanced ecosystem throughout. Native plants are an investment in our human and planetary future!
Making the Connections
Without a doubt in our mind, native plants are important for the health of Mount Sutro. But small populations of native plants do not provide all the benefits that large swaths of restored land can. Mainly due to the important biological concept of connectivity. The larger the habitat, the more animal and insect species the area can support. These species do not have to travel and search as far for their basic needs because they can be found all in one area. More usable space benefits species by enabling more movement and utilization of the habitat for food, shelter or breeding grounds. This becomes especially important for wildlife species that require larger areas of land, like secondary or tertiary consumers such as coyotes. Habitat fragmentation and degradation are some of the leading causes of species extinction so introducing connectivity into Mount Sutro's ecosystem will only seek to benefit the 50 plus wildlife species found here. On a larger scale, Mount Sutro, as a whole, is a fragment of San Francisco's original ecosystem. Species traveling from outside of the city and within depend on green spaces tucked within the concrete development to make their journey. We want to ensure that these species will find the rest points, food and breeding grounds they are in need of, here on Mount Sutro. In habitats, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Our Vision of Mount Sutro
Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Conservation Plan
In 2020, Sutro Stewards started the process of developing our first conservation plan. The purpose of the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Conservation Plan is to outline a 30-year road map of what Sutro Stewards envisions for Mount Sutro and how we will get it done. From timed species removal to dense native plant installation to increased monitoring, we aim to make a wild and thriving Mount Sutro to be enjoyed by all San Franciscans. Stay tuned for the release of our first conservation plan.
Habitat Restoration Sites
Sutro Stewards has historically maintained over 20 habitat restoration test sites on Mount Sutro. These original sites were mostly located along the various trails of Mount Sutro. Throughout the years we were able to see which sites performed the best and what native plants thrived in these areas. Taking guidance for our vision in the Conservation Plan, we have now created 2 key areas where we will focus our habitat restoration activities and connect native habitat.
The Summit Corridor: We aim to continually improve and increase native plant cover at the summit of Mount Sutro. We will work to connect the Summit plantings to the North Ridge Trail restoration test sites. Our goal is to have a robust native plant summit that will resemble a coastal prairie habitat. We envision strong communities of native grasses that outcompete the tenacious invasive grasses and sequester carbon. Mixed in, will be different California native herbs and flowering plants that will not only produce spectacular, vibrant spring blooms but will also host a variety of local pollinators and birds. From the golden blooms of California poppies and sticky monkey flower to the pink hues of checkerblooms and farewell to spring, the summit will be the crown jewel of Mount Sutro's native habitat.
The Clarendon and Nursery Corridor: We aim to connect the restoration sites at the Clarendon Trailhead and along the Clarendon Trail to native plantings surrounding our native plant nursery. Our goal is to have continuous native habitat that will foster biodiversity and ecosystem functionality. Our vision is that beneath the canopy of the non-native Eucalyptus forest will be a strong coastal scrub habitat. A place where a mixture of shrub species like coyote bush, pink flowering currant and coffeeberry will be accompanied by a wide variety of flowering understory species like the wood strawberry, western columbine and San Franciscan wallflower. All of these species and more will act as a refuge and food for the numerous birds seen in the area.
How We Restore Habitats
Habitat restoration is the act of restoring the ecological health and function of a natural area. We are not trying to recreate the past here. But rather use past information and conditions to guide what choices we make now. We aim to continually foster biodiversity, ecosystem complexity and resiliency through stewardship. On Mount Sutro, the main habitat restoration activities include invasive species removal and native plant installation.
Invasive Species Removal
Invasive species, for Sutro Stewards, are any species that is not native to California and San Francisco and that cause significant damage to an ecosystem. Usually, invasive species were brought to new areas for a specific purpose, like agriculture or ornamental uses. But sometimes species can be brought unintentionally through human activity like trade or travel between natural lands. After being introduced to a new area, these plants "escape" and naturalize into our parks and other lands, wreaking havoc on our ecosystems. There are four main characteristics of invasive species that make them so detrimental. First, invasive species can survive in many habitats and conditions. These species are usually brought from areas with similar climates to San Francisco, making it the ideal place to thrive. Second, they outcompete native plants for resources, like space, nutrients and sunlight. Third, having not evolved here, invasive species lack natural predators (or herbivores) that would limit their distribution. Lastly, invasive species grow faster and reproduce sooner than our native plants, giving them even more of a competitive edge. To control the spread of these species, Sutro Stewards, with the help of our dedicated volunteers, perform invasive and non-native species removal by getting in the dirt and removing the plant and its roots with hand tools and a little elbow grease. We focus our efforts on almost 30 different non-native species!
Native Plant Installation
After removing non-native and invasive species comes our favorite activity, planting native species! Read our Why Native Habitat Matters section to understand why native plants are the ideal choice. Sutro Stewards grows over 100 different native species in our Sutro Native Plant Nursery specifically for installation in our restoration sites. We will install hundreds of individual native plants during our rainy season, usually November to March because the rains will help the plants establish to grow big and strong. Once the plants are established, ideally, they will spread their seeds and cover more of Mount Sutro. Native plants are our gift to Mount Sutro that just keeps giving!
Volunteer in Habitat Stewardship
All of our habitat restoration work is completed with the help of dedicated community members. We need your help to make Mount Sutro a wild and thriving open space!
Interested in volunteering in stewardship? Come join us for species removal and planting activities!
Thursdays | 9:30 AM – 11:30 PM
Meet at the Sutro Nursery Parking Lot
(476 Johnston Drive, San Francisco)