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 which areas. Taking guidance for our vision in our Mount Sutro Conservation Plan, we have now created 2 key areas where we will focus our habitat restoration activities and connect native habitat. Ensuring wildlife has continuous habitat is one of the most powerful ways to support them. On Mount Sutro, habitat is created and enhanced by planting native plants and weeding the invasive plants that easily outcompete the native species. Our vision is to have continuous native habitats that will foster biodiversity and bolster ecosystem functionality.
The Clarendon to 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. Starting at the Clarendon Trailhead, you will be welcomed to the open space with a seating area surrounded by a mix of coastal shrubs and flowering forbs. The plants that would have grown on this slope before the city took over and the Eucalyptus was planted. As you leave the trailhead, you’ll find beneath the canopy of the Eucalyptus forest, a biodiverse coastal scrub habitat, with species like coyote bush, pink flowering currant, and coffeeberry, accompanied by a wide variety of flowering understory plants like the wood strawberry, western columbine, and San Franciscan wallflower. We envision a wildlife corridor that will connect all the way from the edge of the open space to our native plant nursery tucked between the trees, where we already maintain a rain garden that helps decrease our runoff and is home to our moisture-loving natives. All of these species and more will act as a refuge and provide food for the numerous birds seen in the area while making for a breathtaking hike leading into the trees.
The Ridge to Summit Corridor
Leading from the Clarendon Trail, you will enter the Southern portion of Mount Sutro, known as the Southridge. From here, we aim to continually improve, increase, and connect native plant cover leading up to and around the summit of Mount Sutro. We will work to connect new and existing native habitats from the South Ridge to Rotary Meadow and down the North Ridge Trail. Our goal is to have a contiguous corridor that allows wildlife to move through and thrive on Mount Sutro. Along the South Ridge Trail, we are expanding native plant cover by establishing two new restoration sites; transforming an area from an invasive Himalayan blackberry and ivy monoculture to an ecosystem that resembles the prairies that were once found in the area. From these young sites, we then can connect to existing native plant communities at Rotary Meadow, the summit of Mount Sutro. Here there is a dense coastal meadow native plant community that already hosts a wide diversity of plants, insects, and birds. Once heading down from the summit onto the North Ridge Trail, we will work to connect our older restoration sites that exist along the trail. These sites feature a variety of shade and water-loving species that thrive with the fog dripping from the tree canopy. Our goal is to have distinct native plant communities that change with the forest canopy. From the dappled sun of the South Ridge to the open meadows of the summit and into the dense canopy of the North Ridge, the biodiversity and beauty of the Ridge to Summit Corridor will be unlike anywhere else in San Francisco.
Rotary Meadow of the Ridge to Summit Corridor
The backbone of the Ridge to Summit Corridor is the native plant respite known as Rotary Meadow, located at the summit of Mount Sutro. Rotary Meadow is our oldest restoration site on Mount Sutro, pre-dating the birth of Sutro Stewards. All the way back in 2004, the Rotary Club of San Francisco gave the University of California, San Francisco a $100,000 grant to restore the top of Mount Sutro to a mix of California native shrub and prairie species. This area was intended to not only be a demonstration of how much beauty native plants can offer, but would also bring back and support the butterflies and birds of San Francisco. And so an area where noxious French broom and English ivy dominated the mountain top was professionally restored to a robust California native plant community. Now at Rotary Meadow, one will find mature shrubs of almost 10 different species growing happily together to form dense shrubbery where birds love to flock, forage, and nest. Dotted in the openings of these shrubs are meadows composed of swaying California grasses with a mix of fragrant California native, flowering plants where insects and butterflies flit between the foliage. We envision a meadow with strong communities of native grasses that outcompete the tenacious invasive grasses and help us sequester carbon with their long, perennial roots. A meadow that will not only produce spectacular spring blooms but will also be tailored specifically to host a variety of local pollinators, insects, and birds.
We owe the Rotary Club all the gratitude for not only establishing Rotary Meadow but for also continuing to fund our maintenance of the area over the years. Through years of grant funding and in-person volunteer events, the Rotary Club has been a crucial partner in ensuring Rotary Meadow stays free of invasive species while improving its potential to give life. With the Rotary Clubs’ organizational commitment to environmental causes, our partnership will continue to enhance Rotary Meadow. Our plan is to hand-select host plant species (the plants that insects need to lay their eggs on) to better support the life cycles of all 27 species of butterfly found in San Francisco. While still aiming to continually improve the meadows' potential to host all life. From the golden blooms of California poppies and sticky monkeyflower to the pink hues of checkerblooms and farewell to spring, the summit corridor will be the crown jewel of Mount Sutro's native habitat thanks to our continued partnership with the Rotary Club of San Francisco.
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!
Wednesday & Thursdays | 9:30 AM – 11:30 PM
Meet at the Sutro Nursery Parking Lot
(476 Johnston Drive, San Francisco)