Presidio of San Francisco (December 3, 2013)
- This month as the rains begin to fall, the Presidio Trust forestry crew will plant young Monterey pine andMonterey cypress trees as they have each winter since 2003, completing the first decade of an ambitious 65-year program to rejuvenate the aging Presidio forest.
The forest was first conceived in 1883 by Major William A. Jones in his Plan for the Cultivation of Trees upon the Presidio Reservation. Jones was influenced by a movement that was creating parks in urban areas all over the country - including San Francisco's Golden Gate Park - but his goals for the Presidio military installation were infinitely practical. He wanted to create a wind barrier to tame the sandy dune environment, establish a clear boundary with the adjacent city, and "enhance the idea of the power of government."
Comprised of eucalyptus, Monterey cypress, Monterey pine, and Redwood, the forest was planted at the ridge tops and gateways over a remarkably short period in the late 19th and early 20th century, powered by the labor of Army troops. Ultimately 300 acres in size, it was included as the single largest contributing feature when the Presidio was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1963.
By the time the Presidio transitioned from post to park, the cypress and pine were reaching the end of their natural lifespan. The Presidio Trust and National Park Service crafted a vision for caring for the 60,000 trees in the 2001 Presidio Vegetation Management Plan, a blueprint for managing the park's open spaces. The Trust also recruited an experienced forester, Peter Ehrlich, from Golden Gate Park, coincidentally the site from which the trees for the original Presidio forest were first acquired.
Ehrlich and Michael Boland, then the Trust's landscape architect and now its Chief of Planning, formally launched thereforestation program in 2003. The Trust has slowly replanted the forest in small increments, never opening up more than half an acre at a time.
"It's an interesting challenge," said Boland, "We're replanting a cultural artifact in a way that's mindful of the hawks and owls and other bird life that nest in the forest and the coyotes that live there. The forest is an historic feature but it also supports tremendous biodiversity."
The Trust's reforestation effort has contributed to an uptick in bird diversity in the Presidio, a clear indication of a sustainable ecosystem.
Research is also an essential component of the program. The Trust has partnered with U.C. Davis scientists to develop trees that are resistant to the deadly Pine Pitch Canker disease, which has ravaged many local forests. It has also worked with experts from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to identify non-invasive eucalyptus species to plant alongside Redwood, oak, cypress, and pine trees. Other sustainable practices include regular tree thinning in the young tree plantations.
Boland says, "We're trying to understand the unique qualities of this place, to experiment, and not import artificial ideas about how to care for the forest but actually develop indigenous ways of thinking about it."
Over the past decade, the Presidio Trust's forestry crew has planted 27 acres of young trees at 44 sites. In total, 3,500 trees have been planted.
Dying trees also often get a second life in the park, repurposed as benches, fencing, and even artworks like Andy Goldsworthy's Spire, Wood Line, and Tree Fall, viewed by thousands of Presidio visitors each year.
The Trust welcomes the public to get involved by participating in a volunteer tree care program. From 2007 to 2012, more than 1,000 volunteers contributed nearly 5,000 hours taking care of young trees.
About the Presidio Trust
The Presidio Trust, a federal agency, is an innovation in the management of a treasured American place. The Trust was created to save the Presidio and transform it for a new national purpose. The Trust's vision is that the Presidio will be forever a public place: vital to the Bay Area, important to all Americans, and recognized for achieving broad benefits for the nation. Today, the Presidio welcomes visitors, is home to a vibrant community of residents and tenants, and inspires greater good through programs that draw on its history and natural resources. The Presidio Trust serves the public with events, lodging, venues, and recreational opportunities. To learn more, visit www.presidio.gov.