It’s that time of the year again! You may have seen the orange flyer in your mailbox or on the fence at the entrance to Forest Knolls: “Forest Knolls Trick or Treat Monday October 31”
Each year, the Forest Knolls Neighborhood Organization (FKNO) encourages neighbors on Oak Park and Warren Drive (and a small stretch of Christopher) to join the “Loop” – a Halloween-friendly route that kids can trick-or-treat on.
This year, it’s been expanded to Forest Knolls Drive and Woodhaven Court. It runs between 5.30 and 8 p.m. People who want to greet kids with candy can get a pumpkin and a pumpkin sign to let them know they’re in. FKNO will provide both pumpkin and sign – email Walter Caplan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s the map. If anyone wants to send me pictures afterward (and maybe a few lines about the event?) I’d be happy to publish them.
I love these yellow flowers that appear in spring in San Francisco and vanish a couple of weeks later. Many others do, too, but consider it a guilty pleasure because they think they’re bad for bees and birds and animals. Since we often have them around Forest Knolls, I’m re-publishing a shortened version of a post about oxalis from SFForest.org (with permission).
The oxalis season is over, and the perky yellow flowers have vanished for another year. These Bermuda buttercups will be back next year to herald the spring, bringing joy to those who love them, irritation to those who hate them, and Tier I herbicides targeted at them in San Francisco’s so-called “Natural” Areas.
THOSE WHO HATE OXALIS AND WANT TO POISON IT WITH GARLON
The article quoted Jake Sigg, the retired SF Recreation and Parks gardener who is considered the doyen of San Francisco’s native plant movement. He hates oxalis pes caprae, which he considers extremely invasive. The article quotes him as saying that, without intervention, “in X many years Twin Peaks would just be one solid mass of yellow, and there wouldn’t be any other plants there…” The article suggested that an oxalis-dominated landscape “drives away coyotes, hawks and owls that feed on grassland foragers, and the situation is especially dire for endangered Mission blue butterflies, which depend heavily on native wildflowers.” Most of those ‘facts’ about oxalis are mistaken as we’ll explain below.
Mr Sigg’s theories align with those of the Natural Areas Program (NAP) of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD), which uses the herbicide, Garlon (triclopyr) to battle oxalis despite its dubious efficacy for the purpose. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment San Francisco’s Department of the Environment classifies Garlon 4 Ultra as Tier I: Most Hazardous. It’s listed as HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE (their caps). Since oxalis is the main reason NAP uses Garlon, the alternative we propose is – don’t use Garlon or anything else on oxalis.
First, a little about the actual natural history of oxalis. This plant doesn’t set seed in California, and spreads entirely by sending out roots and forming little bulbils (like tiny potatoes) underground. It’s usually found where the soil has been disturbed by activities such as road-building, gardening, or trail-building. In some cases, the disturbance come from landslides or something similar. It can’t stand frost. If we do nothing, it would tend to die down rather than spreading uncontrollably.
In disturbed landscapes, it can spread fast. For this reason it can be a nuisance in gardens. People don’t want to leave their gardens alone for years to let nature take its course with the oxalis, and not every garden design includes brilliant yellow as the dominant color for a few weeks. The only way to eradicate it in the short term is to dig it out carefully every time you see it, and make sure you get most of the bulbils. Or use strong herbicides, which may not work.
In a natural landscape, though, it’s a different story and here’s why.
1) OXALIS IS GOOD FOR BEES AND BUTTERFLIES
Oxalis is actually an excellent plant for bees and butterflies. When blooming, it provides “copious nectar.” In fact, it generously gives away its nectar. Since it doesn’t set seed, it doesn’t benefit from pollinators – but it’s a food source for honey bees, bumblebees and butterflies.
In fact, a recent 2014 study shows that plant communities with exotic plants had more plant species as well as more pollinators, that pollinators didn’t prefer native plants, and that even some specialist pollinators depended on introduced plant species.
It’s true the Mission Blue butterfly needs (native) lupine as its nursery plant. (It doesn’t depend on any other native wildflowers – only three varieties of lupine. Incidentally, one of the key nectar sources for the Mission Blue butterfly is an invasive non-native Italian thistle: Carduus pycnocephalus).
Lupine has been planted on Twin Peaks as NAP attempts to reintroduce the Mission Blue butterfly there. But lupine is also a plant of disturbed areas, which means that NAP must maintain it or it will die out as the area stabilizes. An SFRPD report on the reintroduction project said “unmanaged habitat deteriorates quickly.” Presumably, they don’t use Garlon near the lupine patches, since it would likely kill that too. Despite what the Bay Nature article implies, it’s not oxalis that’s the issue. The real problem is another native plant, the coyote bush which takes over grasslands in a natural succession.
2) OXALIS IS GOOD FOR WILDLIFE
Oxalis bulbils are a food source for wildlife. Gophers and other rodents eat them. In fact, the Bay Nature article says, “Their spread is abetted by pocket gophers and scrub jays, which have been spotted carrying the bulbs and caching them in the ground—effectively planting them in new areas.”
Since gophers are a foundation species in the food web, being dinner for predators from hawks to coyotes to great blue herons, these plants actually provide habitat benefits whether or not they’re flowering, because the bulbils are there all year.
Where there are gophers, the predators follow. Like the coyotes in these pictures, which clearly haven’t been driven away by a landscape dominated by oxalis.
3) OXALIS DOESN’T LEAVE THE GROUND BARE
The article says that oxalis leaves “bare ground during the six months of the year oxalis doesn’t flower.” That’s not true either.
The spectacular yellow bloom of the oxalis – valuable because it the mass of color attracts honey bees and bumblebees – gives the impression that it’s the only plant there. But though it visually takes over the landscape when it’s in bloom, it naturally grows interspersed with grasses and other plants. Like in the picture above.
In fact, oxalis tends to enrich the soil with phosphorus, which is good for grass.
So when it finishes blooming, as it has by now – you don’t get bare ground. The picture below shows the same area as the first picture in this article – but it’s after the oxalis bloom is over. It’s a grassland.
4) OXALIS HAS LITTLE IMPACT ON “NATIVE” PLANTS
One argument – related to the ‘bare ground’ argument – is that oxalis takes over grasslands and destroys them, particularly the native grasses. However, grasslands in most of California including San Francisco are dominated non-native grasses. The change occurred over 100 years ago, when these grasses were planted for pasture. So the grassland that NAP is defending with herbicides are primarily non-native anyway.
But anyway, what’s the evidence that oxalis is actually damaging native plants?
It’s true some European studies do suggest that an increase in oxalis is associated with a decrease in native plants diversity -though whether it’s a cause is unclear. It may just be benefiting from human activities that disrupt the landscape. Another study put oxalis head-to-head with a native annual grass, lolium rigidum. The native grass tended to dominate. Their conclusion: “Oxalis is a poor competitor. This is consistent with the preferential distribution of Oxalis in disturbed areas such as ruderal habitats, and might explain its low influence on the cover of native species in invaded sites.”
The California Invasive Plant Council rates its invasiveness as “moderate,” considering it as somewhat invasive in sand dunes and less so in coastal bluff areas.
In San Francisco, every place where oxalis grows is already a disturbed environment, a mix of non-native grasses and plants with native plants (some of which have been artificially planted). Here, oxalis appears to grow happily with other plants – including, for instance, the native California poppy in the picture above.
5) KIDS LOVE IT AND IT’S EDIBLE
Children love oxalis, both for its pretty flower and for the sour taste of its edible stems. Even small children love gathering posies of Bermuda buttercups (though picking flowers is technically prohibited in Natural Areas). The flowers are surprisingly hardy for wildflowers, and in a glass of water last quite well as cut-flowers.
The plant is edible, and its tart leaves make a nice addition to salad. People enjoy snacking on its sour stems. Besides Bermuda buttercup, it’s also called ‘sourgrass’ and ‘soursob.’ It does contain oxalic acid (as does spinach, for instance), and so you probably wouldn’t want to make a meal of it. Though in South Africa it’s made into soup.
Adding Garlon to it is probably a bad thing.
From our current evidence, there’s no sign that oxalis has a negative impact on wildlife, and plenty of evidence it’s already part of the ecological food web of our city. The evidence also suggests it’s not having a negative effect on other plants in San Francisco either. Lots of people find this flower attractive; one writer described it as the city smiling with Bermuda buttercups.
[Webmaster: The original article goes on to argue that the city should not use Garlon to attack oxalis – it’s expensive, toxic, and pointless.]
So I’m especially concerned about one Proposition that will be on the Ballot in November 2014. It’s Proposition I: Increased Usage of Children’s Playgrounds, Walking Trails, and Athletic Fields Act.
Prop I is being talked about as the opposite of Proposition H (opposing artificial turf on the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields), hence such campaigns as Yes on H/ No on Prop I.
But it’s not just that.
Here’s what I worry about: If passed, Prop I would sharply erode community voices in future decisions made by SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) regarding our parks and open spaces. It tips the scales strongly in favor of SFRPD.
WHAT IS PROPOSITION I?
Proposition I changes the Parks Code so that any major project that SFRPD forecasts will double usage in an calendar year gets the go-ahead once its Environmental Impact Report is certified. Here’s the proposition (as a PDF): Nov2014_ParkCode
Here’s what it does:
Applies to any SFRPD project concerning athletic fields, children’s playgrounds, or walking trails – which sounds like it would cover most SFRPD parks and open spaces.
Makes “doubles usage in a calendar year” as a benchmark – even if doubling usage isn’t a good objective or usage would fall after one calendar year. (And of course, since it’s about the future, it’s a forecast.)
Says that once such a project’s EIR has been certified, it “should be allowed” – presumably cutting off appeals, ballot measures and other community input.
It’s also got a “poison pill” for Proposition H. If it gets more votes that Prop H, then it invalidates Proposition H even if Prop H got over 50% of the votes.
Because of the “poison pill” some people are saying Proposition I is ‘the anti-H.’ However, its impact is much broader.
MUCH WIDER IN SCOPE THAN JUST AN ANTI-PROP-H MEASURE
It allows SFRPD to proceed with any major project that they estimate will double usage in a calendar year, independent of the community’s desires or priorities. It removes nearly all means of appeal or review. So if this Prop I passes, then for any SFRPD project, they need only:
Pick any project and estimate it will at least double usage within a calendar year;
Hire a consultant to complete an EIR and agree that it will double forecast usage in a calendar year;
As long as the EIR is certified, SFRPD can implement the project without any community input or challenge.
WHAT ABOUT CEQA?
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is what requires projects to get Environmental Impact Reports, is enforced through lawsuits. There’s no regulatory body.
It’s not clear whether Prop I would take away the right to a legal appeal, or to a ballot measure. But the way it’s worded, it could do so.
Even worse – the language specifies it shall be “liberally construed.” This could mean anything.
Prop I can also be amended by a two-thirds majority vote of the Board of Supervisors with the Mayor’s approval. It doesn’t need to go back to the voters. This means the Supes and the Mayor can change a lot of the wording afterward.
WHY THE SUPERVISORS MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND
I know that City Hall is much in favor of Prop I. Seven supervisors signed to put it on the ballot, including Scott Wiener and David Chiu, both people whom I respect. Supervisor Wiener in particular feels it’s wrong for people opposing an SFRPD project to get more “bites at the apple” – after the Supervisors have approved it, and the EIR has been certified. I do understand that it’s frustrating when a multi-million dollar project is held up because a group of people in the community don’t want it.
What that argument doesn’t allow for is that the situation is inherently asymmetrical. The saying “You can’t fight City Hall” exists for a reason. All these rules – the Sunshine Act, the ability to go directly to the electorate via a ballot measure, the ability to take legal action – they all exist to redress the power imbalance, at least somewhat.
Theoretically, “City Hall” represents us. But a lot of things have to be weighed in any decision – from funds to feasibility to desirability of a project. And these can set up things so that what City Hall wants is not aligned with what the community wants.
Taking away avenues of recourse – including putting things on the ballot – feels efficient. But ‘efficient’ decisions are not always the right decisions.
JUST ABOUT SOCCER FIELDS?
Even though the main campaigners against Prop I are those who support Proposition H (and oppose artificial turf in Golden Gate Park), the issue is so much broader.
That’s why I hope that Prop I doesn’t pass, no matter what happens to Prop H.
I was talking to friends who plays soccer, and are willing to accept artificial turf as the price of play. “I’m voting No on H, No on I,” they said.
From where I sit it looks like Proposition I muffles the public voice about what happens in our parks.
Today was a day of intermittent sunshine and beautiful clouds. In the evening, a misty fog blew in and Stow Lake looked like something out of a romantic historical film. You half expected to see a lady on a white horse, or an armor-clad knight.
But even without the fantasy, it’s an interesting place at twilight; you never know what you’ll see. (The downside is that my current camera, which hates low-light conditions, doesn’t get very good pics.)
By the time we got there, most of the crowds had left. Only a few late walkers like us wandered around the lake. The last boat of the evening paddled toward the jetty. The mallards, geese and Muscovy ducks circled the edges of the lake hopefully before the last visitors disappeared.
A gull near the Boathouse hopped down to the edge of lake and came up with – something. It was reddish and scrawny and didn’t look like a piece of sandwich or candy. It brought its catch ashore to deal with it, and I got a closer look. It was a small red crayfish. I wouldn’t have recognized it, except that some months ago, I actually saw a much bigger crayfish at Stow Lake. The gull gobbled it down before I could even whip out my camera.
A flight of birds passed overhead, looking somewhat like swans and calling to each other. Then I realized it was actually Canada Geese, bleached by mist and twilight. They swept around and landed on the lake.
From Strawberry Hill, a Great Horned Owl called softly It sounded tentative, almost thoughtful. Probably just waking up and wanted its coffee.
On the other side of the lake, we noticed some black-and-white critters contrasting with the broad yellowish bare path on Strawberry Hill. Though the light was now quite poor, I looked carefully and realized it was a Mama Skunk with two kittens, hurrying along the path and occasionally detouring off it. Then I saw a bushy tail on our side, but it quickly hid amid the rocks at the lake-edge. It may be in the picture below – or not.
We passed the old stone bridge, and then, on cue at 7.55 p.m, I saw a bat, followed soon by several others. I tried for a photograph, but as usual, got only some smudges. (My technique is to point my camera in their general direction and keep clicking madly.) Spot the bats?
The geese took off in small flocks, flying away to an unknown destination – maybe the Botanic Garden. It was so quiet I could hear the whistle of the wind in their wings.
Further along, the city noises returned – the rush of traffic along the 19th avenue intersecting the park. It was back to our car, and back to the real world.
Sadly, Oskar the dachshund who was poisoned by the strychnine-laced meatballs, has died. The veterinary clinic did their best to save him, but lost the battle.
The poisoner/s remains at large. There’s a $5,000 reward for information leading to their arrest. This dastardly crime could affect almost any animal or bird or even human – the police determine there was so much strychnine they advised against handling the meatballs without gloves. [Edited to Add: If you have information, call the police at (415) 242 3000 – Lieutenant Pengel or Inspector Nannery – or the Animal Legal Defense Fund at (707) 795-2533, ext. 1010]
Meanwhile, Oskar’s treatment was hugely expensive. Already facing the tragic loss of her pet, his owner shouldn’t be left holding the bill for a crime that hits all of us as a community. I’m not a dog-owner, but I am using my donation to protest this horrible act. If you would like to do the same, here’s the Paypal link.
The veterinary clinic, Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services, notes on their Facebook page: “Donations can be submitted through the paypal site, as well as in person at the hospital via credit card. We regret that at this time we cannot accept checks. “
[Edited to Add: They’re at 1333 9th Avenue, San Francisco, California 94122; the phone number is (415) 566-0540 and they’re always open.]
[Edited to Add 2: In response to some questions from readers, I asked AIMSS what the target amount was, whether the funds would go directly to reducing the liability of Oskar’s owner, and what would happen to excess donations if the target was crossed. Here’s what AIMSS said:
“Hey, Thanks for helping Oskar’s mom! So Oskar’s bill was capped by the hospital when it reached $26,000. All funds raised go directly to Oskar’s medical cost. If we go over the target amount we will donate any additional funds to SF Aid for Animals.” ]
The San Francisco Park Station Police have put out an alert. There’s a poisoner loose who’s apparently trying to kill dogs. One dog is still seriously ill, and some wildlife has died. This message has been going out on the Yahoo Group, NextDoor and Facebook, but here is the official alert.
Any questions please contact the Park Station Investigations Team at 415-242-3000.