is golden gate park an urban forest?!

Here’s an interesting puzzle!  Friends of the Urban Forest is creating an urban forest map of San Francisco that omits Golden Gate Park (the project also omits the other parks in the city, including the Presidio).

I understand the reasoning:  FUF is all about street trees.  However, it would be easier to ignore this omission if there were an equivalent map of the urban forest in Golden Gate Park.  Does such a document exist?!

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day looking for such a document in the archive that Elizabeth McClintock left at the Academy of Sciences (in the research library).  I did not find anything resembling a tree inventory or a map of the trees of Golden Gate Park.   However, I did come across a proposal she wrote for a tree inventory of the park in 1983.  This proposal, apparently incomplete and never funded, begins with the sentence:  “One of the remarkable features of Golden Gate Park is the large number of species of trees that make up the park’s urban forest.” [italics added]  She then contrasts the original sand dunes on the site with the “forest” planted by the park’s creators and bemoans the lack of record-keeping during that effort.

But she did extract from early Park Commissioners’ Reports some remarkable lists of trees that were planted, including a list from the 1893 Commissioners’ Report:  6,334 Monterey cypresses (Cupressus macrocarpa), 1,833 Monterey pines (Pinus radiata), 27,467 specimens of Leptospermum laevigatum, 30 black acacias (Acacia melanoxylon), 1,860 plume albizias (Albizia lophantha) and probably over 400 Maritime pines (Pinus pinaster).  She also mentioned the 1924 Park Commissioners’ Report, which contains a 14-page Catalogue of Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Evergreen Ground Covers, etc., Growing in Golden Gate Park.  “A story without words, of the development of the park’s forest during the more than 25 years between the two reports,” she noted.

When McClintock drafted this proposal for a tree inventory, the park’s urban forest had matured and the need to replace old trees was recognized (the Golden Gate Park Forest Management Plan was adopted in 1980).  She called for an inventory to aid in the reforestation process.  Noting that she and some colleagues had started a tree survey in the park in the 1960s, but only covered the western part of the park, identifying 97 species of trees, she estimated that roughly 200 species existed in the park at that time.  McClintock proposed completing the inventory she and her colleagues had started and expressed “hope that a few others might also be interested.”

This was nearly 30 years ago.  I don’t think this proposal went anywhere (readers, please weigh in if you have information about this!)?  I’m thinking that Golden Gate Park could benefit enormously from a Geographic Information System (GIS) map that includes a complete tree inventory, as well as information about the understory plantings, topography, infrastructure, etc. Wouldn’t this be a perfect project for grant funding?  Like Elizabeth McClintock, I wonder if a few others might be interested in this.  Surely the time is right for such a project!?


About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
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5 Responses to is golden gate park an urban forest?!

  1. RKB says:

    A GGPark tree map would be an amazing project. I wonder if there aren’t already free tools to start a wiki-type effort, maybe in Google maps? The Parks Trust might be able to do something here?

  2. milliontrees says:

    Have you tried the library at the Arboretum? This little treasure trove was lovingly tended by Barbara Pitschel who died just a few months ago. She and her husband, Roland, were active in the California Native Plant Society and tended the native plants on Bernal Hill–where they lived–for many years. Their death has been a severe blow to the local chapter.

    The Recreation and Park Dept accepted a major proposal from Hort Science for tree maintenance in the parks in February 2010, I believe. The minutes of that meeting are available on line and make fascinating reading for those who are interested in the trees in our parks. I was very relieved to see a commitment in those minutes to taking care of hazardous trees of which there are thousands in our parks. I’m sure the Hort Science report could be obtained with a public record’s request.

  3. Georgia says:

    Have you contacted the Forest Service? The Northern Research Station published an urban forest* analysis of the City in 2007.

    * commercial/industrial (20 plots), institutional (10 plots), street/right-of-way (30 plots), open space (65 plots), residential (58 plots), vacant (11 plots).

  4. Mark J. Ambrose says:

    The point of the Urban Forest Map is that it starts with data that the city has available and allows others to add data about additional trees (such as trees in their yards) as well as update information on trees in the city’s database. Presumably the park trees are missing because no one has data on them in electronic form or the data is not geographically referenced.

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