There is a new threat facing trees in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that in September, park officials noticed 28 young trees that were damaged. While 28 may not sound like a lot of trees when you think how many trees are in a rural forest, in an urban forest, each tree is crucial. Then, there is the oddity of the event: In a normal year, 20 to 30 years are reported damaged in Golden Gate, but somehow, 28 trees were damaged in just one night. Fast forward to May 21 and more than 200 trees have been damaged throughout the park. An atypical number, which when combined with how the trees are being damaged, indicates something sinister is afoot.

Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park. Credit: Daniel Ramirez

The damage reported on the Golden Gate trees is not simply a fallen or sheared limb from natural causes. Large portions of the tops of trees are snapped off, and this causes the trees to rot or become infected with a life-ending disease. These high numbers of tree battery lead park workers to the conclusion that some tree-killing lowlifes are sneaking around the park at night to do their dirty work. It is estimated that the damage done is around $50,000.

Most of the trees damaged were just three to five years old, meaning they were just reaching the stage of self-sufficiency — a major accomplishment, as tree survival is also a major challenge for restoration projects. In many reforestation efforts, it is important to plant more trees than necessary because not all the trees will survive so when an outside force comes in like this and takes out the survivors, it is especially heartbreaking. Reforestation projects involve more time and effort than many realize. Digging holes and plopping in trees is the fun part of reforestation, but for true success, there is a continued commitment to caring for trees for many years after they are planted.

Above is a depressing story of trees being destroyed with no silver lining. Elsewhere in San Francisco, arborists have made the best of a potential sad story. A strong windstorm caused a city-dwelling tree to crack under the pressure. Instead of simply cutting the sidewalk-adjacent tree to make a flat, boring stump, though, the tree was cut by someone in the San Francisco Department of Public Works in such a way that it is now a small seat for weary city walkers (Check out the story from The Atlantic Cities to see a picture of the new “bench.”). Eventually, the stump will be removed, but on the bright side, another tree will be planted in its place. Now, if only someone can catch and stop those pesky tree vandals from destroying the urban forest the city is working so hard to create for its residents.