By Wilson Walker

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The long-running debate over the dead and dying trees of Sutro Forest in San Francisco has taken a new turn.

For years, UCSF – which owns the land – has said a quarter of the trees were already dead.

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The university claims the forest could be wiped out if nothing is done.

“About 24 percent of the trees are standing dead. More are dying,” UCSF spokesperson Christine Gasparac told KPIX 5. “We need to take action now to protect the safety of neighbors and people who use the preserve.”

After nearly two decades of debate, the chainsaws may finally be coming for Sutro Forest. UCSF recently finalized a 1,000 page environmental impact report, detailing everything from which trees will go to when the work will be done to how many workers will be in the forest.

“The first thing we need to do is remove the dead and dying trees so that we can create space to plant the new ones and regenerate the forest,” said Gasparac.

One the first spots targeted for vegetation management is along East Ridge Trail. The report actually gives offers a simulation of what this spot will look like once the dead and dying trees are taken out.

“The conditions have declined so severely in the reserve that we need to take action now,” explained Gasparac.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment.

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Professor Emeritus Dr. Morley Singer spent his career teaching at UCSF. Now he’s just one of the neighbors opposed to tree removal.

“There’s no urgency. Absolutely no urgency,” said Singer. “They plan to cut roads through here, to allow big trucks in to haul away dead trees.”

This is the debate that’s gone on for years. Forest management plans are drawn up, and then there’s the reaction.

“It’s perfectly fine to leave it alone. It’s thrived without any help for over 100 years,” argued Singer.

But this latest report might signal a new chapter, as the university’s patience is wearing thin. Opponents of reforestation may be running out of time.

“Once we respond to the comments and certify the report, we’ll be begin implementation later this fall,” said Gasparac.

Dr. Singer still had a wait-and-see attitude given the history of inaction.

“18 years ago they said they were starting in two weeks, and they haven’t done anything yet,” said Singer.

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The public can weigh in at a hearing on August 24th. Final approval is up to the UCSF Chancellor.