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Although we have preferences, we like all trees and we don’t like to see any healthy tree destroyed. Unfortunately, others believe their preference for certain trees justifies the destruction of those they don’t like.
The purpose of this blog is to inform the San Francisco Bay Area of the destruction of trees and to confront the rationale for their destruction.
We will describe the projects in the San Francisco Bay Area that have destroyed or are planning to destroy over a half million trees. There are probably many other projects of which we are unaware. We invite you to tell us about the projects that you know about.
Tree Destruction Projects in the East Bay
East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) is the public utility that supplies our water in the East Bay. To accomplish that task, EBMUD manages 28,000 acres of watershed land. Like most open space in the Bay Area, the vegetation on EBMUD’s land is a mix of native and non-native species.
Status: EBMUD is revising its Master Plan. The draft Master Plan renews its commitment to destroy eucalyptus and Monterey pines in favor of native vegetation. These tree removals will increase EBMUD’s use of pesticides, which is already considerable. The draft Master Plan is available HERE. Public comment on the draft Master Plan closed in September 2016. The final Master Plan update has not yet been published as of March 2017.
The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) approved the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” and its Environmental Impact Review in 2009. The implementation of this plan will remove most eucalypts, Monterey pines, and acacia from 1,653 acres. All eucalypts will be removed in some areas, thinned to a distance of 25 feet in some areas, and thinned to distances of 35 feet in other areas. The average tree density after implementation would be approximately 60 trees per acre. The District’s response to comments on the EIR reports that the density of eucalypts is presently from 400 to 900 trees per acre, which averages to 650 trees per acre. Using these before and after tree densities, we estimate that about 400,000 eucalypts would be removed.
After a lengthy attempt to negotiate a less destructive approach to fire hazard mitigation, Hills Conservation Network has announced that they have filed a lawsuit against EBRPD. Update: HCN announced in its October 2011 newsletter that it has settled with the East Bay Regional Park District and withdrawn its suit. Details of that settlement are available in the HCN newsletter. HCN’s suit against EBRPD is not to be confused with their new suit of 2015 against the funding of FEMA grants to EBRPD, UC Berkeley, and City of Oakland (see below). Update November 2016: HCN’s lawsuit against funding of FEMA grants was settled in September 2016. FEMA grants to EBRPD were not cancelled by that settlement, which cancelled FEMA grants to UCB and City of Oakland.
UC Berkeley applied for FEMA grants in collaboration with the City of Oakland and East Bay Regional Park District which would remove approximately one-half million non-native trees from over 2,000 acres of public land. (This includes the EBRPD project described above. FEMA’s analysis includes the portion of that project for which FEMA grant funding has not been requested, which prevents us from separating the funded and unfunded portions of the project.)
Thousands of gallons of herbicides will be needed to prevent the non-native trees from resprouting and eradicate non-native vegetation. Twenty percent of the project area would be covered in as much as 2 feet of wood chips in addition to the trunks and limbs of the large trees that are destroyed. Prescribed burns will be needed to burn excess wood and eradicate non-native vegetation. These projects are described here.
Update March 17, 2017: In September 2016, FEMA cancelled grant funding of tree removals on properties of UC Berkeley and City of Oakland in settlement of the lawsuit filed by Hills Conservation Network. UC Berkeley tried to proceed with their projects using their own fund sources. Hills Conservation Network (HC) sued UC Berkeley (UCB) on the grounds that their project requires an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). HCN was granted an injunction that prohibited UCB from proceeding with their project without an EIR. UCB did not challenge that injunction. That means that UCB has two options: UCB can revise their plans to be significantly less destructive so that an EIR will not be required or they can complete an EIR. At this time, UCB’s intentions are not known.
Action Opportunity: The City of Oakland has decided to revise their plans for “vegetation management” to address fire hazards. They have engaged a consultant to develop a Vegetation Management Plan for Oakland over a three year period, ending November 2019. That contract makes commitments for public input into that long process. Please visit the website for that project (https://oaklandvegmanagement.org/) and sign up to be notified of the public meetings. The first public meetings are on March 29 (at Dunsmuir Historic Estate, 2960 Peralta Oaks, Oakland) and March 30 from 5-7 pm (Trudeau Center, 11500 Skyline Blvd, Oakland). If you want your viewpoint to be reflected in these plans, you MUST PARTICIPATE!
UC Berkeley describes on its website completed “vegetation management” projects since 2000. Not all of the descriptions include acreage and number of trees. Those projects that are quantified report the removal of nearly 18,000 non-native trees on over 150 acres.
Status: Done. These trees are gone. Visit the Hills Conservation Network website to see photos of these projects.
Tree Destruction Projects in San Francisco
The Natural Areas Program (now called Natural Resources Division) of the City of San Francisco has destroyed thousands of trees in the city’s parks since the program began in 1995. The management plan for the Natural Areas Program was approved in 2006. The plan proposes to destroy an additional 18,500 trees over 15 feet tall and untold numbers of smaller trees that the plan chooses not to define as trees.
The Draft Environmental Impact Review (EIR) of the Natural Areas Program (DEIR) was published on August 31, 2011. The public comment period for the DEIR has closed.
Status March 17, 2017: On December 15, 2016, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission approved the management plan for the Natural Areas Program and the San Francisco Planning Commission approved the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the plan. The San Francisco Forest Alliance appealed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to reverse the approval of the EIR. On February 28, 2017, the Board of Supervisor upheld the approval of the EIR by the Planning Commission. That is the end of a 20-year effort to prevent the implementation of the plans, which will destroy over 18,500 trees and continue to use herbicides to destroy non-native plants for the next 20 years. Please subscribe to the blog of the San Francisco Forest Alliance (sfforest.org) for occasional updates on the status of specific projects in the 32 “natural areas.”
University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) originally intended to destroy most of the non-native trees on the 66 acres of Mount Sutro. They applied for a FEMA grant to implement those plans based on their claim that the Sutro Forest is a fire hazard. They withdrew their grant application after FEMA asked for evidence that the forest is a fire hazard.
Then, UCSF did an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to complete the project with their own funding in February 2013. UCSF put their plans on hold in response to the public’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to the EIR. They also made a commitment at that time to stop using pesticides in the Sutro Forest, which they have continued to honor.
Status: They began a process of developing a new plan with the help of a Technical Committee composed of professional arborists. The new plan was significantly less destructive than the original plans. However, native plant advocates lobbied heavily to push the plans back in the direction of the original plans. The new plans are more to the liking of native plant advocates. The plans are described HERE by Save Mount Sutro Forest.
Action Opportunity: UCSF is now developing a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the new plans. Please subscribe to Save Sutro Mount Forest (https://sutroforest.com/) to be notified of opportunities for the public to comment on the new EIR.
Tree Destruction Projects on Federal Lands
The federal government is one of the largest landowners in the Bay Area. In addition to Golden Gate National Recreation Area (75,500 acres), Point Reyes National Seashore (28,800 acres), and Muir Woods National Monument, the Presidio in San Francisco is presently controlled by a non-profit trust. These entities have engaged in extensive tree-removal on the public lands they control. Information available on their websites does not enable us to quantify the acres or trees that have been removed or are planned for removal in the future. Therefore, we will describe those projects in the broad terms available to us.
There are two main categories of tree-destruction projects on these federal lands. There are large-scale restoration efforts that have required the removal of all non-native vegetation, including trees. The restoration of Redwood Creek in Marin County is an example of such a project. This project was intended to benefit several endangered species, such as Coho salmon. Non-native vegetation was removed from the project area. Some of the logs of the eucalypts that were cut down were used to create deep pools in the creek bed that were said to benefit the Coho salmon and potentially the Red-Legged frog which didn’t exist there prior to the project.
As destructive as this picture looks, these restorations are usually successful because they are intensively planted. Unlike most managers of public lands, the National Park Service has the resources to replant natives after non-native plants and trees are removed. The projects are often fenced and sometimes they are irrigated long enough to establish the plants. And NPS has the volunteer resources to weed these restorations when they are completed. When restorations are successful they are usually less controversial, although recreational users sometimes react to access restrictions imposed by some restorations.
The other, larger category of tree-removal projects on these federal lands are the so-called “fuel management projects.” We say, “so-called” because as we have said in “Fire!! The Cover Story“, we believe that the flammability of non-native plants and trees is exaggerated in order to justify their destruction. The claim that native plants and trees are less flammable is also spurious.
These projects are more controversial because they are not usually replanted. Therefore, unsightly, weedy messes are often the result. The Marin Independent Journal reported the opposition to these projects in the Tamalpais Valley, “The lack of restoration in the area when eucalyptus trees were removed after a 12-acre fire in 2004 left the hillside ‘looking like hell,’…” according to Peter Sorcher, a neighbor of the project. Mr. Sorcher also understands the function the eucalypts are performing for his community: “’What people are not taking into account is how it’s going to affect the quality of life here. They [eucalypts] act as a big wind buffer and the fog gets caught up in here.’” Mr. Sorcher added in a private communication that the trees are also providing a privacy screen and a sound buffer from the busy highway through their neighborhood.
We count 8 of these “fuel management” projects on GGNRA property and 8 in the Pt Reyes National Seashore, but the acreage of these projects is not reported, so we can’t estimate the number of trees that will be removed. The number of these projects has recently increased significantly because of the availability of federal stimulus funding, a dubious use of such funding in our opinion.
Projects along roads will apparently remove all trees within 30 feet of the roads. Further from roads, all trees with trunks less than 18” in diameter will be removed. The sole example of such thinning we could find on the websites, says that the density of trees was reduced from 1,600 trees per acre to 256 trees per acre, a loss of over 1,300 trees per acre.
We were told by NPS staff in a telephone inquiry that most trees were chipped after being cut down and the chips then distributed on site. As the chips decay, they will release the tons of carbon that were stored in the trees as they grew. thereby contributing to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.
We were unable to determine which herbicides are used to kill the roots of the trees after they are cut down. This information was not available on websites. After repeated calls and referrals to many NPS staff, we were unable to find anyone who knew (or was willing to say) what herbicides are used for this purpose. Unless we are told otherwise by the NPS, we will assume that Garlon is used, as it is by other land managers in the Bay Area. We reported the toxicity of Garlon in our post about herbicides.
We have little first-hand knowledge of these projects. Therefore, we invite comments from those with more information about them.