KILLER TREES!!! Scare Tactic #3

We have recently learned of another tree removal project in the Bay Area.  In this case, the San Leandro Creek Tree Management Project by the Alameda County Flood Control & Water Conservation District proposes to destroy about 50 eucalypts in the short run and approximately 1,000 more in the long run.  All eucalypts will be removed.  All other species of trees will remain.

St. Mary’s Ave: Try to picture this neighborhood without any of the tall trees in the background.

In this case the apparent “cover story” for yet another native plant restoration is that the trees are hazardous.  As we have said in other posts, native plant advocates have had difficulty convincing the public—and therefore their political representatives–of the need to destroy non-native trees and plants and so they have frequently resorted to scary cover stories.   Particularly in the East Bay, the most powerful argument has been the claim that the trees are flammable.  The argument heard more commonly in San Francisco, where there is no history of wildfire, is that the trees are invasive and are killing native plants.  Fortunately, there is scientific evidence that these claims are not accurate.

Native plant advocates also claim that eucalypts are more dangerous than other trees.  However, the public record indicates that every species of tree—both native and non-native—can fall.  The most recent “death-by-tree”  in San Francisco occurred on April 14, 2008, when a visitor to Stern Grove was killed by a huge branch from a Redwood tree that had been judged to be hazardous by a certified arborist 5 years earlier.  Unfortunately, the arborist’s report was ignored, resulting in the needless death of a young woman in the prime of her life.  The City of San Francisco paid her family $650,000 for their negligence…a waste of a life and the taxpayer’s money for a death that could have been easily prevented.

Tragic events such as this make it clear that we should not oppose the destruction of hazardous trees.  Unfortunately, that is a judgment that is not clear-cut or irrefutable.  When native plant advocates demand the destruction of non-native trees, we are deeply suspicious of the claim that the trees are hazardous.  In the case of the San Leandro Creek project, it is simply not credible that every eucalyptus is hazardous, but not any other species of tree in the watershed. 

After many years of being put in the awkward position of evaluating the truth of such claims, we have concluded that we trust only the judgment of certified arborists, but not those paid to destroy the trees.  There are a handful of arborists whom we know not to be biased against non-native trees, especially eucalypts.  If we are told by these arborists that a particular tree is hazardous, we accept that judgment.

The neighbors of the San Leandro Creek who were about to lose many of the trees they love, organized and fought back.  They protested the removals not just because they love their trees, but also because the project was invisible to them until the Alameda County Flood Control & Water Conservation District granted itself a categorical exemption from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements for an environmental review.  Short of a legal suit there was little that could be done to stop the project except scream.  So, that’s what they did.

What is unique about this project is that the neighbors have prevailed.  For the moment, it appears that this project has been halted.  The Flood Control District has apparently agreed to step back, start over, and involve the neighbors before implementing their plans.  We should all learn from this experience.  We must speak up for our trees when they are threatened with needless destruction.
Million Trees usually reports such projects directly from the public record.  In this case, we have access to little of the public record.  We have asked the Water District’s representative for answers to many questions about this project, but have not received answers.  We are therefore reporting based on what little documentation is available on line, reports of the neighbors, and one media report .  We invite any needed corrections to this report and we will correct any errors, based on verifiable documentation.
Update:  We are pleased to tell you that this controversy was finally resolved to the satisfaction of the neighbors of San Leandro Creek.  Neighbors forced the county to do another evaluation of the trees in the creek.  As a result, plans to destroy as many as 1,000 eucalyptus trees were finally reduced to a total of 17 trees deemed hazardous. 
Glen Drive: What will this property be worth after the tall trees are removed? Significantly less.

17 thoughts on “KILLER TREES!!! Scare Tactic #3”

  1. While my family doesn’t live by the creek, we live in San Leandro, and that neighborhood is visited by many who live in other cities but study at Aikido of San Leandro (we are there 5-6 days a week) and shop at Estudillo Produce and other businesses. Those trees are a precious, precious part of this city, and this region. People at the community meeting Wednesday night expressed the deep passion felt around the Bay Area for trees and wildlife.

    We hope people come to understand that the “nativist” agenda originated under Hitler, literally, with a man in place to remove all “foreign” vegetation, and invasive species councils originated with pesticide companies which benefit directly by convincing municipalities and agencies such as Alameda County Public Works which planned to fell the SL Creek trees, to apply these toxics to get rid of non-native plants. At the same time, no one is against people’s use of native plants around homes or added where there is no vegetation, or in place of lawns, for instance; we just need to understand that destroying trees in favor of other trees or other plant life is a foolhardy plan. We need trees as air filters, and they are home to a variety of wildlife, and they help prevent the erosion of hillsides being seen in Tilden Park where UC has been clearcutting and applying a variety of toxic herbicides over the years as part of this “nativist” campaign.

  2. My name is Mark Bowman.

    I am a local ISA certified arborist in Berkeley; and have been involved with the tree care industry for 31 years. I specialize in pathogen diagnosis and structural stability issues pertaining to trees and shrubs. I was hired by residents of Estudillo Estates to do a quick walk-through of the Saint Mary’s grove and give my impressions. I informed them that I never let politics get in the way of my assessments and that I view Eucalyptus like any other tree. Being that they are considered non-native and/or “weeds” means nothing to me. A tree is a tree and it is my job to determine whether or not it is hazardous. I attended and spoke at the meeting on Wednesday, May 19, 2010. Because of the high citizen turnout, and interest in the San Leandro Creek “Hazard Tree” abatement program, I was not able to question in detail the representatives from the water district and their arborists as I had hoped; there simply was not enough time. However, I did get responses to a few of my questions which I believe are critical to this discussion; the responses confirmed:

    1) There were no wood-rotting organisms discovered on any of the Eucalyptus trunks or root flares.

    2) There are no man-made disturbances to any of the root systems. (No root pruning or construction injury which would reduce the overall mass of the root systems and their ability to support the trees.)

    3) No Eucalyptus trees in the St. Mary’s corridor have failed since the 1999 survey, which stated specifically that 400 trees were considered dangerous and in need of removal.

    4) Eucalyptus trees are good compartmentalizers and effectively resist the spread of decay organisms.

    5) One of the major reasons the 12 point hazard rating system was not used was because it was “difficult to identify the target”.

    6} 25 of 31 trees need to be removed because of high hazard.

    7) None of the “native” species need to be removed.

    Following are a few of the most important criteria for determining whether a tree is deemed “hazardous” :

    1) Are there decay organisms present on the root flares or bowl of the tree?
    2) Have the roots been disturbed in any way?
    3) What is the size of the part most likely to fail?
    4)What is the likelihood of failure based on the aforementioned criteria?
    5)What is in the target path of the tree should it fail?

    Based on the knowledge I gained on my brief walk-through of the Saint Mary’s corridor, and the responses to my questions at the May 19th meeting, I will state that, in my opinion as a certified arborist, the criteria needed to condemn the vast majority of these trees has not been met.

    Over the years I have been a participant from both sides of this issue, and I have never seen a situation where 80.64% of a grove of any genus of trees needed to be removed without any virulent pathogen, flood, hurricane, fire etc. being responsible for the decline of the stand. These numbers represent an eradication exercise not a hazard tree amelioration. In my professional opinion, if this was truly about protecting the public from “Dangerous Trees”, the numbers would be more in the ballpark of 25 trees should be allowed to remain and 6 should potentially be removed. It was apparent to me that this grove has had very little human intervention. Eucalyptus trees, like all trees neglected for many years, shed branches naturally and in order to keep them from potentially landing on someone’s house, normal pruning and maintenance techniques (which in this case are the responsibility of the County) should be adhered to.

    Mark Bowman
    Mark Bowman Tree Disease Expert
    Berkeley, CA

    1. Thanks so much for speaking up, Mr. Bowman. We very much appreciate your help to shed some light on this situation. We rely on the unbiased expertise of certified arborists to make the painful decision to remove trees we love.

  3. Thanks for this website and to all who commented. This site provides a forum where scientific information, rather than conjectures and ideological biases, can be used to illuminate the subject.

  4. The actual number of eucalyptus trees to be remove is 47. The number represents 100% of all the eucalyptus tress in the three prescribed areas of Saint Mary Avenue, Hass Ave. / Cary Drive footbridge and Huff Ave.

    According to Dr. Woldesenbet, “I have decided that it would be better to re-start a new process that will better engage community members along the creek. To this end, we will arrange for a series of separate meetings with residents along St. Mary’s Avenue, Huff Avenue and Cary Drive. ”

    In my opinion the eucalyptus tree eradication plan is in suspended animation until the formality of holding ‘separate’ area meets with only the residents along the creek adjacent to the work areas can be met. Then the plan will proceed unchanged as originally planned.

    No one won anything in this new approach. We want the county to withdraw the CEQA Exemption they filed and to start a whole new plan that includes all the concerns of the creek residents and the citizens of San Leandro using a system of hazardous tree classification that is not non-native species specific.

  5. You are right about every species of tree having the potential to be a hazard. We looked into California accidents caused by falling trees or branches. We found accidents (and some fatalities) caused by (1) An American elm (2) A redwood (as described above) (3) An oak tree (4) An already-dead Monterey Pine. We didn’t actually find one caused by eucalyptus, which is odd because they’re among the more common trees. The report is here:

    (Scroll down to point #10.)

    We should also point out that other vertical objects also can be hazardous, including buildings and billboards. The probability of being hit by a falling tree is very low.

  6. From a structural standpoint, Blue Gum Eucalyptus has no inherent weakness on any below ground or above ground parts endemic to the species which would make it more prone to failure than any other large tree. PERIOD! The representatives from the County are attempting to make you believe that these trees are so dangerous that there is no other remedial actions which could be undertaken short of complete removal. With that kind of certainty, I would assume that they will be forthcoming with any documentation proving their case. Whenever I submit a report with my diagnosis concerning any tree issue, I encourage scrutiny from any parties involved. That is the only way to hopefully come to an honest understanding as to why specific recommendations are proposed.

  7. We have received a discouraging email from Gary Molitor of the San Leandro Creek Conservation Group. Here is an excerpt from that email:

    “We now know that this plan is not on hold. The county is proceeding forward with the removal of all 47 trees from the creek.
    After talking with others in our group (SLCCG), we now only assume that the County is not considering any action other than to continue with the original plan and that these public meetings are nothing more than a ruse to make it appear the County is interested in a new plan that includes community input.”

  8. On Thursday, July 8, 2010, the San Leandro Times published a letter to the Editor from Maxine Ventura of the “Don’t Spray California” coalition

    With her permission here are excerpts from her letter:
    “Recently, San Leandro Creek neighbors learned of plans to clear-cut three groves of eucalyptus, with plans to cut 1,000 trees over time. They fought back with biology, common sense, and passion for wildlife. Fifteen years ago during El Nino, one tree fell, a dam developed, banks caved in, the county condemned private property, and the ball was rolling for a ‘native plant restoration’ project…The county plans to remove all eucalyptus, use herbicides on stumps…We cannot remove one species without cascading environmental problems. In one SL neighborhood seventy 70-year-old redwoods were removed bordering two housing developments. Raptors are gone, rodents infested households, ambient heat of the neighborhood increased, air quality dramatically decreased, noise from 880 and BART increased.”

  9. The final community meeting about this project has been scheduled for Wednesday, August 25, 2010, 6:30 to 8:00 pm, San Leandro Main Library, Dave Karp Senior Meeting Room.

  10. NEW DEVELOPMENTS reported at:
    County’s Tree Removal Plan Sparks Protest Among Some Residents

    Significant clue on ACPWA-FCD mind set.

    “Flood control manager Hank Ackerman said the public’s negative reaction caught the county off guard.”

    “”To say we were shocked is an understatement,” said Ackerman. “We thought we were going to be heroes.””

    “Molitor, who filed a public records request to gain access to printed e-mails and documents about the project, said the county has so far proven itself unwilling to work with the community on a shared plan.”

    “”Openness has not been there,” he said.”

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