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.
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.