Our urban forest is under siege
According to California Trees (1) the US Forest Service has determined that tree cover in the country’s urban areas is decreasing by 4 million trees a year. Although no research has been done on tree loss throughout California, the US Forest Service reported a one-percent decline in trees and shrubs in Los Angeles despite a big campaign to plant one million trees there.
You might think that the loss of trees in urban areas is the result of increasing development and you would probably be at least partially correct. But many trees are lost for more trivial reasons that we think could be easily prevented. Here are some local examples of trees in the Bay Area that were needlessly destroyed or soon will be.
- The City of Oakland has a “view ordinance” which guarantees homeowners the preservation of their view at the time they purchased their home. This view ordinance was invoked by a resident in the Oakland hills who demanded that her neighbor and the City of Oakland destroy trees obstructing her view. Her neighbor purchased her house because of its forested view. Yet, the desire for a forested view was trumped by her neighbor’s desire for a treeless view. The law required that 25 trees be destroyed on private property and 21 trees on city property in order to restore the view of a 95-year old property owner who no longer lives in her home. When trees are destroyed for such trivial reasons, we should not be surprised by the following compendium of absurd excuses to destroy trees. (The story is here.)
- The people of San Francisco are trying to prevent the destruction of their urban forest which is almost entirely non-native. The City of San Francisco is systematically destroying non-native trees in order to return the landscape to its historical origins as grassland and dune scrub. The latest battle in this long war is a particular park, Glen Canyon, in which the City proposes to destroy about 160 trees in the short -run and 300 trees in the long-run. A handful of the trees are hazardous and aren’t disputed, but most have been evaluated as “poor suitability” which is the latest euphemism used by native plant advocates to describe non-native trees. They propose to replace most of the trees with native shrubs and a few tall trees that are native to California, but not to San Francisco, such as Douglas Fir and Cottonwoods. It remains to be seen if either of these species will survive in San Francisco. Douglas Fir requires more rainfall than San Francisco receives and Cottonwoods are hot-climate trees which don’t tolerate mild temperatures without seasonal fluctuations. We suspect that is the strategy, i.e., to plant trees for the sole purpose of placating the public without any intention that the trees will survive. (The story is here.)
- The space shuttle Endeavor was recently retired from service. Its permanent home is now a museum in Los Angeles, where 400 street trees were destroyed to accommodate the delivery of the space shuttle from the airport to the museum. The neighbors were not pleased, as you might imagine. They unfortunately live in a blighted part of Los Angeles, so they didn’t have the clout needed to save their trees. Do you think these trees would have been destroyed in Beverly Hills? We doubt it. (The story is here.)
- The neighbors of Dimond Park in Oakland are trying to save the trees in their park from being destroyed by a “restoration.” We often marvel at the use of the word “restoration” to describe projects which are more accurately described as “destruction.” This is yet another native plant project, which is hell bent to remake nature to its liking. In this case 42 trees would be destroyed, of which 27 are native, including 17 redwood trees. Please help the neighbors save their trees by signing their petition which is available here.
- Finally, we share the story of a property owner on 65th St in Oakland who with a great deal of courage and tenacity was able to save most of the street trees on her block from being destroyed by the City of Oakland. The trees weren’t posted as required by Oakland’s ordinance. The crew who came to cut them down couldn’t tell her why they were being cut down, nor could they tell her who owned the trees. We encourage you to read her story because it will give you a brief lesson on the difficulty of advocating against the needless destruction of trees.
Deforestation causes climate change
We have been accumulating these stories in the past few months, but are finally inspired to share them with our readers because of the recent storm on the East Coast, Sandy, which caused over $50 billion in damage and the lives of over 100 people. What’s the connection? The connection is that Sandy has finally forced people to take the threats of climate change more seriously.
When will this new interest in climate change translate to an interest in saving our trees? Probably not soon, because few people understand that globally, deforestation contributes 20% of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. The public and its elected representatives are focused primarily on transportation as the source of climate change. Transportation contributes only 10% of greenhouse gases globally.
Here in California, we are gearing up to put our climate change law (AB 32) into action by creating a cap and trade auction which will enable emitters of greenhouse gases to purchase carbon offsets. Ironically, one of the things that carbon emitters can do to offset their contribution to greenhouse gases is to plant trees. Yet, those who destroy trees are not being required to purchase carbon offsets. Until the people who destroy trees are required to pay for the damage they do to the environment, we are unlikely to see a change in the cavalier attitude that governments seem to have about destroying trees.
(1) California Trees, Winter 2012, Vol 20, no 2