A few days ago we received a comment from a fellow tree-lover and student of the forest that deserves our attention. He visited the project areas that may soon be cleared of all non-native trees and expressed his opinion of this planned devastation. With his permission, we are posting his comment as an article.
His name is Deane Rimerman and he describes himself as “Hybrid Car Geek, PNW Landscape Restorationist, Web Builder, Arborist, Writer, Poem Performer, Life-long Photographer & Audio Engineer” on his website.
Yesterday I toured the Oakland hills for the first time since I visited it a week after the 1991 fires. That torched landscape turned me into a lifelong student of the forest. So after my visit back to those hills yesterday I started reading everything I could about these FEMA plans!
In the interest of providing the most value I’ll focus on what’s not been mentioned yet in the debates I’ve read on this website thus far. Primarily it revolves around moisture and the value of tall standing trees for the purpose of capturing fog drip during the dry season.
I once worked with a forester named Rudolph Becking on studies that show 200 foot tall old growth redwoods can capture up to 7 inches of fog drip during the dry season. The biggest tallest eucalyptus,and pines, invasive or not also have the ability to do this. And if we’re talking about fire safety don’t we want to increase humidity in soil and in the air during the hottest driest times of the year? If the answer is yes, that can be done by protecting sites that are most exposed to fog in the dry season.
Also eucalyptus are huge water users only when they are young and exposed to full sun, but like most trees, once in a closed canopy forest they consume far less water during the dry season compared to open canopy forests.
Point being, we need to maintain landscapes that don’t dry out because plant and tree diversity won’t thrive and really aggressive invasive weeds will take over if we don’t intentionally map out and seek to protect the highest existing levels of soil moisture. The SF Bay Area climate is very arid. If a time of drought were to coincide with this fire hazard removal plan, we could have a mass die-off native species and an even greater shift to drought tolerant non-native weeds that will eliminate most biodiversity.
And regardless of drought, desert like alterations to the landscape is what happens when we lose too much shade and moisture all at once. Many native plants growing under semi-shade conditions right now can’t survive if all the non-natives are clearcut or near clearcut as proposed in this plan.
Also what is missing from this landscape is lots of tall dead trees that act as bioreactors for flora fauna and rhizo diversity. Tall dead trees are like a bank account for future healthy soil, homes for so many birds and bugs too. There is a great poverty of standing deadwood on this landscape, yet no significant mention of snag retention and snag creation in this plan. If we cut down all the largest live and dead standing trees there will be no large downed log recruitment for another century and that would be a misguided tragedy that will further impoverish the soil.
In a word: DIVERSITY. You don’t have to cut down all the trees to increase diversity. We could have thousands of us spending every winter in these hills replanting hundreds of different species of native plants, as well as clearing weeds away from existing native plants in a low-impact site-specific way. This of course is a labor intensive approach and humans have been manipulating these hills for thousands of years in very labor intensive ways.
In my view we’ve neglected these lands for too long and it’s about time we get back to all of us working together as volunteers meant to cultivate a garden of biodiversity with an eye toward carbon absorption and keeping as high as possible soil moisture and air moisture in order to prevent catastrophic fires.
But instead in this plan we see the usual lazy, super aggressive approach in which a forester, whose job is to cut down forests, is asked to solve our problems. And without any site-specific observation of fog drip and areas of high soil moisture in the dry season we log the forests as quickly and cheaply as possible thinking if we do it severely enough we won’t ever have to come in and fix anything ever again.
The homeowner version of these two approaches is akin to one homeowner who makes their landscape beautiful with hard work and lots of hands-on low impact cultivation of plant and tree diversity without herbicides. And then we have the other lazy homeowner who hates his yard and weedwacks his yard to bare ground every other year thinking once he does it one more time (and even more severely this time with extra herbicide) he won’t ever have to do it again.
And habitat-wise, if we inoculate eucalyptus and pine with heart wood rot to create cavities for habitat we will help fuel the whole food chain, not to mention create homes for myriad species.
And to all the folks who say these hills were mostly shrub oak and grassland I say that natural ecosystems in this region were mosaics of conifer and hardwood woodlands amongst mosaics of shrublands and small grassy meadows and it was all maintained by humans who for thousands of years used fire to maximize productivity in traditional cultivation areas. Those cultivation practices were based on specific sites where species grew best. The current plan as proposed is the antithesis of this. The current plan treats the whole landscape as if there’s very little variability of moisture levels and species compositions. It’s as if the planners know more about growing corn in Iowa than they do about growing an ecosystem in the arid San Francisco Bay Area.
Lastly, the Monterey Pine is entirely native to a landscape that’s less than 100 miles away. And yes some of these pines might be a hybridized New Zealand variety but so what?
I’ll have more to say on all this soon… Maybe a whole website or book perhaps? 🙂
Remember that public comments are due by June 17, 2013. You may submit written comments in several ways:
- Via the project website: http://ebheis.cdmims.com
- By email: EBH-EIS-FEMA-RIX@fema.dhs.gov
- By mail: P.O. Box 72379, Oakland, CA 94612-8579
- By fax: 510-627-7147
These public lands belong to you and the money that will be used to implement these projects is your tax dollars. So, please tell the people who work for you what you think of these projects.