Media coverage of FEMA projects: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Anise Swallowtail butterfly in non-native fennel
Anise Swallowtail butterfly in non-native fennel

The public comment period for the FEMA project in the East Bay that proposes to destroy nearly half a million trees will close on Monday, June 17, 2013, at midnight.  If you want to express your opinion of these projects, it’s time to do so.  Detailed information about the projects and how to comment on them is available HERE.

The projects have drawn quite a bit of media coverage, starting with Beyond the Chron blog in mid-May and quickly picked up by many other internet sources of information.  Most of those internet sources referred their readers to the Million Trees blog for more information.  In May we had over 12,000 visitors to our articles about these projects.

Both the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle covered the story.  The Tribune coverage was appallingly inaccurate and biased.  The Chronicle coverage was more balanced than it usually is about native plant restoration projects, which the Chronicle usually supports without reservation.

The winner of the booby prize for balanced and fair reporting of the projects goes to the Sierra Club Yodeler which expressed its unqualified support for the projects at the same time it demonstrated total ignorance of the projects (or chose to misrepresent them):

  • Sierra Club said, We want to avoid past mistakes, when agencies simply stripped off vegetation and then walked away, leaving the land clear for exotic and even more-flammable vegetation.”  This is precisely what these projects plan to do…destroy everything then walk away without planting anything.
  • Sierra Club said, The Park District is now implementing that program, and we are monitoring the progress.”  If they are monitoring that program, why don’t they know what the Park District is doing?
  • Sierra Club said, The preferred alternative involves application of the herbicide glyphosate (trade name Roundup) to the stumps to prevent re-sprouting. There is no practical way to eliminate eucalyptus infestations without herbicide, and glyphosate is relatively low in toxicity.”  The Sierra Club is simply wrong.  These projects will use Garlon (with active ingredient triclopyr) and/or Stalker (with active ingredient imazapyr)—not glyphosate (Roundup)–to prevent the trees from resprouting.  Both products are rated by the EPA as more toxic, more persistent, and more mobile in the soil than glyphosate.  Glyphosate (Roundup) will be foliar sprayed on non-native vegetation.  Recent studies report that glyphosate (Roundup) is not a benign pesticide.

There are some scathing comments on the Yodeler article from people who know enough about the project plans to inform the Club that they have run off the rails…into the weeds!!  The Club seems not to have noticed this attempt to set them straight.  When someone called them weeks later to ask about the projects, they repeated the same misinformation to the caller.

(Update:  One of our readers informed the Sierra Club of the inaccuracy of its Yodeler report about the FEMA projects in the East Bay (see comment below).  We are pleased to report that the Sierra Club has revised its Yodeler report on June 19, 2013.  It now acknowledges that native plants will not be planted by these projects.  Consistent with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for these projects, the Yodeler now claims that native plants will be “recruited” into the areas in which non-native plants and trees will be destroyed. 

We think that is an unlikely outcome of these projects and FEMA’s environmental consultant agrees with us about that (explained here).  However, at least the Yodeler article is now consistent with the written plans for the project. 

The Yodeler also acknowledges the use of Garlon to kill the roots of the trees that will be destroyed.

Thanks to our readers for alerting the Sierra Club to the inaccuracy of their description of this project.  We are sorry that the Sierra Club continues to support the project now that they have a better understanding of the written plans. 6/19/13) 

Owl nesting in eucalyptus, courtesy
Owl nesting in eucalyptus, courtesy

On the positive side of the ledger, we commend the East Bay Express for its article about these projects.  The author deserves credit for actually reading about the projects before she wrote her report!!!  She read the letter from FEMA’s environmental consultant which we reported to our readers here.  In a nutshell, the consultant said that UC Berkeley’s project could increase fire hazards by leaving a 2-foot wood chip mulch on the ground and that conversion to a native landscape was an improbable outcome of the project since nothing will be planted.

Song Sparrow in non-native wild radish
Song Sparrow in non-native wild radish

Our personal favorite for coverage of this project is Nathan J. Winograd’s article, “Biological Xenophobia:  The Environmental Movement’s War on Nature,” which was published by the Huffington Post.   Mr. Winograd is highly qualified to express his opinion of these projects.  He has devoted his personal and professional life to the welfare of animals. He is best known for his advocacy for “no-kill” shelters for our animals.  He was the lawyer for the SPCA in San Francisco when the GGNRA started to destroy non-native trees and fence the public out of their properties to protect their fragile native plant museums.  So, he has been a long-time observer of the destructive and restrictive consequences of native plant projects.  He was prompted to write this article by this latest round of destruction, that is, the FEMA projects in the East Bay.

Here are a few choice phrases from Mr. Winograd’s excellent article:

“Invasion biologists believe that certain plants and animals should be valued more than others if they were at a particular location ‘first.”  When the species that were there ‘first’ are in the same habitat with a species that came later, they assert that the latter should be eradicated.”

 “And the nativist movement is getting worse and increasingly violent, both in rhetoric (fish they don’t value are called ‘missiles with fins’) and in deeds.  At a time of climate change, in a country that needs more trees, not less, nativists in the San Francisco Bay Area are proposing the clear cutting of upwards of half a million trees on San Francisco’s Mount Sutro and in the Oakland and Berkeley hills as part of their ongoing war against the Eucalyptus.  After the trees are clear-cut thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides, will be spread throughout wildlife corridors in order to prevent resprouting.”

An authentic environmentalism would not advocate that humans seek out and destroy living things for simply obeying the dictates of the natural world, such as migration and natural selection. It would not condone the killing of those plants and animals who find themselves in parts of the world where, for whatever arbitrary reason — be they economic, commercial or aesthetic — some humans do not want them to be. An authentic environmentalism would not exacerbate suffering, call for killing and seek the destruction of natural places.”

“Indeed, “invasion biology” is a faux environmentalism, used to disguise the ugly truth about what is really motivating its adherents: an intolerance of the foreign that we have rejected in our treatment of one another, a biological xenophobia that seeks to scapegoat plants and animals for the environmental destruction caused by one species and one species alone: humans.”

There are nearly 500 comments on Mr. Winograd’s article and they are as interesting as the article itself.  They are a microcosm of this debate between nativists and those with a more cosmopolitan view of nature.  We aren’t disinterested observers, so our opinion of the comments of nativists may not be entirely objective.  However, we find many of their comments condescending and uninformed, a contradictory mix of sentiments.

We thank our readers for informing themselves about the FEMA projects and we hope that you now have the information you need to write your public comment by the deadline, June 17, 2013.  Here is where you can send your comment:

  1. Via the project website:
  2. By email:
  3. By mail: P.O. Box 72379, Oakland, CA 94612-8579
  4. 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.

5 thoughts on “Media coverage of FEMA projects: The good, the bad, and the ugly”

  1. Thank you for very helpful information about this secretly planned and almost carried out project that seems more based on hysteria than fact…Herbicides in such massive quantities will not be beneficial in any way that I can comprehend. How about volunteer projects to clear flammable undergrowth … on an on-going, community basis. Or, jobs for homeless??? there has to be a better solution to our fire concerns.

  2. The East Bay Express article points out that the report from URS concurrs that the eucalyptus are a fire hazard and compliments the approach taken by the East Bay Regional Parks, compared to that of UC Berkeley.

    My preference is a for a staged removal of eucalyptus nearest developed areas, the enlistment of neigborhood volunteers to periodically slash back any regrowth of the eucalyptus and the planting of a redwood forest in the cleared areas. The young trees might even need hand watering.

    Whatever is done, residents and building and grounds staff need to be watchful for conditions our local fire inspectors will find objectionable.

    Webmaster: Redwoods will not grow in many locations now occupied by non-native trees that do not require as much water. Redwoods occurred here naturally only in riparian corridors.

    Hand watering them is not realistic. As they get bigger, they will require even more water in locations where there is no water service. Volunteers are a nice idea, but bucket brigades are unlikely to be available for the long term. There is no point in planting trees where they will not survive.

  3. The false story in the Sierra Club Yodeler which you report gets worse. I wrote club officials and the article’s author to point out that 1) the DEIS contains no replanting plans in any of the FEMA projects, and 2) Garlon and Stalker will be used to kill eucalyptus stumps, not Roundup. I didn’t really expect a correction from the Yodeler; journalism isn’t what they do. But the response was truly bizarre: The author cites Dan Grassetti (the leader of the Hills Conservation Network) as quoted in the East Bay Express as his authoritative source for the restoration plans. He gets his information from a journalistic article (which was published AFTER the Yodeler article was published), quoting one of the active opponents of the FEMA DEIS. Not the DEIS! And he doesn’t reply at all to the correction of his false statement about Roundup.

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