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Nativist propaganda: Turning the Easter Bunny into an enemy

August 13, 2013

In our last post, we reviewed Invasive and Introduced Plants and Animals:  Human Perceptions, Attitudes, and Approaches to Management. (1) The main thesis of that collection of scientific articles is that invasion biology is as much a cultural construct as it is a scientific discipline.  Here we provide a specific example of a propaganda campaign in support of an eradication project that illustrates that point.

Rabbits are not native to either Britain or Australia, but they have lived in Britain long enough that they aren’t considered invaders there.  In fact, they are romanticized in British children’s literature and cultural traditions:

Peter Rabbit“The rabbit also is alien [to Britain] but especially following… abandonment of traditional grassland management, is vital in maintaining many species-rich wildflower pastures and hugely important as food for predators such as common buzzards.  And, of course, in 1902 Beatrix Potter gave her fictional rabbit a blue waistcoat, a trug with carrots in it, and the name Peter, and single-handedly generated a huge sentimental  cultural association between humans and rabbits, particularly from our formative experiences as readers of the genre of children’s nature literature.   This one book has sold over 45 million copies worldwide and been translated into 36 languages.  The rabbit has many friends.  Enemies of the rabbit, most especially the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation on Australia…, return to the power of children’s literature to counter the rampant sentimentality for the British invader down under.  Aussie kids are urged (through popular primary school books) to cherish and embrace the native desert marsupial Bilby at Easter time, and to shun the more traditional (but culturally invasive) Easter Bunny.  They eat chocolate Easter Bilbies as part of scientifically sponsored cultural ecological restoration.  There may be a tendency to chuckle at this evidence. But this is serious stuff in an invaded land such as Australia.  Severing cultural ties with rabbits needs to be done at a young age, before the powerful and mentally invasive Beatrix Potter-effect can take hold!” (1)

Propaganda is no laughing matter

Here are a few examples of similar propaganda campaigns that are used in the San Francisco Bay Area to support their destructive projects:

  • Nativists claim they are “managing” the urban forest.  Do you think that word describes the project on Mount Sutro that will destroy 90% of the trees and understory on 75% of the mountain?  Doesn’t “destroying” seem a more accurate description of that project?
  • Nativists often claim they will replace all the non-native trees they destroy with native trees.  Do you think dune scrub and grassland is accurately described as a native “forest?”  Isn’t this a classic fraud of “bait-and-switch?”
  • Sometimes nativists claim that native plants will “regenerate” where non-natives are destroyed without planting anything.  Anyone who believes that has not seen the result of these projects, where weeds reign even when natives are planted.
  • Nativists claim that the eucalyptus forest is dying of old age.  The predominant species of eucalyptus in the Bay Area lives in Australia from 200-500 years.  Professional arborists tell us they are healthy.  Why should we believe the eucalyptus forest is dying?

These propaganda campaigns are often successful because the public doesn’t have time to inform themselves of the reality.  The written documents that describe these projects are often hundreds–sometimes thousands–of pages long.  If people aren’t regular visitors to the parks where these projects have been in progress for years, they don’t know that most are weedy messes.  As the projects get bigger and more land managers install them, they are more difficult to hide from the public.  That’s why the ranks of critics are growing and getting noisier.  We will eventually be heard. 

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Invasive & Introduced Plants and Animals:  Human Perspectives, Attitudes, and Approaches to Management, editors Ian Rotherham, Robert Lambert, Earthscan Publishing, London, Washington, DC, 2011.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kenneth Gibson permalink
    August 13, 2013 11:25 am

    So, now you are using Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit to justify the unrestrained growth of a eucalyptus forest in the park above my home? Did you live through the Oakland hills fire (pick one of three or four in the last century)? Did you live in the Australian Outback during the widespread eucalyptus conflagration there a couple of years ago?

    Webmaster: Are you watching the fires all around the west? Do we see any eucalyptus in those fires? No, we don’t. Locally, we have seen many fires since late spring. All the local fires have been in grass. Elsewhere in the west, we have seen native pine forests and native chaparral burning.

    Australia has the same Mediterranean climate that we have. Fires are an inherent feature of the Mediterranean ecosystem. Eucalypts burn in Australia because that’s what grows there. The assumption that eucalypts are more flammable than native vegetation is a fiction, or in the context of this post, PROPAGANDA!

  2. Don E permalink
    August 13, 2013 11:44 am

    I have read the UCSF plan for Mt. Sutro, the DEIR, and the DEIR comments. I don’t know what nativists (a pejorative) claim but your list does not accurately reflect what the plan says expect for one thing. In some areas they will masticate 90 to 100 percent of the understory as part of the forest thinning process that will reduce the fuel load and fire ladders. They will not be replacing trees with grassland. For most of the concerns I have read in the DEIR comments, the planned demonstration areas can test most of the hypotheses pro and con.

    Webmaster: We have read the DEIR and the DEIR comments for the Sutro project as well. And we have debated this project with Don E many times, so this response is for the benefit of our readers. The Sutro project—as described by the DEIR–proposes to “thin” the Sutro forest from 740 to 48 trees per acre on 46 of 61 acres. Do the math to confirm that our description of this project is not exaggerated one iota.

    As for the “demonstration” areas, they are the precursor to the project as described by the DEIR. They are not testing “hypotheses.” Do you think they will set fire to the entire forest to see if it moves more quickly through the demonstration areas? The demonstration areas are not a scientific test. The same people will say they love the demonstration areas or hate them. When the EIR is approved, the entire project can be rolled out as described without further obstacles. We therefore assume that is the intention.

    The Sutro DEIR does not propose to plant anything to replace the trees on Sutro, so we have no way of knowing what the landscape will eventually look like. In the short term, it will look like bare ground, covered in the wood chips of the trees that are destroyed.

    We were referring to the written plans (SNRAMP) for the Natural Areas Program when describing the replacement landscape as “grassland and dune scrub.” Our list of propaganda was referring to several different projects. Sorry for the confusion.

    However, it is ironic that restoration advocates think that grasslands means natural. For thousands of years Indians burned down forests to create grasslands that benefit animals important for their food and other purposes.

  3. Don E permalink
    August 14, 2013 9:11 am

    It is true that spacing trees 30 feet apart equals 48 trees per acre. It is also true that given room to grow Blue Gum can branch out 30 feet. With only a 30 foot separation the trees will not reach their full potential. However, with less competition due to thinning, the remaining trees should rapidly grow, the canopy will quickly close and the leaf count will be the same is it is now or greater in a few years. BTW, in the areas with greater separation they do plan to introduce other tree species.

    Webmaster: This is just speculation that the few remaining trees will grow “in a few years” to cover a 30 foot diameter around each tree. It defies common sense. It is equally likely that the few remaining trees will fall over because they will be subjected to a great deal more wind from which they are now protected by their neighbors. It is a well-established, scientific fact, that tree growth is suppressed by wind. In a local wind study of the Presidio, Professor Joe McBride (UC Berkeley), reported that eucalyptus trees on the windward side of the Presidio were only 46% as tall as the trees on the leeward side of the Presidio.

    We find this particular argument in favor of this destructive project mystifying. If supporters of this project actually believe that the end result of the project is a canopy of eucalyptus of equal size, the project seems pointless. We doubt they believe that and neither do we. We classify this particular argument as “propaganda” along with other bogus claims about “management” and “forest health.”

    “Conversion planting” is planned in only 3.5 acres of this 46 acre project. There are no written plans to plant trees to replace the trees that are destroyed beyond that. There is a single mention of planting oaks in one of these areas “if money is available.”

    After the demonstration period, the thinning will not take place all at once. Twenty-five percent of the forest will be treated at any one time. That is standard protocol to let the treated area’s wildlife recover. Several years will elapse between areas treated. Within the areas treated, thinning will be done gradually and selectively in stages. You will see wood chips in some areas on the forest floor in short-run, but the trees will grow and the chips decompose. According to Cal-Fire it may be safe to do an Rx burn on Mt. Sutro, which has advantages and benefits. Perhaps UCSF can be persuaded to burn the chips and other masticated material.

    Webmaster: Twenty-five percent of the forest will be destroyed at each stage of the project. There is no mention of thinning being done “gradually or selectively” during each stage. That method of tree removal is prohibitively expensive.

    We do not consider pile burning of wood chips an improvement over plans to scatter the chips on the forest floor. Such burns pollute the air and increase risks of wildfire. It is another contradiction to claim that there are dangerous wildfire hazards and simultaneously advocate for prescribed burns.

    Hypotheses can be tested in the demonstration areas for factors relating to fire such as moisture due to increased wind speed and solar radiation. There are scientific studies on these subjects suggesting that thinning does not have a significant impact. The principles should be the same, but no studies have been done in eucalyptus in a fog belt as far as I know. We can also see if windthrow is a problem. We will also be able to see exactly what the remaining areas of the forest will look like rather than engage in conjecture.

    Webmaster: We are unaware of scientific studies that support the claim that forest thinning does not reduce forest moisture and increase fire hazard. Here is one study of an actual wildfire in California that says the opposite: Weatherspoon, C.P. and Skinner, C.N., “An Assessment of Factors Associated with Damage to Tree Crowns from the 1987 Wildfires in Northern California,” Forest Science, Vol. 41, No 3, pages 430-453

    There may be a glitch in the plan. I am assuming the thinning plan would be acceptable to local fire fighters. In the event of a fire it should give them adequate response time even in the most extreme weather conditions. Local guidelines require a 30 foot defensible area. However, the new (2005) State law requires a 100 foot defensible area around structures on level ground and up to 400 feet on slopes. Within that area the drip line of trees should be separated by 10 feet on level ground and up to 30 feet on slopes. For eucalyptus this could mean from 70 to 100 separations between trees. However, my guess is that this law was written for communities surrounded by wildland not wildland surrounded by communities so it may not apply except maybe for the UCSF housing area.

    Webmaster: Creating defensible space around property is a good idea, in our opinion. This project has little to do with creating defensible space since it does not confine tree destruction to the perimeter of the forest where it meets residential property. It also does not intend to remove any vegetation on 15 acres on the steep slopes of the western side of Mount Sutro.

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