Escalating war on trees in the East Bay

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been considering grant applications for “fire hazard mitigation” in the East Bay since 2005, when the first of these applications was submitted. After years of debate about whether or not the projects achieve the stated purpose and at what cost to the taxpayers and the environment, FEMA finally agreed to resolve the controversial issues by mandating an environmental impact review, which began in 2010. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was published in April 2013 and the public comment period on that draft closed in June 2013.

FEMA tells us they received over 3,500 public comments on the draft, so needless to say it is taking some time to analyze and respond to those comments. Based on questions raised by public comments, FEMA sent questions to the applicants in October 2013, requesting clarification of their project plans. The applicants responded in November 2013, by revising their project plans. UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland responded that they now plan to “thin” rather than to remove all non-native trees, consistent with the original intentions of East Bay Regional Park District. FEMA now predicts that the final EIS will be published around the end of 2014.

Grant applicants are champing at the bit

The applicants for these grants are getting restless for award of the grant which will fund the removal of tens of thousands of trees or more. We recently reported to our readers that UC Berkeley began to destroy trees on its property in late August 2014, before the grant has been approved. The trees that were destroyed are still lying on the ground, looking like bonfires waiting to happen.

Some of the hundreds of trees destroyed by UC Berkeley in August 2014
Some of the hundreds of trees destroyed by UC Berkeley in August 2014

More recently, Claremont Canyon Conservancy has successfully recruited 12 East Bay elected officials to ask FEMA for immediate release of the grant funds, as well as “complete removal” of all eucalyptus trees, rather than thinning as originally proposed by East Bay Regional Park District and as revised by the City of Oakland and UC Berkeley in November 2013. This request was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, and ABC TV news. Based on these news sources, as well as the website of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, we can report that the following East Bay elected officials have signed this request:

City of Oakland
Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland
Dan Kalb, Oakland City Council
Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Council
Larry Reid, Oakland City Council
Libby Schaaf, Oakland City Council

City of Berkeley
Tom Bates, Mayor of Berkeley
Jesse Arreguin, Berkeley City Council
Laurie Capitelli, Berkeley City Council
Susan Wengraf, Berkeley City Council
Gordon Wozniak, Berkeley City Council

State of California
Nancy Skinner, State Assembly
Loni Hancock, State Senate

We have an unsigned copy of a letter to FEMA:

Pols letter to Amaglio

– end letter –

We cannot report with confidence that all these politicians sent the same letter because Oakland Councilman Dan Kalb is the only politician who has responded to our public records request. Mr. Kalb’s request is similar, but requests “funding to remove a substantial number of the eucalyptus trees.” Mr. Kalb’s letter seems to acknowledge that requesting removal of all eucalyptus trees would be inconsistent with the City of Oakland’s November 2013 revision of its original grant application; he says, “I know that the City of Oakland has submitted some revised language as requested by [FEMA].” The elected officials who signed the above letter do not seem to realize that their request contradicts the agreement with FEMA in November 2013 to thin rather than to remove all non-native trees on their properties. Or perhaps they have changed their minds.

This eucalyptus forest at the North Oakland Sports Facility will be  destroyed by the City of Oakland.
The City of Oakland wants to destroy this eucalyptus forest at the North Oakland Sports Facility. Note that where they have destroyed eucalyptus in the past, they have not controlled the resprouts. The grey-green small trees near the base of the hill are eucalyptus resprouts.

Stunning display of ignorance

We are rarely surprised by the extreme views of native plant advocates, but the letter sent by East Bay elected officials is a stunning display of ignorance, mendacity, or both:

  • The claim that native plants are less flammable than non-native plants is entirely fallacious. The indigenous landscape of California is highly flammable as is demonstrated by wildfires throughout California every year. In virtually every case, those wildfires occur in native landscapes.
  • This statement is not even superficially logical: “thinning will enable the Diablo Winds to blow through the eucalyptus more readily, thus enhancing the fire danger…” Obviously, destroying ALL the trees will provide even less of a barrier to Diablo winds.
  • The public record does not support the contention that eucalyptus is more flammable than any other type of vegetation. HERE is a report of the public record of the 1991 Oakland wildfire.
  • Oaks and bays have indeed grown in Clarement Canyon since eucalypts were removed there because it is a riparian corridor where trees are sheltered from the wind and water is funneled to them. However, that is not typical of regrowth after removal of the tree canopy in most locations where eucalypts have been removed. The more likely outcome is non-native annual grasses, as explained HERE by the environmental consultant who evaluated the plans of UC Berkeley. Since fire ignites more readily in grass, fire hazards are not reduced by this transition.
Non-native annual grassland now occupies most of the area where UC Berkeley destroyed 18,000 trees about 10 years ago.
Non-native annual grassland now occupies most of the area where UC Berkeley destroyed 18,000 trees about 10 years ago.

News sources also interviewed Jon Kaufman, a spokesperson for Claremont Canyon Conservancy who expressed his frustration that their desire for the destruction of non-native trees in the East Bay Hills is being delayed by FEMA: “With fire season approaching, it’s a good time to remind FEMA they need to get off their asses.” His insulting approach cannot be called a charm offensive.

Mr. Kaufman is quoted as making the following misstatement of fact: “But Kaufman said no spraying would be involved and that herbicide will be applied topically to the stumps with a brush.” We have heard native plant advocates make this claim many times. Perhaps some of them even believe it. FEMA asked for clarification from grant applicants about their plans for herbicide applications in October 2013. The applicants replied in November 2013 that they will apply Garlon according to the manufacturer’s label.

Mr. Kaufman’s claim that herbicide will not be sprayed is contradicted by the manufacturer of Garlon, DowAgra. The manufacturer describes the method of cut-stump application: “Treat the exposed cambium area and the root collar (exposed bark on the side of the stump) down to the soil line. Be sure to treat the entire circumference of the tree. To ensure effective control on large trees, also treat any exposed roots (knees) that surround the stump.” This method is illustrated on the manufacturer’s website by videos of the applicator using spraying equipment.

The herbicides needed to destroy non-native vegetation are also foliar sprayed, as described by the Draft EIS. It is a fiction that non-native trees and plants can be eradicated without spraying herbicides. The use of large quantities of herbicides is nearly as controversial as the loss of our urban forest.

Are you a voter in Oakland or Berkeley?

If you are a voter in Oakland or Berkeley and you care about the preservation of our urban forest and/or object to the hazards created by spraying our public lands with herbicides, you should know that some of the politicians who signed the letter to FEMA are on the ballot on November 4, 2014. You can take their support for clear cutting all eucalyptus in the Oakland/Berkeley hills into consideration in your vote. Better yet, you could write to them to tell them your opinion of their misguided support for removing all non-native trees on public property. We do not expect our public officials to be experts in horticulture or fire science. However, we think it is irresponsible for public officials to endorse the position of a particular interest group without making an effort to inform themselves of opposing viewpoints.

Here is a list of the candidates you will find on your ballot:

City of Oakland – Candidates for Mayor
Jean Quan
Rebecca Kaplan
Libby Schaaf

City of Berkeley – Candidates for City Council
Jesse Arreguin – District 4 – running unopposed

There is also a petition in opposition to these destructive projects available HERE.

The only logical resolution

One wonders how FEMA can now award grants to the City of Oakland or to UC Berkeley. In November 2013, these public agencies told FEMA, in writing, that they will thin rather than clear cut all non-native trees on their properties. In August 2014, UC Berkeley destroyed all eucalyptus trees on a portion of the project area, which should be a demonstration of UCB’s intentions. Actions speak louder than words, even written words.

In the case of the City of Oakland, elected officials in positions of authority, including the sitting Mayor of Oakland, have contradicted the City of Oakland’s written commitment to FEMA to thin rather than to clear-cut by asking FEMA to immediately release grant funds to clear-cut all eucalyptus from their properties.

How can FEMA trust these agencies to do what they have said in writing they intend to do? The only logical response to the request of these elected officials is to inform UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland that they have effectively rescinded their grant applications.

9 thoughts on “Escalating war on trees in the East Bay”

  1. i just came from new york, where, while walking to a restaurant, my friend was pointing out all the trees that were part of the “million trees” program there, including those that quickly replaced trees downed in hurricane sandy. nice to see people proud of their trees!

    i don’t know what the heck is going on out here with all the tree hating. trees are the lungs of the world…we literally cannot live without them. it’s foolish to think otherwise.

  2. I am very curious, since eucalyptus are a known habitat for monarchs and bees, are the trees in Berkeley and Oakland hostile to bees and butterflies.?

    1. Eucalypts in Oakland and Berkeley are sources of nectar for both bees and butterflies. There aren’t many eucalyptus forests in the San Francisco Bay Area that are used by monarchs for their over-wintering roost, but there are a few: Albany Hill, Yerba Buena Island, and Point Pinole are several that I am aware of.

      The people who demand the eradication of eucalyptus don’t seem to care that eucalyptus is useful to wildlife and some deny that they are useful. Nativism is an ideology that seems to trump all other considerations. In some cases nativism prevents native plant advocates from seeing the reality of the many functions performed by our urban forest.

  3. I live in the dunes and effects of vegetation removal upon our hydrology are dramatic,
    we now have ancient trees that can no longer reach water.
    If that isn’t ugly enough, it was legislated wetland enhancement monies that removed the vegetation.
    Erosion, loss of wildlife and wetland habitat at a time of drought, relative sea-level rise and increased intensity of storms. Not only are we going the wrong way, we are spending millions of dollars for these adverse impacts.

  4. Thank you so much for this wonderful post and wonderful blog. I wish everyone in the Bay Area would be forced to read it, and especially those who are advocating destroying our trees.

    1. I don’t live in California, but I live in an area that faces the same myopia and will probably face the same consequences as a result of climate change. One example, Dune grass has been removed, some of it chemically to enhance habitat for the snowy plover. I think California has done something similar. I agree that death of a million trees blog is invaluable. Does Huffington Post know this blog exists? Where are all the supposed environmentalists who inhabit Berkeley. Where is Barbara Boxer?

      1. Yes, Fritzi, European beach grass has been removed all along the coast of California. We have heard from many people along the coast who have described the consequences of removing stabilizing vegetation such as beach grass and iceplant. Properties are being inundated by transporting sand dunes that are no longer stabilized. Trees that have provided a windbreak from the harsh winds off the Pacific Ocean are being killed by the sand. The animals that were occupying those habitats have lost their homes. If anyone–man or beast–benefits from these destructive projects we are unaware of such benefits except to the people who make their living spraying herbicides and other eradication methods. If there is a way to interest our elected officials in the consequences of these projects, I don’t know what it is. As this article reports, our local politicians have endorsed our local version of the eradication of non-native species.

  5. I just watched the You Tube Video with David Theodoropoulos & Invasion Biology and the first thing he said if you take anything from this meeting remember Monsanto, you know Agent Orange , Garlon Four etc. is behind his whole campaign to wipe out non-native vegetation of plants and trees that they can convince politician’s is the way to go . Theodoropouplos makes a strong point ” Follow the Money” and Monsanto and other herbicide companies thrive on the extermination of non-native plants and trees.

    Tom (14)

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