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Final Environmental Impact Statement for FEMA projects in the East Bay is NOT an improvement!

December 13, 2014

On December 1, 2014, FEMA published the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the projects in the East Bay Hills which propose to destroy hundreds of thousands of non-native trees.  FEMA’s email announcement of the publication of the EIS implied that the projects had been revised.  Two of the agencies applying for FEMA grants—UC Berkeley and City of Oakland—had originally proposed to destroy all non-native trees on their properties.  The third agency –East Bay Regional Parks District—had proposed to thin non-native trees in most areas and destroy all in a few areas.  FEMA’s email announcement of the final EIS implied that both UC Berkeley and City of Oakland would be required to use the same “thinning” strategy as East Bay Regional Parks District.

After reading the final EIS, the Hills Conservation Network (HCN) is reporting that FEMA’s email announcement was rather misleading.  In fact, both UC Berkeley and City of Oakland will be allowed to destroy all non-native trees on their properties.  In a small sub-section (28.5 acres) of their total project acres (406.2 acres), UC Berkeley and City of Oakland are being asked by FEMA to destroy the trees more slowly than originally planned.  However, they will all be destroyed by the end of the 10 year project period.

HCN has analyzed the EIS and consulted legal counsel.  The following is HCN’s assessment of the EIS and their plans to respond to FEMA.  We publish HCN’s assessment with their permission.   Note that HCN is asking the public to send comments to FEMA and they are raising funds to prepare for a potential legal suit.


 “After having reviewed the Final EIS in depth and having consulted with various stakeholders, HCN has concluded that the Final EIS, in spite of FEMA’s efforts to improve it from the Draft version, remains unacceptable.

While FEMA has made some modifications to portions of the EIS in response to the enormous number of comments submitted last year [more than 13,000], the fact remains that if implemented in their current form, these projects would remove essentially all of the eucalyptus, pines, and acacias from the subject area. While for portions of the area FEMA is now proposing that there be a phased removal of these species, the fact remains that the objective is ultimately to convert the current moist and verdant  ecosystem into one dominated by grasses, shrubs, and some smaller trees. This will forever alter the character of these hills that so many of us have grown up with, know and love.

But worse than that, these projects would actually increase fire risk, destabilize hillsides, cause immense loss of habitat, release significant amounts of sequestered greenhouse gases, and require the use of extraordinary amounts of herbicides over a large area for at least a decade.

Additionally, by preemptively clearcutting 7 acres of Frowning Ridge in August of this year, UC not only made a clear violation of FEMA rules but also essentially negated the accuracy and relevance of the EIS. While FEMA acknowledges this in the EIS, they still want to move forward with a document that may no longer accurately reflect the reality of the current environment, the cumulative impacts of these projects, and any of the other factors that underpin the EIS process.

For these reasons, HCN will be submitting a comment letter to FEMA asking that the EIS be pulled back, reworked, and recirculated….at a minimum. Additionally, we are currently exploring legal options should the EIS be finally released on January 5, 2015 in its current form. One way or another, we are committed to ensuring that the will of a small number of influential people doesn’t result in the loss of a treasured resource to the vast majority of us (both human and other).

We ask your support in sending additional comment letters to FEMA [ebh-eis@fema.dhs.gov] and most importantly that you consider making a tax-deductible contribution to HCN. While we wish we did not have to do this, the fact is that the only way we can have a shot at preventing this irreparable harm from happening is by hiring lawyers, and that is what we will do. This takes money, so please do what you can either by sending a check to HCN at P.O. Box 5426, Berkeley, CA 94705 or by making a donation through our website at http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Support_HCN.html.”

Thanks again for all your support,

Hills Conservation Network

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Madeline Hovland permalink
    December 13, 2014 3:14 pm

    Thanks for this. It does a great job of supplying some background and much needed info.

    Lynn

  2. December 15, 2014 12:15 pm

    Thank you so much. As I go into the hills, everyone I meet has no idea about this. It is all beyond horrifying.

    I wonder how much we could get the mushrooms lovers as allies since they are a unified force. I met one in Joachin Miller park a few days ago and told him about the plan to cut all non-natives. The mushroom people know very well how important the Monterey Pines are other exotic species are to plant and animals diversity and he said he’d chain himself to the trees if it came to that.

    I lead nature hikes and keep telling everyone, and no one knows….

  3. December 15, 2014 2:45 pm

    Thank YOU for being the place for all the information about saving the trees and other beings now in danger.

    I just sent FEMA and others my updated version of my original letter to FEMA since it explains every single problem I could think of about their nightmare plan.

    Here it is:

    Thank you so much for this post. Some of us have been trying for a long time now to protect our rare East Bay hills parks and wilderness. After going to the FEMA meetings, it was obvious that the real intention was for getting millions from FEMA, under the guise of fire prevention, and that the result would be more fire, landslides, and the death of so many animals and plants from killing these beautiful healthy trees. It’s even more serious with our native oaks and bays sick and dying.

    The Monterey pines in particular create such much plant and animals diversion when mixed with local forest. They turn the native clay soil into deep rich humus, and we are now seeing amazing numbers of mushroom species appearing.

    Losing these beautiful trees would leave us with desolate, poisoned, bare hillsides, full of flammable non-native plants, plus the earth and creeks poisoned.

    This site is wonderful in trying to save our parks:

    Death of a Million Trees

    https://milliontrees.me/2014/12/13/final-environmental-impact-statement-for-fema-projects-in-the-east-bay-is-not-an-improvement/

    Here is my original letter to FEMA:

    PLEASE SAVE OUR EAST BAY PARKS

    Please save hundreds of thousands of healthy, tall, mature, beautiful trees before they are destroyed without most residents even knowing what is being planned, and with no way to vote. Protect our local environment and all the wild animals who also will die if this plan based on greed is allowed to happen.

    To find out the actual facts from the deliberate misinformation, please see these websites:

    https://milliontrees.me/fire-the-cover-story/

    http://www.eastbaypesticidealert.org/wildfire.html

    http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Blog/Blog.html

    http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/About_us.html

    http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Blog/Entries/2013/5/25_Our_tax_dollars_at_work.html

    Please see what people said at the last meeting with FEMA:

    Please sign this petition
    http://signon.org/sign/stop-the-deforestation-3?source=s.fwd&r_by=2464736

    and write to FEMA (we have only until June 17) at:
    EBH-EIS-FEMA-RIX@fema.dhs.gov.

    1. This FEMA project will cause MORE fires, not less. Fires typically begin in grasslands, which is where the 1991 firestorm started. This project will greatly increase non-native, highly flammable grasslands and non-native poison hemlock, thistles, broom, etc. in the East Bay hills, instead of beautiful trees. Entire sections of our parks will become dry, barren wastelands. And the planned “control burns” will pollute the air with smoke, as well as risk more fire and make the herbicides airborne.

    2. After the trees are gone, the erosion and resulting landslides will be catastrophic. It is shameful to use desperately needed tax money for a project which is not needed and will result in ecological disaster. At that point, FEMA money really WILL be needed.

    3. Re-planting is NOT part of the project.

    4. Many native trees are extremely flammable, but eucalyptus are NOT a particular fire hazard, and have been demonstrated to help forests prevent and contain fires. Eucalyptus were seen to actually stop the spread of fire to houses, creating windbreaks during the 1991 firestorm, while redwoods burned. (Of course when a fire is hot enough, everything burns, but the answer to that is clearly not to kill all the trees.) Eucalyptus and our other tall non-natives precipitate inches of water from the fog each year, moistening the earth, filling creeks and adding water to reservoirs, supporting green and fire resistant shrubs.

    5. Sudden Oak Death is killing our native trees. Most are infected. We should be grateful for having our fire-resistant, disease-resistant, healthy, beautiful, exotic trees who are well-adapted to our semi-arid climate — especially with climate changing and impending drought — and treasure them instead of killing them. We have no idea how quickly and extensively our native trees will die. We may end up with only non-native forest, so we need more tree diversity, not less. Many of our best parks have almost all non-native trees (which most people don’t realize.) What reasonable person would prefer dry, empty, barren grasslands with no shade or wildlife diversity?

    6. Why would anyone kill hundreds of thousands of huge trees, some over a hundred years old, when we desperately need them for cleaner air and to prevent climate change? Those supporting this ill-planned project make no mention of the harm done to the environment from eliminating so many oxygen-producing trees. The killed trees chipped on site will add to air pollution as well as greatly increase fire risk. Significant amounts of sequestered C02 will be released, adding not only to global warming, but also to local climate changes: more wind, more dry air, less fog, more air pollution. Big trees are needed to store carbon. No other type of vegetation stores as much carbon as tall hardwood trees. Ongoing carbon sequestration capabilities will be reduced from what they are now, and will never recover.

    7. This project is actually about greed and getting 7 million dollars from FEMA for Monsanto, UC, local cities, and EBRP — money that is desperately needed elsewhere. There has been no significant fire in the East Bay since 1991. There is now better prevention and quicker response time (the main fire cause is arson or carelessness.) Nothing is needed to be done to make the hills safer, but this project WOULD greatly increase fire risk.

    8. WHY is something that will affect the quality of life in our East Bay cities forever not being put to a vote, and is being snuck in with almost no one knowing about it? Most of the people affected have no idea they will be losing their beloved parks. The propaganda campaign of myths and half-truths does not lead to trust. Some of who are participating in promoting this destructive plan while spreading misinformation will likely be benefiting.

    9. Where is the concern for the millions of native animals who will be killed, including some who are endangered?

    Once the trees are destroyed, the already-burdened wildlife will die from hunger and loss of habitat. Others will be directly killed by the devastating bulldozing, chainsawing and poisoning. Without predators like raptors, rodents and other small animals will over-populate.

    Learn from our native animals which trees they prefer. Bay Nature magazine online has a beautiful photo of the Bald Eagles nesting in a eucalyptus at Lake Chabot — that tree, like much of the parkland overlooking Lake Chabot will be killed. Our native raptors — eagles, hawks, owls, etc. — PREFER eucalyptus for nesting because they are the tallest trees and have an open canopy, which is good for spotting predators and for the largest birds to be able to safely fly in and out of. (A young Peregrine Falcon died recently because he landed badly when learning to fly.) The largest raptors ignore oaks, bays, etc., because the forest is too dense to safely fly in.

    Hummingbirds rely on eucalyptus flower nectar. Monarch butterflies prefer eucalyptus to rest in in the millions during migration. The brilliant website Death of a Million Trees says that a survey of 173 ornithologists reported that 47% of birds eat from non-native plants

    Eucalyptus are now an essential part of our eco-system, as are the beautiful Monterey pines, Monterey cypress, acacias, etc. The Monterey pine forests have far more bird diversity than native forest. Yet every pine is slated for killing. WHY? Yet another myth is that they have short life spans. They live up to 120 years, and every part of their life cycle nurtures our wildlife and plants. Raptors, woodpeckers, and other birds use the dead trees for their survival to hunt from or to store acorns. Insectivorous birds prey on small animals on the trunks. Many animals live on the nutritious pine nuts and those animals feed many native predators. The young pines grow up from the base of their dead mothers, keeping the hills green with new trees, completing the cycle. These trees need no thinning, pruning, cutting. Monterey pine also greatly enriches the soil, creating thick humus helping our native clay earth nurture oak, bay, etc. seedlings, as well as wildflowers, mushrooms, etc. MONTERY PINES ARE AN NOW ESSENTIAL PART OF OUR HEALTHY FOREST/PARKS ECOSYSTEM.

    10. The effects of a planned decade or more of highly toxic herbicide spraying is also being ignored. (Monsanto, DOW, etc. must be thrilled at this project.) How many cases of birth defects, cancer, neurological, auto-immune and other illnesses will result from the use of these poisons?

    Most people living in the East Bay would object to the plan to continuously apply herbicide to the stumps of the butchered trees for TEN years, if they knew the details.

    Appling herbicides across the hills will result in incalculable deaths of native animals, including endangered species, as well as the toxic sediments ending up in our creeks, reservoirs, lakes, and bay. When the winds come, which will increase because the tree windbreaks will be gone, the dust full of herbicide will be windborne, damaging the health of everyone in the East Bay. Some of the poison will evaporate into the air, adding to our air pollution problem.

    No herbicide or the other petrochemicals added to it is safe. Every banned pesticide was once declared safe from studies funded by the pesticide industry and which the FDA approved. The experts who once assured us that DDT, Dieldrin, Chlordane, etc. were safe are saying newer poisons are safe. But the cancer rate continues to rise, as do birth defects, neuological illness, and auto-immune illness, etc. all associated with herbicide use. Meanwhile, how many animals are dying? We’ve seen California Newts dying horrible deaths after crawling through roadside areas sprayed with “safe” herbicides.

    Knowing how toxic chemicals work, we also can’t believe that the herbicides will not make the poisoned plants more flammable.

    We also believe this plan simply won’t work, knowing the amazing regenerative capabilities of these magnificent trees. So the use of poison will be far more continuous than planned. Eucalyptus will take thousands of gallons to stop its attempts to stay alive and resprout. And what about the acacias? You cut one down, and dozens sprout along the ground, yards away from the original tree. They continue to try to live years after their mother tree was killed. (These are not realities that should frighten people, but be reassuring that if our native forests die, we will still have magnificent parks full of beautiful shade trees with all the native animals we love.)

    11. Every part of this plan makes no environmental sense. Honeybees are dying, so we need our native bee populations more than ever, but the planned 24 inches of chipped mulch will prevent native bees from reaching the soil where they nest.

    12. Again, people who live in the East Bay have not been given the opportunity to vote on even the short-term aspects of the project and will be subjected, against our wills, to years of constant noise from chainsaws, bulldozing, woodchipping, road closures, and the ugliness and heartache of seeing favorite parks left treeless, with poisoned stumps. (There are a few places where this travesty was done several years ago which are still ugly wastelands.)

    13. How will this devastation actually be done and who will commit it? Those of us who have seen “maintenance” in the parks result in destruction of rare wildflowers on one of the few special little trails in the EBRP know the impact just one individual untrained individual can have. (He weed-wacked everything in sight and now we have to travel two counties away to see some of those flowers.) Endangered Clapper Rail habitat was destroyed at Pt. Reyes in an effort to help the rails. Audubon basically destroyed the Burrowing Owl habitat at Cesar Chavez park in Berkeley. (The last two had “experts” advising.)

    14. We ask, why the selective logging? Those few people who demand that the park trees be killed are wanting tax-payer FEMA money after they chose to buy houses near the very trees they now want dead. And they want to eliminate the rest of the East Bay residents from access to those beautiful trees that we support with our taxes. We suggest they trade houses and they live instead in the tree-denuded wasteland that is much of the East Bay urban area.

    For those who want our parks cleared of non-natives, we suggest they start with the multi-million dollar ornamental introduced plants that are the majority trees and other plants in landscaping at businesses and federal, state, county, and city buildings, people’s private gardens and yards – which, like the hills, would leave almost no vegetation since most of the green we see are from non-natives. (Hypocrite UC even has a book about their many exotic trees on campus.) Why the inconsistency – why are the non native plants in the cities being spared while the wild animals’ homes and food will be destroyed?

    At the East Bay Regional Park headquarters in the hills where the meeting with FEMA was held, there were many non-native ornamentals. Those Olive trees, Liquidamber, Arbutus Unedo, etc, aren’t going to be eliminated, so why destroy the trees on trails that many of us know personally and love?

    We ask every human who is against the beautiful exotic trees, what do you have in your own garden? If you don’t want to be a hypocrite, first cut down your olives, roses, magnolias, wisteria, jasmine, apples, peaches, plums, etc. before you deprive wild animals of their homes and food. Most people don’t even know which trees are native and which are not. But 99% of the plants in people’s yards and gardens are not native.

    Actually, there is a reason that the vast majority of city plantings are done with non-natives. They contribute variety and beauty, and they feed and house an incredible diversity of birds, butterflies, etc.

    Of course we are not actually suggesting that people kill their non-native plants or cut down street trees and other landscaping, but we object to the double standard where the wild animals are to be deprived of their homes and food while humans keep their non-native plants. Why should only the native animals suffer? No non-native human should be giving a death sentence to the native animals who will die as a result of this planned environmental devastation.

    There will be many persuasive arguments for committing this irreparable environmental devastation, but please don’t believe them. We’ve seen terrible harm already done in the name of environmentalism in the Bay Area. A few hours of well-intentioned work can result in permanent ecological damage.

    For those who insist on eliminating non-natives, we suggest we start with the humans, and then the introduced non-native animals who kill millions of native animals each year. And why not kill all the honeybees as well since they’re from Europe?

    The animals, as well as the trees, are not just “things” in humans’ territory. They are planning the killing of living, feeling beings. When people are often depressed from the dark and rain in winter, the gorgeous acacias bloom brilliant golden for two months. The broom with their yellow, exquisitely fragrant blossoms bloom for months during winter and spring.

    Please learn who this project will actually benefit. Find out the details before it’s too late.

    Please know that if this “project” begins, it will be far more destructive than they have told anyone. Expect the worst.

    Once our beautiful forests are gone, we will be left with bare, ugly hillsides with poisoned stumps, impending erosion and landslides, polluted waterways, the wildlife left homeless, with many animals dead, many native plants also destroyed, the topsoil ruined, and the beauty gone forever. Few urban areas have such amazing wilderness. What a tragedy to mindlessly destroy it. We should all be grateful for what we have here. No non-native human should disparage non-native plants.

    The FEMA money is desperately needed elsewhere. Please do not waste this money by making a few people rich at the expense of the people, animals, environment, beauty of our parks. Please don’t create a new environmental disaster under the guise of preventing one.

    Bev Jo

    Slakewings@aol.com

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