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Rejecting Arbitrary Labels That Enable Great Harm: Fighting the Oakland, UC Berkeley & East Bay Regional Park District’s War on Nature

April 6, 2015

We are honored to publish a guest post by Jennifer and Nathan Winograd, founders of No Kill Advocacy Center, which advocates for animal shelters to make a commitment to keep every animal in their care alive until a suitable home can be found for them.  Nathan is a graduate of Stanford Law School, a former criminal prosecutor and attorney.  Animal lovers in San Francisco will remember him as a former director of operations for the San Francisco SPCA, who fought for off-leash recreation and support for the trap-neuter-release program for feral cats.  Since founding the No Kill Advocacy Center, Nathan has produced a feature length documentary on the No Kill movement and is the author of two books, Redemption, Irreconcilable Differences; Nathan and Jennifer co-authored two books, All American Vegan, and Friendly Fire.  Jennifer is the author of all publications of the Advocacy Center.  Nathan travels all over the country to advise animal shelters about how to achieve the goal of a “no-kill” commitment.

The Winograds’ guest article is a summary of all the issues we have written about on the Million Trees blog for the past five years.  It was a great pleasure to see all those issues explained so eloquently by people who care deeply about the animals which are being adversely affected—sometimes killed—by nativism.  We hope you will share this article with your friends and neighbors.


Round Top Trail, Sibley, East Bay Regional Park District

Round Top Trail, Sibley, East Bay Regional Park District

The hike along the trail at Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in the Oakland hills is not only idyllic, but educational. Leave the parking lot and head east upon one of its trails, and eventually, the winding path upon which you walk, made beautiful by long vistas of towering stands of Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus trees, deliver you to an area known as “Round Top.” Here, you will find a historical marker bearing witness to a time 12 million years ago when standing in that location would have been impossible; for standing at that location would have placed you inside an active volcano: a hot spot born of the collision of tectonic plates which would later push the volcano skyward as the Oakland and Berkley hills emerged from sea level. A modern visitor to the region would scarcely recognize the landscape or its inhabitants. At that time, the East Bay was a warm, wet and flat savannah, inhabited by camels, rhinoceros, three-toed horses, small mastodons with four tusks, and herds of antelope-like creatures, all of whom thrived in the East Bay 55 million years after the age of dinosaurs (when the area was still part of an ancient sea), but long before humans first arrived in the region an estimated 10,000 years ago.

Fossil evidence, much of it unearthed during excavations for the Caldecott Tunnel, demonstrates that over the vast distances of geologic time, the San Francisco Bay experienced a variety of climactic shifts—cycles of ice ages and warming periods which caused land to alternatively dry out and then once again become submerged in water, changing not only the appearance of the region, but the plants and animals that lived there. Eventually, the area became distinguished by a Mediterranean climate—the wet winters and dry summers we still experience today—favoring plants which could wait out unfavorable conditions. This change caused various species of grasses and other plants to diversify and evolve into new species, leading to the creation of a coastal prairie in the region.

This never-ending transformation—of landscape, of climate, of plants and animals—has occurred, and continues to occur, all over the world, resulting from a variety of factors: global weather patterns, plate tectonics, evolution, natural selection, migration, and even the devastating effects of impacting asteroids. Close your eyes and randomly stick a pin on any location in a map, then do a Google search of that region’s history and what you will invariably find is that at some point in time, that location looked very different than it does today, as did the plants and animals who resided there. Over 10,000 years ago, a sudden burst of monsoon rains over the vast Sahara desert transformed its dunes into a savannah which could sustain life, including people and giraffes who migrated into the area which today is once again a barren expanse of sand. Roughly 74 million years ago, Tyrannosaurs, Ceratopsians, and Sauropods roamed the continent of North America which was divided down its middle by a vast, ancient sea. In the distant past, the now frigid polar regions of the Earth were moist, temperate and blanketed by forests. The geographic and fossil records tell us that there is but one constant to life on Earth, and that is change.

Sibley, East Bay Regional Park District

Sibley, East Bay Regional Park District

Humans—ourselves a force of nature given our cunning intellect and expert ability to bend our surroundings to our needs—can also alter environments, both for good and bad. When timber hungry fortune seekers arrived in droves to the Bay Area during the Gold Rush, they clear-cut the Oak trees which gave the city its name and whose acorns served as staple to the tribes of people who themselves had arrived from elsewhere many thousands of years before. Early Oakland settlers looked about at the empty, blighted East Bay hillsides so prone to devastating fires which regularly swept across the sun-scorched, windswept grasslands and conceived of a plan; a plan which has bequeathed to us what is now one of the most spectacular and beloved natural beauties of the San Francisco Bay Area: the forests of the East Bay hills. Distinguished by their lofty heights, the shady, other-worldly Edens created beneath their canopies and the dramatic, iconic silhouettes they create against a blue or fog drenched sky, Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees were some of the favored trees of Oakland’s founders, who planted them by the millions. On the land which is now an Oakland park named in his honor (as are an Oakland elementary school and street) celebrated “Poet of the Sierras” and legendary naturalist, Joaquin Miller, set out to create an artistic haven for himself and his family, planting 75,000 trees, most of them those very species.

Sibley, East Bay Regional Park District

Sibley, East Bay Regional Park District

In terms of human history within the East Bay, Eucalyptus, and Monterey Pine trees play a central and starring role. Today, they are a part of our heritage and quintessentially “Oaklandish.” And yet, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, and East Bay Regional Parks District General Manager Robert Doyle are planning to clear-cut as many as half a million of these trees growing on public lands starting late this summer, then spray their stumps in hazardous, cancer-causing chemicals made by Monsanto and Dow Chemical. Gone will be the sheltered walking paths lined by soaring, majestic trees that are visited by thousands of nature loving Bay Area residents every week. Instead, our public lands will be crisscrossed by paths lined with caution tape and chemical soaked tree stumps that serve as grave markers to forests and beauty that are no more. Commuters traveling East through the Caldecott tunnel will no longer behold the spectacular forests that blanket the hills above the southern bore, but instead an empty, blighted hillside rendered a tragic and heart-wrenching eyesore. Weekend picnickers to Tilden Park in Berkeley will discover that the trees which lined their paths and under which they picnicked are also gone. Just as alarming, the people and animals of the East Bay will be repeatedly exposed—twice a year, every year for a decade and perhaps in perpetuity—to herbicides that officials admit have the potential to cause “adverse health effects” on workers, residents, and recreational users of the parks. These chemicals have been found to cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells and increase the risk of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They have been proven to cause severe birth defects when tested on poor animals including rats born with their brains outside their skulls. They are toxic to birds and aquatic species, and cause damage to the kidneys, liver and the blood of dogs. Not only do these herbicides contaminate ground water, but they can persist in the environment for years, and, ironically, alter the soil by killing fungi essential to the health of Oak trees, one of just a few trees proponents of the plan will not be clear-cutting, thereby imperiling even those few trees that will be left behind.

Given the drastic nature of this plan and the harm it will engender, the question, of course, is why is this going to happen?

East Bay public officials have embraced an agenda to return the East Bay hills to what they claim is their “native” appearance. A goal which, in light of the history of the East Bay, inevitably begs the question: which one? Once, the region was underwater. Then, it became a savannah. And for a very long time, there were no hills at all. What makes any one moment in time the “real” one or necessarily better or preferable to what is there right now?

Each species on Earth, writes Biology Professor Ken Thompson, “has a characteristic distribution on the Earth’s land surface… But in every case, that distribution is in practice a single frame from a very long movie. Run the clock back only 10,000 years, less than a blink of an eye in geological time, and nearly all of those distributions would be different, in many cases very different. Go back only 10 million years, still a tiny fraction of the history of life on Earth, and any comparison with present-day distributions becomes impossible, since most of the species themselves would no longer be the same.” (1) So under what pretense does an arbitrarily picked “single frame from a very long movie” chosen for the East Bay hills trump the others? Why should the appearance of the East Bay hills be returned and be forced to forever remain the way they looked at the one, particular and arbitrarily chosen moment in time which proponents of the clear-cutting plan prefer?

According to the report issued by FEMA, the federal agency funding this catastrophic destruction to the tune of $6 million, it is to eliminate forests on our public lands in order to promote their conversion to “grasslands with islands of shrubs.” In other words, landscapes dominated by stands of trees that are among some of the tallest on earth and can grow up to several hundred feet high, are to be replaced by shallow grasses and the occasional bush simply because those plants grew in the region prior to the city’s founding. Though this particular moment in time is deemed the preferred one by those who claim to know best on behalf of everyone else, how can the very high toll of its execution—the harm it will inflict upon those who live there now—the animals who rely on such trees for habitat, who will be displaced or forced to live in a toxic waste dump that will poison them and their food and water supply, the homeowners in the region whose families and pets will likewise be exposed to carcinogenic herbicides and the legions of visitors who visit the East Bay Regional Parks only to discover that those tasked with the trust of protecting our public lands have chosen instead to destroy them—be considered worth its cost for what is ultimately a pointless outcome, trying, in vain, to return selected areas of the hills to one of their various historical manifestations? How can such harmful and dramatic self-inflicted wounds possibly be justified, either scientifically or morally?

Drawing by Jennifer and Nathan Winograd.

Drawing by the Winograds.

Though Schaaf, Dirks, and Doyle embrace an agenda indistinguishable from that of the timber and chemical industries, that would, as FEMA itself admits, cause “unavoidable adverse impacts… to vegetation, wildlife and habitats, protected species, soils, water quality, aesthetics, community character, human health and safety, recreation, and noise,” they are nonetheless claiming the mantel of “environmentalism” and calling their plan “environmental restoration.” Underlying this and other equally shocking calls for environmental destruction across the globe is the environmental movement’s embrace of “invasion biology,” which regards any human induced outcomes in the world as by definition bad. The deep misanthropy underlying this troubling mindset has rendered its adherents incapable of distinguishing between human actions which are beneficial to the environment—such as the planting of trees and the creating of forests—and human actions which result in harm—such as chopping down trees and dumping thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides, and thus contributing to the poisoning of the Earth, the suffering of wildlife and the enabling of climate change. In embracing the latter, invasion biologists compel us to perceive threats to the environment where none actually exist, arguing that simply because humans were responsible for a particular outcome it must be undone. Given the vast influence of humans on virtually every corner of the globe, this philosophy compels us to declare war on the natural places all around us, and to continue to wage that war in perpetuity in order to maintain stasis of their preferred order. As the environmental movement continues to grow in influence, and as this particularly invasive philosophy continues to metastasize within it and increasingly define its agenda, we can expect that their calls for clear-cutting, ripping out vegetation, dumping herbicides and pesticides and, when it comes to those species they cruelly regard as “invasive,” trapping, shooting, poisoning and otherwise brutalizing animals, will become ever more commonplace, especially as they gain influence with public officials as they have done in the Bay Area.

Paradoxically, while they claim that they are working to undo the unnatural outcomes of humans influencing their environment, they don’t see any conflict in inflicting their own will upon the environment whatever the cost, nor the irrationality of considering humans, a species which evolved on earth the same as every other species, as somehow outside the natural world. Given the pernicious nature of their agenda and the bad science and sloppy logic which underlies it, perhaps it should come as little surprise that they are often dishonest, as well, attempting to obfuscate their true motivation and the environmentally catastrophic nature of their plans by promoting them under more publicly palatable rationales. In the case of the East Bay hills, that rationale is claimed to be “fire abatement.”

On the EBRPD website, Doyle admits that while “Conversion from eucalyptus or pine will not be accomplished easily, with transition to a grassland/brush mix, oak/bay woodland, or other appropriate native, plant community a long-term goal,” he also makes plain why that is the case: lack of money and public opposition to the plan “being the main factors in determining the pace of this transition.” In other words, Doyle and his colleagues on the Board of the EBRPD have to concoct a plan to substitute their own will over the public’s will whom they are supposed to represent, with 90% of the 13,000 citizen comments submitted to FEMA opposed to the plan. Indeed, overcoming public resistance in one of the most environmentally conscious areas of the country to the idea that decimating numerous healthy forests, cutting down hundreds of thousands of carbon sequestering trees, displacing multitudes of wildlife and spreading tens of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals where both animals and people live is a sound idea, consistent with an environmental ethos that has historically been associated with the antithesis of such actions, is a challenge. And in the Bay Area, where almost 25 years later the tragedy of the 1991 Firestorm can make still the most stoic eyes misty, they hope that fear mongering about fire will do the trick, while simultaneously creating a public safety rationale that will make Uncle Sam foot most of the bill for the proposed decimation.

And yet when chainsaws are taken to the East Bay forests at the end of summer, their decimation will actually increase the risk of fire in the region. Healthy, green trees are to be chopped down and chipped; their remains spread about shade-less, empty hillsides at a depth of two feet, creating tinder boxes of hot, composting and therefore highly combustible dried wood throughout the hills. With forests decimated and no plan to replant in clear cut regions, highly flammable brush species such as French Broom, thistle, hemlock and poison oak will move into the areas, simply substituting what clearcutting proponents claim is one fire hazard with another, but not without first exacting a devastating toll on the animals and people in the region.  These plants will also be sprayed with herbicides, contributing yet more poison to our public lands. Whether dead after being sprayed with herbicides or dead during the long dry season, these plants will be more flammable than the forests they replaced. Tall trees which once served as windbreakers to slow the spread of fire will be destroyed, while areas once covered with lush forests will be turned into grassland, an ecosystem in which fire plays a recurring and key role. In fact, a report offering a mitigated plan of thinning the trees and reducing debris around the trees to eliminate fuels consistent with abatement techniques used in Australia where Eucalyptus trees are abundant was ignored by the city and was ultimately rejected by FEMA precisely because it conflicted with their true agenda of turning the area into “grassland with islands of shrubs.” Schaaf and other members of the Oakland City Council sent a letter to FEMA urging it to reject calls for thinning in favor of a scorched earth, clear-cutting plan. Why? Because their plan is not and never was about fire

When the means by which a particular end must be sought are so cruel and destructive, common sense compels a closer look at the goal itself. If the decimation of pristine forests and the deliberate poisoning of wildlife and people in the region is the only way to achieve a stated end, then the end itself must be problematic. And when the goals of Schaaf, Dirks and Doyle are considered in light of what we know about the ever evolving and changing nature of life in Earth, it becomes clear that they have not only declared war on the byproducts of nature—certain plants and animals which have traveled or been transported from their place of origin—but on the workings of nature itself: migration, natural selection, evolution, change. Invasion biologists and those who defer to them create phantom problems where none in fact exist; instructing us to not only regard inevitable natural forces as sinister and threatening (or gentle, carbon sequestering, habitat creating, shade giving, majestic trees as pernicious and evil), but to embrace often catastrophic and self-destructive means to reach an elusive and impossible goal: holding nature in stasis to preserve a particular and favored but arbitrarily chosen moment in time.

Today’s environmental movement now embraces an agenda pursuing the very outcomes it was born to combat. As true environmentalists working to bring sanity back to a cause that has been hijacked by a philosophy that would be unrecognizable to its early founders , those of us who oppose plans to destroy the forests of the East Bay, San Francisco’s Mount Sutro, or wherever campaigns of destruction are being waged against plants and animals unfairly maligned as unworthy of their continued existence simply because they did not evolve in the “right” place, we must stop speaking the language created by invasion biologists to fear monger and thereby confuse the public and public officials into supporting their deeply misguided and dangerous agenda. We must stop acquiescing to the idea that every human induced change to our landscape is necessarily bad, that the planting of trees by our ancestors which have since resulted in forests that provide beauty, carbon sequestration and animal habitat are as evil as the coal fired power plant belching greenhouse gases into our skies. We must reject the notion that “native” is by definition better, that such a label carries any relevant distinction, and that it is fair to the other species who share our planet to hold them to a standard we refuse to ourselves obey. We must reject the idea that it is wise to declare a hopeless war on that which we can never change: change itself. Otherwise, we will be struggling to save our wild places from these insane assaults in perpetuity, always debating merely the catastrophic means but never the catastrophic ends.

“Non-native” and “invasive species” are terms that have entered the lexicon of popular culture and become pejorative, inspiring unwarranted fear, knee-jerk suspicion, and a lack of thoughtfulness and moral consideration. They are language of intolerance, based on an idea we have thoroughly rejected in our treatment of our fellow human beings—that the value of a living being can be reduced merely to its place of origin. And when we speak these words, repeat them and pay lip service to their perceived implication that we must revere the familiar and disdain the foreign, we should not only be ashamed to do so, but realize that we are opening the floodgates of expression to our darker natures and our most base instincts—impulses which have been responsible for the most regrettable moments in human history. If Schaaf, Dirks and Doyle have their way, that will invariably include what future, more enlightened generations of Bay Area environmentalists will regard as nothing short of an historical travesty: the willful decimation of what was once of the Bay Areas’ most legendary and spectacular beauties—the East Bay forests.

We must reject the myopia, illogic and bad science of invasion biology in favor of reason, common sense and a broader understanding and appreciation of the changing nature of life on Earth. And we must replace the language of biological xenophobia with the language of tolerance and compassion. It is time to drive the terms “invasive species” and “non-native” into a well-deserved extinction.

For further reading:  Biological Xenophobia:

You can contribute to the suit of the Hills Conservation Network, which is trying to stop this project as it is presently planned.  Information about  how to make a contribution HERE.  

You can also participate in this effort to save our urban forest in the East Bay by visiting the Tree Spirit Project and making a contribution.  Tree Spirit is organizing a photo shoot for July 18th and they are making a video about the project.  They are also trying to publicize the project so that the public is informed and has an opportunity to help us prevent the destruction of our urban forest.

Update:  The Winograds have created a great website about these projects.  Please visit their website HERE.  Please take a look at the “take action” page.  They have made some excellent suggestions about WHAT YOU CAN DO to help us prevent this project from being implemented as presently planned.  Thanks for your help.

(1) Ken Thompson, Where do camels belong?, Greystone Books, 2014

35 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2015 5:21 pm

    Milliontrees says, “It is time to drive the terms “invasive species” and “non-native” into a well-deserved extinction.” Interesting timing, given this in today’s NYTimes:

    • April 7, 2015 5:30 am

      The article in the NY Times is about introduced animals of which some have become problematic in some settings. However, the article also concedes that it is not possible to get rid of them. Here is an article in The Economist Magazine which says that although introduced animals are sometimes a problem, plants rarely are:

      The post on which gw is commenting is about the eradication of non-native trees in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of the trees that will be destroyed are eucalyptus. The California Invasive Plant Council recently downgraded their classification of eucalyptus from “moderate” to “limited.” Their reassessment says that eucalyptus is rarely invasive, only in specific conditions. For the most part, where they live is where they were planted by humans.

      • May 1, 2015 6:27 am

        If I may remind you, you said, ““It is time to drive the terms “invasive species” and “non-native” into a well-deserved extinction.” As such, you are casting a broad blanket, not just referring to eucalyptus. You are too unfamiliar with the problems of other areas to make such statements. Kudzu, anyone?

        • May 1, 2015 6:46 am

          You are quoting a guest post by Nathan Winograd who is entitled to his opinion…as we all are. Although I believe those terms are over-used and therefore cause a lot of unnecessary destruction, I find it difficult to discuss the issues without using those terms. It is the native plant movement that “casts a broad blanket” by attempting to eradicate many plants and animals that are not doing any harm. Those who destroy are more accountable for their generalizations than those who disagree with that destruction. We aren’t spraying herbicides on native plants or otherwise trying to destroy them.

          • May 1, 2015 6:55 am

            So do you or do you not agree with the statement, “It is time to drive the terms “invasive species” and “non-native” into a well-deserved extinction?”

          • May 1, 2015 8:01 am

            I have answered your question. These terms are over-used and therefore cause a lot of unnecessary destruction. However, it is difficult to discuss these issues without using these terms.

        • August 24, 2015 7:06 pm

          This is one of many of gw’s references to kudzu as her favorite example of an “invasive” plant that is so extreme that we cannot defend it here on Million Trees. We couldn’t defend it when gw first posted this comment because our climate is not suitable for kudzu—which requires a warmer, more humid climate than ours—and because we had not read a study about it. If we don’t have a scientific study or direct experience, we avoid speculation. Such caution doesn’t prevent nativists from attacking us, but we like to think it limits their opportunities.

          The Smithsonian has just published a defense of kudzu, which we are happy to share with our readers: As usual, the ability of kudzu to invade beyond disturbed roadsides is limited. When non-native plants become a problem it is usually because humans have created opportunities for them. Kudzu is not an exception to this general rule.

  2. Harry permalink
    April 6, 2015 8:39 pm

    There was an article today on KQED about how the US Forest Service is being called out on their “restoration” policy which is terribly destructive and unnecessary. They want to turn back the clock and “restore” (kill healthy trees) areas and sell the trees. 4/6/15

  3. areallysmallfarm permalink
    April 7, 2015 8:33 am

    I wonder when Dow and Monsanto will receive awards from some Big Green for outstanding work in environmental stewardship for helping to “restore” the imagined Paradise. This use of poisons with known risks to human health and the health of animals is simply insane.

    As for the terms “non-native species” and “invasive species” I prefer to call them “recently introduced” when humans intentionally bring them in or “recent migrants” when they show up by accident.

    • May 1, 2015 9:07 am

      Yes, well, wait until you find that your really small farm is wall-to-wall carpeted with Garlic Mustard, or something as invasive, and you’re wondering why you’re not seeing wildflowers and butterflies and new trees anymore. Then maybe you’ll think again about what you wrote here.

      • May 1, 2015 11:06 am

        The negative effects of garlic mustard are temporary, like most introductions of new plants. Since garlic mustard arrived first in the eastern US and spread slowly west, scientists compared the allelopathic toxicity of a population of garlic mustard known to have arrived 50 or more years ago with a population which arrived only 10 years ago. The toxicity of the recently arrived garlic mustard was significantly greater than that of the older population. In fact, the understory and seedling germination were rebounding in the forest with the older population of garlic mustard.
        Carroll, Scott, “Conciliation biology: the eco-evolutionary management of permanently invaded biotic systems,” Evolutionary Applications, 2011, 184-199.

      • A Really Small Farm permalink
        May 1, 2015 1:14 pm

        Yes, well, wait until there all the water and soil is contaminated by glyphosate, picloram and 2,4-D and you can’t grow apple trees or escarole (chicory) because some “environmentalist” says that those are invasive species.

        I still stand by what I wrote.

        • May 1, 2015 2:03 pm

          I doubt anyone is telling you apple trees are invasive. But if your chicory invades my property, YOU come over and get rid of it, and if you don’t want to use herbicides, fine, you can put in the hard labor pulling it. You have many, many choices in what to grow, but if you choose invasive non-natives, you are imposing YOUR WILL on the property of others, and on public lands, for your choices become OUR problems.

          • A Really Small Farm permalink
            May 1, 2015 2:37 pm

            I work with people who “restore” habitats with herbicides. I have heard them describe feral apples as invasive.

            Its a nice day here and who has time to waste answering every one of your silly objections?

  4. Dave permalink
    April 8, 2015 3:21 pm

    When people discover the carnage that has taken place in the Oakland hills it will be too late. But outrage and blame there will be. And it will be interesting to see who among the nativists take their due responsibility.

    • April 8, 2015 3:53 pm

      As one who has debated with nativists for nearly 20 years, I can assure you that not only will they not take responsibility for the carnage, they won’t even admit that it exists. In fact, I think some of them can’t even see it! I look at a place like Stern Grove, where dead trees are left lying on the ground and the native trees that were planted less than a year ago are already dead, and it looks like a complete failure to me. They describe it as a huge success! Do they believe that? I don’t know. Maybe they haven’t even gone to look at it. Maybe they just assume it was a success because they got what they wanted. Really…it’s a mystery to me what they see. But, don’t expect any expressions of regret. Not gonna happen.

  5. Bill permalink
    April 8, 2015 6:15 pm

    Terrific article. Milliontrees offers so much valuable information on this crazy ideology of “nativism”. We are left to ask, as the author asks above, why are these eradication plans allowed to happen?

    All across the country, plant and animal killings for strange and arbitrary reasons are occurring, especially with the use of poisons.

    Below, read how the small village of Manlius, NY, (east of Syracuse) home to a breed of swans called mute swans–living in the village pond for over one hundred years–now finds that these birds are “non-native”. The swans are banned from reproducing, and NY State wants to see every mute swan in New York dead by 2025.

    from (March 11, 2015)

    “Under new rules and regulations from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Faye and Manny, the beloved mute swans in the village of Manlius, will not be allowed to reproduce anymore because they are an “invasive species” that needs to be eradicated from the state.

    “It’s unfortunate,” Manlius Mayor Paul Whorrall said. “Swans have been a symbol of Manlius for over 100 years. People come from all over to see the swans and they look forward to seeing the cygnets each year.”

    The evidence of the swan as a symbol can be seen on banners, signs, the village website, village logo and even in some of the businesses in the village.

    The New York State Mute Swan Management Plan has declared mute swans, native to European and Asian countries, an invasive species due to “aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality and potential hazards to aviation.”

    There are about 2,200 mute swans in New York state and, by 2025, the DEC wants to eliminate the species.

    According to Whorrall, the village has applied to for an invasive species permit to be able to keep Manny and Faye, but would have to outline a plan to prevent the pair from mating or to destroy any eggs that were produced.

    This news comes three years after seven swan eggs were destroyed by a resident in the village, causing outrage as well as concern to Manlius residents about the safety of the swans. Some residents formed a 24-hour patrol to keep watch on them.

    “It’s upsetting,” Whorrall said. “Each year the cygnets are used as a learning experience for elementary children … They learn about swans, visit the cygnets and each year, an elementary class gets to name them based on what they learn.” ….

    Typically, Manny and Faye’s eggs are laid around April and are hatched in May. Cygnets born in the Manlius swan pond are brought to mute swan breeders in other states before the next set of eggs are laid and hatched, said Michael Bean, caretaker of the swans who donated the pair five years ago.

    Bean said he thinks this DEC ruling is unfair to responsible owners of mute swans and the original plan by the DEC was to target wild, free-ranging mute swans.

    “If they were in the wild, they would be able to mate. Those wild mute swans are the ones who are causing the problems,” Bean said. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep swans like Manlius does and this ruling may make it obsolete.”

    Bean has been in contact with the DEC to see if there is any way to appeal the no-breeding rule in the case of Manny and Faye because Faye carries a recessive genetic trait that is passed down to her cygnets that gives some white bills, white feet and blue eyes rather than the usual black feet, black-and-orange bills and brown eyes.

    “We are not going to win — it is my gut feeling,” said Bean. “It’s a ‘David and Goliath’ situation between us and the DEC.”

    Bean said one way to bring this issue to life is to send a letter to the New York State DEC.

    After news of the DEC plans to eliminate the mute swan population, a petition was created by “Village of Manlius Residents & The Manlius Swan Pond Lovers” to send to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state DEC. As of press time, over 600 signatures have been collected.

    To sign to petition, go to

    Hayleigh Gowans is a reporter for the Eagle Bulletin. She can be reached at

    The invasive species wars are all around us. Thanks to million trees and the Winograds for the work they are doing. People do instinctively realize these policies of destruction and altering nature don’t make sense. We need such voices to help them articulate why these programs need to be stopped, and often, to let people even see these eradication/poison programs are going on. Nature was doing fine without these invasive wars…against nature, and people’s health.

    • April 8, 2015 6:32 pm

      Thanks, Bill. It is always good to hear from you.

      We have followed the mute swan issue in New York a bit. Hugh Raffles wrote an excellent op-ed in the New York Times in their defense. There was also a New York state legislator who took an interest and tried his best to overturn the policy. Although he was not successful, I believe the State agency did modify their original plan which was to actually KILL all 2,200 mute swans in New York State. Here’s an update on the mute swans in New York:

      As much as I despise the destruction of all of our good trees, the killing of animals is even more outrageous. They are blameless creatures who were brought here by humans who have now turned on them in the service of a nonsensical ideology that is hateful at its core.

      For the benefit of other readers, let me just add that Bill lives in the mountains of Georgia where he has witnessed the spraying of herbicides in local public lands. He has been very helpful to us on the pesticide issue on which we are not experts. We need his help to identify good sources of information on that important and difficult topic.

  6. Peter Marshall permalink
    April 9, 2015 5:51 am

    Just wondering where is the closest site of Sudden Oak Death ( Phytopthera )?

    An intervention on this scale will require a huge number of vehicle movements .

    We have seen Phytopthera spread by soil on vehicle tracks and wheels and in debris spread by woodchippers .

    Does FEMA have a really tight biosecurity protocol to prevent it acting as a vector for a pathogen which will destroy the very shrub species it is promoting ?


    • April 9, 2015 6:28 am

      Excellent question and one many of us asked in our public comments on this destructive project. In fact, there is Sudden Oak Death all over the East Bay Hills and there are on-line maps that inform the perpetrators exactly where it is. We supplied them with those maps. We pointed out that predictions that the existing forest would eventually be forested in oaks was inconsistent with the rampant spread of Sudden Oak Death. We also pointed out that the herbicides that will be used to prevent the trees from resprouting are known to be mobile in the soil and will probably damage the oaks that now live under the trees that will be destroyed. We also pointed out that the herbicides that will be used are known to damage the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil which are essential for the health of the oaks they claim will repopulate the wasteland created by this project. There were a multitude of solid arguments used against this project, as expressed by nearly 13,000 people who wrote comments. The response to our criticisms is a stunning display of double-talk. With a wave of the hand, they dismiss all of our concerns by claiming that their “Best Management Practices” will prevent anything bad from happening.

  7. Peter Marshall permalink
    April 9, 2015 4:14 pm

    A bloody disaster in the making .
    Is there no legislation which mandates biosecurity practices in infested zones ?
    Any probono legal power available to enforce this ?
    Even big gov institutions are afraid of legal action .

    Good luck , such foolishness must be fought .

    • April 9, 2015 5:03 pm

      More good questions….The academics who study Sudden Oak Death offer some guidelines for avoiding the spread of the pathogen, but they do not have the force of law. As you might expect, they advise people to clean their tools, vehicles, footwear when leaving infected areas. They also advise people to leave the remains of the infected tree in place, but not next to moving water. Not particularly rigorous advice, in my opinion, but in any case, following that advice is entirely voluntary. Perhaps Aussies are more willing to regulate than Americans. We are an extremely individualistic society which guards its “freedom” rigorously.

      As for legal action, an organization with which we collaborate has filed a temporary restraining order against the funding and implementation of this project. I don’t think the spreading of Sudden Oak Death was one of their arguments against this project. I believe herbicide use was their primary objection.

  8. April 27, 2015 5:34 pm

    Very good article. Where all this leads will be very telling. I did read the comments too and the mute swans is an issue that I signed the petition for the moratorium. Sad to kill animals of any kind. Even the pythons and I don’t even like snakes. The trees… well animals need them to live. Makes no sense.

  9. May 9, 2015 8:27 pm

    I wish there was more we could do to stop this tragedy for the trees, animals, other plants, earth, us…. A friend made a one page leaflet that combines links and info if anyone want to get copies to post at all the parks that will be destroyed.

    I was just reading about how close the Marin Headlands came to being a blight of malls and houses, etc. It feels like we are at a similar crossroads except that these parks are already created and should be safe. The thought of the poison and destruction is horrific. It’s already painful to go to Huckleberry because of the tree killing that has been started early.

    Then I see the dead and dying beautiful Pinus Sabinia at Mt. Diablo. Every single one of the healthy “non-native” trees we have is precious. How can it be that most people still don’t know what is about to happen, and that we have no right to vote?

    Have those who tried to stop UC from cutting the few old oaks joined in this fight at all? They staved off UC for a long time even though that was not likely to work. This is different because it’s all about money and demonstrations to stop the killing would cost the tree killers.

  10. May 26, 2015 7:05 am

    Leave the natural environment alone. GOD made it and we want it preserved for the good of our lives, our children’s lives, and all the wild creatures who inhabit it. Leave our trees, grasses, forests, and its inhabitants alone, let them live in peace.

    • May 26, 2015 10:43 am

      Adele, I agree with you. What I don’t agree with is this website. What is referred to here as “invasion biology” is conservation attempts to protect and preserve the natural environment from invasive non-native vegetative species.

      I wish I could show you before-and-after photos of my own property here in the midwest.

      Where I removed invasive non-native Asian honeysuckle shrubs you would see there had been nothing, nothing else, had been able to grow there for 20-30 years. Nothing but a monoculture of honeysuckle shrubs. A generation of trees were stunted or lost. No wildflowers or native plants.

      You could see, in the background of the photos, a dense wall of honeysuckle yet to be removed.

      Natural communities can support a wide range of species, as evolution designed over millions of years of natural selection. But Asian Honeysuckle was brought over from Mongolia. Since it did not evolve here, it did not develop relationships with native species, the “checks and balances” of insect and viral controls. This advantage allows it to out-compete native species, creating vast monocultures of just this one plant. It infests everywhere here, high forests, low forests, meadows, backyards, you even find it in sidewalk cracks. A park where I volunteer with honeysuckle shrub removal is about 100 acres, with an infestation of 250,000 – 1,000,000 mature honeysuckle shrubs.

      I don’t know where you live, Adele, but please check your state’s list of invasive species and remove those you can. Here is research regarding Asian Honeysuckle:

      • May 26, 2015 12:57 pm

        For Adele’s benefit, I will reply to this comment. However, these are all things that have been said to gw many times before.
        Here are three studies which have found that wildlife is not harmed by honeysuckle, nor does it benefit from its removal:
        1) Although cardinals had the choice of nesting in native or non-native shrubs in this 80 hectare bird sanctuary (Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm), 65% of the 121 nests in this study were in non-native honeysuckle or multiflora rose. The study tested for an association between plant species and probability of nest success by dividing all nests into two categories, one for the two dominant species of non-native plants and the other for all other plant species: “The probability of success was not associated with [plant] species category.” Tamatha Filliator, Randall Breitwisch, Paul Nealon, “Predation northern cardinal nests: Does choice of nest site matter?,” The Condor, 96, 761-768, 1994
        2) “…these results provide no evidence that urban forests were acting like ecological traps for cardinals. Instead, cardinals in urban and rural forests had similar numbers of nesting attempts, young fledged over the breeding season, and apparent annual survival rates. Thus, these findings do not support the idea that urban forests in Central Ohio represent ecological traps for synanthropic understory birds” [birds that live in artificial habitats created by humans]. Urban forest sites in her study contained far more exotic vegetation than rural forest study sites: “Understory woody vegetation was over 50% more dense, with nearly 3 times greater numbers of exotic shrub stems than rural forests.” Exotic vegetation in this study was described as predominantly honeysuckle and multiflora rose. There was no statistical relationship between the number of nesting attempts and the composition of the landscape: “There were no significant differences in either the number of nesting attempts among years or between [urban and rural] landscapes.” Lionel Leston, Amanda Rodewald, “Are urban forests ecological traps for understory birds? An examination using northern cardinals, Biological Conservation, 131 (2006), 566-574
        3) Ms. Rodewald’s recent study says, “the lowest overall nest survival rates” of birds were in the plots where honeysuckle had been removed. “Does removal of invasives restore ecological networks? An experimental approach,” Amanda Rodewald, et. al., Biological Invasions, March 2015.

        Fortunately, evolution and adaptation occur much more rapidly than gw believes. There are many studies that find insects are capable of adapting to new vegetation within a few generations. In fact, a recent 2014 study shows that plant communities with exotic plants had more plant species as well as more pollinators, that pollinators didn’t prefer native plants, and that even some specialist pollinators depended on introduced plant species. (Stouffer, et. al., “How exotic plants integrate into pollination networks,” Journal of Ecology, September 2014)

        Most people would say that “Leaving nature alone” includes not spraying it with herbicides. Herbicides are heavily used by these eradication efforts. Little is known about what those herbicides are doing to wildlife trying to live in our gardens and parks. But it’s a safe bet they don’t benefit from having their food being sprayed with herbicides.

        • May 26, 2015 3:04 pm

          If insects and plant viruses evolved as quickly as you say, honeysuckle would not be so pernicious. Also, you do not seem to be aware that spraying of RoundUp is not standard best practice in honeysuckle control. If you did not indulge in defaming common conservation biology practices in such sweeping terms, insulting conscientious research and work of a worthy, world-wide scientific discipline, you would not find yourself in such an indefensible position. But you are as dug in as a climate change denier, exaggerating whatever insignifcant shred of misinformation you can promulgate to disguise the weight of science against you. It is not you I am concerned about, though, for you are obviously dug in. What I find reprehensible is your attempt to fool others.

          • May 26, 2015 3:42 pm

            You claim that herbicide is not typically used to eradicate honeysuckle, yet you provide a link to an unpublished paper about honeysuckle eradication which says, “Optimal control strategies include cutting the shrubs after leaf-out in the early spring or, although less desirable, in the fall and applying herbicides containing glyphosate.”

            Insect predation is only one of many reasons why a particular plant may dominate a landscape. However, there is no scientific evidence that there is less insect predation of non-natives than natives. All the empirical evidence reports that there is no difference, including Doug Tallamy.

            Here is one study which says that Asian plant species have evolutionary advantages over plants in places with shorter evolutionary histories because longer evolutionary histories confer competitive advantages: Jason Fridley and Dov Sax, “The imbalance of nature: revisiting a Darwinian framework for invasion biology,” Global Ecology and Biogeography, 23, 1157-1166, 2014 You commented on that study, so this should not news to you.

            Another more typical explanation for the competitive advantages of non-native species over their native predecessors is that changes in the environment have occurred to which the native is not adapted but the non-native is. For example, Tamarisk is dominating in the southwest because of drastically reduced water resources, which Tamarisk can cope with but its native predecessors—willows and cotton woods—cannot.

            You complain about the sources that I provide for every point I make in response to your unpleasant comments, yet it should be clear to our readers that you have yet to provide a single scientific source that substantiates your beliefs. I marvel that you persist in continuing to state your beliefs on this website. It should be clear to you by now that you do not have anything to offer here that proves your beliefs.

  11. Laura Cavallo permalink
    June 1, 2015 10:30 pm

    This is horrible…leave nature ALONE !!!

  12. June 2, 2015 1:46 pm

    I would say if wildlife has moved in these forests, then they are no longer invasive. An ecosystem has formed around those trees and you will be destroying nature’s work. Seeds sail the oceans in many ways, not just via humans. If you destroy the wild life there now, you will be causing great harm to an existing ecosytem.

    • June 2, 2015 3:07 pm

      Many members of our wildlife community require our non-native forest. Owls and Hawks nest in eucalyptus and their nests are more successful than those in available native trees, according to a study by Stephen Rottenborn. Seventy-five percent of the California migration of monarch butterflies overwinters in eucalyptus according to a study by Dennis Frey and Andrew Shaffner. Cornell Ornithology Lab tells us that the range and population of Anna’s hummingbird has expanded in California because of winter nectar provided by eucalyptus. Anna’s is one of many birds which nest in eucalyptus. Honeybees as well as native bees need winter nectar provided by eucalyptus, because there are few other sources of nectar at that time of year.

  13. June 3, 2015 8:49 pm

    I’m speechless as I write this I cannot fathom the Issue at hand here. This is where intelligence and due diligence
    need to come to the forefront the concept here is of maniacal proportions. Someone has lost touch with reality and Nature. This idea is as ridiculous as it is Tragic. How stupid is Man that he cannot envision a Natural and fair Ecosystem.


  1. The Jewels in Oakland’s Crown: In Defense of Eucalyptus Trees » Today's America

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