The FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills, which will destroy hundreds of thousands of trees if and when they are implemented, are not unprecedented. Many similar projects have been implemented by UC Berkeley and East Bay Regional Park District. UC Berkeley destroyed at least 18,000 trees over 10 years ago and another 600 trees in August 2014. Our experience with those projects is one of the reasons why we are opposed to more tree destruction on an even bigger scale. Although land managers have attempted to reassure us about the implementation of the FEMA grant projects, we know from experience that their assurances are contradicted by the reality of their actual practices, which have been photographed by hikers in the Hills. This photo was taken in November 2010 at signpost 29 on Claremont Blvd, which is one of the places where UC Berkeley destroyed all the non-native trees about 10 years ago and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy has been actively engaged in an effort to restore native vegetation. The truck belongs to Expert Tree Company, which is the contractor that removed the trees and sprayed herbicides. There is a big tank of herbicide on the truck bed from which a hose extends. At the end of that hose someone is spraying herbicides on the weeds that colonize the unshaded ground when the tree canopy is destroyed. No notice of pesticide* application is posted, as required by California law. (1) This photo was taken in April 2012 on the opposite side of the road from signpost 29 on Claremont Blvd. This is one of the FEMA project areas where UC Berkeley intends to destroy all non-native trees. The same truck, with the same tank of herbicide is parked beside the road and someone is spraying herbicide along the road. Again, no notice of pesticide application is posted, as required by California law. When the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA projects was published in May 2013, the public was told that all pesticide applications would be posted in advance, as required by California law.
So, the pesticide applications immortalized by these photographs are a record of violations of State law as well as broken commitments made in the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA projects. But they are much more than that. They are also a photographic record that large quantities of pesticides are being sprayed. The truck is carrying a big tank of herbicide to which a hose is attached and from which herbicide is being sprayed. This is obviously irrefutable evidence that claims of supporters of the FEMA projects that “minimal” amounts of herbicide are being used are untrue.
These incidents were reported to FEMA because they violated the law as well as the commitments made by the Environmental Impact Statement. FEMA followed up on that incident. They reported the incident to the California Office of Emergency Services, which in turn notified UC Berkeley of the violation of the law. UC Berkeley defended its actions and several supporters of the FEMA project also came to UC’s defense, including the Claremont Canyon Conservancy and the Sierra Club. Here’s the letter that the Sierra Club sent to FEMA about this incident:
Sierra Club likens us to climate change deniers
We won’t waste your time justifying the complaint that UC Berkeley violated the law regarding pesticide applications. The fact that there was no pesticide application notice posted where pesticides were being sprayed is prima facie evidence that the law was violated. Our focus in this post is on the accusation of the Sierra Club (in their letter above) that those who oppose this destructive project are “like climate change deniers.” This accusation was repeated more recently by the author of this letter, Norman LaForce, in an interview on KPFA in which he used the same phrase to describe the opposition to the destruction of our urban forest (available HERE at 33:44).
Since the Sierra Club refuses to discuss the issues directly with those who oppose this project, perhaps they are unaware of the absurdity of this description. In fact, our opposition to this project is partially based on our concerns regarding climate change. The trees that will be destroyed by this project are storing millions of tons of carbon that will be released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Most of the trees that will be destroyed are expected to live at least another 200 years, so destroying them prematurely will needlessly exacerbate climate change.
Supporters of the FEMA projects are climate change deniers
The irony of the Sierra Club’s accusation is that the description fits them perfectly. Their support for the destruction of our urban forest is a demonstration of their denial of the realities of climate change.
The ranges of native plants and animals have already changed in response to changes in the climate. In the Northern Hemisphere native ranges have moved north and to higher altitudes. Scientists predict more changes in the climate in the future. Therefore, they predict that native ranges will continue to change for the foreseeable future. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published the following graphic illustration of the range changes that will be required for various types of plants and animals in the future if they are to survive:
On the vertical axis, the graph depicts the ability of plants and animals to move, measured in kilometers per decade. The horizontal lines depict the need of plants and animals to move in response to various scenarios of climate change, i.e., the greater the change in the climate, the further ranges must move. The bars depict the ability of plants and animals to move and the height of each bar informs us of the variable ability of plants and animals to move. Trees are the least able to move, unless we have the wisdom to plant them outside their native ranges—at higher latitudes or elevations–where they are more likely to survive in the future.
Supporters of the deforestation of the East Bay Hills do not acknowledge that the ranges of native plants have changed and will continue to change. They demand that we “restore” a landscape that existed in the San Francisco Bay Area 250 years ago, a landscape that is no longer adapted to the existing environment and will become progressively less well adapted in the future.
Climate change has killed millions of trees in California
The Los Angeles Times joined a scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science, Greg Asner, in a flight over the native forests of California. The scientist is using spectrometry to measure the amount of moisture in the trees, which is a proxy for the health of trees, ranging from dead to stressed to healthy. These measurements suggest that 120 million trees in California are dead or likely to die soon, which is about 20% of the state’s forests. Especially trees in lower elevations are in “big trouble.” Asner predicts that oak forests in the Sierra foothills are likely to be treeless grassland in the near future. He tells us that nearly 6 billion trees in the West died from 1997 to 2010 because of drought and bark beetle. As forests convert to grassland and scrub, the landscape releases stored carbon and its ability to store carbon in the future is greatly reduced because carbon storage is largely a function of above-ground biomass.
Contrast this actual scenario with the fantasy of native plant advocates who predict that when hundreds of thousands of trees are destroyed in the East Bay Hills, native plants and trees will magically emerge from 2 feet of wood chips to colonize the bare ground without being planted. One would be tempted to laugh at such an unlikely outcome if the reality were not so alarming. Native plants and trees that lived in the San Francisco Bay Area 250 years ago are unlikely to survive here even if planted and irrigated. To expect them to return without being planted is a bad joke.
Tree loss exacerbates drought
In addition to the loss of stored carbon, the loss of our tree canopy will also contribute to drought. Deforestation causes droughts because trees have an essential role in the water cycle that returns moisture to the atmosphere, then returns the moisture to the earth as precipitation. This cycle is not perfectly understood and so we are grateful to the NY Times for publishing an excellent article entitled, “Deforestation and Drought, Cutting down trees leads to climate change,” which explains “Trees take up moisture from the soil and transpire it, lifting it into the atmosphere. A fully grown tree releases 1,000 liters of water vapor a day into the atmosphere…The water vapor creates clouds, which are seeded with volatile gases…emitted by the trees to form rain.” Deforestation in the Amazon is expected to have an impact on the climate in places as far away as California. A climate scientist says, “reducing deforestation and replanting forests should be priorities not just in Brazil but in North America and beyond for many reasons, including the health of climate systems.”
When we discuss this issue with the supporters of deforestation in the Bay Area, they always pooh-pooh our concerns, saying that their projects are too small to have any effect on the climate. What they don’t seem to understand, or prefer to ignore, is that such projects are going on all over the country. Here in California, eucalyptus and Monterey pine have been destroyed in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Sonoma, Bolinas and probably many places of which we are not aware. And we hear about new projects all the time. These intentional projects to destroy trees are in addition to the millions of native trees that have died in the past few years because of the drought and millions of native trees that were destroyed by wildfires this summer. It is unconscionable that we are voluntarily destroying hundreds of thousands of healthy trees at such a time.
And so we ask you, “Who are the climate change deniers”? We think the supporters of the FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills—including the Sierra Club—are the climate change deniers.
*Herbicides are pesticides. Pesticide is a global term which covers a multitude of specific pesticides aimed at a variety of targets. Herbicides are the pesticides designed to kill plants. Other pesticides include insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, etc. We provide this definition, because many native plant advocates do not seem to understand the definition of the word “pesticide.” Many mistakenly believe that herbicides are not accurately called pesticides.
(1) “Pesticide Use Compliance Guide for Employers and Businesses,” Department of Pesticide Regulation, October 2010. California Code of Regulations, Title 3, Division 6, Number 6618 (3CCR 6618)