Site 29 is identified by the mile marker on Claremont Ave, just west of the intersection with Grizzly Peak Blvd. All the eucalyptus trees were destroyed there about 10 years ago. The trees that were destroyed were chipped and piled on site as mulch intended to prevent the growth of weeds. The trunks of the trees line the road, log reminders of the forest that was destroyed.
The site was adopted by the Claremont Canyon Conservancy (CCC). CCC has planted many redwood trees there and they consider it their showcase for their advocacy to destroy all eucalyptus trees in Claremont Canyon and elsewhere in the East Bay Hills. The Sierra Club and CCC have collaborated in the effort to convince the public that if the eucalyptus trees are destroyed, a lovely garden of native plants and trees will replace the eucalyptus forest. They also want you to believe that their garden will be less flammable than the eucalyptus forest.
There are several flaws in this rosy prediction. The first problem is that Site 29 is ecologically unique. It is a riparian corridor with a creek running through it. Therefore, more water is available there than on the sunny hills where eucalyptus forests grow. It is a canyon with steeply sloping sides that provide protection from sun and wind, which helps retain moisture. In other words, conditions at Site 29 are ideal for the landscape that CCC and its friends are trying to achieve.
Site 29 is also unique because CCC has planted many trees there and they have sponsored many work parties to maintain the site. CCC has not made a commitment to plant all 2,000 acres of the East Bay Hills on which all non-native trees will be destroyed by the FEMA grant projects. Nor have any of the land owners made a commitment to plant those acres after the trees are destroyed.
So, given the ideal landscape conditions, the planting, and maintenance invested by CCC, how successful is Site 29? Is it a lovely native plant garden? Is it less flammable than the eucalyptus forest it replaced? This is our photo essay of Site 29 that answers those questions. But photos can be deceiving, so we invite you to visit yourself. Just drive east on Claremont Ave until you reach mile marker 29, park your car beside the road and take a walk.
The reality of Site 29
When we visited Site 29 in late April the milk thistle was thriving, but not yet in bloom. The striking zebra pattern of the leaves makes it an attractive plant, in our opinion, and this lazuli bunting seems to agree that it is a plant worthy of admiration. It is, however, not a native plant.
When we visited Site 29 a month later, in late May, it was a very different scene. The milk thistle had been sprayed with herbicide along the road, to a width of about six feet, providing a stark contrast between the dead vegetation and the still green weeds. Poison hemlock now grows along the trail into the canyon to a height of about 8 feet, joining the thistles as the landscape of Site 29. The piles of wood chips are still visible, but are mostly covered with non-native annual grasses and other weedy shrubs.
More fantasies face harsh realities
The contractors who apply herbicides on UC Berkeley properties have been photographed many times spraying herbicides at Site 29 and elsewhere. When they are observed spraying herbicides there are not any pesticide application notices to inform the public of what is being applied and when the application is taking place. So, unless you see them doing it, you don’t know that you are entering a place that has been sprayed with herbicide. Several days later, you know that herbicides have been applied only because the vegetation is dying and soon looks dead.
When the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA projects was published, the land managers claimed they would use “best management practices” in their pesticide applications, including posting notices in advance of spraying that would remain in place during the spraying and for some time after the spraying. That assurance turns out to be meaningless. Herbicides are being applied without any public notification before, during, or after application.
We were under the mistaken impression that posting application notices was required by California law. We therefore asked those who observed herbicide applications without posted signs to report the incidents as violations of California law.
The Alameda County Agricultural Department is responsible for enforcement of California’s laws regarding pesticide use in Alameda County. They have informed us that no notices of pesticide application are required for non-agricultural applications of glyphosate (RoundUp) or Garlon (triclopyr; the herbicide sprayed on the stumps of trees that are destroyed to prevent them from resprouting). The manufacturers of these products say they dry within 24 hours, which is the definition of when re-entry is permitted. Notification is not required for pesticides for which re-entry is permitted within 24 hours, even while the pesticide is being sprayed.
Would you like more Site 29s?
The eucalyptus forest at Site 29 was destroyed over 10 years ago. Therefore, it is a preview of what we can expect when eucalyptus is destroyed on 2,000 more acres of public land in the East Bay Hills. So, what can we learn from Site 29?
Site 29 had every advantage: plenty of water, protection from wind and sun, planting of native trees, and maintenance by a volunteer neighborhood association. Even with all those advantages, unshaded areas in which trees were destroyed at Site 29 are dominated by non-native weeds that are more flammable than a shady eucalyptus forest. And because the weeds are flammable, they must be repeatedly sprayed with herbicides along the roads where ignition is most likely to occur. Dead vegetation is more flammable than living vegetation, so the logic of the spraying seems muddled.
Most of the 2,000 acres of public land on which eucalyptus forests will be destroyed do not have a water source, or protection from wind and sun. Nor will trees be planted or maintenance provided. They are going to look much worse than Site 29 and they will be more flammable.
Site 29 is an opportunity for us to say,”NO, this is NOT the landscape we want. PLEASE do not destroy our eucalyptus forests!!”