Sierra Club: Puppetmaster of Destruction

John Muir is the founder of the Sierra Club. He would disgusted by the Club's advocacy for deforestation. He planted eucalyptus trees on his property in Martinez. He was as fond of eucalyptus as those who fight for their preservation.
John Muir is the founder of the Sierra Club. He would be disgusted by the Club’s advocacy for deforestation. He planted eucalyptus trees on his property in Martinez. He was as fond of eucalyptus as those who fight for their preservation.

We are grateful to Marg Hall, member of the Forest Action Brigade for this guest post about the role the Sierra Club is playing in the destruction of our urban forest and the poisoning of our public lands.

For the past year, members of the Forest Action Brigade have been spotlighting the Sierra Club as part of a larger campaign to stop the destruction of the trees in the East Bay Hills. This article answers the question: “Why focus on the Sierra Club?”

Long associated with environmental stewardship, the Sierra Club is a major player in local politics. Because so many Bay Area residents prioritize environmental protection, the Sierra Club enjoys lots of political capital, a ton of money, a deep bench of litigators, and the respect and fear of local politicians. They also have an entrenched leadership that pretends to be democratic, but in fact pushes around grass roots environmentalists, suppresses internal debate and dictates to local land managers.

As readers of Million Trees well know, the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club supports deforestation and the use of pesticides in the East Bay Hills. Some of us have concluded that they not only support this project, but are a major behind-the-scenes driver.

I first heard about the Club’s support for local deforestation about 6 years ago at a FEMA scoping hearing for the project Environmental Impact Statement.  Naïve me, I thought, “Oh good! the Sierra Club is here, and certainly they will weigh in on the right side of this issue.”   This is where my education began. The speaker representing the Sierra Club explained that they support this project and of course they will use pesticides, because that’s the only way to rid our parks of unwanted vegetation.  Wow! Pesticides?  “Unwanted plants”?

Until then, I had been a Club member for a number of years, thinking that the Sierra Club did good things. Before voting in our very complicated local elections, I’d check to see who and what they endorsed.  I supported bond measure CC (which the EBRPD uses in part to fund their eucalyptus tree removal) back in 2004 because, well, what could be wrong with increasing funding for the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD)? Nowhere in the ballot measure did they mention pesticides.  And as a former building inspector, the “fire hazard” reduction part sounded good. I thought the discussion in favor of native plants meant not planting English style lawns or plants in your garden that need lots of water. That sounded reasonable for a water scarce region.

Like so many of my neighbors, I’m neither a botanist nor a wildlife biologist, but I love the local parks and visit them almost daily.  I trusted the Sierra Club to “protect” the environment. I suspect a lot of folks do the same.  Now, after delving deeply into this local issue, I know better.  The local Sierra Club has a fanatical obsession with eradication, with waging a war on non-native plants in our local parks. This agenda drives much of their work. Many voters follow their lead, basing decisions in the voting booth on blind faith. Politicians go along with the Sierra Club agenda in order to gain Club endorsement.  Land managers must follow the lead of their elected bosses.  All one needs to do is invoke the label “non-native,” and weapons of war are deployed: ground troops of weed pullers, tree cutters, pesticide sprayers, imported “biologics” (bugs and germs), and even, on occasion, aerial bombardment of pesticides. Other mainstream environmental organizations (The World Wildlife Fund, Audubon Society) also participate in this war, but it’s the local Sierra Club that provides the propaganda and the political clout behind this horrible deforestation plan. It’s the Sierra Club that sits down on a regular basis with the managers of the East Bay Regional Park District to dictate the terms under which they must operate.  And when the EBRPD fails to fall in line, the Sierra club pulled out the big guns and sued in an attempt to force them to cut down all of the eucalyptus trees in the project areas, rather than a “thinning” plan that EBRPD preferred.

Here’s an example of the kind of hold that the Sierra Club has over the EBRPD.  Through a public records request, we obtained a letter (dated April 28, 2015) to the parks district governing board from Norman LaForce, long time Chairperson of the Sierra Club’s Public Lands Committee. The letter laid out in great detail the kind of compliance he expects in order for the EBRPD to obtain Sierra Club endorsement of Measure CC renewal (which expires in 2020).  Mr LaForce is perhaps the single most influential person promoting the local club’s nativist agenda. (emphasis added)

“The Sierra Club played a major and key role in the creation of Measure CC and the projects for which money would be spent….

“…Vegetation management that restores native habitat is less costly than programs that merely thin non-natives.  Native habitat that is restored in the fire prone areas that are currently eucalyptus plantations is less costly to maintain on an annual basis than a program of thinning non-native eucalyptus and other non-native trees.

“Hence, the Sierra Club believes it is critical that in any renewal of Measure CC funding for vegetation management should be increased for the removal of non-natives such as eucalyptus and their replacement with restored native habitat. If the Park District wants to continue with a program that merely thins the non-native ecualyputs (sic) and other non-ntaive (sic) trees, then it must find other funds for those purposes. Future tax money from a renewal of Measure CC funds should not be used to thin eucalyptus but must be allocated to the restoration of native habitat.”

The letter goes on to detail the Sierra Club’s position on a variety of other issues and projects, most of which involve “restoration”, which sounds good, but is a code word for removal of non-native plants by any means necessary, including the use of herbicides. Here’s a link to the complete letter:  Sierra Club dictates terms of Measure CC endorsement

I want to it make clear that we are environmentalists.  We support some of the same goals as the Sierra Club: opposition to XL pipeline, fracking, refinery expansion, use of coal, environmental racism.  We are not right wing climate deniers—one of the arguments Sierra Club uses to marginalize us.  The Sierra Club is on the wrong side of this issue and we want them to stop bullying local officials into this war against trees. John Muir, who loved eucalyptus trees, would weep at this travesty.

Marg Hall, Forest Action Brigade

13 thoughts on “Sierra Club: Puppetmaster of Destruction”

  1. It’s interesting that the Sierra Club pulls out the climate change denier label to suppress this dissent, I imagine it’s very effective and makes me wonder if we could reverse this strategy on them and connect the nativist zeal of the Sierra Club with the nativist zeal of Donald Trump and his followers. I can almost hear Trump saying “get rid of those trees, they’re not from here, they don’t belong, just get ’em out of here.”

  2. Nice try, but things have changed a whole lot since 1900, and there is no doubt in my mind that the great environmentalist John Muir would get rid of his eucalyptus when he saw the devastating impact of their invasiveness, and heartily advocate for their removal elsewhere.

    1. The California Invasive Plant Council rates the “invasiveness” and ecological impact of eucalyptus as LIMITED, Cal-IPC’s lowest classification. Therefore, it is not appropriate to use the word “devastating” to describe eucalyptus. Aerial photographs of Bay Area open spaces taken over a period of 60 years, ending in 1997 found that the size of eucalyptus forests had decreased during that period of time. Multiple studies of plants and animals found in eucalyptus forest consistently report that they are as biodiverse as native vegetation types. Clear cuts of eucalyptus forests have produced weedy messes dominated by non-native shrubs. Hundreds of gallons of herbicides have been used on those clear cuts in a vain attempt to prevent the transformation of shaded forests into weedy messes. “Devastating” is an accurate description of the consequences of clear cutting our non-native forests.

      1. You are misusing the term “invasive”. Italian thistle can easily take over an entire grassland. But it is very easy to remove by pulling or cutting. Eucalyptus creates far more biomass, but it is extremely difficult and expensive to remove its massive trunks. So “invasiveness”, as you are using it, is not a good measure of the extent of harm done.

        A eucalyptus grove is probably also not as biodiverse as a native forest, if you restrict your measurement to native species, as should be done. Simply counting species is a specious (no pun intended) argument.

        1. I am not defining “invasive.” “Invasive” is defined by the California Invasive Plant Council. If you have some criticism of their definition, I suggest you take it up with them.

          Nor do I presume to define biodiversity. Biodiversity is measured by scientists, using statistical tools that they defined. You are correct that the measurements used by scientists make no distinction between native or non-native species. Again, if you have some complaint about how biodiversity is defined by science, you should take that up with those who created those statistical tools.

      2. Brilliantly said. Anyone who really wants to know can observe old healthy stands of Eucalyptus in many places (I’ll show you if you want) and see how they don’t spread and are a wonderful part of a diverse eco system. If you want a chance to see nesting eagles and raptors, look to the tallest Eucs.

        It’s good to know they help contain and prevent fires also, for those who care about the truth.

  3. I’m sure David Brower as well would weep. As Marg Hall writes: ” All one needs to do is invoke the label “non-native,” and weapons of war are deployed: ground troops of weed pullers, tree cutters, pesticide sprayers, imported “biologics” (bugs and germs), and even, on occasion, aerial bombardment of pesticides. Other mainstream environmental organizations follow the lead. This fanaticism is not limited to the eucalyptus, but to innocent plants like purple loosestrife, japanese knotweed,et al that are demonized I’m sure to the delight of all the pesticide producers. This is a billion dollar industry, and shame on those environmentalists who– are entitled to their opinion –but not to encouraging and lobbying for the use of pesticides.

  4. The Sierra Club supports the use of herbicides (carefully applied) only to save money. But we know that saving money isn’t always the most environmentally benign….

    But name-calling is a good indicator or someone who can’t argue their case with facts and logic, is desperate, and therefore resorts to ad hominem.

    1. Yes, that’s correct. The reason the Sierra Club gives for supporting pesticide use is to save money. They use the same reason for demanding complete eradication of non-native trees, as opposed to thinning. The mission of the Sierra Club is the protection of the environment. Therefore, saving money is not an appropriate criterion for the Sierra Club to use to promote pesticide use because pesticides damage the environment.

      It is rather amusing that you complain about name-calling. My readers don’t see many of your comments in which you call us a wide range of names. Hypocrisy reigns in the land of nativists.

      1. I don’t name-call. I use words accurately. “Puppetmaster” is name-calling. It’s nowhere near true. That you are a liar is simply a FACT. Can you even tell the difference? That’s why you get no respect.

        1. “No respect?” Seriously? This blog is one of the only places to get ongoing truth and information about how our rare urban parks and state lands are being sold for money.

          I’ve been watching this mess unfold for a long time now and everything at this blog is true. “Unbought and unsold” is a more accurate description.

          At the end of this, those like Mjvande and others, like those who are betraying the principles of the real Sierra Club, who are profiting from this horror, will have to live with what they have done.

          Go to Site 29 in the Berkeley hills and tell us how that is preferable to our beautiful diverse forests.

          Even if they stop the clear-cutting and poisoning now, in a few years, the only healthy trees we have left may very well be the exotics/non-natives who are disease and drought-resistant.

  5. Thank you, Marg, for a wonderful article. It is so important that people know the truth before we lose our rare, magnificent urban wild forests, with so much plant and animal diversity.

    For us and the wildlife who depend on these trees and waterways unpoisoned, it’s horrific to think what we will be left with. This blog tells us where we can now go and see some of the devastation that awaits the rest of our East Bay Hills public lands.

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