We are please to publish a guest post by Bev Jo, a fellow friend of our urban forest. This is how Bev Jo describes her intimate relationship with nature and the creatures who live in nature:
“As a marginalized human, I identify with and feel protective of plants and animals who are feared and hated for no rational reason.
I was taught to fear spiders, but when I was eight I realized I couldn’t live in such terror, so decided to change. After observing and learning about spiders, fear turned to love. I’ve handled or petted so many spider species, scorpions, etc. with no problem. Without fear of nature, the entire world opens up. I’ve since had wonderful communication with wild species, from fish to spiders, insects, scorpions, rattlesnakes, raccoons, rats, skunks, and opossums. I’ve also learned to befriend plants like Poison Oak.
One of my goals is to help others overcome their fear of nature, so I regularly lead nature hikes. I want to tell everyone, please don’t let fear or hatred lead you to kill anyone, plant or animal.”
I’ve heard the propaganda meant to terrify us into hating beautiful exotic trees and plants because they supposedly harm wildlife, cause fires, and degrade ecosystems. Yet I know the harm caused by other myths and I love plants. I appreciate how many species grow in the Bay Area, from botanical gardens and elaborate landscaping to city street trees and simple yards in neighborhoods. The diversity here is amazing.
I’ve also noticed that few native trees are well-suited as street trees and in landscaping, while many introduced species are beautiful to see in our semi-tropical area. People have learned that if they want to attract birds, butterflies, etc. they need to plant non-natives, which continue feeding animals throughout the year because there is always something in bloom.
On a friend’s street, I was astounded to hear the sound of birds like nothing I’ve heard elsewhere because of a few Australian bottlebrush trees pruned into a lollypop shape, which isn’t attractive, but provides safe homes for countless birds.
Hummingbirds seem to be increasing as people plant more of these trees, exotic sages, and other plants. The list of non-native plants that nurture birds in our cities is astounding. And some of these plants are adapting to our environment and native animals.
While many of our native trees are dying from human-introduced and caused diseases and insect infestations, we are lucky to live in an area with such plant diversity. Even if all the oaks die from Sudden Oak Death, and conifers die from bark beetle infestation, we still have a wonderful variety of healthy, mature trees which are immune to those diseases and infestations.
I recently learned that in the Midwest where I grew up, the ash tree I so loved as a child is being killed by an insect infestation caused by humans. So, combined with other diseases, a large part of the US east of the Mississippi might eventually be treeless.
Our plant diversity ensures we will continue to have beautiful trees in the Bay Area – except for the danger from a few humans motivated by an irrational hatred of non-native plants. Even while we are dealing with serious drought, these fanatics want to kill the trees which are the most likely to survive, while other parts of the world are desperate to save the trees they have.
The nativists (who, of course, are predominantly non-native) are using xenophobic politics. They are hypocritical because they want to keep their fruit trees, vegetable and herb gardens, and exotic ornamentals as well as their pets and non-native domesticated animals while they demand that wild non-native animals be killed. And of course they won’t remove themselves. Nor are nativists demanding the elimination of California’s extensive agricultural industry that is based on growing non-native species for the rest of the US, nor the non-native honeybees essential for pollination.
The myth of fire risk is the con for destroying our parks but nativist ideology is also being used by the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) and UC Berkeley as the rationale for getting millions of dollars in FEMA money to kill at least 400,000 healthy non-native trees and poison our public lands. The Sierra Club has sued to kill even more trees.
East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is also hypocritical because they landscape their headquarters with primarily non-native species such as eucalyptus, olive, and Hedera canariensis (ivy). UC Berkeley, whose goal seems to be to turn our forested East Bay hills into highly flammable barren dry grasslands and more construction, has similarly landscaped their entire campus with exotic trees. It’s only the animals that are being deprived of the plants they need for shelter, nesting, and food.
One of the myths is that the exotic trees do not help native animals but many animals have adapted to and need eucalyptus. Raptors, like golden eagles, hawks, and great horned owls prefer to nest in Blue Gum eucalyptus because they are very tall trees with an open canopy, safer for young raptors to learn to fly in than the shorter, dense coast live oak and bay laurel forests. I had no idea how vulnerable these raptors were until I read about juvenile peregrine falcons dying from hitting branches as they were learning to fly. It’s easy to think of such graceful birds as having good flight control, but they don’t when young. Even watching California condor adults trying to safely land on cliffs and trees was a revelation because they had to struggle so hard.
After seeing red-shouldered hawks nesting in sycamores at Sunol Regional Wilderness, I realized how similar those trees are in appearance to eucalyptus: tall, open, and easy to navigate. But sycamores don’t grow in many places, while eucalyptus can grow anywhere. I’m guessing many of our raptors have expanded their range because of eucalyptus. Even in our relatively barren Oakland urban neighborhood, we see nesting red-shouldered hawks only because of one stand of magnificent eucalyptus.
A Quest documentary on KQED interviewed EBRPD’s Wildlife Manager Doug Bell who explained that golden eagles in the Bay Area are declining because they can’t reproduce quickly enough to counter the high numbers killed each year by the wind turbines at Altamont. The film shows golden eagles nesting in eucalyptus, yet nothing was said about EBRPD cutting down eucalyptus. If people care about golden eagles, how can anyone want to kill the tree that most ensures their survival? If more eucalyptus were planted on the many now-barren grassland hillsides, would we be able to stabilize golden eagles’ population?
Remember that EBRPD is the same agency that responded in writing to our questions about their toxic pesticide, Garlon, by calling it “Garland.” (Try looking up epidemiological studies on “Garland.”) Garlon is the herbicide that is sprayed on the stumps of eucalyptus trees after they are destroyed to prevent them from resprouting.
We have also been told by EBRPD employees that glyphosate is completely safe, even though it’s classified by World Health Organization as a probable human carcinogen. It is banned in many countries and some US cities, and is in our bodies, against our will.
EBRPD had recently planned aerial spraying of Briones Regional Park to kill the beautiful little yellow star thistle, which blooms like sunshine on the dry, desolate hillsides in summer. When we objected, they gave us ridiculous reasons, such as helping the boy scouts camp or preventing bicyclists’ tires from being punctured. Why not just stay on the designated trails rather than erode the park and run over animals? When a friend suggested using goats, they actually said it was too steep for goats! EBRPD has temporarily stopped the spraying plan, “for now.” Their massive amount of pesticide spraying next to the bay, reservoirs, and creeks is horrifying and unnecessary.
Marin Municipal Water District is able to maintain their enormous open space without using herbicides by mowing or just leaving the plants to die back when the rains stop.
When EBRPD said that all their pesticides were EPA approved, I responded “so was thalidomide.” Their spokesman had no idea what that was, so I said “so were all the pesticides now banned, like chlordane, which Rachel Carson wrote about.”
Then I was told that they are protecting endangered animals by their spraying. No, they are killing them. I’ve seen a California newt dying a terrible death after crawling through a sprayed area. I’ve seen yellow-billed magpies collecting nesting material from sprayed areas.
We can only imagine what other animals are being harmed. We have not heard any rational explanation for spraying poison next to endangered ridgeway rail habitat at Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline Park. The May-June parks EBRPD newsletter implied their plan to kill trees and spray poison would somehow help the endangered Alameda whipsnake. Nothing we were told by the EBRPD representatives made sense, including that their applicators are well-trained.
Even plants which are rarely seen and are sold in specialty produce stores, like the beautiful artichoke relative, cardoon (artichoke thistle), with its electric blue flower, are being sprayed, leaving the non-native grasses and poison hemlock to spread. The nativist fanaticism is extreme when tiny forget-me-nots are pulled off fragile steep hillsides, as happened at Huckleberry Botanical Regional Preserve, causing erosion.
Do they really think that people prefer seeing enormous swaths of ugly, poisoned earth, as seen at Del Valle Regional Park that had just been lush, velvety green? Why not just let the green go brown naturally as it does every year? They don’t care about the increased fire hazard from the burnt, dry, poisoned plants they leave behind.
One of the ironies about the nativists is how little they seem to know. I went on one of their nature hikes at twilight to see the soaproot lily/amole (now in the genus Chlorogalum), because they said it only bloomed at night. Yet soaproot blooms in the daytime all over the Bay Area and I could show it to anyone, any time. The only other mass of wildflowers in that dry, brown hillside, were edible wild mustard, which these nativist “naturalists” called “trash.” On another paid wildflower hike to a preserve, the nativist kept belaboring which species were terrible because they are non-native (like the “expert” herself), and misnamed several of the species we were there to see. This land is now a heavily grazed pasture, so we’re lucky to see any flowers at all.
These are some of the experiences I’ve had with nativists. I wouldn’t care that they know so little about plants except that they are wielding the power to destroy the trees, wildflowers, animals, and entire ecosystems that we love and should be caring for.
Once our beautiful forests are destroyed, the wildlife will die from hunger and loss of habitat and we will be left with flammable, ugly hillsides covered in poisoned stumps.
We should nurture and love rather than kill the exotic plants we are lucky to have. They provide cleaner air and offset global warming. They are doing so much for so many species, including us.