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California’s Urban Greening Grant Program: An opportunity to speak for the trees

November 7, 2016

In September 2016, the State of California passed a law that allocated $1.2 billion to create a cap and trade program to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.  The California Natural Resources (CNR) Agency was allocated $80 million to fund green infrastructure projects that reduce GHG emissions.  The CNR Agency is creating an Urban Greening Program to fund grants to cities, counties, and other entities such as non-profit organizations in URBAN settings.  75% of the funding must also be spent in economically disadvantaged communities.

These grants must reduce GHG emissions using at least one of these specific methods:

  1. Sequester and store carbon by planting trees
  2. Reduce building energy use from strategically planting trees to shade buildings
  3. Reduce commute, non-recreational and recreational vehicle miles travelled by constructing bicycle paths, bicycle lanes, or pedestrian facilities.

Clearly, planting trees is one of the primary objectives of this grant program.  That sounds like good news for the environment and everyone who lives in it until you read the draft program guidelines which are available HERE.

Unfortunately, as presently drafted, the grant program will NOT increase California’s urban tree canopies, because the program requires the planting of “primarily” native trees.   That requirement is explicitly stated several times in the draft guidelines, but there are also places in the draft where the reader might be misled to believe the requirement applies only to plants and not to trees.    Therefore, I asked that question of the CNR Agency staff and I watched the public hearing that was held in Sacramento on October 31st.  CNR Agency staff responded that the requirement that grant projects plant “primarily” native species applies to both plants and trees.

The good news is that the grant program guidelines are presently in draft form and the public has an opportunity to comment on them.  If you agree with me that we need our urban forest, you will join me in asking the CNR Agency to revise their grant program guidelines to remove restrictions against planting non-native trees.   Public comment must be submitted by December 5, 2016.  Send comments to:  Urban Greening Grant Program c/o The California Natural Resources Agency Attn: Bonds and Grants Unit 1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311 Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: (916) 653-2812, OR Email: urbangreening@resources.ca.gov Fax: (916) 653-8102

Here are a few of the reasons why limiting trees to native species will not increase tree canopies in urban areas in California:

Many places in California were virtually treeless prior to the arrival of Europeans.  Non-native trees were planted by early settlers in California because most of our native trees will not grow where non-native trees are capable of growing.  According to Matt Ritter’s California’s Guide to the Trees Among Us, only 6% of California’s urban trees are native to California:

urban-trees-origins

Draft guidelines for the Urban Greening grants refers applicants to the California Native Plant Society for their plant palette (see page 24 of guidelines).  If applicants use this as the source of their plant palate, they will find few trees on those lists.  This is another way to understand that if you want trees in California, most of them must be non-native.

Most California native trees are not suitable as street trees because of their horticultural requirements and growth habits. 

  • The approved list of street trees for the City of San Francisco includes no trees native to San Francisco.  There are many opportunities to plant more trees in San Francisco because it has one of the smallest tree canopies in the country (12%).  The US Forest Service survey of San Francisco’s urban forest reported that 16% are eucalyptus, 8% are Monterey pine, and 4% are Monterey cypress.  None of these tree species is native to San Francisco.
  • The approved list of street trees for the City of Oakland includes 48 tree species of which only two are natives. Neither seem appropriate choices:  (1) toyon is a shrub, not a tree and the approved list says it will “need training to encourage an upright form.”  It is wishful thinking to believe that toyon can be successfully pruned into a street tree; (2) coast live oak is being killed by the millions by Sudden Oak Death and the US Forest Service predicts coast live oaks will be virtually gone in California by 2060.

coast-live-oak-current

coast-live-oak-2060

Climate change requires native plants and trees to change their ranges if they are to survive.  One of the indicators of the impact of climate change on our landscapes is that 70 million native trees have died in California because of drought, insect infestations, and disease.  The underlying cause of these factors is climate change.

  • 66 million native conifers have died in the Sierra Nevada in the past 4 years because of drought and native bark beetles that have spread because winters are no longer cold enough to keep their population in check.  Update:  A new survey of California’s trees now reports that 102 million trees are now dead.  That’s one-third of California’s trees.  62 million trees died in 2016 alone, which is an accelerating rate of death.  These trees are still standing and they pose an extreme fire hazard.  These are NATIVE TREES being killed by a combination of drought and NATIVE BARK BEETLES.  
  • 5 million native oaks have died since 1995 because of Sudden Oak Death. A study of SOD by University of Cambridge said in spring 2016 that the SOD epidemic is “unstoppable” and predicted that most oaks in California would eventually be killed by SOD. The Oak Mortality Task Force reported the results of its annual survey for 2016 recently.  They said that SOD infections increased greatly in 2016 and that infections that were dormant in 2015 are active again.  This resurgence of the pathogen causing SOD is caused by increased rain in 2016.
  • Scientists predict that redwood trees will “relocate from the coast of California to southern Oregon” in response to changes in the climate.

If you care about climate change, please join us in this effort to create a grant program that will expand our urban forests and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.  Restrictions against planting non-native trees must be removed from grant guidelines in order to increase our tree canopies in California’s urban environments. 

Update:  The public comments have finally been posted on-line (after making repeated public records requests).  They are available HERE.  Our viewpoint is well represented by many members of the public as well as by a coalition of non-profit tree advocacy groups.  Thank you to all those who submitted comments.  Final guidelines will be published on March 1, 2017.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2016 1:28 pm

    Thank you so much for this important article. So few people know the basics about plants, environment, and even reality in terms of why some trees are surviving when so many are dying.

    It does not take much to learn how vulnerable our native trees species are, with SOD, but also the beetle infestation of Pinus Sabiniana. Even young Redwoods throughout the Bay Area are dying, often because they were planted without the company of other Redwoods that they need, or were planted too close to road and embankments, when they need to be where water does not run off. They are very disease resistant, but lack of water and too much heat can kill them. The older ones seem fine, but younger ones are not.

    Every native tree is vulnerable. (I don’t know if the magnificent native Douglas Fir is or why it’s never suggested in local plantings since it can grow taller than Redwoods and creates wonderful plant and animal diversity. On Mount Tamalpais, look under Douglas Firs to see the rare Calypso orchid and other wildflowers in spring. They are the only large conifer at Pt. Reyes.)

    Anyway, why not decide to play it safe and not waste money by making future city tree plantings be of trees we know will thrive because they are not native and not vulnerable to local diseases?

    Those who determine neighborhood tree plantings do not have a history of making good decisions. In the neighborhood I live in, they made an ornamental pear species be the street tree, even though many people could have told them that pears always are suffering with fireblight and they are spreading the illness by planting more, and also that that species of tree is highly allergenic. There are so many other wonderful choices to plant.

    I suggest varied planting so we have as many trees survive and possible. Eucalyptus are vulnerable to freezing, but Monterey Pines seem to do fine in the same conditions. We are fortunate to live where a wonderful variety of trees from around the world can thrive, including trees sacred to other people and places. Why not take advantage of that and protect ourselves from losing most of our trees?

    If anyone wants to learn which trees would make wonderful street trees and for other plantings, we can show you. Just looking at what is in the Arboretum gives a lot of ideas, and is also a way to see what trees do well in our particular climate. (Southern Hemisphere, like Australia, Chile, South Africa, and Mediterranean trees do particularly well.)

    • November 7, 2016 1:44 pm

      Thank you, Bev Jo. PLEASE write a public comment by December 5th. You’ve got a good start in this comment.

  2. November 7, 2016 3:24 pm

    I will, absolutely, and now sharing to my many pals on fb.

Trackbacks

  1. California’s Urban Greening Grant Program: An opportunity to speak for the trees | San Francisco Forest Alliance
  2. Urban Greening Draft – Speak for The Trees by 5 Dec 2016 | Save Mount Sutro Forest

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