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The impact of native plant “restorations” on wildlife in our parks

December 15, 2017

Public land managers in the San Francisco Bay Area are destroying non-native trees and vegetation in our public parks and open spaces because of their preference for native plants.  These projects are harmful to wildlife because they destroy habitat, eliminate food sources, and spray herbicides that are harmful to wildlife.

Bev Jo is a frequent visitor to all of the parks of the Bay Area.  She knows our parks and the wildlife that lives in them.  She cares deeply about our wildlife.  We are publishing an excerpt of her comment to East Bay Regional Park District about the damage being done to wildlife, as a result of killing non-native trees and vegetation.

East Bay Regional Park District is in the process of selecting the projects that will be funded by the renewal of the parcel tax, Measure CC.  Measure CC will be on the ballot for renewal in November 2018 and will provide funding for “park improvements” for the next 15 years.  YOU can have some say about those projects by making your suggestions to the park district by the end of December.  Send your suggestions to

Once upon a time, people in the San Francisco Bay Area were thrilled to live in a place where so many exquisitely beautiful and edible plants from all over the world could survive. It’s not a tropical region, but sub-tropical, so there are limits to what grows here and it depends on the area.  But, still there is so much magnificent variety here that cannot live in other parts of the US.

People loved to plant what they missed from their homelands. In our small yard, the previous Lebanese owner had planted a Greek Bay Laurel, Olive, Sour Orange, Apricot, Nectarine, Apple, Pear, and Plums. Our poor neighborhood that was once mostly barren dry grass and juniper hedges, now has so many beautiful herbs and plants that just taking a walk is like a trip to a botanical garden. There also has been an increase in birds and other native animals.

Ice Plant (Carpobrotus), NPS Photo

Visitors used to be stunned that even the California freeways could be beautiful, with South African Ice Plant in glowing bloom and large trees and shrubs that bloom throughout the year to help clean the air from the traffic and soften the noise.

And then, something very disturbing happened. A movement began to spread that many of us recognized as being frighteningly similar to the racist hatred against immigrant people, but this time it was about nature, in the guise of being for nature. Most of the luminous Ice Plant has been eradicated. Flowering plants, including edible herbs, who most rational people would revere for their beauty and ability to survive in an increasingly dry land are being called “trash” and killed.

Ground squirrel

It’s not just innocent plants who are being reviled and killed, but animals are also being poisoned, trapped, and shot for no rational reason. The killing frenzy even includes important keystone native animals, like the California Ground Squirrel.

Why do we have to see parks we have loved for decades ruined, with most of the trees cut down for no reason other than that they are the “wrong” species, especially when many of the “right” (native) species are dying from global warming, disease, and insect infestation? Most parts of the US, as well as the world, treasure trees and are planting more, but not the Bay Area.  Even while temperatures are increasing horrifically–and anyone can easily feel the twenty degrees difference between being in the sun versus being under trees–we are cutting down our trees.

Monarch butterflies over-winter in California’s eucalyptus groves

With so much of the land in the Bay Area covered by concrete, asphalt, and buildings, shouldn’t we value and love every tree we have? Aren’t the trees who most help native animals even more important to protect?  Of course I’m talking about the majestic Blue Gum Eucalyptus. In spite of myths saying no native animals use Eucalyptus, they are clearly crucial to the survival of the Monarch Butterfly. Their flowers are an important food source for hummingbirds, and they are the preferred nesting tree for large raptors, like Golden and Bald Eagles, Great Horned Owls, and Buteos.  Raptors haven’t been indoctrinated in the nativist cult. They just want the safest nest for their babies. A survey in Tilden Park found 38 different plant species beneath the canopy of Eucalyptus forests, compared to only 18 in Oak woodlands.

Monterey pines are also villainized, even though they are native, with fossil records throughout the Bay Area. They give throughout their life cycle, as they irrigate other plants with their extensive fog drip.  They enrich the soil more than most other trees, and feed and shelter a diverse population of animals, including woodrats. The woodrat’s intricately constructed pyramid nests provide homes for many other species like mammals, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, etc. The pines are a self-replenishing forest, continually creating baby trees, while their dead snags are perfect granary trees for acorn and other woodpeckers, as well as being lookouts for hunting birds. Visit Monterey pines to see the rich wildlife around them, from kingfishers to tree creepers. In one small area of local pines, it’s possible to find over forty mushroom species.

Cedar waxwings in crab apple

The advantage of having plants from all over the world is that someone is always blooming, fruiting, and setting seed. One of our most beloved, but not often seen birds, the Cedar Waxwing, travels in flocks from one berry-bearing shrub or tree to another. I have seen Waxwings eating non-native Cotoneaster, Ligustrum, and Pyracantha berries, and only once native mistletoe. Almost all our birds are benefiting from non-native species, for nesting and food.

Our most common spider species, so essential for a healthy eco-system, are non-native. Honeybees are forgotten in the vendetta against non-natives, but they are European and valuable as the chief pollinators of our agricultural crops. They are another example of a beloved species who survives because of the many non-native plants we have. Eucalyptus provide valuable food for honeybees during the winter, when little else is blooming in California.  And bees help plants reproduce, which provides more food for native animals, not to mention fruit and vegetables for humans.

Eucalyptus and bee. Painting by Brian Stewart with permission.

As the park district plans future projects for funding by Measure CC, I ask that the projects quit destroying non-native trees and vegetation, particularly by using herbicides.  Our wildlife needs these plants.  The park district does not “improve” the parks by killing plants and animals.

Bev Jo
Oakland, CA

16 Comments leave one →
  1. sandserat permalink
    December 15, 2017 8:42 am

    Thanks Bev Jo. On our dunes (Manila Ca.) where ‘restoration’ has been allowed we
    now have a destabilized, blown-out fore dune, ponds and wetlands no longer functioning,
    dead native trees by the hundreds, increase in wind speeds and disappeared wildlife.
    This during a period of sea-level rise!

    With no-bid contracts a group called ‘Friends of the Dunes’ have for decades done nothing but removed vegetation, with NO oversight. Using children, volunteers and prisoners this group charged-out the children at $18.00 an hour and kept the money. Now we find that they worked in wetlands and buffers without Wetland Permits, destroying functioning coastal wetland habitat for what looks like as pure greed, hatred of a benevolent plant and sheer ignorance.

    Where are the Regulators?

    • December 18, 2017 12:29 pm

      That is horrific. I could imagine it, but had no idea about the details. Thank you for sharing that with us and I hope you keep making it public as possible. They need to be stopped, but the damage done is heart-breaking, and the dishonesty and greed is enraging.

      People need to know the facts about nativism and “restoration.” Thank you so much.

  2. fritzi cohen permalink
    December 15, 2017 12:21 pm

    Thank you Million Trees and Bev Jo. Its so hard for me to believe that people do not respect nature, and that most of the environmental organizations are silent on the issues you have
    exposed. I haven’t been to California for a while but I always loved the roadside iceplants.
    They were such a gift. I’m beginning to wonder who is profiting from this egregious behavior.
    Obviously when pesticides are used, the pesticide companies profit, but why would the Sierra Club, and the University of California in Berkely do something as anti mother nature as this.

    • December 19, 2017 2:32 pm

      Thank you so much. It keeps coming back to money. Other once progressive organizations are betraying people. I keep hoping the Sierra Club could be brought back to the people who love nature. Spread the word!

  3. Dave permalink
    December 15, 2017 1:57 pm

    Meanwhile, California has lost 130 million trees due to the drought. Yet merry land managers continue expensive and useless strategies to restore landscapes that can no longer exist like they did 500 years ago.

    • December 18, 2017 12:31 pm

      It’s truly nightmarish, and most people don’t know and most have no right to protest.

      I keep saying that before one non-native tree is killed, the non-native nativist tree-killers should go first.

  4. December 17, 2017 11:53 pm

    Novel Ecosystems are good things and a way for nature to recuperate and evolve

  5. miss415 permalink
    March 3, 2018 3:05 pm

    OMG! So this is actually why the squirrels have disappeared in Stern Grove! This is so upsetting, We love the squirrels! They are practically completely gone!

    • March 3, 2018 3:25 pm

      Not necessarily. There are coyotes living in or at least hunting in Stern Grove. They could be a factor.

      Stern Grove was my neighborhood park for nearly 30 years, but I don’t visit it often since moving out of San Francisco. I will ask a friend who still lives in the City, a regular visitor to Stern Grove, and a reliable source of information on all matters related to nature. Watch for another reply here.

      • miss415 permalink
        March 3, 2018 5:40 pm

        I also go to Stern Grove almost daily.- I am a dog walker. One thing your friend may not be aware of is the work RPD has done in Stern – clearing away thick vegetation near water sources. Coyotes had not been in Stern for several months and the fact that 2 feral cats were there hanging out at ground level is evidence of that. I used to see their scat all the time and didnt for quite some time. Only recently- about the past month have I seen scat once or twice. I live in Ingleside Terraces and our HOA has just hired Mary Paglieri for the 2nd time since coyotes were spending too much time in and around our homes searching for food sources. If yoi google “Mary Paglieri + Ingleside Terraces” you can learn more about her work- totally aligned with your point of view. Her organization is Little Blue Society.
        Is this blog run by the same person as SF Forest Alliance?

    • March 5, 2018 11:47 am

      Here are observations of someone with more recent experience in Stern Grove: “I’m no longer a park regular, but when I have gone to the park, walking along the less-frequented hillside trails, dog and I’ve noticed more remains, e.g. small animal guts & parts, even an isolated skunk tail. I didn’t see these types of remains prior to the coyote sightings in Stern Grove.

      I don’t know where the current dens are, but residents bordering SG regularly see the coyotes. When Eddie & Buster were attacked in 2015 the den was in the backyard of a house bordering SG.

      So have the coyotes affected the squirrel population? No direct evidence but possible. Coyote-advocates say “coyotes keep the rodent population under control” and could extend to rabbits and squirrels. On the other hand, my neighborhood has had numerous coyote attacks on dogs and cats, and we are STILL overrun with gophers, rats and mice.”

    • March 5, 2018 2:40 pm

      My “nature expert” has spotted the confusion here. The post you are commenting on is talking about ground squirrels. Some land managers are poisoning ground squirrels. The squirrels in Stern Grove are tree squirrels. Land managers aren’t intentionally poisoning tree squirrels. So, that’s not what is happening to the squirrels in Stern Grove.

      Sorry for my confusion. I apparently had not remembered that guest post well enough to understand your concern.

  6. miss415 permalink
    March 8, 2018 1:20 pm

    That person who you asked sounds like a neighbor in Balboa or Ingleside Terrace.
    But what about pesticide application? and removing trees? that would also impact the squirrel population. Does this look like herbicide at work?

    • March 8, 2018 1:58 pm

      That does not look like an herbicide application to me. It looks like mechanical removal of the vegetation to me. Here is an article that shows what the vegetation looks like after an herbicide application: The poisoned plants in the photos are still standing, but they are brown and dead-looking.

      Such applications are usually glyphosate and they are done in late spring and the early summer when the vegetation is still green and actively growing. The application creates a distinct line between the green vegetation and the brown vegetation that has been poisoned.

      State law does not require pesticide application notices before, during, or after applications of most pesticides because most manufacturers claim that they are dry within 24 hours, which exempts from application notices. However, San Francisco’s IPM ordinance requires pesticide application notices for all applications on city-owned property. As far as I know, that law is being followed in San Francisco.

      The San Francisco Forest Alliance just posted an article about pesticide applications reported in San Francisco’s parks in 2017: The webmaster of SFFA makes annual public records requests for these records. She also knows who in Rec & Park Dept can answer more specific questions about where pesticides are being used. She is closer to pesticide issues in SF than I am.

      As for the effect of pesticide applications on animals, it depends on the product being used. Unfortunately there isn’t much research on the effect of pesticides on animals. Since most of the research is done or paid for by the manufacturers of pesticides, it is considered suspect. If you learn of specific products being used, their effects on animals can be researched.

      If you—or anyone else at Stern Grove—is concerned with pesticide use there, I suggest that you make your concerns known directly to the Rec & Park Department. They must hear from as many people as possible if they are to understand the concerns of the public.

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