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TAKING ACTION: The Forest Action Brigade requests correction of the public record regarding lifespan of eucalyptus

June 22, 2018

The Forest Action Brigade (FAB) has given Million Trees permission to publish their letter to the Park Advisory Committee of the East Bay Regional Park District.  FAB asks that the public record be corrected regarding the lifespan of eucalyptus and related issues.  The Park Advisory Committee was given misinformation regarding the status of eucalyptus trees in the parks by the Acting Fire Chief.  

The Park District does not have a single certified arborist or forester on staff.  The Park District needs such expertise to inform the park staff and to avoid making mistakes, such as destroying healthy trees and planting trees where they will not survive because the horticultural conditions for the trees are not suitable.

When the public was given the opportunity to make suggestions for projects to be included in the renewal of Measure CC parcel tax, hiring a qualified arborist was one of the suggestions that park advocates made.  That suggestion was ignored, as were most of our suggestions.  The Park District is responsive to a narrow constituency, such as the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and California Native Plant Society.  

Please join us in objecting to the unnecessary destruction of healthy trees in our parks:  Park Advisory Committee c/o sclay@ebparks.org; Board of Directors c/o ybarial@ebparks.org.


June 20, 2018

Park Advisory Committee
East Bay Regional Park District

Dear Members of PAC,

On May 21, 2018, Acting Fire Chief Aileen Theile explained the park district’s strategy regarding eucalyptus removal and its justification for that strategy to the Parks Advisory Committee:

“Tsutsui asked about the life cycle of the eucalyptus plantation. Theile replied they have a lifespan of 50-60 years, and most of the trees were planted about 50-60 years ago. Those planted 50 years ago are failing on a regular basis. Theile continued eucalyptus trees actually do not do well in plantations. They need to compete for sunlight and the trees within the grove are weak. If the outer trees begin to fail, the inner trees are unable to withstand the wind because they have historically been protected by the outer trees. The Park District is trying to remove the fuel ladder, by creating a break between surface fuels and fires that get up into the tree canopy. Tsutsui asked how long is mitigation needed. Theile explained there will probably not be many eucalyptus plantation trees left in the next 50 years.” (Minutes of PAC meeting, 5/21/18)

We are writing to correct several misstatements of fact in Chief Theile’s testimony to the Park Advisory Committee:

Theile:  “[eucalyptus] have a lifespan of 50-60 years…”

That statement is not accurate.  It is an extreme underestimate of the lifespan of eucalyptus.

Blue gum eucalyptus and all other species of eucalyptus are native to Australia.  They were brought to California shortly after the Gold Rush of 1849.  Since they haven’t been in California 200 years, we don’t know how long they will live here.  But how long they live in Australia is obviously relevant to answer that question because longevity is specific to tree species.  We can expect some variation by climate, but not much, and the climate of Australia is similar to the climate in California with wet, mild winters and hot, dry summers.

We know that blue gums live in Australia about 200-400 years because Australian scientists tell us that:

Growth Habits of the Eucalypts by M.R. Jacobs, (Institute of Foresters of Australia, 1955, 1986): Blue Gum eucalyptus lives in Australia from 200-400 years, depending upon the climate.” In milder climates, such as San Francisco, the Blue Gum lives toward the longer end of this range.

That reference was corroborated by John Helms, Professor Emeritus of Forestry at UC Berkeley and an Australian who said in response to our question about blue gums in California, “Blue gums would commonly live for 200 – 400 years, although I presume that some might live longer.”

We also asked the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  They said, “It’s possible that the average lifespan of a native species growing in the wild in Australia would differ to the average lifespan of the same species introduced in northern California, since introduced plants can often “escape” their natural predators when such introductions occur.”

In other words, since eucalyptus trees have more predators in Australia than they do in California, we should expect them to live longer here.  This is called the “predator release” hypothesis.  Ironically, that hypothesis is used by nativists to support their claim that eucalyptus is invasive in California. It’s only logical to apply that hypothesis to the question of how long blue gums will live in California.

However, using actual experience in Australia to predict the future of blue gums in California requires some speculation.  Therefore, we turn to the question of how long they have lived in California for guidance.  There are countless examples of eucalyptus in California over 150 years old that are still very much alive and well.  Here are a few local examples:

  • Eucalyptus, Mills College, Oakland 2015

    The Grinnell Eucalyptus Grove on the UC Berkeley campus was planted in 1877. Most of that grove is still alive and well.  https://www.berkeley.edu/news/multimedia/2004/01/trees.html

  • Eucalyptus was planted as a windbreak at Mills College shortly after it relocated to Oakland in 1871.  Those trees are very much alive.
  • Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1860s.  Like most of the East Bay, the site was treeless. Olmsted’s design was an eclectic collection of mostly non-native trees, including blue gums.  The cemetery is on steep, windward facing hills, where the windbreak provided by blue gums is particularly valued.
  • There are equally old blue gum eucalyptus on the Stanford Campus and many other places on the San Francisco peninsula. 2.2 miles of El Camino Real planted with blue gum eucalyptus in the 1870s were put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Cal Poly maintains a website that evaluates trees in California, called SelecTree.  SelecTree states that the lifespan of blue gum eucalyptus is “greater than 150 years.”  That estimate is the longest category for longevity on the SelecTree website. (https://selectree.calpoly.edu/)  It is the same estimated lifespan for Coast Live Oak and many other trees, according to SelecTree.

Theile:  “…most of the [eucalyptus] trees were planted about 50-60 years ago.”

That is also an inaccurate statement.  The Park District’s “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” (2009) states, “In the early 1900s, plantations of eucalyptus and pine were planted for hardwood production and to forest the primarily grass-covered hills in preparation for coming real estate development.”  (page 5)

The first master plan for the Park District was published in 1930:  “Proposed Park Reservation for East Bay Cities.”  That publication contains photos of eucalyptus at Lake Chabot, Skyline Ridge and Wildcat Canyon.  https://www.ebparks.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=23514

Theile:  “Those planted 50 years ago are failing on a regular basis.”

Sibley Volcanic Reserve. Photo by Larry Danos, March 2018

If that statement is accurate, we have no evidence of its accuracy.  In the past 9 months, eucalyptus trees have been destroyed throughout the Park District.  When visitors inquire, they are told the trees were hazardous.  In some cases, the areas were supposed to be thinned in accordance with the Park District’s “Wildfire…Plan.”  At Sibley Volcanic Reserve, for example, large areas of over an acre were clear cut in March 2018 where the plan was to thin.  We know the trees weren’t dead because the stumps of the trees were sprayed with herbicide, as indicated by blue dye.  If the trees were in fact dead, it would not have been necessary to spray the stumps with herbicide to prevent their resprouting.  We asked for an arborist’s evaluation of the condition of the trees before they were destroyed.  We received no response to our request for this information.  In other words, claims that eucalyptus trees are dead or dying are unsubstantiated.  Available evidence suggests that healthy trees are being needlessly destroyed.

Tree failures are most likely to occur where the Park District has thinned the trees.  The trees that remain are subjected to more wind.  The herbicide that is used to prevent the destroyed trees from resprouting is mobile in the soil and it damages the soil by killing beneficial microbes and the mycorrhizal fungi that are essential to tree health.  The roots of the trees are intertwined, enabling the herbicide to damage the roots of the trees that remain.  If, indeed, there are tree failures, they are undoubtedly being caused by the Park District’s tree removals and associated herbicide use.

Theile:  “…eucalyptus trees actually do not do well in plantations.”

This is an inaccurate statement.  In fact, densely planted trees protect one another from the wind and they share available resources.  Peter Wohlleben in The Hidden Life of Trees explains:

“…in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings. Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance…This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it…Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well.  When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit.  Hot sun and swirling winds can now penetrate to the forest floor and disrupts the moist, cool climate.”

“Theile explained there will probably not be many eucalyptus plantation trees left in the next 50 years.”

That is apparently an expression of the Park District’s willful intentions.  The eucalyptus trees will be gone in 50 years because the Park District apparently intends to destroy them all, not because they are dead or dying.  Rather because that’s what the Park District wants to do.

For the record, we state our purpose:

Monachs in eucalyptus, Pacific Grove Museum

We are opposed to the unnecessary destruction of healthy trees, because it serves no useful purpose.  Trees deep inside our parks pose no fire hazard to residential areas.  They are storing thousands of tons of carbon that will contribute to climate change when released into the atmosphere.  Wildfires are becoming more intense and frequent because of climate change.  Therefore destroying hundreds of thousands of trees causes wildfires rather than mitigating them.  The trees perform many other useful functions.  They provide food and habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies.  They reduce air pollution.  They provide shade and protection from wind, making visitors to the parks more comfortable.  The herbicide use associated with tree destruction damages the environment and is an unnecessary health hazard to wildlife and the public.

[redacted]

Please add this letter to the record of the Park Advisory Committee meeting of May 21, 2018.

Thank you.

Forest Action Brigade

CC: EBRPD Board of Directors; Aileen Theile

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Don E permalink
    June 22, 2018 12:01 pm

    I doubt they need an inhouse Arborist. They can hire them as needed and save on salary and benefits.

    I have hired several Arborists. There are different kinds of certified Arborists with various backgrounds. The first one I hired had a Master of Fine Arts degree. He found problems in my forest but was not qualified to give me a formal assessment. He referred me to a Master Arborist with a PhD in biology. To do the work I hired a certified arborist who I think never attended college and took his Arborist test in Spanish. He may have been the best at developing priorities for tree removal and pruning.

    A consulting Arborist will develop a grid system and identify and assess individual trees within the grid. His/her work can be independently verified or substantiated. Experts may disagree. Short of that, a general assessment without the detail is useless. And it depends of what you are trying to achieve or the goal.

    If he goal is to prevent crown fires, the structure of the forest (fire ladders and underbrush) is just as or more important than the fuel load, according to experts in Australia. There are few if any “natural” forests in Australia. Humans have been managing forest there for thousands of years.

    There is a wide range of climates in Australia from wet to dry with different fire prevention strategies. There are wet areas (fog) and dry areas in the Bay Area. The most common recommendation in Australia is prescribed burns. If the goal is to prevent structure fires, there could be different strategies. I think that also usually involves reducing or removing small trees a brush.

    • June 22, 2018 3:08 pm

      They DO hire arborists as consultants for specific projects. Those consultants evaluate the trees and destroy them, which creates vested economic interests in destroying them. They need qualified arborists who don’t have such conflicts of interest. The evaluation of the trees must be separated from their destruction.

      They also need qualified arborists to advise landscape designs because they are planting trees where they won’t survive because they don’t understand their horticultural requirements.

      And they don’t know how to take care of the trees they plant. For example, they spray herbicides under the trees, which damages the soil and the roots of the trees.

      The information provided about the lifespan of eucalyptus in this article is based on the blue gums that occur naturally in their small native range in Australia. Because it is a small corner of Australia, there is not a wide range of climate conditions and those conditions are similar to the San Francisco Bay Area.

      As usual, you provide no references for the broad statements you make, which makes them less credible than the statements in the article on which you are commenting that are based on cited references.

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