Holiday greeting from John Muir

Christmas Card from John Muir
“From eucalyptus cloistered aisles sweet wind born anthems rise and from tall silvery spires there wafts a living incense to the skies.” (1)

This 1911 New Year’s greeting from John Muir is a reflection of his fondness for eucalyptus.  He planted eucalypts around his home in Martinez, California.  Muir’s daughter reported that her father bought about a dozen different varieties of eucalyptus from a neighbor and she helped to plant them on the property.  The property was planted with many non-native plants and trees, including palms that now tower over the property.

John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo
John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo

Muir’s home was built by his wife’s parents in 1882.  Muir and his wife moved into the home in 1890 after his wife’s father died.  Muir lived in that home for the last 24 years of his life.  It is now The John Muir National Historic Site.

The site is administered by the National Park Service which unfortunately actively engages in ecological “restorations” that destroy non-native species.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, eucalypts are one of their highest priority targets for destruction.  According to the Martinez News Gazette, the Park Service destroyed the eucalypts on Muir’s property in about 1991 and replaced them with redwoods.  Twenty years later, they destroyed the redwoods because they decided they weren’t historically accurate.  The Park Service has a contradictory mission of ecological “restoration” to a native landscape which is inconsistent with its mission of maintaining the historical integrity of the properties it manages.

John Muir was co-founder of the Sierra Club.  He is also given credit for convincing President Teddy Roosevelt to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as National Parks.  Wouldn’t Muir be appalled by the current policies of the Sierra Club and the National Park Service which advocate for the destruction of eucalyptus in our public lands? 

Theodore Lukens was another eucalyptus aficionado

The recipient of John Muir’s New Year’s greeting was another eucalyptus aficionado.  Jared Farmer mentions Muir’s holiday card to Theodore Lukens in Trees in Paradise:  “In 1911 Muir sent a holiday card to his friend Lukens with a watercolor depicting gum trees and a poem evoking the ‘cloistered aisles,’ ‘silvery spires,’ and ‘living incense’ of eucalypts.” (2)

According to Farmer’s excellent historical account of eucalyptus in California, Lukens was a “banker, real estate developer, one-time mayor, and self-taught forester” in Southern California who “worked tirelessly on behalf of afforestation.”  Lukens and Muir shared the belief that “forest cover was key to the whole hydrological system:  trees and tree litter encouraged rainfall, captured fog drip, increased rainfall retention, decreased transpiration and regulated stream flow.”

We recommend Jared Farmer’s book to our readers.  This is a serious history of eucalyptus in California. It’s a complex story that requires an understanding of scientific as well as historical documents. Although we would quibble about some details, it is also a fair treatment of a controversial subject. Mr. Farmer is an historian, not a tree or native plant advocate.

Mr. Farmer tells the story in an engaging way and he puts it into a social context that deserves respect from both tree and native plant advocates. We are grateful to Mr. Farmer for bringing some solid information to an otherwise emotional debate. If it is widely read it could contribute to the resolution of a conflict that has been intractable.

We wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  We are hopeful that the New Year will bring more success to our mission to save healthy trees from destruction which will also reduce the needless use of pesticides in our public open spaces.

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(1) Published in Images of the Pacific Rim by Erika Esau, Power Publishing, February 2011.

(2) Jared Farmer, Trees in Paradise:  A California History, Norton & Company, 2013.

Jake Sigg closes his “Nature News” blog

Jake Sigg is the most well known native plant advocate in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He was a gardener in San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department for decades.  He was the leadership of the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society for years and is still active in it.  He was equally active in the California Invasive Plant Council.

He published a blog called “Nature News” since 2011, in which he announced many nature-related events and expressed his opinion on a wide range of topics, some only tangentially related to his primary interest in the preservation of native plants.  His October 30, 2013 edition of “Nature News” was the last he posted to his blog.  He said, This is the last posting to this blog, based on lack of feedback from it, and from the notices I have posted in last two weeks.  Keeping it up takes too much work for me.  I began it in hopes of making life easier for me, but it has had the opposite effect.”   Back issues of his blog are still accessible here.

Jake Sigg continues to write his “Nature News” but now its distribution is to an email list of 2,400 people.  His blog says that people can ask to be added to his email list.

Sorry to see it go

We were saddened by the loss of ‘Nature News’ as a source of information.  We often try to engage native plant advocates in a dialogue, but they are rarely willing to speak with those with whom they disagree.  Therefore, reading Jake Sigg’s “Nature News” was one of the few ways we could learn what was on the minds of native plant advocates.  We often reported to our readers what we learned from the “Nature News” blog because it was available for anyone to read and verify what we were reporting.  Here are a few examples of our articles about Jake Sigg’s viewpoint as expressed on “Nature News:”

Bay Nature honors Jake Sigg

Bay Nature is a quarterly magazine about nature in the Bay Area, as its title implies.  Perhaps to commemorate the end of Jake Sigg’s publically available “Nature News” they have published an interview with him about his publication.  You can read the entire interview here.

We were primarily interested in Jake Sigg’s strange explanation for why he started “Nature News:”

Nature News started in 2002 by accident, when I started an email group to inform people about upcoming public meetings concerning San Francisco’s threatened Natural Areas Program.

In 1997 the National Park Service began to crack down on dogs running off-leash at Fort Funston, but evidently they did so too suddenly, which set off a backlash by the off-leash dog activists, who became an organized force. They attacked not only the National Park Service but the Recreation and Park Department’s infant Natural Areas Program (NAP) as well, telling community groups that the NAP was going to fence off their neighborhood park and people couldn’t use it anymore–and people actually believed this.  By the time we found out about it the damage had been done, and we are still suffering from it”

We have heard Jake Sigg say many times that all criticism of the Natural Areas Program comes from dog owners who are concerned about the loss of their recreational access that has been the result of native plant “restorations” all over the Bay Area.  Fort Funston is just one of many areas in which recreational access has been restricted by these “restorations.”  However, we were flabbergasted that Jake Sigg continues to believe that this is the only issue.

We will let a commenter on the Bay Nature article about Jake Sigg’s interview speak for the critics of native plant “restorations” in the Bay Area.  His list of the many reasons why these projects are controversial looks fairly complete to us:

“The contentious nature of the discussion of San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program seems intractable. Jake Sigg illustrates why it remains so contentious when he continues to say that opposition to the program comes solely from dog owners. Unfortunately, that demonstrates that he hasn’t been listening for ten years. Thousands of people have questioned the program for many reasons, including:

1.            Loss of thousands of trees that people like in their neighborhood parks.

2.            Use of toxic pesticides to kill non-native plants in public parks.

3.            Lack of success. Repeatedly restored areas rapidly become weedy messes.

4.            Green areas are deliberately turned into areas that are brown and dead-looking for more than half the year.

5.            Loss of public access when fences are erected around native plant gardens and recreational access is restricted to trails in public parks.

6.            Loss of habitat and food resources for wildlife.

7.            Loss of thousands of tons of stored carbon. The carbon released when large trees are destroyed will never be reabsorbed by the grass and scrub that replace the trees.

8.            The misrepresentations of the Natural Areas Program that its supporters offer to the public, e.g. that all destroyed non-native trees will be replaced by native trees. Nothing in the management plan says or implies that; in some areas the plan specifically calls for forest to be replaced by grassland and scrub. These misrepresentations are sometimes deliberate, sometimes because NAP supporters haven’t bothered to read the NAP management plan.

9.            The un-scientific mythology offered by self-styled “ecologists” in support of the Natural Areas Program, e.g. that grasslands store more carbon than forests.

We can’t have fruitful discussions when we refuse to listen to what is said by people who disagree with us. We can’t even learn the many areas of agreement”.

Interior Greenbelt Natural Area, 2010. Courtesy SaveSuro
Interior Greenbelt Natural Area, 2010. Courtesy SaveSuro

Oakland voters say “NO” to renewal of Wildfire Prevention Tax Assessment

Citizens for Responsible Oakland Government recommend that residents of Oakland’s Wildfire Prevention District (WPD) vote NO on a 10-year extension of the parcel tax that funds the assessment district in the Oakland Hills.  Here’s their opinion of the parcel tax:

  • This tax does nothing to fund fire fighting personnel or equipment
  • This tax asks us to pay again for services that we already pay for
  • This WPD has been mismanaged for the past 10 years
  • This tax has not made us safer and has not helped reduce insurance rates
  • Don’t get ripped off for another 10 years.”

Please visit their website for more information:  http://cfrog.info

Click HERE to see a video of interviews with Oakland residents who have decided to vote NO on this parcel tax.  Ballots were mailed to property owners in the assessment district two weeks ago and must be mailed back by November 13, 2013.

WPD Video Image

Update:  Voters in the Wildfire Prevention Assessment District narrowly defeated the ballot measure to renew the tax that funds WPAD.  Thanks to those who participated in the effort to defeat this measure and especially to CFROG for organizing that effort.  Here is the article in the Oakland Tribune announcing the outcome:   http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_24533813/oakland-hills-voters-reject-wildfire-prevention-tax

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Trees at Lake Chabot which East Bay Regional Park District plans to destroy.