I am publishing my letter to the Albany City Council about the City’s plans to destroy most of the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill. I am publishing it in three segments because it is long. The first segment explained why it is not necessary to destroy the forest. The second segment explained the consequences of destroying the forest. The third and final segment explains why it is unlikely that the forest can be replaced by native trees.
Now you have my version of the full story. If this is a place or an issue you care about, please consider writing a letter of your own to the City Council of the City of Albany.
Conservation Sense and Nonsense
Albany Hill. Source: Google Earth
December 5, 2022
Albany City Council
1000 San Pablo Ave.
Albany, CA 94706
Dear Albany City Council:
SEE Part I and Part II of Appealing to the City of Albany to save its eucalyptus forest. Part III is the concluding segment:
The uncertain fate of monarchs on Albany Hill is a suitable introduction to my final issue. The proposed plans for Albany Hill claim the destroyed eucalyptus forest will be replaced by new trees. I will explain why it is unlikely that the eucalyptus forest can be replaced by another forest. Plans for a newly planted forest are described in various ways, some of which seem contradictory:
- “[Margot] Cunningham’s [Albany’s Natural Areas Coordinator] team is pursuing grants to cut down most of the blue gums and plant the city’s side of the hill with a mix of native species and more drought tolerant trees for monarchs to roost.” (1)
- “WHEREAS, the City is investigating consultants to design a plan to remove eucalyptus in a way that retains and restores more fire-resilient native plant communities and minimizes soil disturbance and soil erosion.” (2)
- “More droughty Eucalyptus species can be planted to preserve the butterfly habitat.” (3)
- “This plan will include but is not limited to: plantings of other tall trees in areas of the hill where monarchs have traditionally clustered; survey of the existing native understory which will be allowed to grow after eucalyptus removal; and analysis and design of additional plants of Albany Hill-sourced native plants.” (4)
Somehow, this diverse, drought-tolerant, fire-resilient, tall, native (with droughty eucalyptus species?) forest is expected to survive without irrigation: “If drought-tolerant tree species are planted as seedlings, in the fall with sufficient planting site preparation and adequate rain fall, minimal if any irrigation will be required.” (5) When predicting the fate of the existing eucalyptus forest, the plans assume that the drought will continue. When predicting the fate of a replacement forest, the plans assume that the drought will end.
Most public land managers irrigate newly planted trees (whether native or non-native) for at least 3 years. Established trees rarely require irrigation to survive because they have extensive root systems that have better access to moisture in the soil than newly planted trees without extensive root systems. Tree species that are drought-tolerant when mature trees, require irrigation as they grow their root systems. Replacing healthy trees that don’t require irrigation with new trees that require irrigation seems an unwise choice in the middle of an extreme drought.
The City of Albany should have learned that lesson when they built Peggy Thomsen Pierce Street Park at the western foot of Albany Hill. Only native trees were planted in that park. They weren’t irrigated. Five years after the park opened in 2017, most of the trees are dead (see below):
Peggy Thomsen Pierce Street Park, November 2022. Conservation Sense and Nonsense
The City of Albany’s list of approved street trees is a valuable source of information about what tree species are capable of growing in Albany. A tree species that cannot survive conditions for street trees is also unlikely to survive on the ridgeline of Albany Hill, where wind conditions are extreme and there is little moisture. There are about 65 tree species approved for planting as street trees in Albany. Five are native to California, but only three are native to the Bay Area. Native big leaf maples are said to be “in decline.” Buckeyes aren’t suitable street trees, but may be suitable for open space. None of the listed native trees are suitable monarch habitat for a variety of reasons: canopy too dense to provide sufficient sunshine; deciduous therefore bare in winter; short stature, etc.
Historically, areas on Albany Hill that are now forested with eucalyptus were treeless because native trees are not adapted to the challenging climate conditions. If the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill is destroyed, Albany Hill is likely to be treeless again. That is the horticultural reality of Albany Hill.
- It is not necessary to destroy the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill because it is not dead.
- Destroying the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill will increase fire hazards and safety hazards.
- Destroying the eucalyptus forest will destroy habitat of monarch butterflies.
- Plans to replace the eucalyptus forest with native trees are unrealistic.
Please consider reinstating the 2012 Albany Hill Creekside Master Plan. It is still a good plan that will not do unnecessary damage to Albany Hill and its human and animal visitors.
cc: Albany Fire Chief
Albany Natural Areas Coordinator
Albany Urban Forester
Update: Shortly after I sent my letter to officials of the City of Albany about their plans to destroy most eucalyptus on Albany Hill, they revised their plans because of two updated reports that were done in November and December 2022. Basically, they no longer plan to destroy most eucalyptus on Albany Hill for two main reasons:
- Eucalyptus trees are the overwintering habitat of monarch butterflies. They cannot be replaced by native trees of short stature without the open canopy that filters sunlight but also provides a windbreak the monarchs need.
- Epicormic sprouts on the eucalyptus trees indicate they are recovering from drought and are expected to survive and eventually replace their canopies.
These are the sources of information that corroborate my brief summary of the main reasons Albany is no longer planning to destroy most eucalyptus trees on Albany Hill:
- Presentation to Albany City Council about Albany Hill by Margot Cunningham on December 8, 2022: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkVPkBX6vcA
- Update on Monarch survey of Albany Hill by Stuart Weiss: https://www.albanyca.org/home/showpublisheddocument/53671/638179437113270000
- Updated fuels management survey by Carol Rice: https://www.albanyca.org/home/showpublisheddocument/53673/638179439800970000
They still intend to remove dead trees to reduce fuel loads, to which I have no objection. Some dead eucalyptus may be replaced with more drought tolerant species of eucalyptus from Western Australia.
To be clear, I don’t think my letter about their original plans for Albany Hill were influential in their revising their plans. My letter is consistent with the advice they received from an ecologist with expertise in monarch butterflies and a consultant in fuels management. Credit belongs to the preference of monarchs for eucalyptus and to eucalyptus for being indestructible.
- Bay Nature: https://baynature.org/2022/10/20/the-nearly-unkillable-eucalyptus-meets-its-match/
- Resolution No. 2021-105. A resolution of the Albany City Council, authorizing the appropriation of funds to the Albany Hill Eucalyptus Project in the amount of $100,000
- Staff Report to City Council regarding Albany Hill Eucalyptus Project, May 2, 2022