Part III: Appealing to the City of Albany to save its eucalyptus forest

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. 

In conclusion:

  • 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
Creekside Science


  1. Bay Nature:  https://baynature.org/2022/10/20/the-nearly-unkillable-eucalyptus-meets-its-match/
  2. 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
  3. https://www.albanyca.org/home/showpublisheddocument/52453/638028259461770000
  4. Staff Report to City Council regarding Albany Hill Eucalyptus Project, May 2, 2022
  5. https://www.albanyca.org/home/showpublisheddocument/52453/638028259461770000

Part II: Appealing to the City of Albany to save its eucalyptus forest

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 explains the consequences of destroying the forest.  The final segment will explain why it is unlikely that the forest can be replaced by native trees. 

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:  Appealing to the City of Albany to save its eucalyptus forest.  Part II continues:

The premature destruction of the eucalyptus forest will have many negative consequences:

  • The loss of significant amounts of fog drop from the tall trees.
  • The creation of tons of wood debris that will contribute to fire hazards
  • The regrowth of the trees into unstable multi-stemmed trees with lower fire ladders
  • The loss of habitat for overwintering monarch butterflies

Harold Gilliam in Weather of the San Francisco Bay Area informs us that tall non-native trees in the East Bay produce significant amounts of water by condensing fog drip: “Eucalyptus and pine groves planted there long ago intercept large amounts of fog and cause a rainlike deposit of moisture. The fog drip during the summer months has been measured at a surprising 10 inches, an amount nearly half as great as the total rainfall…”  Average rainfall in the East Bay is 21 inches per year, so this fog precipitation adds nearly 50% to total precipitation.  

Foggy morning, Redwood Park. Conservation Sense and Nonsense

One of the planning documents for the tree removal project on Albany Hill speculates that there is less fog than in the past in the San Francisco Bay Area.  According to an article in the New York Times, many people disagree with that assumption.

By precipitating fog drip during the otherwise dry time of the year, tall non-native trees reduce fire danger during the fire season.  Moisture on the forest floor helps to retard ignition and slow the spread of fire.  This was observed recently on the west side of Albany Hill when an arsonist set the forest afire in June 2022:  “The Albany Hill fire, which was initially estimated around three acres with a slow rate of spread…”  The fire was quickly extinguished.

This is where the fire in June 2022 occurred on Pierce St.  Note resprouts of the burned trees in November 2022.  Conservation Sense and Nonsense

Fog drip from the eucalyptus overstory is also irrigating the forest understory of many native shrub species, predominantly toyon.  Historical records of Albany Hill tell us toyon was not there before eucalyptus was planted.  The top of the hill is the driest area because it does not benefit from run off compared to lower elevations of the hill.  The side of the hill facing the southwest is drier than northeast face of the hill because it is exposed to more sun and wind.  Historically, oaks grew only on the northeast side of the hill where they were sheltered from the wind and the soil was moister.  One of many questions about the new plans for Albany Hill that should be asked and answered is how the existing native understory can survive without fog drip and the wind shelter of the tall trees. 

The City of Albany’s application for a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy predicts this future for Albany Hill: “The project will create more fire-resilient and healthy ecosystems by allowing native plant communities to return after eucalyptus removal…”  In fact, the opposite outcome seems more likely.  Without the benefit of fog drop from the tall trees and shelter from the wind, the existing native understory is unlikely to survive.  The existing native understory did not exist on Albany Hill prior to the planting of eucalyptus. 

This map (see below) of tree removal plans for Albany Hill shows where approximately 400 trees will be removed at the top of the hill.  (The number of each tree planned for removal is listed on this map, some in sequences such as 1-25, indicating that 25 trees will be removed between the arrows on the map.)

Source:  Arborist Report, SBCA Tree Consulting

Returning to the question of fire hazards, what will happen to all that dead wood?  We get a preview of the answer to that question because the City of Albany recently destroyed between 14 and 20 eucalyptus trees (reports on the number of destroyed trees vary).  We can see what happened to some of the wood (see below):

Some of the destroyed trees are still lying on the ground (see below).  This tree has already resprouted.

Multiply that flammable wood debris by 400 to get a picture of the amount of wood debris the proposed project on Albany Hill will create.  The arborist’s report for the eucalyptus removal project makes this recommendation regarding wood debris:  “Logs and chips to remain – Cut trees, chip brush and allow mulch and logs to remain on the slope.”

We had a recent experience with the wood debris created by similar projects when UC Berkeley destroyed all non-native trees within 100 feet of the north side of Claremont Ave in fall 2020.  Huge piles of wood chips and logs were stacked along the road, which the grant application claimed would be disposed of by generating electricity in a biofuels plant.  No such biofuels plant exists and there are no plans to build it.  Here is a photo (see below) of one of the wood piles that remained along the road for about 9 months before being distributed elsewhere throughout the Berkeley hills:          

One of many piles of logs, Claremont Ave, November 2020. Photo by Doug Prose, courtesy Hills Conservation Network.

Bay Nature recently explained why we are unable to dispose of wood debris from the many fuels management projects being done in California. If you ever wondered why there are piles of wood chips in your parks or why the roads in the hills are lined with logs, this article explains. There aren’t enough lumber mills in California to keep up with all the logs or biofuel plants to keep up with the wood chips. Most of the trees killed by bark beetles or by wildfire can’t be salvaged because of the shortage of mills. The wood debris is the fuel for the next wildfire. Turning living trees into dead wood debris does not reduce fire hazards. 

In addition to reducing fire hazards, Albany’s new plans for the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill are also intended to address safety concerns.  Based on the assumption that the eucalyptus trees will soon die, Albany wishes to reduce public safety hazards by pre-emptively taking trees down before they fall down.  As I’ve said before, the assumption that the trees will soon be dead is mistaken.  Furthermore, Albany does not intend to use herbicides on the tree stumps to prevent resprouts, which guarantees that they will resprout, creating multi-stemmed trees that will be less stable than the trees are now. 

According to the arborist’s report for Albany Hill, there is also a history of unstable trees that grew from resprouts of destroyed trees:  Stump sprouts – Sixty-nine (69) trees have developed as stump sprouts, or trees that have grown back from the stump after being cut down. Because the prior tree stump eventually rots, the new growth is not always well anchored.” The staff report to the City Council on May 13, 2021 about the project said, “Multi-trunk trees are weaker structurally and produce more fire-hazardous debris than single-trunk trees.”

Trees develop their defenses against the wind as they grow in a particular environment.  When their tree neighbors are destroyed, they are suddenly subjected to more wind than they can withstand. The arborist employed by the City of Albany acknowledges the potential for increased risk of windthrow: “Stands of trees act together to resist wind forces.  When trees are removed from a stand or grove, the wind forces on the remaining trees are increased.  This can be a concern when trees, which are currently considered low risk, receive increased wind exposure due to adjacent tree removal.”

 The unstable multi-stemmed trees that grow from resprouts will also be subjected to more wind without the protection of other trees that have been destroyed.  The proposed plans for extensive tree removals will result in a more dangerous forest of resprouts that are vulnerable to windthrow. 

Destroying 400 eucalyptus trees on Albany Hill would create an overwhelming commitment to control resprouts mechanically. It is a challenge that the City of Albany has not been able to meet in the past, as evidenced by recent resprouts and multi-stemmed trees from past resprouts. However, I don’t mean to imply that I prefer the use of herbicides to prevent resprouts.  A new forest of young, unstable eucalyptus trees with lower fire ladders is better than a forest that has been poisoned and the understory with it.  Herbicides are also harmful to monarch butterflies and other insects.

My last visit to the City park at the top of Albany Hill was on Sunday, November 20th, the weekend before Thanksgiving, which is the optimal time to see monarch butterflies in their winter roost.  We saw many monarchs in the trees that are slated for destruction and as it got warmer in the early afternoon, we watched them flutter to nearby trees.  There were many other park visitors.  Some were frequent visitors who helped us find the biggest clusters.  Other visitors were as excited as we were to find the monarchs for the first time.  This is to say, the disappearance of monarchs on Albany Hill would be a disappointment to the visitors to the park.

Monarchs roosting in epicormic sprouts of eucalyptus on the top of Albany Hill, November 20, 2022.  Conservation Sense and Nonsense

According to Stuart Weiss of Creekside Science, that’s where monarchs begin their visit to Albany Hill:  “…monarchs begin the season on the ridgetop, likely attracted by high insolation [sunshine].  Following the first storms of the season accompanied by strong winds, they move down the SW slope when storm winds (generally southerly) are too strong.  The structure of the forest in the Cluster zone consists of a series of openings surrounded by denser forest, allowing some insolation with adequate wind shelter.  These cluster sites tend to have visible sky overhead with relatively few canopy openings toward the horizon and moderate exposure to the SW (which may be related to afternoon insolation.”

Stuart Weiss was also interviewed by Bay Nature about the monarch butterflies on Albany Hill:  “Weiss wants to preserve the eucalyptuses—invasive non-natives that they are—for the butterflies’ sake. The monarchs made their choice,’ says Weiss. ‘They go for the eucalyptus, so we have to honor that.’ The key to a cozy roost, according to Weiss, is a configuration of mature trees that provide just the right mix of sunshine and protection from wind and storms. Monarchs prefer to cluster along Albany Hill’s city-owned ridgetop early in the season. Later in winter, they cluster on the hill’s privately owned southwestern slope, and near the condos at the foot of the hill’s western flank. The fate of the trees and the butterflies roosting on that land is unclear.”

Eucalypts are the preferred trees for over-wintering monarchs in California according to an analytical study of 205 over-wintering sites:  “Three types of trees were used most frequently by roosting monarchs:  eucalyptus (75% of the habitats primarily Eucalyptus globulus), pine (20% of the habitats primarily Pinus radiata), and cypress (16% of the habitats Cupressus macrocarpa).  Twelve other tree species were identified…with a combined prevalence of only 10%…habitats had smaller populations when the roosting tree type was a species other than eucalyptus, pine, or cypress.”(1) (Three different studies by different authors are the source of these data, therefore they don’t add up to 100%.) In other words, virtually all of the trees used by monarchs for their winter roost are not native to the San Francisco Bay Area. 


The third and final segment of my letter to the Albany City Council will be published tomorrow. It will explain why the eucalyptus forest cannot be replaced by native trees. Thank you for your visit today.

  1. Dennis Frey and Andrew Schaffner, “Spatial and Temporal Pattern of Monarch Overwintering Abundance in Western North America,” in The Monarch Butterfly Biology and Conservation, Cornell University Press, 2004.

Part I: Appealing to the City of Albany to save its eucalyptus forest

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 will publish it in three segments because it is long.  The first segment explains why it is not necessary to destroy the forest.  The second segment will explain the consequences of destroying the forest.  The final segment will explain why it is unlikely that the forest can be replaced by native trees. 

Conservation Sense and Nonsense

Albany Hill. Source: Google Earth


December 5, 2022

Albany City Council
1000 San Pablo Ave
Albany, CA 94707

RE:  Albany Hill Eucalyptus Project

Dear Albany City Council:

I have a sentimental attachment to the City of Albany because I lived there for 5 years at the beginning of my marriage.  We still enjoy regular visits to the city’s beauty spots of Albany Hill and the Albany Bulb, as well as Albany’s great restaurants. 

As you know, many public land managers have destroyed eucalyptus trees, but the City of Albany was not planning to destroy the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill until recently.  According to the 2012 “Albany Hill Creekside Master Plan,” the eucalyptus forest would be “phased out” slowly over time by removing hazardous trees as necessary to ensure public safety, removing new seedlings where the forest interfaces with native oak woodland, and not replacing trees that die of old age.  I expressed my support for this approach to management of the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill on my website, Conservation Sense and Nonsense.

The recently published Bay Nature article about Albany Hill alerted me to Albany’s new plans to destroy most of the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill.  I’ve studied the documents about these new plans and I’m writing to express my reservations about the feasibility of the plans.  I ask for your consideration of these concerns:

  • Is it necessary to destroy the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill?
  • What are the consequences of destroying the eucalyptus forest?
  • Is it possible to replace the eucalyptus forest with native trees?

All plants and trees in California are showing signs of drought stress and many are dead because of drought stress, especially in unirrigated parks and open spaces.  Eucalyptus trees are not immune to drought stress, although they are coping better than some species that require more water, such as redwood trees.

Native Madrone, north side of Cerritos Creek, 2013.  Conservation Sense and Nonsense

SAME Native Madrone on north side of Cerritos Creek is now dead, November 2022.  Conservation Sense and Nonsense.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, over 160 million native conifers have been killed by bark beetles in California’s Sierra Nevada in the past 10 years. As the climate continues to warm, bark beetles are moving north and west into coastal counties. The worst outbreak has been in Lake County, followed by Napa County. 15-25% of conifers on the east side of Napa Valley are dead. Drought conditions are so extreme that oaks are succumbing to drought stress: “That’s how you know things are kind of really bad, when you see oaks succumb to drought stress.’”

Plans to destroy most eucalyptus on Albany Hill are based on observed die-back of the eucalyptus tree canopy.  The trees were studied by Matteo Garbelotto’s pathology lab at UC Berkeley.  Their report described the impact of the infection:  “First, symptoms observed in Eucalyptus were more markedly limited to the foliage and twigs. Leaf blight and twig necrosis were the only symptoms common across all the six areas surveyed and sampled. Branch and stem cankers, wood discoloration and fungal mats were present, but generally were site-specific or shared by trees only in 2 or 3 cases. Extensive heartrot (i.e. decay of the stem core) was not observed in any tree, although, some wood decay was observed both at the base of stems and on branches.”

The City of Albany’s application for a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy assumes that the eucalyptus trees will never recover:  “The scientific analysis…determined the trees were in irreversible decline due to drought stress and resulting vulnerability of pathogen attack…”  Since all unirrigated trees and plants are showing the same signs of stress, such a verdict would obligate us to destroy most trees in our open space.  Given the remarkable regenerative abilities of eucalyptus, they are more likely to survive than most tree species. 

Top of Albany Hill, 2015.  Conservation Sense and Nonsense

Top of Albany Hill, November 2022.  The tops of the canopy are a little thinner than they were in 2015, but not significantly.  Conservation Sense and Nonsense

These symptoms were caused by a fungus that infects most eucalyptus in California.  The fungus does not usually cause visible damage.  Damage is now visible because the trees are stressed by drought.  The situation is similar to the death of native conifers in California; native bark beetles have always been present but are now capable of killing the conifers because the trees are weakened by drought.  The difference is that it’s not clear the fungus is capable of killing eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus has remarkable regenerative ability to resprout after it has been cut down or burned.  One of the goals of the proposed project is a “fire-resilient” ecosystem, which suggests a landscape that is capable of recovering from the inevitable wildfires in a Mediterranean climate.  In fact, eucalyptus is a fire-resilient tree species because it resprouts after it is burned.  When it is under stress, it drops mature leaves and recovers by producing epicormic sprouts.  Eucalyptus trees on the top of Albany Hill are covered in epicormic sprouts, which indicate the trees are not dead and they are trying to recover.  Albany’s plans to destroy most of the eucalyptus forest on Albany Hill is based on the mistaken assumption that the trees will eventually die.  That is an assumption that is not consistent with the present status of the trees on Albany Hill or with comparable situations in the Bay Area.

Source:  Mount Sutro Forest That Was

This picture (see above) was taken in Glen Canyon Park in San Francisco in 2015.  The eucalyptus trees were producing epicormic sprouts in response to drought and a few had been girdled by those who want all eucalyptus in San Francisco destroyed.  Native plant advocates predicted that the trees would die and they advocated for their destruction.  The trees survived.


Part II of my letter to the Albany City Council will be published tomorrow. Part II will describe the negative consequences of destroying the eucalyptus forest on the top of Albany Hill. Please visit again tomorrow for the next segment of my letter to the Albany City Council. Thank you for your visit today.