California has been in severe drought conditions for over 10 years. Climate change is the underlying reason for the extremity of the drought. Maintaining our carbon sinks that sequester greenhouse gases causing climate change is one of our most important defenses against climate change and forests are one of our primary carbon sinks. Unfortunately, California’s forests are dying of drought and associated insect infestations. You might think that given these conditions, we would try to preserve our forests.
In fact, the drought has accelerated the war on our non-native urban forest in the San Francisco Bay Area. All trees and plants have suffered during our prolonged drought. Where trees are not irrigated in our parks and open spaces, signs of drought stress are visible. Today, I am publishing my letter to the IPM Director and Fire Chief of East Bay Regional Park District about the need to make a distinction between dead trees and trees that are not dead, but showing symptoms of prolonged drought. My letter explains why we must distinguish between dead (described as “die-off”) and living trees (described as “die-back”) when making commitments to destroy trees that we desperately needduring this climate crisis.
Links are provided to email addresses of recipients of my letter. Please consider writing a letter of your own.
As you know, the Park District hired the Garbelotto Lab at UC Berkeley to evaluate two species of trees in the parks, acacia and eucalyptus. The reports of the Garbelotto Lab were recently published on the Lab’s website. I am writing to ask that responsible staff read those reports and make adjustments in plans to remove trees as needed, based on those reports.
The diagnoses for acacia and eucalyptus are entirely different. The pathogens are different in the two tree species. The pathogens killing acacia are new and they are lethal. The pathogens found in eucalyptus are not new. They have been latent and asymptomatic in eucalyptus for decades and have only become symptomatic because of the stress of drought. The pathogens found in eucalyptus disfigure leaves and twigs, but are not fatal.
Much like the microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) in our bodies that outnumber human cells, every tree is inhabited by microbes that are usually asymptomatic. If similar tests were done on other tree species in the Bay Area, similar results would be found where trees are not irrigated. The pathogens are always there. Drought has made them visible. If we were obligated to destroy every tree in the parks showing signs of drought stress, we would be required to remove most trees in the parks.
There are significant disadvantages to destroying living trees:
A dead tree is not capable of resprouting, but a living tree is capable of resprouting unless it is a species that is not capable of resprouting. Eucalyptus, acacia, redwoods (not candidates for removal, but dying of drought nonetheless) and bay laurels are all vigorous resprouters. The stumps of these living tree species will require herbicide applications to prevent them from resprouting.
The herbicides used to prevent resprouting travel through the roots of the tree to kill the roots. Herbicides used to prevent resprouting damage the roots of neighboring plants and trees connected by their mycelium networks.
The trees that are destroyed release their stored carbon into the atmosphere contributing to the greenhouse gasses causing climate change. In the absence of those trees, less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere in the future. Since the underlying cause of increased frequency and intensity of wildfires is the warmer/drier climate, removing living trees increases wildfire risks in the future.
As more trees die, wood debris has accumulated to the point that there isn’t sufficient disposal capacity. When roadsides in the Berkeley hills were clearcut over one year ago, it took 9 nine months to dispose of the wood debris. Huge piles of wood debris were stacked on roadsides, creating a fire hazard. The more trees that are destroyed, the more wood debris is created.
I am therefore concerned about the Park District’s plans to remove one million trees from parks in the East Bay, according to press coverage: “In consultation with academics and state experts, they’ve identified a mass die-off of trees in the parks as a result of stress from drought, climate change and a proliferation of non-native species. Now they estimate they need to remove more than 1 million trees on their land, at a cost of $20 million to $30 million in one park alone. One area of the die-off, located between Mt. Diablo and communities in Oakland and Berkeley, is particularly concerning to Fire Chief Aileen Theile.”
In an earlier media interview Fire Chief Theile included eucalyptus in the list of dead trees: “The die-off, first noticed last October, has mostly hit eucalyptus, acacias, pines and bay laurels and has expanded this summer amid an exceptional drought.” Oaks are strangely absent from that list of dead trees, although it is well known that there are thousands of dead oaks in the Park District that have not been removed.
In summary, I ask for your reconsideration of Park District plans and public communications regarding tree removals in the parks:
The Park District should confine plans for tree removals to dead trees. Dead trees are public safety risks that should be mitigated. Drought stressed trees that may be unsightly are not a priority for removal. Given our heavy rains in December, it is still possible that many will recover.
Park District communications with the public should make a distinction between “die-off” and “die-back.” Acacias are accurately described as experiencing a die-off. Eucalyptus are accurately described as experiencing a die-back.
Over 20 years ago the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington made a commitment to eradicate non-native spartina marsh grass on the entire West Coast of the country. Intensive aerial spraying of herbicide killed over 95% of non-native spartina about 10 years ago, but the project continues in the San Francisco Bay. The goal is now the eradication of hybrid spartina that grows at the same marsh elevations as native spartina and is so visually similar that it requires 500 genetic tests every year to determine that it is a hybrid before it is sprayed with herbicide (1). This article will explain why the Invasive Spartina Project in the San Francisco Bay Estuary is now a zombie project, a project that is dead, but is not being allowed to rest in peace.
Hybridization is the boogey man of plant nativism
Hybrid spartina is being hunted because it outcompetes native spartina. Nativists fear the loss of native spartina as a distinct species. Rather than seeing the potential for a new, improved species of spartina, they see it as a loss of biodiversity, rather than an increase in biodiversity.
Hybridization is an important evolutionary tool that frequently increases biodiversity by creating new species on the margins of ranges where closely related species encounter one another. For example, hybridization is credited with creating over 500 species of oaks all over the world that are well-adapted to their respective microclimates. The rapidly changing climate and the globalization of trade have created more opportunities for hybridization and resulting speciation.
“With the growing availability of genomic tools and advancements in genomic analyses, it is becoming increasingly clear that gene flow between divergent taxa can generate new phenotypic diversity, allow for adaptation to novel environments, and contribute to speciation. Hybridization can have immediate phenotypic consequences through the expression of hybrid vigor. On longer evolutionary time scales, hybridization can lead to local adaption through the introgression of novel alleles and transgressive segregation and, in some cases, result in the formation of new hybrid species.”
Restoration and expansion of wetlands is extremely important as we prepare for anticipated rising sea levels. If hardier, denser, stronger hybrid species of marsh grass are available why would we reject that opportunity? Nativist ideology should not deprive us of this opportunity.
Native species are not inherently superior to species that are better adapted to present environmental conditions. The rapidly changing climate requires corresponding changes in vegetation to adapt to present conditions. Extreme weather events are natural selection events that kill species that are no longer adapted to the climate. We cannot stop evolutionary change, nor should we try.
Why does this matter?
If herbicides were not required to eradicate hybrid spartina perhaps I could shrug and move on. Hundreds of gallons of imazapyr herbicide were used by East Bay Regional Park District to aerial spray non-native spartina for the first few years of the eradication project. In 2020, EBRPD used 43 gallons of imazapyr for “ecological function,” a nebulous category that includes spartina eradication.
When the Invasive Spartina Project (ISP) made a presentation to the California Invasive Plant Council in June 2021, the public asked several questions about the toxicity of the herbicide (imazapyr) that is used to eradicate spartina (1). The ISP mistakenly claimed that imazapyr is not harmful to humans and wildlife because it uses a different metabolic pathway to kill plants that does not exist in animals. They probably believe that claim, but they are wrong.
A similar claim was made for glyphosate for 40 years. We now know that the claim about a “unique pathway” for glyphosate existing only in plants is not true. In 2020, plaintiffs in a class-action suit against Monsanto alleging that it falsely advertised that the active ingredient in Roundup only affects plants were awarded $39.5 million. The settlement also requires that the inaccurate claim be removed from the labels of all glyphosate products: “…[plaintiff] says Monsanto falsely claimed through its labeling that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, targets an enzyme that is only found in plants and would therefore not affect people or pets. According to the suit, that enzyme is in fact found in people and pets and is critical to maintaining the immune system, digestion and brain function.”
I asked Beyond Pesticides for help to determine if the exclusive pathway claim was true of imazapyr. Beyond Pesticides informs me that both imazapyr and glyphosate use metabolic pathways that exist in animals. I summarize their response: “You asked about the ALS pathway that is the target of imazapyr—is there a comparison to glyphosate? [According to] the research I found, I think the comparison is valid. This early paper appears to clearly state that ALS is a pathway found in yeast and bacteria as well as plants (2). Another early paper which identified ALS as coming from bacteria, fungi, and plants (3).” These pathways exist in bacteria that reside in our bodies and perform important functions, particularly in our digestive and immune systems. When we damage those bacteria, we are damaging our health.
Please note that both of these studies of imazapyr are nearly 40 years old. If pesticides were being evaluated and regulated, the public and the users of imazapyr might know that it is harmful to animals. I provided this information to the Invasive Spartina Project. They responded that their use of imazapyr is legal. Unfortunately, they are right. Because there is no regulation of pesticide use in the United States, the Invasive Spartina Project has the legal right to use it. But is it ethical? I asked the Invasive Spartina Project to quit making the inaccurate claim that imazapyr kills plants, but cannot harm animals. They did not respond to that request.
Unfortunately the judicial system is our only recourse to take dangerous chemicals off the market. For example, chlorpyrifos that is known to damage children’s brains was finally banned as the result of a court order. The EPA refused to ban chlorpyrifos, but a lawsuit finally resulted in a judge requiring that the EPA either provide studies proving its safety or ban its sale. The EPA could not prove its safety, so it had no choice but to finally ban it.
What about the animals?
The only issue that temporarily brought the spartina eradication project to a halt was the impact it has had on endangered Ridgway rail. Ridgway rail is a close relative to the Clapper rail on the East and Gulf coasts where the spartina species considered non-native here (S. alterniflora) is native. Clapper rails are abundant where S. alterniflora resides.
The eradication of Ridgway rail breeding habitat in the San Francisco Bay reduced the rail population significantly by 2011, according to the US Geological Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (4). The loss of rails was greatest where the most non-native spartina was killed with herbicide. In response, USFWS mandated a moratorium on eradication in areas where rails were nesting (5). According to the ISP 2020 survey of rails in the project areas, the rail population rebounded where eradication was stopped. When treatment resumed in 2018, the number of Ridgway rails in the previously restricted areas declined by 9% in the following year. That outcome was predicted by the USFWS Biological Opinion: “In the 2018 Biological Opinion, the Service estimated that rails inhabiting the nine previously-restricted sub-areas may be lost due to mortality or exhibit decreased reproductive success due to loss of hybrid Spartina cover when treatment of these sub-areas resumed.”
Clearly, the endangered Ridgway rail has been harmed by spartina eradication, as USGS and USFWS concluded in their analysis that was published in 2016 (4):
“California [now known as Ridgway rail] rail survival was higher prior to invasive Spartina eradication than after eradication or compared to survival in a native marsh. The combined indication of these studies is that tall vegetation structure provides California rails with both higher quality nesting substrate and refuge cover from predation, particularly during high tides. Thus, habitat structure provided by invasive Spartina in heavily infested marshes may facilitate California rail survival, and continued efforts to remove invasive Spartina from tidal salt marshes could lead to further California rail population declines….” (4)
Given that Ridgway rail is protected by the Endangered Species Act, it is difficult to understand why this project is allowed to continue. Much like the unregulated use of pesticides, it will probably take a lawsuit to enforce the Endangered Species Act on behalf of endangered Ridgway rail. When government is not functional, the judicial system can sometimes compensate.
Let’s bury this zombie project
The US Geological Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have put their finger on the failure of the Invasive Spartina Project. The same could be said of many other pointless eradication projects:
“Removing the source of that novel habitat without addressing pre-existing native habitat quality limitations threatens to re-create an ailing landscape for California rails by dogmatically adhering to specific management approaches. In essence, the conservation community is choosing the winners and losers in this ecosystem by failing to solve the underlying problems that will support a healthy species community with all constituent members.” (4)
The spartina eradication project serves no useful purpose. In fact, it damages the environment and the animals that live in it. We cannot stop evolution, nor should we try. Let natural selection determine the plant species that are best adapted to our environment and the animals that live in it. Not only would we benefit from better protection for our coastline from rising sea levels, we could reduce our exposure to dangerous pesticides that are harmful to our health, as well as improve habitat for wildlife. This project is doing more harm than good.
If you live in Ward 1 of the East Bay Regional Park District, you will have an opportunity to vote for your representative to the Park District’s Board of Directors on November 3rd. Many of the most heavily visited parks in the East Bay–such as Tilden Park, Point Isabel, Point Pinole, Eastshore Park–are in Ward 1. The future of those parks will be in the hands of the Board member who wins this election.
Elizabeth Echols is the incumbent who is running for election. Echols was appointed to the Board by the Board after the unfortunate death of Whitney Dotson.** Dotson had represented Ward 1 with distinction since 2008, after defeating Norman La Force in the race for that seat on the Board. Now Echols must be elected to keep her seat on the Board.*
There was intense competition for the temporary appointment to the Board when Echols was appointed by the Board. Norman La Force asked for the temporary appointment, but was not selected by the Board. La Force has a long track-record that probably explains why the Board did not appoint him:
Norman La Force advocates for the destruction of non-native trees in East Bay Regional Parks and the use of herbicides to eradicate non-native plants and prevent trees from resprouting after they have been destroyed.
As a lawyer and the co-founder and CEO of SPRAWLDEF, Norman La Force has sued East Bay Regional Park District many times to impose his personal vision on the parks. These lawsuits were costly to taxpayers and the Park District and they delayed the implementation of park improvements.
Norman La Force is consistently opposed to many types of recreation. He advocates for parks that prohibit public access.
Norman La Force has an antagonistic attitude toward park visitors who do not share his personal vision.
Norman La Force sued FEMA and the Park District to destroy all non-native trees
East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is thinning non-native trees to mitigate wildfire hazards by reducing fuel loads and FEMA is funding many of these projects. Norman La Force is not satisfied with merely thinning trees. He sued EBRPD and FEMA to force the removal of all non-native trees on 3,500 acres of park land. That lawsuit is available HERE. La Force appealed after losing the lawsuit, but lost again on appeal.
Norman La Force tried to make Sierra Club endorsement of the renewal of a parcel tax to fund the Park District contingent on a commitment to destroy all non-native trees rather than thin them:
“Hence, the Sierra Club believes it is critical that in any renewal of Measure CC funding for vegetation management should be increased for the removal of non-natives such as eucalyptus and their replacement with restored native habitat. If the Park District wants to continue with a program that merely thins the non-native ecualyputs (sic) and other non-native trees, then it must find other funds for those purposes. Future tax money from a renewal of Measure CC funds should not be used to thin eucalyptus but must be allocated to the restoration of native habitat.” La Force’s full letter is available HERE.
Norman LaForce sued the Park District to prevent recreational improvements at Albany Beach
In an op-ed published by Berkeleyside, one of La Force’s many lawsuits against the Park District is described. The lawsuit attempted to prevent the construction of a path with recreational access: “SPRAWLDEF is an acronym for Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund. On Jan. 17,  the group, founded by Norman La Force and David Tam, filed a lawsuit against the East Bay Regional Park District, opposing a plan to acquire a small strip of property along the shoreline behind the track to complete a missing link in the Bay Trail between Berkeley and Richmond. The Park District’s Plan would also add some parking to the Albany Beach area, build some wheelchair access to the water’s edge, and expand and protect the dune area behind the beach. There’s something in this lawsuit to alienate just about everyone: Bicyclists and hikers who use the Bay Trail; environmentalists with an interest in dune habitat; kayakers and kiteboarders who launch from the Albany shoreline; the ADA constituency who find beach access generally impossible; and, most of all, dogs and their owners who rely on Albany beach for a place to play in the water. Read the filing. It has all the earmarks of a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because they did not get their way.” Emphasis added.
According to this article in the East Bay Times, the SPRAWLDEF lawsuit to prevent the Albany Beach project was eventually dismissed after two unsuccessful SPRAWLDEF appeals. The Park District’s defense of the project required the preparation of a second, Supplemental EIR. Park District resources were wasted to defend the project against Norman La Force’s frivolous lawsuits.
In response to a public records request, the Park District provided this estimate of the cost of defending the District against La Force’s lawsuits regarding Albany Beach: “In total, we estimate that the attorney’s fees incurred directly as a result of the litigation filed by SPRAWLDEF relating to Albany Beach were between $321,358 and $346,358. In addition, the court ordered the Park District to pay Petitioner SPRAWLDEF $60,587.50 in attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party in the 2013 litigation.” The Park District was forced to waste nearly $400,000 of taxpayers’ money to defend its improvement project at Albany Beach. The project was needlessly delayed by the lawsuits and money that could have been used to improve parks was wasted.
Norman La Force does not want people in the parks
Norman La Force was instrumental in creating the Berkeley Meadow at the foot of University Ave. in Berkeley. The Berkeley Meadow was at one time part of the San Francisco Bay, until it was created with landfill and used as a city dump until the 1960s. Over a period of 5 years at a cost of $6 million “non-native vegetation was scraped away, then the land capped with clean fill and contoured to form naturally filling seasonal ponds.” Then the meadow was planted with native grasses and shrubs to create an “approximation of the historic landscape that might have been present a half mile inland.” The Berkeley Meadow is surrounded by a fence. Public access is restricted to two narrow, fenced trails running diagonally through the 72-acre fenced enclosure. Bicycles and people walking dogs on or off-leash are prohibited on the fenced trails.
Berkeleyside described the Berkeley Meadow and contrasted it with a heavily visited adjacent park, owned by the City of Berkeley: “What you won’t see [in the Berkeley Meadow] is more than a handful of the 2 million annual state park visitors, though this prime spot is just a short bike ride from West Berkeley. The adjacent, city-owned César Chávez Park on the north waterfront gets most of the visitors along its paved trail. But here, only a few hundred yards away, the Meadow, our state park managed by the East Bay Regional Parks District, is an almost wild place, trisected by two wheel-chair accessible paths.” Indeed, the Berkeley Meadow does look wild, much like a vacant lot looks wild.
Norman La Force has a confrontational attitude toward park visitors
In his letter to FEMA objecting to the withdrawal of funding for a tree-removal project that was implemented before being authorized by FEMA, Norman La Force says that those with whom he disagrees are “like climate change deniers.” Ironically, he is defending the unauthorized clear cutting of approximately 150 trees in his letter, actions that contribute to climate change. La Force is actually the “climate change denier” in his accusatory letter. The letter is available HERE.
In an earlier letter to FEMA about the same projects, La Force begins by asking FEMA to ignore those with whom he disagrees: “We urge FEMA to discount the views of any individual or group that uses sophomoric name calling tactics in the press or in their FEMA scoping comments to categorize people or advocacy groups as ‘nativists’ (or other similar pejorative labels)…” The letter is available HERE: FEMA-DEIS for East Bay Hills predisaster mitigation – public comments
When La Force ran for the Ward 1 Board seat in 2008, Berkeley Daily Planet published an op-ed by someone who had observed Norman La Force in action. Here are a few relevant quotes from her op-ed (emphasis added):
“La Force is not only ‘a thorn in the side of park officials,’ he is fiercely aggressive and known for vengeful acts.”
“If La Force is elected, he will threaten the park access of every person who walks a dog, rides a horse, seeks accessible trails, and bikes on the lands of the East Bay Regional Parks. His scientific background is nothing, as he has demonstrated in public hearings many times. He has worked harder to keep humans out of parks than any other “park proponent” I know. He definitely will try to crush any “opponent,” including the disabled, the young and the elderly. Not because they are right or wrong, but because they oppose him. I urge everyone to watch their back if he’s elected.”
“One can have honest debates about how to create urban edge ecosystems that allow both human uses and wild life to thrive together (yes, it can be done beautifully), but Norman’s rigidity will never consider other perspectives or creative solutions.”
Vote for Elizabeth Echols for the Park District Board of Directors
On November 3rd, please vote for the parks in the East Bay, not against them. Please do not install an enemy of the parks who does not want people or trees in our parks and is willing to spray our parks with herbicide to get the landscape he prefers. When we vote for President of the United States on November 3rd, we must decide who to vote for at the same time we are voting against another candidate. Both decisions are equally important.
The meetings of the Board of Directors of the Park District are open to the public. They are collegial events in which the Board works cooperatively with the staff and the public is treated with respect. The Park District does not deserve to have a “spoiled child throwing a tantrum” imposed on them, especially not someone who has sued them many times to get what he wants. East Bay Regional parks are open to everyone with a wide range of recreational interests. Let’s keep them that way by voting for Elizabeth Echols on November 3rd.
*Full Disclosure: I have not met Elizabeth Echols. I do not know her. I have not consulted with her about the preparation of this article. I have no reason to believe she would agree with my assessment of her opponent in the race for the Board seat in Ward 1. My recommendation to vote for her is based primarily on the fact that she was selected by the Board for her temporary appointment to the Board, which suggests that she is supported by the Board and Park District staff. I have read her credentials on her candidacy website and I have watched her participation in Board meetings since she was appointed to the Board. This limited information about her gives me confidence that she will represent Ward 1 well.
**Update: I have been informed that Elizabeth Echols was appointed to the Board after Whitney Dotson retired and that Mr. Dotson died about 2 weeks after Ms. Echols was appointed. September 30, 2020
Update:East Bay Times endorsed Elizabeth Echols for the seat on the Board of East Bay Regional Park District to represent Ward 1. Their explanation for their endorsement is half praise for Echols and half condemnation of Norman La Force. The article is behind a paywall, so here are a few quotes: “In approach, she and her opponent, attorney and former El Cerrito Councilman Norman La Force, couldn’t be more different. At the park district, La Force is best known as the guy who files legal challenges. La Force claims in his campaign material that he led the Sierra Club campaign to have the district purchase more land to double the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park, perhaps the East Bay’s most popular escape for canine owners. Actually, when the park at Point Isabel was expanded in the early 2000s, La Force sought to block dog access to the new area.”
After explaining some of the many lawsuits La Force has filed against the Park District, East Bay Times concludes, “Now, La Force says, he wants to join the board so he can change the park district from the inside and lead it in a different direction. But we’re quite happy with the district’s current direction. Echols is the candidate who will keep it on track.” September 30, 2020
Update: Tom Butt, the Mayor of Richmond, has endorsed Elizabeth Echols for the seat on the Board of the Park District. In his newsletter, he explains why he has endorsed Echols:
“The editorial in the East Bay Times at the bottom of this email recommends Elizabeth Echols for the District that includes Richmond. I agree that Echols is the only reasonable choice for this position. Echols is opposed by a really bad candidate, Norman La Force, who is no friend of Richmond.”
Mayor Butt explains why La Force is persona non grata in Richmond in his newsletter to the people of Richmond:
“In 2010, Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) entered into a litigation settlement agreement with Upstream Point Molate, the prospective developer of the gigantic and sprawling Point Molate Casino, including parking garages for over 7,500 vehicles. The settlement agreement that LaForce negotiated traded unqualified early support of the casino for tens of millions of dollars targeted for acquisition of open space at other locations. At the time, LaForce was a founding member of the CESP board. He was able to get other environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club to support the settlement terms in exchange for sharing the settlement proceeds.See Contra Costa County Case No. MSN09-0080”
Mayor Butt explains why the Sierra Club backed the agreement with casino developers, according to Richmond Confidential: “The plan for the casino has made strange bedfellows over the years it’s been debated. Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have backed the plan to develop Point Molate as a massive gaming resort complex because the plan would fund extra protections for native habitats and the removal of invasive plant species.”
Mayor Butt describes the casino project in his newsletter. Does this project sound like it protects the environment? “The project includes a 4,000-slot machine casino, 1,100 hotel rooms, a convention center, a performing arts center, entertainment venues, retail space, a tribal government center and tribal housing. Under the agreement, three-fourths of the 412-acre site would be preserved as open space. The tribe has agreed to restore and protect natural habitat and to provide a continuous shoreline trail that would be a new addition to the Bay Trail.”
Mayor Butt concludes, “La Force has proven himself as someone who would sell out Richmond in a heartbeat.” September 30, 2020. Posted October 3, 2020.
Update: Berkeleyside has published 4 op-eds about the race for a seat on the Board of East Bay Regional Park District. Here, in the order in which they were published:
Although the op-eds are instructive, the comments on the op-eds are far more revealing. Many influential stakeholders in land use decisions in the East Bay have stepped forward to tell us about their personal experiences with Norman La Force during specific land use policy debates, going back decades. It isn’t a pretty picture. The few who defend La Force appreciate his confrontational style of civic engagement and they applaud lawsuits as a means to get what they want.
The debates on these op-eds are a window into the Bay Area community of “environmentalists.” It is an extreme version of environmentalism that believes the purpose of urban public parks is to provide protected reserves for native plants and animals. It’s a misanthropic approach that opposes all new housing and views humans as intruders in nature.
Over 20 years ago, my initial reaction to native plant “restorations” was horror at the destruction of healthy trees. It took some years to understand that pesticides are used by most projects to prevent the trees from resprouting and to control the weeds that thrive in the sun when the trees are destroyed. Herbicides are a specific type of pesticide, just as insecticides and rodenticides are also pesticides.
Because pesticide application notices are not required by California State law for most of the herbicides used by “restoration” projects, the public is unaware of how much herbicide is needed to eradicate non-native vegetation, the first step in every attempt to establish a native plant garden. California State law does not require pesticide application notices if the manufacturer of the herbicide claims that their product will dry within 24 hours.
Herbicides used to eradicate non-native plants
In 2014, the California Invasive Plant Council conducted a survey of 100 land managers to determine what methods they use to kill the plants they consider “invasive.” The result of that survey was a wakeup call to those who visit our parks and open spaces. 62% of land managers reported that they frequently use herbicides to control “invasive” plants. 10% said they always used herbicides. Only 6% said they never use herbicide. Round Up (glyphosate) is used by virtually all (99%) of the land managers who use herbicides. Garlon (triclopyr) is used by 74% of those who use herbicide.
Land managers in the Bay Area use several other herbicides in addition to Garlon and Round Up. Products with the active ingredient imazapyr (such as Polaris) are often used, most notably to kill non-native spartina marsh grass. Locally, the San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Project (ISP) “defines a need for a zero tolerance threshold on invasive Spartina in the San Francisco Bay.” 2,000 acres have been repeatedly sprayed with herbicides on East and West sides of the San Francisco Bay since the project began. The result of this project has been bare mud where the imazapyr was aerial sprayed from helicopters the first few years of the project with annual spot spraying continuing 15 years later. Imazapyr is very mobile and persistent in the soil. That is the probable reason why attempts to replace the non-native species with the native species were unsuccessful. The loss of both native and non-native marsh grass has eliminated the nesting habitat of the endangered Ridgway rail, decimating the small population of this endangered bird in the Bay Area.
Aminopyralid (brand name Milestone) is also used. Although it is considered less toxic than other herbicides, it is the most mobile and persistent in the soil. New York State banned the sale of Milestone because of concern about contaminating ground water.
With this knowledge of widespread use of herbicides by land managers, we followed up with specific land managers in the Bay Area to determine the scale of local herbicide use. East Bay Regional Park District significantly reduced their use of Round Up for facilities maintenance in 2018, in response to the public’s concerns after multi-million dollar product liability settlements of lawsuits from users who were deathly ill after using glyphosate products. In 2019, the Park District announced that it would phase out the use of Round Up in picnic areas, camp grounds, parking lots, and paved trails.
At the same time, the Park District restated its commitment to using herbicide to control plants they consider “invasive.” Unfortunately, the Park District’s use of herbicide for “resource management projects” has skyrocketed and is by far its greatest use of herbicides. “Resource management project” is the euphemism the Park District uses for its native plant “restorations” that begin by eradicating non-native vegetation such as spartina marsh grass and 65 other plant species.
These trends in pesticides used by East Bay Regional Park District continued in 2019. Glyphosate use continued to decline by 82% since reduction strategies began in 2016. Use of Garlon (active ingredient triclopyr) to control resprouts of non-native trees and shrubs increased 23% since 2017. Use of Polaris (active ingredient imazapyr) to eradicate non-native spartina marsh grass increased 71% since 2017. “Resource management projects” have been renamed “ecological function.”
San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) reduced use of herbicide briefly in 2016, after glyphosate was classified as a probable carcinogen. However, herbicide use has since increased, particularly in the 32 designated “natural areas” where SFRPD is attempting to “restore” native plants by eradicating non-native plants. In 2019, SFRPD applied herbicides 243 times, the most since 2013. Of these, 144 applications were in the so-called “natural areas” (this includes properties of the Public Utility Commission, San Francisco’s water supplier, managed in the same way; i.e., eradicating plants they don’t like). Though the “natural areas” are only a quarter of total city park acres in San Francisco, nearly half the herbicides measured by volume of active ingredient were used in those areas.
San Francisco’s Parks Department has been using herbicides in these areas for over 20 years. Plants that are repeatedly sprayed with herbicides eventually develop resistance to the herbicide, just as over use of antibiotics has resulted in many bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
Mounting public pressure to ban the use of glyphosate has also pushed land managers to try newer herbicides as substitutes (e.g., Axxe, Lifeline, Clearcast). Less is known about these products because less testing has been done on them and we have less experience with them. It took nearly 40 years to learn how dangerous glyphosate is!
Why are we concerned about herbicides?
The World Health Organization classified glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round Up) as a probable human carcinogen in 2015. That decision suddenly and radically altered the playing field for the use of glyphosate, which is the most heavily used of all herbicides.
In 2020, plaintiffs in a class-action suit against Monsanto alleging that it falsely advertised that the active ingredient in Roundup only affects plants were awarded $39.5 million. The settlement also requires that the inaccurate claim be removed from the labels of all glyphosate products: “…[plaintiff] says Monsanto falsely claimed through its labeling that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, targets an enzyme that is only found in plants and would therefore not affect people or pets. According to the suit, that enzyme is in fact found in people and pets and is critical to maintaining the immune system, digestion and brain function.”
What little research is done on the effect of pesticides on wildlife indicates that pesticides are equally toxic to animals.New research finds that western monarch milkweed habitat contains a “ubiquity of pesticides” that are likely contributing to the decline of the iconic species: “’We expected to find some pesticides in these plants, but we were rather surprised by the depth and extent of the contamination,’ said Matt Forister, PhD, a butterfly expert, biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and co-author of the paper…’From roadsides, from yards, from wildlife refuges, even from plants bought at stores—doesn’t matter from where—it’s all loaded with chemicals. We have previously suggested that pesticides are involved in the decline of low elevation butterflies in California, but the ubiquity and diversity of pesticides we found in these milkweeds was a surprise,’ Dr. Forister said.”
Both glyphosate (Round Up) and triclopyr (Garlon) are known to kill mycorrhizal fungi that live on the roots of plants and trees, facilitating the transfer of moisture and nutrients from the soil to the plants. The absence of mycorrhizal fungi makes plants more vulnerable to drought because they are less able to obtain the water they need to survive.
Glyphosate is known to bind minerals in the soil, making the soil impenetrable to water and plants more vulnerable to drought.
Both glyphosate and triclopyr also kill microbes in the soil that contribute to the health of soil by breaking down leaf litter into nutrients that feed plants.
Despite knowing that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans and that many herbicides cause significant environmental damage, native plant advocates continue to push land managers to use toxic chemicals to kill non-native plants and trees. They do so because herbicides are the cheapest method of eradicating vegetation. They do not have the person-power to eradicate all the vegetation that is being killed by herbicides. Using herbicides enables native plant advocates to claim larger areas of parkland and open space than they would be able to without using herbicides.
(1) Montellano, et.al., “Mind the microbes: below-ground effects of herbicides used for managing invasive plants,” Dispatch, newsletter of California Invasive Plant Council, Winter-Spring 2019-2020.
As you make the important decision about voting on Measure FF, please take into consideration that Million Trees and the Forest Action Brigade are not the only East Bay residents who plan to vote against Measure FF. Today we tell you more about why many East Bay voters have made that decision.
Post-election update: Measure FF passed easily. In Alameda County 85% of voters approved Measure FF. In Contra Costa County 80% of voters approved Measure FF. These were the vote tallies on the day after the election, on November 7th.
A ’91 fire victim and survivor tells us why he will vote against Measure FF
“Alameda County’s proposed Measure FF, East Bay Regional Park District Parcel Tax Renewal, appears innocent enough: improvements in area parks, safety, a 20-year continuation of a 2004 plan to enhance the public’s enjoyment of East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) properties.
And the tax — a dollar a month per single-family residence and $69 a month for multifamily units in Alameda County — seems affordable. But wait: Half of the money raised by this measure would fund destruction of thousands of healthy, mature trees in the East Bay hills.
This isn’t the first time this deforestation has been proposed. In 2013, FEMA offered a similar plan, to be implemented by UC Berkeley, the city of Oakland and the EBRPD. After the plan’s environmental impact was discussed in three public hearings, citizens responded with 13,000 written comments, which, by FEMA’s count, were 90 percent against the plan.
The reason, subsequently confirmed in litigation, was that the plan would involve significant, permanent negative impacts to the environment but would still fail to achieve its stated goal — to reduce risk of fire in the hills. The U.S. Forest Service commented that in terms of mitigating risk, it would be better to do nothing than to proceed with FEMA’s plan. The reason this type of proposal keeps popping up is because it is the object of long-term lobbying by a clique of nativists who want to rid the hills of species they don’t like. Their reasoning depends on myths such as these:
Once upon a time, before white people came and changed things, the hills were a stable environment of so-called native vegetation that was healthy and inherently fire-resistant;
“native” species tend to be less likely to ignite, and they have manageable flame lengths (the distance at the ground from the flame’s leading edge to its tip);
and trees are the culprit and were the primary reason that the 1991 fire burned out of control.
These statements are not only incorrect, they are the opposite of the truth. The old landscape burned regularly; the flame lengths of “native” brush and grasses are multiples of mature trees’ flame lengths and create conflagrations that fire personnel won’t fight because they spread and change direction so fast; the 1991 fire was a STRUCTURE fire, not a vegetation fire: houses set fire to trees, not the other way around.
Factually, the ’91 fire was human-caused. First, it was a contractor’s construction debris fire that escaped into the brush; secondly, it was a reignition from embers that the Oakland Fire Department had failed to extinguish. The official report examining the causes doesn’t mention trees but does criticize the OFD’s failures in its incident command’s preparation, training and management during the fire. Of the 16 major fires in the hills since 1905, there are basically two categories: human-caused (10 fires) and “unknown cause” — it’s a safe bet most of those “unknowns” were also human-caused.
If Measure FF is truly focused on fire risk mitigation, it would fund regular removal of fine fuels around the base of the trees — as EBMUD does so successfully — because it is the brush, grasses and debris on or near the ground that are most likely to ignite and are key to the fire’s spread and ferocity. Leave the tall trees alone, because they reduce wind, shade the ground, catch fog drip and discourage growth of flammable, weedy plants. If trees are not cut down, then repeated applications of herbicides to kill re-sprouts are unnecessary.
Measure FF proposes to fund some good things — maintenance and improvements in the parks — but they make FF a Trojan horse. They are sugar-coating on a foul and foolish enterprise: deforestation to create so-called “oak-bay savannahs,” which are actually grass- and brush-covered hills, dotted with occasional low trees — the type of landscape that has been burning so fast and ferociously in Lake and Sonoma counties and throughout the state. We must send the FF authors back to the drawing board, telling them to come back to us when they have plan that will actually reduce, not increase, the fire hazard.”
Peter Scott, Oakland, California
No one is more knowledgeable about East Bay fire history and fire hazard mitigation than Peter Scott. He is a founding member of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy and the Hills Conservation Network. He is passionate about fire safety in the East Bay partly because of his personal loss. His home burned down in 1970 and 1991 and his mother was killed in the 1991 fire. Since 1991, he has made fire hazard mitigation one of his personal priorities. Peter Scott and his wife, Teresa Ferguson, instigated the Civil Grand Jury report about the ’91 fire.
Alameda County Green Party says “NO on Measure FF”
“The Green Party of Alameda County recommends a NO vote, with reservations, on Measure FF (Alameda/Contra Costa Counties):
If approved by voters, Measure FF would simply continue existing Measure CC funding. Voters passed Measure CC in 2004 to provide local funding for park infrastructure, maintenance, safety, and services. Measure CC is a $12/year parcel tax that is set to expire in 2020. Measure FF is expected to raise approximately $3.3 million annually until it expires in 20 years.
Measure CC boasts a long list of successful improvement to East Bay Regional Parks in areas of public safety, wildfire mitigation, healthy forest management, shoreline protection, environmental stewardship, habitat preservation, park infrastructure and maintenance, recreational and educational programming, and visitor services.
While impacts of the Measure have been wide-ranging and largely celebrated, record California wildfires in 2018 have caused both opponents and proponents of the Measure to highlight the wildfire mitigation aspect of the program. Neither Measure CC nor Measure FF contains language that details how to approach reducing wildfires, however, Measure CC’s funds helped in developing the Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan (“Plan”) that was approved in 2010 by the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) Board of Directors.
Proponents state that passing Measure FF is critical to continue to reduce risk of wildfires along the wildland-urban interface. They accept that thinning of certain tree species and controlled use of herbicides are tools outlined in the Plan to accomplish the task.
Opponents are against unnecessary removal of non-native species and use of herbicides (EBRPD has expanded use of herbicides and clear-cutting), arguing that extreme fires are driven by effects of climate change, not a particular tree species. Opponents agree with many fire experts that the key defense of homes against wildfire is defensible space, and argue that clear-cutting removes trees that sequester carbon (mitigating climate change) and removes the canopy that provides habitat for species and helps cool the environment. On pesticide use, they simply say: “If organic farmers can do it, so can EBRPD!”
We agree with the opponents: There are environmentally-sensitive alternate approaches to reducing wildfire risk that do not involve removing so many trees and applying poisons in East Bay parks, but the EBRPD Board must be willing to implement them. Vote “No” to send a message to the Board that we can do better. Our reservations are that we like the parks and want to protect them, and we appreciate most of the improvements that Measure FF funds.”
Alameda County Green Party
We are deeply grateful to the Green Party for their decision and we commend them for considering all sides of this complex issue, which is seldom done by political organizations.
Deliver the message to the Park District
Whatever the outcome of this election, votes against Measure FF will deliver a clear message to the Park District: STOP destroying healthy trees and killing harmless plants and trees with dangerous pesticides!!
Peter Scott and the Green Party have delivered this message and you have the opportunity to add your voice by placing a yard sign in your own yard and in the road medians in your neighborhood in the East Bay. The Forest Action Brigade is offering yard signs at no cost to you. Request your yard sign by contacting the Forest Action Brigade: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 612-8566.
Native plant advocates originally thought they would be able to destroy all non-native trees in California based entirely on their preference for native plants. People who value our urban forest quickly challenged that assumption. Native plant advocates devised a new strategy based on fear. Fear is the most powerful justification for many public policies that deliver a wide range of agendas, including the current prejudices against immigrants that is shared by many native plant advocates.After the destructive wildfire in Oakland in 1991, native plant advocates seized on fear of fire to convince the public that all non-native trees must be destroyed. They made the ridiculous claim that native plants and trees are less flammable than non-native plants and trees.
Like most lies, the wildfire cover story has come back to bite the nativists. As wildfires rage all over the west, becoming more frequent and more intense, the public can see with their own eyes that every fire occurs in native vegetation, predominantly in grass and brush and sometimes spreading to native forests of conifers and oak woodlands. It has become difficult for nativists to convince the public that native vegetation isn’t flammable because the reality of wildfires clearly proves otherwise.
Recently, nativists have become the victims of their own wildfire cover story as they try to reconcile the contradictions in their hypocritical agendas. These contradictions are now visible both nationally and locally in the San Francisco Bay Area. We will tell you about the lie that binds nativism today.
Sierra Club caught in the wringer of its own making
The New York Times published an op-ed by Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Chad Hansen, ecologist and member of the Sierra Club Board of Directors. They informed us of a proposed federal farm bill to destroy trees on thousands of acres of national forests without any environmental review. The stated purpose of this federal plan is to reduce wildfire hazards.
The national leaders of the Sierra Club emphatically disagree that destroying trees will reduce fire hazards. In fact, they say “increased logging can make fires burn more intensely” because “Logging, including many projects deceptively promoted as forest ‘thinning,’ removes fire-resistant trees, reduces the cooling shade of the forest canopy and leaves behind highly combustible twigs and branches.”
They point out that climate change and associated drought have increased the intensity of wildfires. Therefore, they say we must “significantly increase forest protection, since forests are a significant natural mechanism for absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.” Destroying forests contributes to climate change and climate change is causing more wildfires.
The leaders of the Sierra Club tell us that the most effective way to reduce damage caused by wildfires is to “focus on fire-safety measures for at-risk houses. These include installing fire-resistant roofing, ember-proof exterior vents and guards to prevent wind-borne embers from igniting dry leaves and pine needles in rain gutters and creating ‘defensible space’ by reducing combustible grasses, shrubs and small trees within 100 feet of homes. Research shows these steps can have a major impact on whether houses survive wildfires.”
Unfortunately, the Sierra Club continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth. While the national leadership speaks rationally on the subject of wildfires, the local leadership of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club continues to demand that all non-native trees in the Bay Area be destroyed.
The City of Oakland recently published a draft of its Vegetation Management Plan(VMP) with the stated purpose of reducing fire hazards. The draft plan recommends removal of most non-native trees on 2,000 acres of open space and along 300 hundred miles of roads. The plan seemed unnecessarily destructive to those who value our urban forest and have a sincere interest in reducing fire hazards, but it was unacceptable to the local chapter of the Sierra Club because it does not go far enough to destroy all non-native trees. Here are some of the revisions they demand in their public comment (1) on the draft VMP:
“…removal of all second-growth eucalyptus trees, coppice suckers and seedlings in city parks…”
“…removal of 20-year old Monterey Pine seedlings that were allowed to become established after the original pines burned and were killed in the 1991 fire…”
“…identify areas of overly mature and near hazardous Monterey Pine and Cypress trees that could be removed…”
“…recommend adoption of specific updated IPM policies for the city to implement that will allow appropriate and safe use of herbicides…”
“The Sierra Club has developed the right approach to vegetation management for fire safety…The Sierra Club’s program for vegetation management can be summarized by the Three R’s:”
“Remove fire dangerous eucalyptus, pine, and other non-native trees and other fire dangerous vegetation like French and Scotch broom…”
“Restore those areas with more fire safe native trees like bays, oaks, laurels and native grasslands…”
“Re-establish the greater biodiversity of flora and fauna that results from the return of more diverse habitat than exists in the monoculture eucalyptus plantations…”
The local chapter of the Sierra Club is making the same demands for complete eradication of non-native trees in the East Bay Regional Park District. The pending renewal of the parcel tax that has paid for tree removals in the Park District for the past 12 years was an opportunity for the Sierra Club to make its endorsement of the renewal contingent upon the Park District making a commitment to remove all non-native trees (and many other commitments).
“…the Sierra Club believes it is critical that in any renewal of Measure CC [now Measure FF on the November 2018 ballot] funding for vegetation management should be increased for the removal of non-natives such as eucalyptus and their replacement with restored native habitat…Measure CC [now FF] funds should not be used to thin eucalyptus but must be allocated to the restoration of native habitat.” (1)
The national Sierra Club and the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club are at odds on fire hazard mitigation. The national leadership understands that destroying trees will not reduce fire hazards. They also understand that destroying trees will contribute to climate change that is causing more destructive wildfires. The local leadership clings to the cover story that native trees are less flammable than non-native trees.
Local nativists change their tune
There is no history of wildfires in San Francisco and there is unlikely to be in the future because it is foggy and soggy during the dry summer months when wildfires occur. But the reality of the climate conditions and the absence of fire in the historical record never prevented nativists in San Francisco from trying to use the fire cover story to support their demand that thousands of non-native trees be destroyed.
Jake Sigg made those dire predictions before the native plant agenda was finally approved in 2017 after 20 years of heated debate and before many wildfires in California have established the truth that wildfires start in grass and brush and seldom in forests and in every case in exclusively native vegetation.
So, to accommodate this new reality, Jake Sigg has changed his tune. He got his wish that thousands of non-native trees be destroyed in San Francisco as well as a commitment to restore the native grassland that he prefers. Consequently it is no longer consistent with that agenda to claim that there are acute fire hazards in San Francisco, requiring the destruction of flammable vegetation.
“What protects much of San Francisco’s forested area is the city’s famed fog, said Jake Sigg, a conservation chairman of the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society. While walking on Mount Davidson on a recent afternoon, he said, one area was so muddy from fog that he has to be careful not to slip…’In the past, (fires) haven’t been too much of a concern for the simple reason that we have had adequate rainfall,’ Sigg said.”
According to nativists, the wet eucalyptus forest must be destroyed, but the dead/dried flammable brush and grassland must be preserved because it is native.
The elusive truth
Despite the constantly shifting story, we are not fooled. The truth is that native vegetation is just as flammable as non-native vegetation and that destroying trees—regardless of their nativity—will not reduce fire hazards.
(1) These letters on Sierra Club letterhead were obtained by public records requests and are available on request.
East Bay Regional Park District is in the process of selecting the projects that will be funded by the renewal of Measure CC, the parcel tax that has funded park improvements. Measure CC will be on the ballot for renewal in November 2018 and will provide funding for “park improvements” for the next 15 years. YOUcan have some say about those projects by making your suggestions to the park districtby the end of December. Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
The original parcel tax was passed in 2004. Over 22% of the money raised by that parcel tax was used to destroy healthy non-native trees in the parks. Meanwhile, many of our native trees, most notably our Coast Live Oaks, are dying of Sudden Oak Death. Destroying our non-native trees, while our native trees are dying, predicts a treeless future for the Bay Area. Since dead trees are more flammable than living trees, destroying living trees while leaving dead trees in the parks means that fire hazards are being increased.
We published a letter from a park advocate about Sudden Oak Death to the park district recently, which is available HERE. Today we are publishing an update from the park advocate who has learned more about the dead oak trees in East Bay parks. A scientist who is studying Sudden Oak Death in East Bay parks tells us that there are tens of thousands of dead oak trees in the parks and that the park district is not removing them. The dead trees are now fuel for fires in the parks.
It’s been a rough year and we are sorry to end it with this unhappy news about trees in the East Bay. We send you our best wishes for a better year in 2018. Thank you for your readership.
TO: Rick Seal, Fire Chief; Robert Doyle, General Manager; Board of Directors
FROM: Park Advocate
RE: Please hire arborist/forester with Measure CC renewal
I attended the presentation of Brice McPherson to San Francisco IPM Technical Advisory Committee about Sudden Oak Death (SOD) on Thursday, December 7th. Mr. McPherson is Associate Specialist in “Organisms & the Environment” at UC Berkeley. He has been studying SOD since 2000 and more recently has inventoried the trajectory of the disease in 5 EBRPD parks and conducted experiments in those parks, with the park district’s permission.
Mr. McPherson began his study of SOD in Marin County, where SOD infections were first seen in 1994, before beginning his research in East Bay parks. Comparing the progression of the disease from Marin County to the East Bay has enabled Mr. McPherson to project the future of SOD in the East Bay.
Wildcat Canyon is the park in which Mr. McPherson has inventoried infected and dead trees most recently. In 2017, Mr. McPherson found that 16.2% of coast live oaks were infected and 20.5% were dead. The number of dead and dying oaks in Wildcat Canyon is staggering: 18,750 oaks are infected and 21,360 oaks are dead.
The number of dead and dying trees in the other 4 East Bay parks that Mr. McPherson is studying is smaller. However, his inventories in those parks are much older. Since SOD infections have increased exponentially in 2016 and 2017, we should assume that his data underestimate the current status of oaks in those parks. As you probably know, the pathogen that causes SOD is spread by rain and wind. For that reason, the rate of SOD infections has soared during the past two wet winters.
Mr. McPherson predicts that the infection rate in Wildcat Canyon will increase 10.2% per year in the future, causing 10,600 new infections per year. Mr. McPherson predicts that +/- 50% of all coast live oaks will be lost in East Bay parks in the next 20 years, resulting in “major changes in stand structure.” In other words, most oak forests will be replaced by other vegetation types.
In response to a question, Mr. McPherson said that the park district is not doing anything about the dead oak trees because there are not sufficient funds available to remove the dead trees. He was also asked how the dead wood can be removed without spreading the infection and/or creating piles of dead fuel throughout the parks. He could not answer that question.
This new information requires that I repeat what I have written to you on earlier occasions: “These changes in the environment require the park district to revise its strategies for fire hazard reduction because dead trees are significantly more flammable than living trees that contain more moisture…Removing trees infected with or killed by Sudden Oak Death should now be a higher priority than continuing to destroy healthy trees, as the park district has done in the past. Protocols for removing the dead wood must be developed because the wood is fuel when left on the ground…”
As you know, the park district has spent about $22 million dollars destroying healthy, living trees in the parks with Measure CC funding. If the park district has the money to destroy living trees based on the claim that it will reduce fire hazards, it obviously has the money to remove dead fuel in the parks.
Finally, we learned from Mr. McPherson that the park district does not employ a single certified arborist or forester. Given the resources the park district devotes to native plant “restorations” and spraying pesticides, surely it can also employ someone who knows something about trees. The landscape in the East Bay is undergoing a radical change to species that are adapted to current climate conditions that, sadly, will replace our beautiful oak forests. We need the guidance of qualified arborists to identify the most hazardous trees and make the transition to a new landscape. The employment of such expertise about trees would be a worthy expenditure of new Measure CC funding.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In preparation for writing the ballot measure that will renew Measure CC (the parcel tax that has funded park improvements since 2005), East Bay Regional Park District has invited the public to suggest projects for the parcel tax renewal that will be on the ballot in November 2018. The park district must receive the public’s suggestions by the end of the December to be considered when they write the ballot measure at the beginning of 2018.
Million Trees is publishing the suggestion of Marg Hall and Jean Stewart for major investments in the park district’s Integrated Pest Management Program to achieve the ultimate goal of using no pesticides in the parks.
Back in 2004, we both voted for Measure CC out of a desire to support the East Bay Regional Parks. At the time, we couldn’t have imagined that the euphemism “resource-related projects” meant funding the destruction of thousands of healthy eucalyptus trees and the subsequent application of pesticides. (1) Had this fact been clearly stated, we never would have supported CC. We’ll present herein proposals for Measure CC expenditures which are designed to shift EBRPD to a no-pesticide policy.
PESTICIDES IN THE PARKS ARE NOT POPULAR
A large segment of the local community opposes the use of public money to fund pesticide applications in our parks. Jane Goodall has observed that humans are the only animal species that insists on spoiling its own nest. It is self-destructive and unethical of us to poison our own nest, not to mention the homes of countless other species. Historically, environmentalists have opposed pesticide use; however, the local Sierra Club chapter, in a departure from this tradition, insists that poison be used in East Bay parks to remove “invasive non-native plants.” They invoke the benign-sounding term “restoration” to garner support for this ecological insanity. Note that the San Francisco Bay Chapter has never permitted a vote by members on the question of pesticide policies. In the face of their refusal to poll their own members, community activists conducted a survey of Sierra Club members. Over 1,876 local members mailed in their response, of whom 1,851 expressed disagreement with their own leadership! (25 expressed agreement.) For perspective, that’s more respondents than vote in the chapter elections! (In 2015, the candidate for Chapter Executive Committee with the greatest number of votes received only 1,139 votes.)
WHAT’S IN THAT STUFF YOU’RE SPRAYING?
Pesticide regulation in the US is weak, compromised by a cozy relationship with manufacturers. Pesticides have not been proven to be safe, despite approval of certain chemicals by the EPA. Bear in mind that in the US, the benefit of the doubt is given to the pesticide maker–no precautionary approach here–so we really don’t know the full extent of damage. Active ingredients are, of course, poisons, since they’re specifically designed to kill plants and animals. But so-called “inert” ingredients are poisonous as well.
Among the EPA’s many regulatory failures is the fact that, for the most part, “inert ingredients” get a pass. Pesticide formulations (e.g. Roundup) contain chemicals intended to increase potency. Agricultural pesticides contain more than 50% inert ingredients. Independent scientists investigating the safety of inert ingredients have uncovered evidence of harm that should be of great concern, including many hundreds of hazardous chemicals, carcinogens, and even chemicals considered to be active ingredients when used in a different product. (2)
DDT provides an illustrative cautionary tale. While it was banned in the US in 1972, DDT continued to be used in pesticides as an “inert” (!) ingredient, in a product named Kelthane. (3) This continued for TEN years! Even though DDT (and DDE, its metabolite) is a potent endocrine disruptor, the causal link to breast cancer has been hard to establish. Among the reasons for this is that breast cancer’s long latency period made such research challenging. Just two years ago the results of a large study conducted by Kaiser Oakland were released. (9,300 women with a 54-year follow-up.) Blood levels of pregnant women were tested between the years 1959 and 1962. Female offspring of those who tested with high DDT levels were 4 times likelier to develop breast cancer by age 52, compared with controls. (4) Women are still paying the price for the regulatory failures of the past. Don’t you owe it to future generations to ask yourselves what other time bombs lurk in the chemical poisons you spread?
EBRPD often uses glyphosate (aka Roundup), long touted as extremely safe by manufacturers. In 2015, the World Health Organization declared glyphosate to be a “probable human carcinogen.” However, merely focusing on Roundup can lull us into believing that the solution lies in banning glyphosate. This naive thinking fails to take into account the legions of newer and less-scrutinized pesticides lining up to take Roundup’s place in a game of poison whack-a-mole.
Two projects which were funded by Measure CC “required” pesticides: triclopyr (Garlon) to prevent the re-sprouting of eucalyptus trees, and imazapyr (Polaris) to remove the “non-native” grass Spartina along San Francisco’s Bay shoreline. EBRPD’s own literature counts among successful CC projects: “Marsh cleanup at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, including Clapper Rail habitat enhancement and Spartina control” as well as “restoration of grasslands…at Pt. Pinole Regional Park”. (5) Based on your own reports, Spartina control projects have required the application of hundreds of gallons of imazapyr, some by aerial spray.
Imazapyr is toxic to fish, aquatic organisms and bees. Water soluble, it’s highly mobile and persistent; in one Swedish study, it was detectible in ground water eight years after application. (6)
As for triclopyr, much of the information has not been publicly shared. Thus scientists’ ability to conduct a well-informed evaluation of its safety is limited. We do know, however, that it significantly increases the frequency of breast cancer in both rats and mice. Despite this finding, the EPA has violated its own guidelines by refusing to classify this chemical as a carcinogen. We also know it has an adverse effect on frogs at very low exposures, and it causes documented harm to birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-targeted plants. (7)
We can’t afford to wait 50 years to know a pesticide’s full effect. Especially now, under the current administration, corporations and politicians not only bully scientists but are systematically destroying the EPA. Now more than ever, local communities urgently need to rise to the occasion. This is where you come in.
DARE TO BE BOLD
Though she was writing about agricultural pesticides, Sandra Steingraber throws down a highly relevant challenge:
“I believe it is time for a new human experiment. The old experiment…is that we have sprayed pesticides which are inherent poisons…throughout our shared environment. They are now in amniotic fluid. They’re in our blood. They’re in our urine. They’re in our exhaled breath. They are in mothers’ milk….What is the burden of cancer that we can attribute to this use of poisons in our agricultural system?…We won’t really know the answer until we do the other experiment, which is to take the poisons out of our food chain, embrace a different kind of agriculture, and see what happens.” (8)
We propose a bold initiative. You’ve created an admirable IPM program; why not build on it by taking up Steingraber’s challenge? Use CC funding to make a commitment to a “no pesticide” policy. This would provide national leadership at a time when it is desperately needed.
Here are some practical suggestions to that end:
Expand IPM funding: Give staff the resources they need to innovate.
Go Deep: “Invasive” plants are not a problem to be eradicated but a symptom of an underlying dysfunction. Hire experts who can help you develop holistic solutions to ecosystem imbalances. Two who come to mind are Tao Orion (author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration) and Caroline Cox (Center for Environmental Health). (9) Send your IPM staff to the yearly Beyond Pesticides conference.
Adopt the Precautionary Principle, which is based on the understanding that decision-makers have a social responsibility to protect the public from harm. The burden of proof of the harmlessness of a proposed action shifts from poison-manufacturers to…you.
Plant tall trees: Having already cut thousands of living tall trees, you’re now faced with the reality of climate change. Reforestation becomes an urgent ethical imperative. Tall trees are not only carbon sinks; they also capture fog, provide raptor habitat (thus eliminating the need for rodenticides), and provide natural, nonchemical undergrowth suppression, especially in those same areas where you’ve been reapplying pesticides over and over, in a futile attempt to kill “weeds”. And of course, it goes without saying: no more cutting of healthy trees, young or old!
Experiment: Expand your existing programs of experimental plots testing various pesticide-free approaches to management of “invasive” or “opportunistic” plants.
Avoid “Restoration”: These projects almost always involve pesticides which damage the soil and many non-targeted plants and animals. If a goal can’t be achieved without them, it’s not worth doing. Restoration projects should be based in science rather than prejudice. Tao Orion’s chapter on Spartina eradication compellingly makes this case. (10)
Embrace change: Rigid nativism has no place on this planet, whether applied to humans, plants, or animals. Once you begin to appreciate those resilient plants and animals that have managed to adapt to each other in a new environment, you’ll stop fretting over their immigration status, and you won’t be so tempted to employ pesticides.
Jean Stewart, El Sobrante, CA
Marg Hall, Berkeley, CA
NOTE: Both authors have had cancer. Jean Stewart, a botanist, acquired cancer as a result of exposure to herbicides while handling them in a lab. Her tumor required several surgeries, leaving her disabled. Marg Hall reports: “I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2015. While I don’t know my mom’s blood levels of DDT when I was in her womb, there are still detectable levels of DDT in my household dust—45 years after it was banned from use!”
Orion, T., Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015), p.26. Also, Cox and Surgan, “Unidentified Inert Ingredients in Pesticides: Implications for Human and Environmental Health,” Environmental Health Perspectives (2006): 1803-1806. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1764160/
Vallianatos, E.G. & Jenkins, M., Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA (Bloomsbury Press, 2014), ch.4.
Cohn, B. et al, “DDT Exposure in Utero and Breast Cancer,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, August 2015, vol. 100, Issue 8. “DDT Exposure in Utero and Breast Cancer.”
Steingraber, S. quoted in President’s Cancer Panel Report: Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now; April 2010, Section 2, page 45. Read the President’s Cancer Panel’s Report. http://steingraber.com/1447/
In 2004, voters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties approved Measure CC, a parcel tax, to provide additional funding to East Bay Regional Park District for “Park Access, Infrastructure and Safety Improvements, Resource-Related Projects, and Reserve for Unknown Events.” Measure CC also stipulated that “the overall commitment to natural resources shall be no less than 30% of the revenue raised by the entire measure.” (1) Measure CC is projected to provide about $47 million in the 15 years of its life. (2)
The park district is planning to put Measure CC on the ballot for renewal next year. It’s time to look at how the park district spent our tax dollars and decide if we want to continue to give them our tax dollars for another 15 years. If you want Measure CC funding to be used differently, now is the time to tell East Bay Regional Park District what you want…BEFORE the ballot measure is written.
Fuels Management vs. Resource Management?
The park district budgeted $10.2 million of Measure CC funding for “fuels management,” about 22% of the total available funding from Measure CC. To date, the park district has appropriated $8.8 million of that budget allocation and spent $6.3 million.
The park district describes “fuels management:”“All vegetation/fuels management projects for fuels reduction are in coordination with the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat in fuel break areas and are therefore considered to be resource related.” (2) In other words, the park district considers destroying vegetation and cutting down trees a part of its “commitment to natural resources.”
These descriptions of Measure CC projects illustrate the close relationship between fuels management and resource management:
“Assess and remove hazardous trees, promote native tree regeneration.” (2)
“Manage exotic plant species and promote fire resistant natives to reduce the risk of wildfires.” (2)
“Manage vegetation for fuels reduction in coordination with the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat in fuel break areas to provide defensible space and meet Hills Emergency Forum flame length standard.” (2)
The park district’s policies and practices are based on mistaken assumptions:
There is a wide range of opinions about the tree removals that the park district has done since their program began in 2011, after approval of the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” and the associated Environmental Impact Report. At one extreme, some people want the park district to destroy ALL non-native trees on its property. They consider “thinning” inadequate. The Sierra Club is in that camp and has sued to enforce their wishes. At the other extreme, some people don’t want any trees to be removed, although most would make an exception for dead and hazardous trees.
After observing the park district’s tree removal projects, I have reached the conclusion that they represent a middle ground that I can accept because in many cases the canopy is intact and the forest floor is still shaded. The shade retains the moisture that retards fire ignition as well as suppresses the growth of weeds that ignite more easily during the dry season. In the 20+ years that I have defended our urban forest, I was always willing to accept a compromise and the park district’s methods look like a compromise to me. I still have concerns about tree removals and they are explained HERE. You must reach your own conclusions.
So, what’s the beef?
Unfortunately, coming to terms with the park district’s tree removals has not resolved my misgivings about how Measure CC money has been used. In a nutshell, I believe that the park district’s “resource management” projects are based on outdated conservation practices. I believe the park district is trying to re-create historic landscapes that are no longer adapted to environmental conditions. Their projects are often not successful because they do not take the reality of climate change into consideration, nor do they look to the future of our environment. They are stuck in the past.
One of the projects funded by Measure CC is typical: the effort to eradicate non-native spartina marsh grass from all park properties. The park district has been participating in the effort to eradicate all non-native spartina marsh grass from the entire West Coast for 14 years. In the first few years, EBPRD aerial sprayed from helicopters several hundred gallons of herbicide per year. Now the quantity of herbicide is about 25 gallons per year.
The reason why the rails have been harmed by the eradication of their habitat is that non-native spartina provides superior cover for the rail. The non-native species of spartina grows taller, more densely, and it doesn’t die back in the winter as the native species of spartina does. When the rail begins its nesting season, there is no cover for the birds. They are therefore being killed by their many predators.
The fact that non-native spartina provides superior cover for the birds is related to a second issue. Non-native spartina provides superior protection from winter storm surges compared to the native species which provides no protection, even when it grows and it is NOT growing.
The third issue is that eradicating non-native spartina has not resulted in the return of native spartina. Even when extensive planting has been done, native spartina does not provide habitat or storm surge protection in the San Francisco Bay Area. We should be asking if pouring hundreds of gallons of herbicide on the ground might be a factor in the unsuccessful attempt to bring native spartina back to the Bay Area.
Finally, recently published studies that compared native with non-native marsh grasses and aquatic plants with respect to the ecological functions they perform. These studies both say, “If you look at the role of exotic water plants in an ecosystem, you won’t find any significant differences compared to indigenous species.”
The spartina eradication project is an example of conservation that no longer makes sense. It damages the environment with herbicides. It destroys the habitat of rare birds. It exposes our shoreline to strong storm surges and rising sea levels. Native vegetation does not return when it is eradicated.
Looking forward, not back
The parks are very important to me. I visit them often and I treasure those visits. I would like to vote for Measure CC. I hope that the measure on the ballot will give me a reason to vote for it.
I will be looking for a revised definition of “resource management” in the ballot measure, one that acknowledges that climate change is the environmental issue of our time and that conservation must be consistent with the changes that have already occurred, as well as look forward to the changes that are anticipated in the future. Specifically, “resource management” must respect the landscape we have now, which means not trying to eradicate it, particularly by spraying it with herbicides. Resource management projects must be based on reality, rather than on fantasies about the past.
Opportunities to tell EBRPD what you want from Measure CC
East Bay Regional Park District is holding public meetings about Measure CC to give the public the opportunity to provide input regarding future park needs and priorities:
November 4, 10-12, Harrison Recreation Center, 1450 High St, Alameda
November 8, 2:30-4:30 pm, David Wendel Conference Center, 1111 Broadway, 19th Floor, Oakland
EBRPD asks that the public RSVP by sending an email to Monique Salas at email@example.com or call 510-544-2008.
If you can’t attend, please send written feedback here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please tell East Bay Regional Park District what you want Measure CC funding to pay for.