Site 29: A preview of the implementation of FEMA grants in the East Bay Hills

Site 29, May 2016
Site 29, May 2016

Site 29 is identified by the mile marker on Claremont Ave, just west of the intersection with Grizzly Peak Blvd.  All the eucalyptus trees were destroyed there about 10 years ago.  The trees that were destroyed were chipped and piled on site as mulch intended to prevent the growth of weeds.  The trunks of the trees line the road, log reminders of the forest that was destroyed.

The site was adopted by the Claremont Canyon Conservancy (CCC).   CCC has planted many redwood trees there and they consider it their showcase for their advocacy to destroy all eucalyptus trees in Claremont Canyon and elsewhere in the East Bay Hills.  The Sierra Club and CCC have collaborated in the effort to convince the public that if the eucalyptus trees are destroyed, a lovely garden of native plants and trees will replace the eucalyptus forest.  They also want you to believe that their garden will be less flammable than the eucalyptus forest.

There are several flaws in this rosy prediction.  The first problem is that Site 29 is ecologically unique.  It is a riparian corridor with a creek running through it.  Therefore, more water is available there than on the sunny hills where eucalyptus forests grow.  It is a canyon with steeply sloping sides that provide protection from sun and wind, which helps retain moisture.  In other words, conditions at Site 29 are ideal for the landscape that CCC and its friends are trying to achieve.

Claremont Canyon Conservancy sign says, "“These coastal redwoods…have been planted by volunteers as part of a habitat restoration to create a native and fire-resistant environment in Claremont Canyon.” The sign is planted in wood chip mulch and obscured by poison hemlock and milk thistle, which are both non-native.
Claremont Canyon Conservancy sign at Site 29 says, ““These coastal redwoods…have been planted by volunteers as part of a habitat restoration to create a native and fire-resistant environment in Claremont Canyon.” The sign is planted in wood chip mulch and obscured by poison hemlock and milk thistle, which are both non-native.

Site 29 is also unique because CCC has planted many trees there and they have sponsored many work parties to maintain the site.  CCC has not made a commitment to plant all 2,000 acres of the East Bay Hills on which all non-native trees will be destroyed by the FEMA grant projects.  Nor have any of the land owners made a commitment to plant those acres after the trees are destroyed.

So, given the ideal landscape conditions, the planting, and maintenance invested by CCC, how successful is Site 29?  Is it a lovely native plant garden?  Is it less flammable than the eucalyptus forest it replaced?  This is our photo essay of Site 29 that answers those questions.  But photos can be deceiving, so we invite you to visit yourself.  Just drive east on Claremont Ave until you reach mile marker 29, park your car beside the road and take a walk.

The reality of Site 29

Milk thistle at Site 29, April 2016
Milk thistle at Site 29, April 2016

When we visited Site 29 in late April the milk thistle was thriving, but not yet in bloom.  The striking zebra pattern of the leaves makes it an attractive plant, in our opinion, and this lazuli bunting seems to agree that it is a plant worthy of admiration.  It is, however, not a native plant.

Lazuli bunting at Rancho San Antonio on milk thistle, April 2016. Courtesy Greg Barsh
Lazuli bunting at Rancho San Antonio on milk thistle, April 2016. Courtesy Greg Barsh

When we visited Site 29 a month later, in late May, it was a very different scene.  The milk thistle had been sprayed with herbicide along the road, to a width of about six feet, providing a stark contrast between the dead vegetation and the still green weeds.  Poison hemlock now grows along the trail into the canyon to a height of about 8 feet, joining the thistles as the landscape of Site 29.  The piles of wood chips are still visible, but are mostly covered with non-native annual grasses and other weedy shrubs.

Dead milk thistle, Site 29, May 2016
Dead milk thistle, Site 29, May 2016
The trail down into the canyon is lined by 8-foot tall poison hemlock at Site 29.
The trail down into the canyon is lined by 8-foot tall poison hemlock at Site 29.

More fantasies face harsh realities

The contractors who apply herbicides on UC Berkeley properties have been photographed many times spraying herbicides at Site 29 and elsewhere.  When they are observed spraying herbicides there are not any pesticide application notices to inform the public of what is being applied and when the application is taking place.  So, unless you see them doing it, you don’t know that you are entering a place that has been sprayed with herbicide.  Several days later, you know that herbicides have been applied only because the vegetation is dying and soon looks dead.

Herbicide spraying at mile marker 29 on Claremont Ave.
Herbicide spraying on UC Berkeley property on Claremont Ave.

When the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA projects was published, the land managers claimed they would use “best management practices” in their pesticide applications, including posting notices in advance of spraying that would remain in place during the spraying and for some time after the spraying.  That assurance turns out to be meaningless.  Herbicides are being applied without any public notification before, during, or after application.

We were under the mistaken impression that posting application notices was required by California law.  We therefore asked those who observed herbicide applications without posted signs to report the incidents as violations of California law.

The Alameda County Agricultural Department is responsible for enforcement of California’s laws regarding pesticide use in Alameda County.  They have informed us that no notices of pesticide application are required for non-agricultural applications of glyphosate (RoundUp) or Garlon (triclopyr; the herbicide sprayed on the stumps of trees that are destroyed to prevent them from resprouting).  The manufacturers of these products say they dry within 24 hours, which is the definition of when re-entry is permitted.  Notification is not required for pesticides for which re-entry is permitted within 24 hours, even while the pesticide is being sprayed.

Would you like more Site 29s?

The eucalyptus forest at Site 29 was destroyed over 10 years ago.  Therefore, it is a preview of what we can expect when eucalyptus is destroyed on 2,000 more acres of public land in the East Bay Hills.  So, what can we learn from Site 29?

Site 29 had every advantage:  plenty of water, protection from wind and sun, planting of native trees, and maintenance by a volunteer neighborhood association.  Even with all those advantages, unshaded areas in which trees were destroyed at Site 29 are dominated by non-native weeds that are more flammable than a shady eucalyptus forest.  And because the weeds are flammable, they must be repeatedly sprayed with herbicides along the roads where ignition is most likely to occur.  Dead vegetation is more flammable than living vegetation, so the logic of the spraying seems muddled.

Most of the 2,000 acres of public land on which eucalyptus forests will be destroyed do not have a water source, or protection from wind and sun.  Nor will trees be planted or maintenance provided.  They are going to look much worse than Site 29 and they will be more flammable.

Site 29 is an opportunity for us to say,”NO, this is NOT the landscape we want.  PLEASE do not destroy our eucalyptus forests!!”

“The Next Major Fire in the East Bay Hills”

We are re-publishing an excerpt of Dave Maloney’s report, “The Next Major Fire in the East Bay Hills” that was written and published by Save the East Bay Hills.  Thanks to Save the East Bay Hills for making this important report available to the readers of Million Trees.  If you haven’t visited the website of Save the East Bay Hills, we recommend that you do.  Its strong suit is the “Take Action” page, where you will find many specific suggestions for what you can do to help us prevent the destruction of our urban forest.


Dave Maloney is the former Chief of Fire Prevention for the U.S. Army at the Oakland Army Base. He is a retired firefighter from the Oakland Fire Department. He holds lifetime certification from the California State Fire Marshal’s Office as a Fire Investigator, and lifetime certification from the U.S. Dept. of Defense as a Fire Inspector. He was a member of the 1991-92 Emergency Preparedness and Community Restoration Task Force (the Oakland-Berkeley Mayors’ Firestorm Task Force) which investigated the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. He is currently a wildland fire prevention consultant.

The plan to deforest thousands of acres of East Bay public lands:

  • ​“ignores the U.S. Forest Service analysis dated September 27, 2013, which recommends against removing Eucalyptus trees;”
  • “violates the recommendations made by the 1991/1992 Task Force on Emergency Preparedness and Community Restoration, commonly known as the Oakland/Berkeley Mayors’ Fire Storm Task Force;”
  • “has no basis in fire science;”
  • “violates fundamental principles of Wildland Fire Prevention;”
  • “is ideologically motivated;” and,
  • “creates the conditions for a perfect firestorm.”

Specifically, Maloney states that, “The EBRPD, UC Berkeley (UCB), and the City of Oakland (Oakland) deforestation plan will create an enormous belt of grass and chaparral that will stretch from Richmond to Castro Valley to the eastern edge of Contra Costa County. This grassland belt will be many times more flammable than wooded terrain.” In fact, “the speed of grass fires can be at least twice that of fires involving trees, especially if there are only a few trees, or none, to act as windbreaks.”

Why? “All trees perform three vital functions in preventing or slowing the spread of grass and chaparral fires: they collect, with their leaves, moisture from the night air and drip it on the natural vegetation beneath them; the tops (canopies) of the trees create shade so this moisture is not evaporated by the sun by mid day; [and] they act as windbreaks which slow the velocity of the wind that pushes grass and chaparral fires.” As a result, “Removing trees of any species and wanting grasses and chaparral to replace them greatly increases the chance of a catastrophic, unstoppable fire.”

Chief Maloney further notes, “that any claims by proponents of deforestation that this will reduce the risk of fire “typified opinionated misinformation being spread by those with quotable positions.” In fact, Maloney argues that proponents know they are not being truthful, but are intentionally “exploiting the public’s fear of wildfire and misrepresenting fire hazard mitigation as a strategy to achieve their goals” which has nothing to do with fire and everything to do with wanting to return the hills to the largely treeless appearance they had during the pre-Colombian period.

For example, he states that their “claim that Eucalyptus trees are more flammable than other trees — and more flammable than grasses — is untrue and now dangerously misleading.” “One example of their true intentions is revealed by their refusal to tell the public that the California Bay Laurel tree, which they consider ‘native’ to the Bay Area has more volatile oil than any Eucalyptus tree. For years we’ve been hearing that the volatile oils of the Eucalyptus trees make them a supreme fire hazard. Yet the Bay Laurel contains 7.6% volatile oils of the samples tested, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (1974). The amount of volatile oils in Eucalyptus trees range from 1 to 7% of the samples tested. But no Bay Laurel trees are to be cut down — nor ever mentioned.”

Even if this were not true, he notes that “essential/volatile oils of any tree [are] irrelevant to the flammability of a tree…” for two primary reasons. First, “Every species of tree in the East Bay hills is at least 30% water. This moisture is far greater than the amount of essential/volatile oil in any tree. It overwhelms by far any chance the essential/volatile oil has to set the tree on fire.” Second, “the volatile/essential oil in any tree cannot sustain heat long enough to ignite the highly dense wood of the tree.”

That is why “only 1% of all wildland fires start in trees. The other 99% start in grasses, bushes and shrubs. (The Oakland Hills fire of 1991 started in grass.) And only 8% of all wildland fires catch trees on fire. This means that 91% of all wildland fires do not involve trees at all but are restricted to grasses, bushes and shrubs. If we decrease the amount of trees in the hills and replace them with grasses we will have dramatically increased the chances of a wildland fire occurring.”

Instead of clear cutting trees, what should be done to reduce fire risk?

Maloney notes that the “Task Force on Emergency Preparedness and Community Restoration, commonly known as the 1991 Oakland/Berkeley Mayors’ Fire Storm Task Force,” of which he was a member, investigated “the causes of the ’91 fire and mak[d]e recommendations to prevent its recurrence. The committee spent hundreds of hours analyzing data and examining the burned areas.” Its February, 1992 report noted that “the most important factor in reducing fire danger from vegetation is not removing specific species but regular ongoing maintenance” such as “regular brush removal.” Not surprisingly, the “recommendations have been ignored by U.C. Berkeley, the City of Oakland and the East Bay Regional Park District.”

“Ignorance and influence are the parents of disaster,” he writes. “The Sierra club, the California Native Plant Society, Claremont Canyon Conservancy and others are very influential organizations. They are misusing their influence by attempting to lead the public into supporting the destruction of our East Bay forests and the creation of grassy, fire prone East Bay hills. And they are being very disrespectful to the entity of fire and the laws of physics which tell us how that entity behaves.” Instead, they are exploiting the 1991 tragedy in a manner that “imperils the public” and “endangers the firefighters who will be called to fight the fires” that will be caused by “improper wildfire hazard management” that puts “ideology ahead of fire science.”

Indeed, similar deforestation occurred in Australia, leading to predictable and catastrophic fires, exactly what proponents of deforestation threaten here.

The full report is available by clicking here.

For his alternative proposal, click here.

UC Berkeley tries to dodge environmental impact review of its FEMA projects

On March 1, 2016, UC Berkeley published an Addendum to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for its Long Range Development Plan. They claim the Addendum is a substitute for an EIR for its portion of the FEMA Grant projects in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons.  The Addendum is available HERE.

Public comments on the Addendum are accepted prior to 5:00 pm on Tuesday March 22, 2016.  Send public comments to planning@berkeley.edu.  The announcement of the Addendum says, “The University will consider whether to approve the proposed project, as described and analyzed in the addendum, as well as all comments received, in the spring of 2016.”

The project is unchanged

Our reading of this document is that it makes no changes in the project as described by the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA Grants (available HERE).  Therefore, whatever comments you submitted on the EIS for the FEMA Grants are equally relevant to UC’s Addendum. 

Frowning Ridge after 1,900 trees were removed from 11 acres in 2004
Frowning Ridge after 1,900 trees were removed from 11 acres in 2004

Additional justification for the project

We read only the “guts” of the Addendum, Sections I to V.   We did not read sections regarding “Mitigating Monitoring Program” or “Biological Opinion Post Treatment Monitoring Plan.”  Therefore, our comments here should not be considered comprehensive.  However, we noted new justifications for the project that seem legally bogus in some cases and scientifically unsound in others.

UC Berkeley destroyed about 600 trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete. FEMA has therefore refused to fund that portion of the grant.
UC Berkeley destroyed about 600 trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete. FEMA has therefore refused to fund that portion of the grant.

Justification for carbon loss

The Addendum cites Cal-FIRE policy regarding quantifying carbon loss.  Cal-FIRE states that although “There is not an approved forest carbon protocol for fuel reduction projects,” it suggests:  “On an acre treated for fuels the carbon balance emitted from the treatment subtracted from the carbon retained multiplied by its reduced probability of loss [by fire] over the time of treatment is effective.”  (Addendum page 18)

In other words, Cal-FIRE suggests that if the probability of fire is lowered by the project, carbon loss associated with such a theoretical fire can be subtracted from the carbon loss resulting from the destruction of trees by the project.

There are several problems with this justification for the carbon loss associated with the destruction of trees by the project:

  • The claim that the probability of fire will be lowered by the proposed project is entirely theoretical. Many highly qualified analysts of this project believe that the project will increase the probability of fire, not decrease it.  For example, the US Forest Service said, “Removal of the eucalyptus overstory would reduce the amount of shading on surface fuels, increase the wind speeds to the forest floor, reduce the relative humidity at the forest floor, increase the fuel temperature, and reduce fuel moisture.  These factors may increase the probability of ignition over current conditions.”
  • The law that defines and regulates environmental impact reviews is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), not Cal-FIRE policy. CEQA requires that environmental impact is defined by a comparison of existing conditions with post-project conditions.  In other words, environmental impact is not measured by comparing some theoretical landscape in which a theoretical fire occurred with the post-treatment landscape.  Therefore, the methods used by the Addendum to quantify carbon loss do not conform to the law (CEQA) that regulates environmental impact reviews.
  • The Cal-FIRE policy defines its fuels reduction program as follows: “vegetation treatment…will focus on selectively removing understory trees and brush to reduce fire hazards, improve tree growth, and increase forest health and resilience.”  Therefore, the Cal-FIRE policy is not relevant to the project of UC Berkeley, which intends to destroy ALL non-native canopy trees and does not intend to remove understory brush and trees.  Consequently, carbon loss will be significantly greater than the projects proposed by Cal-FIRE because carbon storage is greater in the large, mature trees that will be destroyed than carbon stored in the understory.

The science of carbon storage

We have heard many absurd statements about carbon storage in the many years we have defended our urban forest, such as “grass stores more carbon than trees.”  But the explanations provided by UC’s Addendum that their project will not cause carbon loss enter the realm of science fiction:

  • UC claims, “The report concluded that the HCFRR project area currently stores an estimated 61,565 CO2e tons, the majority of which will remain stored in the project area in the form of post-treatment chips.” (Addendum, page 19)

When questioned by the consultant (URS Corporation) that was hired to complete the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA projects about the flammability of 2 feet of wood chip mulch in the project area, UCB responded that the chips would decay within 3 to 5 years (available HERE).  Now UCB wishes us to believe that the wood chips will not decay, but will continue to store carbon forever.  UCB contradicts itself or it is ignorant of the role of decomposition in the release of carbon stored during the life of the tree.  As the wood decomposes, the carbon stored in the wood is released into the atmosphere:

“Two common tree disposal/utilization scenarios were modeled:  1) mulching and 2) landfill.  Although no mulch decomposition studies could be found, studies on decomposition of tree roots and twigs reveal that 50% of the carbon is lost within the first 3 years.  The remaining carbon is estimated to be lost within 20 years of mulching.  Belowground biomass was modeled to decompose at the same rate as mulch regardless of how the aboveground biomass was disposed” (1)

  • UC claims, “Remaining native trees will continue to grow and sequester carbon at a rate of ~ 530 ton equivalents per decade therefore…this will increase to 10,560 in year l00.” (Addendum, page 19) In other words, UC assumes, without factual support and in defiance of reality that native trees will not burn for 100 years.  UC also ignores the much larger amounts of carbon that the eucalypts would sequester if left in place because larger trees store more carbon than smaller, younger trees.
  • UC claims that a project area currently storing 61,565 CO₂ₑ tons will release 50,000 tons of CO₂ₑ if it burns. That is a gross over-estimate of the degree of carbon loss from trees in a fire.  According to the National Park Service, 2/3rd of the fuel load in a eucalyptus forest is in the trunks and only 1/3rd in fine fuels (branches, twigs, leaves, etc). (2)  The trunks of the trees do not burn in a fire, which is why they are left lying on the ground after they are destroyed.  Therefore only 1/3rd of the wood burns in the fire and only 1/3rd of the carbon stored in the tree – approximately 20,000 tons – would be lost in the fire.

We are profoundly disappointed that a world-class scientific institution, such as UC, would make such scientifically unsound claims in defense of its destructive project in the East Bay Hills.

If you read UC’s Addendum and you see other issues that we don’t mention here, we hope you will post a comment to inform others of what you have found.  This is a collaborative effort that we invite everyone to participate in.  The Hills Conservation Network believes the strongest criticism of UC’s Addendum to the EIR for their Long Range Development Plan is that it is not a legally acceptable substitute for a complete EIR.  You can read their arguments on their website.  There is also a petition to UCB on their website.

Status of lawsuit of Hills Conservation Network

 Meanwhile, the lawsuit of the Hills Conservation Network (HCN) against the UC Berkeley and City of Oakland portions of the FEMA grants projects in the East Bay Hills is moving forward.  HCN Informed its supporters of the current status of its lawsuit on March 2, 2016:

“Hills Conservation Network took a momentous step yesterday with the filing of our opening brief for the lawsuit against FEMA, the City of Oakland, UC, EBRPD and Cal OES. Despite extensive efforts to find another solution we decided this was the only reasonable course of action open to us.

While this is a complex matter and we are told that one never knows how a NEPA suit will turn out, we believe we have a very strong case and hope that we will prevail and these forests will be saved. If you are interested you can read the brief at http://www.hillsconservationnetwork.org

Needless to say, this has been expensive. We have spent well over $10,000 on legal fees in the past 3 months and expect that it will take at least that much more to see this through the process, which is expected to result in a ruling in the summer.

Yesterday we were notified by UC that they intend to obtain CEQA clearance for their projects (which we hope will not be funded by FEMA) by issuing an addendum to their 2020 Long Range Development Plan. We are consulting with our lawyers on how best to respond to this and expect to propose a strategy to the public by Monday.

Again, your contributions are what makes all this possible. Were it not for your support these forests would have been long gone, but with your support we are able to prevent this environmental disaster from unfolding.

Please do what you can to support this important cause.” [You can make a donation to the lawsuit at http://www.hillsconservationnetwork.org]


  1. Nowak, David, et.al., “Effects of urban tree management and species selection on atmospheric carbon dioxide,” Journal of Arboriculture 28(3) May 2002
  2. http://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/upload/firemanagement_fireeducation_newsletter_eucalyptus.pdf

Mopping up the last load of Sierra Club propaganda

This is the last in a series of rebuttals to the Sierra Club’s “pre-buttal” to a letter from a Sierra Club member to members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club about the Club’s support for deforestation and pesticide use on our public lands.

The truth about how much herbicide will be used

Sierra Club misrepresents volume of herbicide use:  “If used, herbicide would be applied in minute quantities under strict environmental controls.”  (1)

Courtesy Hills Conservation Network
Courtesy Hills Conservation Network

East Bay Regional Park District (EBPRD) informs us in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the FEMA project in the East Bay Hills that it intends to use 2,250 gallons of herbicide on its project acres to destroy non-native vegetation and prevent the trees they destroy from resprouting.  You can see the detailed table of their intended herbicide use for yourself by looking at the DEIS. (2)  On what planet would 2,250 gallons be called “minute quantities?”

EBRPD intentions were to “thin” non-native trees, not destroy them all.  The Sierra Club has sued EBRPD to force them to destroy ALL non-native trees on their project acres.  If the Sierra Club lawsuit is successful, EBRPD will be forced to destroy MORE trees than it wanted to destroy.  That means it will be forced to use EVEN MORE herbicide than it intended to use, i.e., MORE than 2,250 gallons.

EBRPD is only ONE of the three public land owners that are participating in the FEMA project.  The other two public land owners (UC Berkeley and City of Oakland) intend to destroy ALL non-native trees on their project acres.  That means they will have to use EVEN MORE herbicide than EBRPD intended to use per acre of project area.

Sierra Club fabricates an argument we have not made:  “Comparing this use of herbicide to the regular broadcast spraying of farmland elsewhere is a misrepresentation of fact.” (1)

This is a red herring, intended to confuse you with an argument that no one has made in opposition to this project.  We have not likened pesticides used for these projects with agricultural use of pesticides.  We aren’t being given a choice between agricultural pesticides and pesticides in our parks.  The Sierra Club is asking us to accept additional pesticides in our parks on top of the agricultural pesticides we are already exposed to and over which we have no control.  Since many pesticides accumulate in our bodies over our lifetimes, additional pesticide exposure results in greater toxicity and potential for damage to our health.

Horticultural fiction

Sierra Club fantasizes about the post-project landscape: “Concerns about not planting trees to replace those being removed miss the mark. Replanting is not necessary. (1)

Knowledgeable organizations do not share the Sierra Club’s fantasy that native trees will magically emerge from 2 feet of eucalyptus wood chip mulch to colonize the bare ground.  Here is a partial list of the environmental consultants, governmental agencies, and environmental organizations that have refuted this fiction:

  • URS Corporation is the environmental consultant initially hired to complete the environment impact review of the FEMA projects. Their report said:  “However, we question the assumption that the types of vegetation recolonizing the area would be native.  Based on conditions observed during site visits in April 2009, current understory species such as English ivy, acacia, vinca sp., French broom, and Himalayan blackberry would likely be the first to recover and recolonize newly disturbed areas once the eucalyptus removal is complete.”
  • The US Forest Service evaluated the FEMA projects. This is their prediction of the post-project landscape: “a combination of native and non-native herbaceous and chaparral communities.”
  • The California Native Plant Society predicted the post-project landscape in its written public comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) with this rhetorical question: “What mechanism is being instituted by FEMA in this DEIS to guarantee a commitment of money and personnel for management of greatly increased acreages of newly created annual weedy grassland?”
  • The Audubon Society predicted the post-project landscape in its written public comment on the DEIS: “There is no support for the conclusion that native vegetation will return on its own.  This plan may not result in an increase in native trees and plants…Heavy mulching will delay or prevent the growth of native species.”
Trees were destroyed here by UC Berkeley over 10 years ago. The landscape is now non-native annual grasses. This is the typical outcome of tree removals on sunny hills without a water source.
Trees were destroyed here by UC Berkeley over 10 years ago. The landscape is now non-native annual grasses. This is the typical outcome of tree removals on sunny hills without a water source.

Sierra Club and Claremont Canyon Conservancy (CCC) repeatedly refer to Site 29 on Claremont Blvd as a model for the FEMA projects.  They fail to acknowledge that Site 29 is not representative of most FEMA project areas because CCC planted native trees (primarily redwoods) on Site 29 and the microclimate of Site 29 is not typical of other project areas.  Site 29 is a riparian corridor—there is a creek running through it—so there is more available water than in most project areas.  It is also protected from wind and sun by hills on north and south sides of the site.  CCC has not made a commitment to plant native trees on 2,000 acres of the FEMA project areas and even if it did, it could not expect the same results in radically different microclimates such as sunny, windy ridge lines with no available water source.

Fundamentals of carbon storage

Sierra Club does not understand the fundamentals of carbon storage:  “Carbon sequestering and erosion control will not be reduced by removing eucalyptus trees… Indeed, reducing the fire danger by removing the eucalyptus will do much to prevent the release of tons of carbon that occurs during a wildfire. [x]” (1)

Sierra Club continues with the fiction that non-native trees will burn while native trees will not.  There is no evidence behind that story, and much evidence to the contrary.  The numerous wildfires throughout California each summer demonstrate that native trees and shrubs are extremely flammable—easily ignited and burning vigorously once ignited.  Native trees, shrubs, and grasses also release their stored carbon when they burn.  The NSF article cited by the Sierra Club in support of its bogus statement does not suggest that prospectively destroying forests is a means of preventing carbon loss.

Destroying eucalyptus trees will release hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon stored in those trees. That’s a simple, inarguable fact.  There are no plans to replace the eucalyptus with “native trees.”  A small portion of the carbon released by eucalyptus destruction may be recaptured by the grasses and shrubs that will grow in place of the eucalyptus, but the net loss of stored carbon to the atmosphere from the eucalyptus is huge and permanent.  Further, the eucalyptus would have continued to store even more carbon if left in place.  That future carbon sequestration is also lost.

The DEIS for the FEMA-funded projects tries to minimize the loss of stored carbon from destruction of eucalyptus by quantifying only carbon loss from the destruction of tree trunks, ignoring leaves, branches, roots, understory, forest floor litter, and soil.  But even they acknowledge, “…the planned growth of oak and bay woodlands and successional grassland containing shrub islands would not sequester as much carbon as the larger eucalyptus and pines and the denser coastal scrub that would be removed.”  (DEIS 5.6-11)

Killing habitat needed by wildlife

Sierra Club does not know who lives in our urban landscapes:  “Native landscapes provide habitat for much more diverse ecosystems.” (1)

There are many studies that find that our non-native landscape provides valuable habitat and no studies that say otherwise:

  • Most California natives in cultivation are of no more butterfly interest than nonnatives, and most of the best butterfly flowers in our area are exotic.” (3)
  • “[T]he science does not support the supposition that native plantings are required for biodiversity…it is clear that an automatic preference for native trees when planning in urban areas is not a science-based policy.” (4)
  • “Three types of trees were used most frequently by roosting monarchs [in California]: eucalyptus (75% of the habitats primarily Eucalyptus globulus), pine (20% of the habitats primarily Pinus radiata), and cypress (16% of the habitats primarily Cupressus macrocarpa)” (5)
  • “In the first half of the 20th century, the Anna’s Hummingbird bred only in northern Baja California and southern California. The planting of exotic flowering trees provided nectar and nesting sites, and allowed the hummingbird to greatly expand its breeding range…Anna’s Hummingbird populations increased by almost 2% per year between 1966 and 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey…Thanks to widespread backyard feeders and introduced trees such as eucalyptus, it now occurs in healthy numbers all the way to Vancouver, Canada.” (6)
  • Red-tailed hawk nesting in eucalyptus. Courtesy urbanwildness.org
    Red-tailed hawk nesting in eucalyptus. Courtesy urbanwildness.org

    “Fourteen of 27 nests in 1994 and 38 of 58 nests in 1995 were in exotic trees, predominantly eucalyptus. Nesting and fledging success were higher in exotic trees than in native trees in both years, owing in part to greater stability and protective cover.  Most nest trees in upland areas were exotics, and even in riparian habitats, where tall native cottonwoods and sycamores were available, Red-shouldered Hawks selected eucalyptus more often than expected based on availability.”  (7)

  • A study that compared species diversity and abundance of plants, invertebrates, amphibians, birds, and rodents in eucalyptus forest with oak-bay woodland in Berkeley, California reported this finding: “Species richness was nearly identical for understory plants, leaf-litter invertebrates, amphibians and birds; only rodents had significantly fewer species in eucalypt sites.  Species diversity patterns…were qualitatively identical to those for species richness, except for leaf-litter invertebrates, which were significantly more diverse in eucalypt sites during the spring.” (8)

We could provide many more citations from studies that consistently find that our existing non-native landscape is essential to wildlife and that destroying it will be harmful to wildlife, particularly considering the enormous amount of herbicide that will be used.  We ask this common-sense, rhetorical question, “How could destroying most of our landscape provide a more diverse ecosystem?”  It defies logic.

Environmentalism gone awry

If the Sierra Club would replace a few of its lawyers with a few scientists, perhaps we would not be having this debate.  Environmentalism has gone astray because it is not knowledgable about some basic scientific issues, such as carbon storage, the toxicity of herbicides, and the habitat needed by our wildlife.  Climate change is the environmental issue of our time.  If an environmental organization does not understand the fundamentals of carbon storage it is not capable of doing its job.  The Sierra Club must improve its knowledge of the Bay Area environment or it will fade into irrelevance in the struggle to protect that environment.


(1) http://sierraclub.org/san-francisco-bay/hillsfacts

(2) See Table 2.1 in Appendix F: http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861356241-0d76d1d9da1fa83521e82acf903ec866/Final%20EIS%20Appendices%20A-F_508.pdf

(3) Arthur Shapiro, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, University of California Press, 2007

(4) Linda Chalker-Scott, “Nonnative, Noninvasive Woody Species Can Enhance Urban Landscape Biodiversity,” Arboriculture & Urban Forestry, 2015, 41(4): 173-186

(5) 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.

(6) Cornell Ornithology Laboratory https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/annas_hummingbird/id

(7) Stephen Rottenborn, “Nest-Site selection and reproductive success of urban red-shouldered hawks in Central California,” J. Raptor Research, 34(1):18-25

(8) Dov Sax, “Equal diversity in disparate species assemblages:  a comparison of native and exotic woodlands in California,” Global Ecology and Biogeography, 11, 49-52, 2002.

Who supports the Sierra Club agenda?

John Muir is the founder of the Sierra Club. He would disgusted by the Club's advocacy for deforestation. He planted eucalyptus trees on his property in Martinez. He was as fond of eucalyptus as those who fight for their preservation.
John Muir is the founder of the Sierra Club. He would be disgusted by the Club’s advocacy for deforestation. He planted eucalyptus trees on his property in Martinez. He was as fond of eucalyptus as those who fight for their preservation today.

In this post we continue to deconstruct the Sierra Club’s “pre-buttal” to the letter from a Sierra Club member to fellow members.  We will examine the following claim that other environmental organizations support the Sierra Club’s agenda to destroy all non-native trees on 2,000 acres of public land in the East Bay Hills, and to use pesticides to do it:

“Members should know that this strategy also has the support of many fire experts and other environmental organizations, including the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy.” (1)

In 2009, Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the California Native Plant Society co-signed an “Environmental Green Paper” entitled “Managing the East Bay Hills Wildland/Urban Interface to Preserve Native Habitat and Reduce the Risk of Catastrophic Fire.”  This suggests that at that point in time, these three organizations were in agreement about those issues.

However, by the time the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the FEMA projects that will implement that policy was published in 2013, their public comments on the DEIS suggest that their opinions diverged significantly.  Here are some of the comments they made that suggest substantial disagreement with the planned project.

California Native Plant Society predicts the result of FEMA projects

California Native Plant Society (CNPS) public comment on the DEIS (excerpt):

“The FEMA grants require monitoring and weed maintenance for years to come. Yet the FEMA grants do not supply funding for any of the follow up weed abatement. The East Bay Regional Park District, City of Oakland, and UC Berkeley have great trouble keeping up with acres of weedy species now in their stewardship purview. There just isn’t money available for comprehensive management of weedy invasives. This is demonstrated by the many acres of weedy ‘fuels managed’ areas, including fire roads. What mechanism is being instituted by FEMA in this DEIS to guarantee a commitment of money and personnel for management of greatly increased acreages of newly created annual weedy grassland?” (2)

The rhetorical question asked by CNPS suggests that they share our skepticism about the outcome of the FEMA projects.  The project is not providing any funding for planting native plants or maintaining them in the long run.  CNPS seems to agree with us that the likely outcome of this project will be non-native annual grasses.

The CNPS comment also seems to share our opinion that the annual grasses that are the likely colonizers of the bare ground will be a fire hazard:  “…exotic annual grassland, known for drying out the top layer of soil, and extending the fire season with dried out flashy surface fuel that can act like a fuse to ignite other areas.”  (2)

The CNPS prediction of the landscape resulting from the FEMA grants is in stark contrast to the rosy prediction of the Sierra Club.  The Club claims that native plants will magically emerge from the bare ground after non-native plants and trees are destroyed, without being planted.

Audubon Society “does not support” the FEMA project

Audubon Society’s public comment on the FEMA DEIS identifies many of the same issues that have been raised by critics of the project:

“The proposed tree removals may lead to colonization by broom or other invasive plants with little value to native birds and wildlife, unless native plants are reintroduced.  Although the amount of herbicide to be used on each tree is rather small, the total amount to be used by the project is very large. We believe that alternative methods to prevent resprouting should be used near water and perhaps in other specific circumstances…There is no support for the conclusion that native vegetation will return on its own.  This plan may not result in an increase in native trees and plants…Heavy mulching will delay or prevent the growth of native species.” (3)

In fact, the Audubon Society states explicitly that it does not support the plan as proposed by the DEIS (emphasis added):

“In spite of our approval of the general concept of the plan, the Golden Gate Audubon Society does not support this plan as drafted for the following reasons:

1) The plan calls for the removal of both non-native and native trees and brush with no plans to replant cleared areas with native vegetation;

2) The plan would use herbicides indiscriminately, rather than relying on more benign control of re-sprouting where herbicides are contra-indicated.” (3)

Clearly, the Audubon Society does not agree with the Sierra Club about the FEMA projects.  The Audubon Society agrees with the critics of this project that dangerous amounts of herbicide will be used and the outcome of the project will not be a landscape of native plants.  While the Sierra Club keeps telling us that “minimal amounts of herbicide will be used,” the Audubon Society has done its homework and can see that huge amounts of herbicide will be used.

Who supports the Sierra Club’s position on the FEMA grants?

The California Native Plant Society and the Audubon Society do not agree with the Sierra Club about the FEMA projects.  The fact that they did not join the Sierra Club’s lawsuit demanding 100% eradication of non-native trees in the project acres is another indication that they do not share the Club’s opinion of the projects. 

Update:  Although CNPS did not join the Sierra Club lawsuit against FEMA, it has indicated its support for the suit on its website:   “The East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society strongly supports the litigation action by SPRAWLDEF and the Sierra Club, against FEMA’s surprising Record of Decision regarding fuels management in the East Bay Hills.” 

Despite the fact that CNPS understands that the resulting landscape will be predominantly highly flammable non-native annual grasses, it apparently wants all non-native trees to be destroyed.  We don’t understand why CNPS was surprised by the final version of the Environmental Impact Statement, since it was virtually unchanged from the draft on which they submitted a written public comment.

We learned of CNPS’s support for the Sierra Club lawsuit from a member of the Club’s leadership.  Although this information doesn’t literally contradict what we have reported, we post it here in the interests of full disclosure. 

Although the Claremont Canyon Conservancy agrees with the Sierra Club about the FEMA projects, we note that they did not join the Club’s lawsuit either.  The only organization that joined the Sierra Club lawsuit is SPRAWLDEF (Sustainability, Parks, Recycling, and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund). (4) SPRAWLDEF (5) is a non-profit organization created and run by Norman LaForce, the Sierra Club officer who claims to be one of the primary authors of the FEMA projects (6).  SPAWLDEF has sued other public agencies, including the East Bay Regional Park District.

Update:  SPRAWLDEF’s tax return for 2011 reports $250,000 of income for legal settlements from environmental lawsuits.  The tax return is signed by Norman LaForce.

The role of lawsuits in the funding of environmental organizations

Lawsuits against the various governmental agencies have become an important source of revenue for environmental organizations.  The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has mastered this strategy.  The New York Times reports (7) that CBD had filed 700 lawsuits when the article was published in March 2010, and they were successful in those suits 93% of the time, according to CBD.  Those suits forced the government to list 350 endangered species and designate 120 million acres of critical habitat for their recovery.  Revenue generated for CBD by these suits was $1.4 million in 2008, compared with $7.6 million from contributions and grants.

Sharp Park, Pacifica, CA. Photo by Erica Reder, SF Public Press
Sharp Park, Pacifica, CA. Photo by Erica Reder, SF Public Press

Brent Plater is a former CBD lawyer who created a non-profit in San Francisco, Wild Equity Institute.  He has sued San Francisco several times about Sharp Park, where he believes that closing the golf course would benefit the endangered red-legged frog.  He has not succeeded in making that case to our judiciary, losing every case. Despite losing, he and his collaborators were awarded $385,809 for “legal expenses” by the court, according to the San Francisco Chronicle: “It turns out that Plater and his organization can win by losing.  Take the ruling in U.S. District Court on July 1, 2013, which, by any measure, rates as a legal smackdown of the institute. As Judge Susan Illston said in her ruling, ‘plaintiffs did not prevail on a single substantive motion before the Court.’” (8)   So, even when they lose, they can walk away with a sizeable chunk of change.  To be clear, it is the taxpayers of San Francisco who paid Wild Equity for suing the City of San Francisco.

So, ponder for a minute the interesting relationship between SPRAWLDEF and the Sierra Club.  The person who connects them is Norman LaForce, who is both a lawyer and an officer in the Sierra Club.  If these organizations prevail in their lawsuit against FEMA, will Norman LaForce share in the spoils?  One wonders.


(1) http://sierraclub.org/san-francisco-bay/hillsfacts

(2) https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/100411.  FEMA DEIS, Appendix R, Part 1, page 681

(3) https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/100411.  FEMA DEIS, Appendix R, Part 5, page 3834

(4) Sierra Club and SPRAWLDEF lawsuit against FEMA available HERE:  Sierra Club lawsuit against FEMA projects

(5) http://www.buzzfile.com/business/Sustainability,-Park,-Recycling,-and-Wildlife-Legal-Defense-Fund-(sprawldef)-510-526-4362

(6) https://milliontrees.me/2015/11/27/public-opposition-to-pesticide-use-in-our-public-parks/

(7) http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/03/30/30greenwire-brazen-environmental-upstart-brings-legal-musc-82242.html?pagewanted=all

(8) http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/nevius/article/Nevius-6378333.php

The court’s award of legal expenses is available here:  https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/california/candce/3:2011cv00958/239217/189.  The award seems to have been made in recognition of the fact that the lawsuit forced the Recreation and Park Department to apply for a permit for park maintenance that results in an “incidental take” of red-legged frog eggs.

 

Despicable behavior: The Sierra Club sinks to a new low

If you’re a member of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, you will soon receive a letter from a fellow Club member exposing the Club’s advocacy for deforestation and pesticide use on public lands in the Bay Area. It will also contain a postcard which you can return to express your opinion of the Club’s policy.

The Sierra Club is worried. They’ve already issued a “pre-buttal” in the form of a note tucked into their newspaper, the Yodeler (available here: SierraClub – Yodeler Insert) that directed members to read their on-line “pre-buttal.”  Their “pre-buttal” is factually inaccurate, for which the national Sierra Club takes no responsibility.

Herbicide spraying in one of the project areas
Herbicide spraying in one of the project areas

Why would they allow an opposing letter through to their membership?

The Sierra Club didn’t allow the member’s letter to go to their mailing list out of any interest in members hearing both sides of the story. It’s the law.

California State law requires that non-profit organizations with elected boards, such as the Sierra Club, enable their members to communicate with fellow members. This doesn’t mean they release their members’ contact information. The letter must be given to the non-profit organization, which uses a third-party direct mailing company. In this case, the mailing was arranged with the national headquarters of the Sierra Club, which manages the mailing list of the entire membership.

The Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club has 6,300 members, so it is expensive to take advantage of this privilege. All the more reason to be outraged by the fact that the Chapter pre-emptively sabotaged this effort to communicate with its membership.

Here’s the story

We will let the author of the letter to the Chapter members tell you what happened by publishing her report to the many people who are collaborating in the effort to prevent the destruction of our urban forest (emphasis added):

January 27, 2016

Friends, I am writing to tell you the fate of my letter to the members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. My letter has not been sent yet, but it probably will be soon. The local chapter inserted a printed letter into the published version of the Yodeler informing members that they would be receiving my letter. That letter told them to go to the Chapter website to see a point-by-point “pre-buttal” to my letter. That is available on-line HERE.

I sent the staff in the national headquarters the email below and copied the Chapter staff who signed the letter in the Yodeler. You can read that email to see what I asked for. Now I have had a conversation with Bruce Hamilton who is in the legal office of national headquarters and I am writing to tell you the final outcome:

Mr. Hamilton freely admits that he gave my letter to the Chapter before my letter was sent. He did not see anything wrong with having done that. He says that the national headquarters assumes no responsibility for what the Chapter has done nor anything they say in their “pre-buttal.” I pointed out that I have provided evidence that the Club has refused to meet with us. He says the national headquarters takes no responsibility for ascertaining the facts. He has refused to request that the Chapter remove their “pre-buttal” from the website or revise it in any way. I told him that I would consult a lawyer about what “remedies are available to me.” [Redacted personal information]

So that is the fate of my letter to the members of the local Chapter of the Sierra Club. One hopes that members will now be so curious about my letter that they may actually read it! [Redacted personal comments]

In solidarity,

Mary McAllister


From: Mary McAllister
Sent: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 6:50 AM
To: michelle.epstein@sierraclub.org ; bruce.hamilton@sierraclub.org
Cc: Michelle Myers

Subject: Letter to members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter

Dear Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Epstein,

As you know, I have been trying to arrange a mailing to the members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter for some months. My letter has not yet been sent, yet the Bay Chapter has preemptively sabotaged my letter with an insert in the printed Yodeler alerting people to read the Chapter’s on-line prospective rebuttal to a letter that has not yet been sent.

The on-line “pre-buttal” starts by claiming that the Sierra Club has never refused to meet with me. I have attached [available here:  sierra-club-petition-to-national-leadership] my letters to the Sierra Club requesting a meeting that were sent in November. Those letters were sent certified and I have the return receipts, proving that the Club received my request for a meeting. The Club did not reply to those letters.

Also, below is my email correspondence with a member of the Chapter Conservation Committee attempting to get this issue on the agenda of the Conservation Committee in September 2015. This request was also ignored or denied. Since no one responded to me, I do not know which. [These emails are available here: Sierra Club – Conservation Committee]

These are just two of the most recent attempts to discuss this issue with the Chapter. I have a much longer paper trail of attempts that go back several years, including an email from someone representing Mr. Brune.

If the Chapter and/or the national Club are now willing to meet with us, I am still ready and willing to do so.

Meanwhile, I ask that the on-line “pre-buttal” be removed until my letter is actually sent and received by Chapter members. The well has already been poisoned, but this is the only remedy available to me at this time.

When my letter has been sent and received by members, I hope that the Chapter rebuttal will be more accurate than what is presently on-line. The Chapter leadership has been sent a multitude of studies, reports from environmental consultants and government professionals such as the US Forest Service. They therefore know—or should know—that nothing they are saying in their “pre-buttal” is accurate. I would be happy to present all these materials to you and others in a meeting.

I am one of hundreds of people who have been fighting for the preservation of our urban forest in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 15 years. Please understand that although I am required by law to make this request as an individual member, I do so on behalf of thousands of people who share my commitment.

Mary McAllister

The bottom line

We are still trying to get the facts out to all Sierra Club members, and to all those who recognize that its views are out of step with the environmental realities of the 21st century.

We hope that those who are still members of the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club will read the letter from a fellow member and send the postcard expressing their opinion of Chapter policy regarding deforestation and pesticide use. Thank you for reading this post.

As a reminder: The map below shows all the areas that are affected by this massive deforestation scheme that will fell nearly half a million trees. It’s a travesty that the Sierra Club is not only supporting these projects, but has also filed a lawsuit demanding that they be even more destructive than planned.

FEMA Project Areas
FEMA Project Areas

A retired university planner critiques the FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills

We recently finished reading all of the 13,000 public comments on the FEMA draft EIS.  FEMA says that about 90% of the comments are opposed to the project and having read the comments that seems about right. 

It was a very rewarding experience to read the comments and we recommend it to anyone who is discouraged or doubtful that we can prevent the destruction of our urban forest in the East Bay (available HERE).

There were many excellent comments, many from people with specific expertise and knowledge of the issues that inform our opposition to these projects.  We plan to publish a few of them, as we obtain permission from their authors.  Today, we publish the public comment of Christopher Adams, with his permission.  We hope you are as impressed with his astute analysis as we are.


 

 Comments on Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction, East Bay Hills, CA,

Draft EIS

Prepared by Christopher Adams

Introduction:

My comments here are made solely in my capacity as a private citizen, but I think it is germane to state my background. I am a retired university planner, and for several years I directed the office which was responsible for review of every environmental document prepared by all the campuses and other facilities of the University of California. In addition, I was directly involved with the drafting, the public hearings, and the response to comments and preparation of two major Environmental Impact Reports, prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act for a UC campus. I also live near the EB Hills in an area subject to wild fires and share the concerns of others about the risk of fire.

Summary:

The Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction, East Bay Hills, CA, Draft EIS is a deficient document, beginning with its basic premise. While purportedly for the purposes of fire management, the proposed actions appear to be mostly motivated by a dream of a restoring the EB Hills to some imagined Eden prior to the European and American colonization of California. Instead of applying scientific and policy analysis to the impacts of the proposed actions the DEIS authors appear to have decided that the proposed clear cutting and herbicide measures are the right ones for fire protection and then cherry‐picked evidence, whether in the description of existing conditions or the possible alternatives solutions, which supports this conclusion. The DEIS rejects out of hand fire management alternatives that do not involve clear cutting and massive application of herbicides. In so doing the DEIS is a classic example of post hoc rationalization. Unless the DEIS is re‐issued with corrections and additions responding to the comments below, I believe that FEMA is seriously exposed to potential litigation. More significantly, if FEMA does not consider other less draconian and less expensive fire management measures, it will not be serving the interests of the citizens most impacted by fire danger, not to mention the taxpayers who will ultimately foot the bill.

Specific Comments:

The DEIS fails to note the existence of native trees which are specifically susceptible to the effects of one of the herbicides proposed for use. Section 4.2.2.2.1 notes that the native trees in the woodlands include madrone (Arbutus menziesii). However, in Section 3.4.2.1.1 Strawberry Canyon‐PDM there is no mention of madrones in the list of trees in the “native forest” (first paragraph of section). This is a significant omission, because there are madrones in Strawberry  Canyon, yet in the third paragraph of this same section one of the two herbicides proposed for use to stifle stump regeneration is Stalker (imazapyr) which has been identified elsewhere as being used specifically to eliminate madrones. According to the EPA Reregistration Eligibility Decision for Imazapyr: “Imazapyr use at the labeled rates on non‐crop areas when applied as a spray or as a granular to forestry areas present risks to non‐target plants located adjacent to treated areas.” (1)

The DEIS fails to acknowledge the growing threat of French broom in the UCB area.

While the presence of eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia is repeatedly discussed, there is almost no mention of the rapid invasion of French broom. It is mentioned only in passing and without its scientific name in the discussion in Section 4.2.2.2.3 under “Northern Coastal Scrub.” While French broom has been rapidly increasing in the upper slopes of the Strawberry Canyon PDM and Claremont PDM areas, there is no mention of it at these locations in the DEIS. This plant is an active pyrophyte which chokes out native vegetation, can be poisonous to livestock, and is of limited benefit to native animals. The increase in sunlight from the proposed removal of large amounts of eucalyptus will encourage its spread. There is no mention of the fire risk from French broom in the discussion of fire risk in Northern Coastal Scrub, Section 4.3.3.2.5, and I could find no mention of its removal anywhere in the document.

The UCB project description does not explain if a fuel break is planned in the UCB areas and if so to describe it.

Section 1.1.1 UCB states that it will follow the “same general approach…which is included in Oakland’s grant application (see Section 1.1.2 below).” In Section 1.1.2 it is stated there the Oakland PDM would “create a fuel break on the west side of Grizzly Peak Boulevard north and east of the Caldecott Tunnel [presumably this means the west entrance to the tunnel].” UCB Strawberry Canyon properties also abut Grizzly Peak Boulevard, so the statement of “the same general approach” implies that UCB also proposes a “fuel break,” but none is described. Since the term “fuel break” implies clearing to the bare soil, with potential significant environmental impacts, this is a serious omission.

The DEIS fails to consider the impact on global climate change by the wholesale destruction of trees. The DEIS states that for UCB Strawberry Canyon alone 12,000 trees will be destroyed. Because trees absorb CO2 at an average rate of 13 pounds per year, this represents a potential loss in CO2 absorption of 78 tons per year. Given the growth patterns of native trees in Berkeley, which tend to be riparian or to grow on north facing slopes in a widely scattered pattern, the number of replacement trees will not come close to compensating for those destroyed. The difference should be estimated and calculated.

The DEIS fails to consider an actual and accomplished fuel management program when dismissing the alternative described in Section 3.3.1.1.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is located on 175 acres on the north side of Strawberry Canyon immediately adjacent to the UCB and EBRPD areas described in the DEIS. LBNL, which is managed by the University of California, employs more than 4,000 persons on this site in laboratory buildings and with equipment that is worth several billion dollars. LBNL has recently completed a fire management program which is essentially what is described in Section 3.3.1.1 of the DEIS, Removal of Brush, Surface Fuels, Lower Limbs and Small Trees. The entire project was completed within the LBNL maintenance budget without special grants and has given the laboratory a great deal of fire security, according to its professional fire personnel. Yet there is no reference to this in the DEIS. The LBNL program is further described in the following links. This first links to a powerpoint slides; the second to a video discussion of the slides. http://www.lbnl‐cag.org/docManager/1000000159/Berkeley%20Lab%20Fire%20Safe%20Vegetati on%2C%20Lab%20Fire%20Marshal.pdf

http://www.lbnl‐cag.org/Content/10024/preview.html

The links convey much more effectively than my comments how an alternative to massive clear cutting and massive application of herbicides will effectively accomplish the goal of managing fire in the East Bay Hills.

The DEIS is incomplete and verging on the dishonest about the use of herbicides.

“Management of resprouts without herbicides is expensive….and thus was removed from further study.” This ignores the management of resprouts used successfully by LBNL as described in the above referenced powerpoint and video. There is no study about the use of herbicides at the scale proposed, e.g. 12,000 trees in Strawberry Canyon alone, on human populations, let alone native plants and animals.

The DEIS fails completely to discuss the realities of encouraging native plants after the clear cutting and heavy and repeated application of herbicides.

1) Restoration ecology is barely in its infancy, yet this DEIS expects us to accept on faith alone that when the clear cutting is done and the slopes sprayed with herbicides the native vegetation will miraculously reappear.

2) At the present time live oaks and bays are common on the north side (south facing side) of Strawberry Canyon under eucalyptus. This is probably because the fog drip from the eucalyptus and the shade encourage their growth in what would otherwise be a very dry area. Compare, for example, on slopes of similar aspect in portions of the EB Hills behind El Cerrito or Fremont. There is nothing in the DEIS to explain how native trees will increase or survive after the clear cutting has destroyed their source of water and shade.

3) Because of the abundance of deer in Strawberry Canyon and adjacent areas, small trees need to be protected against browsing. (See the LBNL powerpoint for an illustration of wire protective cages. http://www.lbnl‐ cag.org/docManager/1000000159/Berkeley%20Lab%20Fire%20Safe%20Vegetati on%2C%20Lab%20Fire%20Marshal.pdf) The DEIS says nothing about preventing deer browsing.

4) California native oaks of several species, including Quercus agrifolia are subject to the fungal disease Sudden Oak Death Syndrome (SODS), which has been found in the East Bay Hills. The DEIS fails to discuss the existence of SODS or its impact on replacement vegetation after the clear cutting and application of herbicides.

5) The DEIS states that “alleopathic oils” in the leaves and bark of eucalyptus suppress the growth of other vegetation. Yet the DEIS fails to state how covering slopes two feet deep with eucalyptus slash will not inhibit growth of new “native” plants.

6) Native California bunch grasses have largely been supplanted by European annual grasses, many of which form mats which choke out other plants. Similarly native shrubs such as coyote bush (Baccharis species) are being supplanted by invasive plants such as broom. The DEIS fails to explain how native plants will succeed in competition for sun and water with these plants.

The DEIS fails to consider the aesthetic impact to views from the trails and roads within the canyon and from houses near it after the clear cutting.

Section 4.12.2 of the DEIS states that a goal of the UCB LRDP (2005) is to “Maintain the visual primacy of the natural landscape in the hill campus” but there is no mention of the impact of clear cutting on this natural landscape. The north side of the lower portion of Strawberry Canyon forms the main campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). While individual buildings at LBNL are attractive in design, the overall effect of the site is essentially industrial, similar to an office park one might see along a freeway. The views of LBNL from the fire road that winds through the canyon are now largely screened by the large trees which will be destroyed by clear cutting. The trees also offer cooling shade to those using the area for recreation. The fire road is a major recreation amenity for UCB students, employees, and neighbors, used daily by hundreds of hikers, joggers, dog walkers, and mountain bikers. Removal of most of the trees as proposed will completely change the views enjoyed from the fire road. The DEIR provides absolutely no analysis of this impact either verbally or by providing illustrations of any viewing point in Strawberry Canyon. Most of the discussion of Section 5.8 is oriented to views over the hills from high points to the bay, which indeed may be improved by clear cutting. There is no discussion of views from within the areas to be clear cut and no reference to Strawberry Canyon.

The DEIS bases its list of plant species slated for destruction on incomplete and inaccurate botanical and fire danger information.

The authors of the DEIS seem not to understand the difference between “native” and “endemic” and they seem to have arbitrarily selected some “native” plants to extirpate while keeping others based on criteria having little or no relationship to fire hazards. Section 3.4.2.1.1 states that “Non native trees, including all eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia would be cut down.” The Jepson Manual  (2), which is the definitive source for California plants divides the state into geographic areas. According to Jepson Monterey pines (Pinus radiata) are native to California, and while not endemic to the EB Hills, they are native in the geographic area CCo, which includes both portions of Monterey County and the EB Hills with similar climatic conditions. Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are also found in Strawberry Canyon but not as an endemic. They are also native to the geographic area (CCo). In contrast to Monterey pines, however, Coast Redwoods appear to escape destruction by clear cutting; at least there is no mention of such action in the DEIS. Another native and Strawberry Canyon endemic, California Bay (Umbellularia californica), is specifically listed in the DEIS to be retained. But in a publication of the University of California Cooperative Extension (3) it is listed as a “High Fire Hazard Native Tree.” Note that these comments are not meant to imply favoring destruction of redwoods or bay trees but to further illustrate the inaccurate information and the arbitrary nature of the DEIS conclusions. Similarly cypress species which grow in parts of Strawberry Canyon are also listed as pyrophites in this UC document, but the DEIS does not propose their extirpation.

The DEIS fails to consider the impact on Strawberry Creek of run‐off from the predicted massive amounts of slash, from the standpoint of hydrology and flood control or the impact on the biota of the creek.

Section 3.4.2.1 of the DEIS states within Strawberry Canyon there will be clear cutting on 56 acres and that the downed trees will be chipped and left on 20% of the site at a depth of 2 feet. Based on these numbers the cumulative amount of material on the ground will be 975,744 cubic feet (.2 x 56 x 43,560 x 2). If merely 1% of this material is washed away in a storm, which seems a very conservative estimate considering the slopes where the material would be placed, there could be more than 1,000 cubic yards of slash material washed into Strawberry Creek. The DEIS does not discuss the impact on the biota of the creek of this potential massive amount of new material. Nor does the DEIS discuss the impact of this material on stream flow in storm conditions. Given that the culverts in the lower levels of the creek, near the Haas Clubhouse and the University Botanic Garden, are only about 9.5 square feet in cross section (See Figure 1.), there is a strong likelihood that the slash material would block the culverts and cause flooding. Section 3.4.2.1 states that “if the site yields a large number of large tree trunks,” some “may” be removed or used for other purposes than left on the site; however, the DEIS fails to state the criteria for determining what the “large number” is that would trigger such action. The hydrologic and ecological impacts are presumably left to the loggers to evaluate.

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Figure 1, Culvert on lower fire trail, near Botanic Garden

 

The DEIS implies that trees other than eucalyptus, Monterey pines, and acacias will not be cut, but current actions in Strawberry Canyon suggest that UCB will cut anything at any time regardless of environmental regulations. The DEIS must be amended and re‐issued to include other UCB actions as part of cumulative impacts.

During the past week (June 6‐13, 2013) I have personally observed the cutting of at least six healthy, mature California live oaks, bays, and cypresses in Strawberry Canyon. (See Figures 2 and 3.) The oaks were particularly magnificent, and their destruction is tragic. I am familiar with the needs for passage of fire trucks as I own woodland property on a narrow privately maintained road. None of the trees just cut would have prevented passage of trucks, but I was told by one of the tree cutters that the excuse was “Fireman.” To my knowledge this cutting was done without any compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is the state equivalent of NEPA and applies to all UCB actions. This cutting constitutes a violation of the CEQA Guidelines Section 15304, which states that exemptions from CEQA apply only to actions “which do not involve the removal of healthy, mature, scenic trees.” If UCB is flagrantly cutting trees now, while the DEIS is out for public comment, what can we expect once the NEPA process is completed?

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Figure 2. Bay stump on lower fire trail, cut on or about June 11 2013, diameter +/‐42”

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Figure 3. Live oak stump on lower fire trail, cut on June 10, 2013, diameter +/‐ 38”

(1) EPA 738‐R‐06‐007, 2006

(2) The Jepson Manual of Vascular Plants of California, 2nd Edition, UC Press, 2012

(3) Pyrophytic vs. Fire Resistant Plants, FireSafe Marin in Cooperation with University of California Cooperative Extension, October 1998


Thank you, Mr. Adams, for taking the time and trouble to write this excellent public comment on the FEMA draft EIS.