A vote against Measure FF on the ballot for the November 6, 2018 election is a vote against pesticide use in the East Bay. If Measure FF passes, it will renew a parcel tax for 20 years. For the past 15 years, the parcel tax has funded the destruction of thousands of trees on thousands of acres of public parks in the East Bay. The renewal of the parcel tax will increase the percentage of available funds for tree removals and associated pesticide use from 30% to 40% of funds raised by the parcel tax.
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.
The public tried hard to convince the East Bay Regional Park District to stop destroying healthy trees and quit using pesticides in our parks. We attended public hearings and wrote letters to Park District leadership and its governing board. We made many suggestions for useful park improvements that would be constructive, rather than destructive. Our requests and suggestions were ignored.
After making every effort to avoid opposition to Measure FF, we reluctantly take a stand against it. The parks are important to us and we would much prefer to support park improvements. Unfortunately, Measure FF will not improve the parks. Rather, it will continue down the destructive path the Park District has been on for the past 15 years. In fact, Measure FF would escalate the destruction and poisoning of our public lands.
“We love public parks, and we support taxation which benefits the common good. Nevertheless, We urge a NO vote. East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) has previously used this measure to destroy, unnecessarily, thousands of healthy trees under pretexts such as “hazardous tree” designations and “protection against wildfires”. But fire experts point out that tree shade retains moisture, thereby reducing fire danger. The measure has also funded so-called “restoration”—destruction of “non-native” plants, in a futile attempt to transform the landscape back to some idealized previous “native” era.
EBRPD’s restoration and tree-cutting projects often utilize pesticides, including glyphosate (Roundup), triclopyr, and imazapyr. We agree with the groundswell of public sentiment opposing the spending of tax dollars on pesticides applied to public lands. Not only do pesticides destroy the soil microbiome; they also migrate into air, water arid soil, severely harming plants, animals, and humans. Because EPA pesticide regulation, especially under the current administration, is inadequate, it is imperative that local jurisdictions exercise greater oversight. While EBRPD utilizes “Integrated Pest Management” which limits pesticide use, we strongly advocate a no pesticide policy, with a concomitant commitment of resources.
Given the terrifying pace of climate change, it is indefensible to target certain species of trees for eradication. All trees—not just “natives” —are the planet’s “lungs,” breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. When a tree is destroyed, its air-cleansing function is forever eliminated, and its stored carbon is released into the atmosphere, thus worsening climate change.
Throughout history, plants, animals, and humans have migrated when their given habitats became unlivable. Adaptation to new environments is at the heart of evolutionary resilience. To claim that some species “belong here” and others do not strikes us as unscientific xenophobia.
Until EBRPD modifies its approach, we urge a NO vote.”
Forest Action Brigade
Do not be misled
The arguments in favor of Measure FF are misleading. East Bay Regional Parks District attempts to portray a destructive agenda as a constructive agenda. Please look beneath these pretty-sounding euphemisms for the destructive projects of Measure FF:
· EBRPD claims Measure FFwill “enhance public safety” and “preserve water quality.” Spraying thousands of acres of open space in our water shed with pesticides will endanger the public and contaminate our water supply.
The Forest Action Brigade is offering yard signs in opposition to Measure FF (shown below). Request your yard sign by contacting the Forest Action Brigade: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 612-8566. Please state how many signs you would like and the neighborhood where you plan to place them. These are the East Bay cities in which Measure FF will be on the ballot: Oakland, Alameda, Piedmont, Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, Richmond, San Pablo, El Cerrito. These cities are the top priority for yard sign placement.
Many thanks to Marg Hall for this guest post about the pesticides being used by the supplier of our drinking water in the East Bay and for the research she did to inform the public that there is a BIG gap between written policies and the reality of pesticide use on our public lands.
One day last winter, I came upon a crew cutting down about 50 eucalyptus trees on what appeared to be EBMUD lands in the East Bay hills. (East Bay Municipal Utility District, EBMUD, manages the local drinking water lands and infrastructure.) Knowing that rain was predicted, and that the standard procedure is to apply the nasty herbicide Garlon to the cut tree stumps to prevent re-sprouting, I stopped to ask the workers about the job. The contractor (Expert Tree Service) refused to answer my questions, even the most basic one: who hired them?
I thought it an especially bad idea to apply Garlon in the drinking water watershed during the rainy season, so I stopped them by simply refusing to leave the work area until I got some answers. It was easy. I was polite but firm. The police were called. After being threatened by the contractor with per-minute fines for delaying the work, and a trip to jail from the police, I left them to their destruction. This is how I became interested in the management of EBMUD lands.
On a personal note, I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Ironically, I’d been looking for hiking trails where I didn’t have to confront the risk of cancer-causing pesticide applications. The whole situation made me very grumpy.
Following up, I was assured by EBMUD staff that they do NOT allow contractors to apply herbicides to cut eucalyptus stumps, and that very few, in fact almost no, herbicides are used in the drinking watershed lands. OK, that sounded pretty good. Wanting to verify this claim, I filed a public records request to EBMUD.
Aerial spraying pesticides on public parks
Meanwhile, we (FAB, The Forest Action Brigade, a grass roots group with which I am affiliated) heard of a plan by East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) to aerial spray from a helicopter (yes, you read that correctly!) an herbicide named Milestone (which is prohibited for use in New York State because it is very persistent and mobile in the soil). This was to be done in Briones Park, an area that directly supplies two creeks that feed into the Briones water reservoir.
Mobilizing public support, we were able to stop that spraying, but among our growing concerns we now added the safety of our drinking water. Even though this spray was planned by the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD), the staff from the Water District (EBMUD) knew about it, and didn’t try to stop it…until we raised the issue.
Management of wastershed land by supplier of our drinking water
Last summer, EBMUD invited public comment on a draft update of their Watershed Management Master Plan. In this document, an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program was referenced (available here: ebmud-ipm-program). Curious, we obtained copies of this document.
On paper it looks pretty solid. Like most IPM programs, this one contained written assurances that only minimal pesticides will be used, and then only as a last resort. Quarterly meetings of the IPM committee would provide oversight, meet and compile reports of pesticide usage. Among committee goals are: approve pesticide use requests, ensure consistency among work groups regarding pest management, and advise on pest management strategies. The guidelines require that pesticides be used only after certain damage thresholds are reached, with follow-up evaluations of effectiveness, and documentation of adverse side effects on non-targeted organisms.
Reading this leads one to the conclusion that the land management practices are just a step below organic gardening practices. With such controls and alternatives, what could possibly go wrong?
Control of pesticide use is more theoretical than real
As I soon learned when I started asking for public records, the IPM program as outlined in the EBMUD Watershed Management draft plan is a “paper only” plan. The oversight committee has not met in 15 years, and in fact only actually met for several years (the program started in 1996). There has been no oversight, no annual report, and wildly inconsistent use has developed over the various work units at EBMUD. They do follow minimal state reporting and training requirements, but that’s it.
I found no comprehensive evaluation of pesticide use, no analysis of levels of use, or experiments with alternatives, as one would expect in an “integrated” approach. Instead I received pages and pages of daily logs by individual workers documenting pesticide use. There appear to be no restrictions on use as long as the applicators documented applications, and the pesticides used were on the approved list of pesticides. The list of approved pesticides is long and includes known carcinogens.
Since nobody at EBMUD was keeping track, several of us embarked on a labor-intensive project to sort through records ourselves and tally an annual pesticide total. We focused on EBMUD properties in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties and usage for the year 2015. We were disheartened by our findings. In these areas, EBMUD made 647 applications by truck, backpack or by hand of herbicides totaling over 700 gallons and 205 pounds.
We compared the use of pesticides by EBMUD with those used by EBRPD. EBRPD used significantly less herbicide than EBMUD in 2015. EBRPD used 193 gallons of herbicide (glyphosate, Garlon, Oryzalin) in 2015 (and smaller quantities of specialty herbicide for specific projects). EBRPD has 120,536 acres of property compared to only 28,000 acres of EBMUD property.
Many environmentalists concerned about pesticide use had thought EBMUD carried out a more environmentally respectful philosophy of land management. This is not true. While the Watershed and Recreation work unit reported using only 8 gallons of pesticides that year, they constitute only one of several work units. EBMUD staff in the Watershed and Recreational work unit believe that is the sum total of pesticides used in “the watershed” and that pesticide usage is low. While some of the maintenance operations are outside of the drinking water watershed lands, some are not. Nevertheless this distinction is meaningless since all land is a “watershed” whether it drains to Briones reservoir or the San Francisco Bay. Furthermore, applications of pesticide are routinely done in areas open to the public.
One such application was documented last fall by someone walking on a public road in her neighborhood who took this video (If the video won’t play for you, try clicking on this link to the video HERE:
In it you see vast quantities of Roundup (glyphosate), applied from a truck-mounted tank using a garden hose. That method of application explains why the volume of EBMUD’s pesticide use is so high. Competent and responsible pesticide applicators use a spray nozzle to reduce the flow and spread the herbicide more evenly.
Inexplicably, the worker was soaking bare ground along the side of a road. It is pointless to apply Roundup to bare ground. It is a foliar spray that must be applied to actively growing plants. It has no effect on seeds, roots, or tubers in the ground. This is explained clearly on the manufacturer’s label for the product.
This spraying was done in a residential neighborhood (Carisbrook Road, Montclair area of Oakland). No pesticide application notices were posted before, during or after the application in violation of EBMUD’s IPM guidelines, which say, “If there is likely to be public contact with the area to be sprayed with pesticide, adequate notification or posting should be conducted.”
The video was sent to EBMUD board members. EBMUD’s response was a defense of this application as consistent with existing policy and regulation. They also claimed that the herbicide was not sprayed on a pedestrian path. In fact, the spraying occurred on a public road in a residential neighborhood that was used as a path by those who live in the neighborhood, such as the woman who recorded the video.
How to achieve REAL control over pesticide use on public land
That raises the obvious question: if this pesticide application is acceptable, what good is an IPM program except as a means to mislead the public into thinking we are being protected?
There’s an easier, simpler way to obtain the kind of protection we need: Forget IPM. Institute a total ban. No pesticides. PERIOD. It can be done.
In recent decades, public land managers have been using public tax money to apply more and more pesticides in public spaces. In the years ahead, as the Republicans dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, destroying what little (pathetic) regulation that we now have, we local activists will need to do our own protecting.
It starts here, in our own backyards. We know there is tremendous popular support for this. People really don’t like to be exposed to pesticides when they visit public parks. Robust local activism is our only hope. Yes, we can!!
We are grateful to Marg Hall, member of the Forest Action Brigade for this guest post about the role the Sierra Club is playing in the destruction of our urban forest and the poisoning of our public lands.
For the past year, members of the Forest Action Brigade have been spotlighting the Sierra Club as part of a larger campaign to stop the destruction of the trees in the East Bay Hills. This article answers the question: “Why focus on the Sierra Club?”
Long associated with environmental stewardship, the Sierra Club is a major player in local politics. Because so many Bay Area residents prioritize environmental protection, the Sierra Club enjoys lots of political capital, a ton of money, a deep bench of litigators, and the respect and fear of local politicians. They also have an entrenched leadership that pretends to be democratic, but in fact pushes around grass roots environmentalists, suppresses internal debate and dictates to local land managers.
As readers of Million Trees well know, the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club supports deforestation and the use of pesticides in the East Bay Hills. Some of us have concluded that they not only support this project, but are a major behind-the-scenes driver.
I first heard about the Club’s support for local deforestation about 6 years ago at a FEMA scoping hearing for the project Environmental Impact Statement. Naïve me, I thought, “Oh good! the Sierra Club is here, and certainly they will weigh in on the right side of this issue.” This is where my education began. The speaker representing the Sierra Club explained that they support this project and of course they will use pesticides, because that’s the only way to rid our parks of unwanted vegetation. Wow! Pesticides? “Unwanted plants”?
Until then, I had been a Club member for a number of years, thinking that the Sierra Club did good things. Before voting in our very complicated local elections, I’d check to see who and what they endorsed. I supported bond measure CC (which the EBRPD uses in part to fund their eucalyptus tree removal) back in 2004 because, well, what could be wrong with increasing funding for the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD)? Nowhere in the ballot measure did they mention pesticides. And as a former building inspector, the “fire hazard” reduction part sounded good. I thought the discussion in favor of native plants meant not planting English style lawns or plants in your garden that need lots of water. That sounded reasonable for a water scarce region.
Like so many of my neighbors, I’m neither a botanist nor a wildlife biologist, but I love the local parks and visit them almost daily. I trusted the Sierra Club to “protect” the environment. I suspect a lot of folks do the same. Now, after delving deeply into this local issue, I know better. The local Sierra Club has a fanatical obsession with eradication, with waging a war on non-native plants in our local parks. This agenda drives much of their work. Many voters follow their lead, basing decisions in the voting booth on blind faith. Politicians go along with the Sierra Club agenda in order to gain Club endorsement. Land managers must follow the lead of their elected bosses. All one needs to do is invoke the label “non-native,” and weapons of war are deployed: ground troops of weed pullers, tree cutters, pesticide sprayers, imported “biologics” (bugs and germs), and even, on occasion, aerial bombardment of pesticides. Other mainstream environmental organizations (The World Wildlife Fund, Audubon Society) also participate in this war, but it’s the local Sierra Club that provides the propaganda and the political clout behind this horrible deforestation plan. It’s the Sierra Club that sits down on a regular basis with the managers of the East Bay Regional Park District to dictate the terms under which they must operate. And when the EBRPD fails to fall in line, the Sierra club pulled out the big guns and sued in an attempt to force them to cut down all of the eucalyptus trees in the project areas, rather than a “thinning” plan that EBRPD preferred.
Here’s an example of the kind of hold that the Sierra Club has over the EBRPD. Through a public records request, we obtained a letter (dated April 28, 2015) to the parks district governing board from Norman LaForce, long time Chairperson of the Sierra Club’s Public Lands Committee. The letter laid out in great detail the kind of compliance he expects in order for the EBRPD to obtain Sierra Club endorsement of Measure CC renewal (which expires in 2020). Mr LaForce is perhaps the single most influential person promoting the local club’s nativist agenda. (emphasis added)
“The Sierra Club played a major and key role in the creation of Measure CC and the projects for which money would be spent….
“…Vegetation management that restores native habitat is less costly than programs that merely thin non-natives. Native habitat that is restored in the fire prone areas that are currently eucalyptus plantations is less costly to maintain on an annual basis than a program of thinning non-native eucalyptus and other non-native trees.
“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-ntaive (sic) 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.”
The letter goes on to detail the Sierra Club’s position on a variety of other issues and projects, most of which involve “restoration”, which sounds good, but is a code word for removal of non-native plants by any means necessary, including the use of herbicides. Here’s a link to the complete letter: Sierra Club dictates terms of Measure CC endorsement
I want to it make clear that we are environmentalists. We support some of the same goals as the Sierra Club: opposition to XL pipeline, fracking, refinery expansion, use of coal, environmental racism. We are not right wing climate deniers—one of the arguments Sierra Club uses to marginalize us. The Sierra Club is on the wrong side of this issue and we want them to stop bullying local officials into this war against trees. John Muir, who loved eucalyptus trees, would weep at this travesty.