Dialogue with native plant advocates

We believe that greater dialogue with native plant advocates would create more opportunities to find a compromise that would resolve the conflict about deforestation and pesticide use on our public lands.  Unfortunately, in the many years in which we have been engaged in the effort to prevent the destruction of our urban forest, we have found few such opportunities.

The Sierra Club is an extreme example of an organization that has isolated itself from all dissenting views on this issue.  Therefore, we were very excited that a member of the Sierra Club was able to send a letter to members, which we hoped would create new opportunities for dialogue with the Club and its allies on this issue.  (That letter is available HERE: Letter to Sierra Club members )

We are publishing today one of the responses that the author of the letter to Sierra Club received from a Sierra Club member.  We will also publish the reply to that letter.  We believe this dialogue is an example of the danger of isolating ourselves from those with whom we disagree.  When we refuse to discuss the issues, we deprive ourselves of opportunities to learn and we exacerbate conflict.

This is the letter sent by a native plant advocate to the author of the letter sent by a fellow Sierra Club member (we have removed his name because we do not have permission to publish):

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And this is the reply to that letter.  We have removed the author’s name because the letter was sent on behalf of hundreds of people who share her views.  Using her name more than necessary, inappropriately personalizes the issue.  This should be a public policy debate, not a personal vendetta.

Thank you for your letter of March 15, 2016, regarding my letter to Sierra Club members in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I am writing to provide you with the documentation about which you have questions:

Attachment A:  David Nowak’s “Historical Vegetation Change in Oakland…” states that, “Trees in riparian woodlands covered approximately 1.1% of Oakland’s preurbanized lands — redwood stand 0.7%, and coast live oak stand 0.5%.  Original forest cover is estimated at 2.3%…”  David Nowak has been employed by the US Forest Service since earning his Ph.D. degree from UC Berkeley.

I also recommend another visit to the Oakland Museum where you will find a touch screen map of historic vegetation of Oakland and surrounding communities in the East Bay.  It will confirm that the East Bay hills were not forested prior to settlement.

Attachment B:  The Environmental Assessment for the Strentzel-Muir Gravesite Plan at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California confirms that John Muir planted eucalyptus on his property.  The document also confirms the intentions of the National Park Service to retain eucalyptus on the property.  The entire document is available here:

Click to access Strentzel-Muir-Gravesite-Plan.pdf

Attachment C:  This is a holiday greeting card sent by John Muir to a personal friend in 1911, in which he depicts eucalyptus and describes it in poetic verse.

Christmas Card from John Muir
Christmas Card from John Muir

There are many reasons why eucalyptus was planted in California.  I recommend the history of the trees of California by Jared Farmer, Trees in Paradise:  A California History, for a more complete understanding of why eucalyptus was planted in California.  Mr. Farmer also describes John Muir’s fondness for eucalyptus.

We all have a right to our opinions, Mr. [redacted].  However, it is not in anyone’s interests to be misinformed of the facts regarding our urban forest.

Please let me know if there are any other statements in my letter for which you require documentation.



Cc: Michael Brune and Aaron Mair

No, this is NOT an April Fool’s joke.  These are actual letters sent by actual people.  We will publish a more comprehensive report of feedback from Sierra Club members to the letter from a fellow member in late April.

Holiday greeting from John Muir

Christmas Card from John Muir
“From eucalyptus cloistered aisles sweet wind born anthems rise and from tall silvery spires there wafts a living incense to the skies.” (1)

This 1911 New Year’s greeting from John Muir is a reflection of his fondness for eucalyptus.  He planted eucalypts around his home in Martinez, California.  Muir’s daughter reported that her father bought about a dozen different varieties of eucalyptus from a neighbor and she helped to plant them on the property.  The property was planted with many non-native plants and trees, including palms that now tower over the property.

John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo
John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo

Muir’s home was built by his wife’s parents in 1882.  Muir and his wife moved into the home in 1890 after his wife’s father died.  Muir lived in that home for the last 24 years of his life.  It is now The John Muir National Historic Site.

The site is administered by the National Park Service which unfortunately actively engages in ecological “restorations” that destroy non-native species.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, eucalypts are one of their highest priority targets for destruction.  According to the Martinez News Gazette, the Park Service destroyed the eucalypts on Muir’s property in about 1991 and replaced them with redwoods.  Twenty years later, they destroyed the redwoods because they decided they weren’t historically accurate.  The Park Service has a contradictory mission of ecological “restoration” to a native landscape which is inconsistent with its mission of maintaining the historical integrity of the properties it manages.

John Muir was co-founder of the Sierra Club.  He is also given credit for convincing President Teddy Roosevelt to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as National Parks.  Wouldn’t Muir be appalled by the current policies of the Sierra Club and the National Park Service which advocate for the destruction of eucalyptus in our public lands? 

Theodore Lukens was another eucalyptus aficionado

The recipient of John Muir’s New Year’s greeting was another eucalyptus aficionado.  Jared Farmer mentions Muir’s holiday card to Theodore Lukens in Trees in Paradise:  “In 1911 Muir sent a holiday card to his friend Lukens with a watercolor depicting gum trees and a poem evoking the ‘cloistered aisles,’ ‘silvery spires,’ and ‘living incense’ of eucalypts.” (2)

According to Farmer’s excellent historical account of eucalyptus in California, Lukens was a “banker, real estate developer, one-time mayor, and self-taught forester” in Southern California who “worked tirelessly on behalf of afforestation.”  Lukens and Muir shared the belief that “forest cover was key to the whole hydrological system:  trees and tree litter encouraged rainfall, captured fog drip, increased rainfall retention, decreased transpiration and regulated stream flow.”

We recommend Jared Farmer’s book to our readers.  This is a serious history of eucalyptus in California. It’s a complex story that requires an understanding of scientific as well as historical documents. Although we would quibble about some details, it is also a fair treatment of a controversial subject. Mr. Farmer is an historian, not a tree or native plant advocate.

Mr. Farmer tells the story in an engaging way and he puts it into a social context that deserves respect from both tree and native plant advocates. We are grateful to Mr. Farmer for bringing some solid information to an otherwise emotional debate. If it is widely read it could contribute to the resolution of a conflict that has been intractable.

We wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  We are hopeful that the New Year will bring more success to our mission to save healthy trees from destruction which will also reduce the needless use of pesticides in our public open spaces.


(1) Published in Images of the Pacific Rim by Erika Esau, Power Publishing, February 2011.

(2) Jared Farmer, Trees in Paradise:  A California History, Norton & Company, 2013.

Contradictory Mission of the National Park Service

As we have reported on Million Trees, the National Park Service (NPS) is eradicating most non-native trees on its properties in the Bay Area.  (see “Our Mission”)  We were therefore taken aback when we stumbled on a news report in the Martinez News-Gazette about the NPS destroying 20 redwoods at the John Muir National Historic Site, which is an NPS property.  It seems these redwoods are the victim of the confused, sometimes contradictory mission of the NPS.

Update:  The links in this article are no longer functional.  We therefore provide a new link that corroborates the statements we have made in this article:  “John Muir National Historic Site:  Strentzel-Muir Gravesite Plan”

Redwoods are, of course, one of California’s most revered native trees.   However, in this particular location, the NPS chooses to destroy them because they were not planted by Muir’s family.  Therefore, the NPS does not consider them “historically accurate.”  NPS says their mission requires that they cut them down.

Ironically, it is the NPS that planted those particular redwoods only 20 years ago.  They planted them after destroying the non-native eucalyptus trees that were in fact historically accurate because they were planted during Muir’s lifetime.  The eucalyptus trees were presumably destroyed because they aren’t native to California.  The redwood trees were planted in their place because NPS says their policies require them to replace every tree they destroy.

Are you confused by this story?  So are we.  We think NPS must be confused as well.  They seem to have several contradictory policies.  Their obsession with native vegetation required them to destroy eucalyptus trees 20 years ago.  Their policy requiring them to replace every tree they destroy obligated them to plant native redwoods.  Twenty years later their policy requiring them to adhere to the historical record has obligated them to cut the redwoods down.  Presumably, that same policy will require them to replant eucalyptus trees.  Where will they go from there?  One wonders.

John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo

A little historical perspective

The NPS website for the John Muir National Historic Site describes John Muir as the “Father of the National Park Service.”  They also credit him with the creation of the Sierra Club and as the person who convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to create many of our most famous national parks:  Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and Mt. Rainier.  Is the destruction of two generations of mature trees any way for the NPS to honor its father?

The John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez is the home that was built by Muir’s wife’s parents in 1882.  Muir and his wife moved into the home in 1890 after his wife’s father died.  Muir lived in the home for the last 24 years of his life.

Muir’s daughter reported that her father bought about a dozen different varieties of eucalyptus from a neighbor and she helped to plant them on the property.  The property was planted with many non-native plants and trees, including palms that now tower over the property.  Clearly, the Muir family didn’t share the NPS obsession with native plants.  Nor did he think too highly of those who destroy trees:

Any fool can destroy trees.  They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed, chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones.”

–John Muir, Our National Parks, pg 364

As public policy and horticultural fads lurch from one extreme to another, the trees are the losers in man’s conceit.   And those who love trees stand helplessly by, watching the destruction, powerless to prevent it, although we pay for it with our taxes.