More opposition to Measure FF

As you make the important decision about voting on Measure FF, please take into consideration that Million Trees and the Forest Action Brigade are not the only East Bay residents who plan to vote against Measure FF.  Today we tell you more about why many East Bay voters have made that decision.

Post-election update:  Measure FF passed easily.  In Alameda County 85% of voters approved Measure FF.  In Contra Costa County 80% of voters approved Measure FF.  These were the vote tallies on the day after the election, on November 7th.  

A ’91 fire victim and survivor tells us why he will vote against Measure FF

The East Bay Times published the following op-ed about Measure FF on October 4th. It was written by Peter Scott. He states his opposition to Measure FF clearly and emphatically.  Emphasis and photo have been added.

“Save trees, ‘no’ on Alameda County’s Measure FF”

“Alameda County’s proposed Measure FF, East Bay Regional Park District Parcel Tax Renewal, appears innocent enough: improvements in area parks, safety, a 20-year continuation of a 2004 plan to enhance the public’s enjoyment of East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) properties.

And the tax — a dollar a month per single-family residence and $69 a month for multifamily units in Alameda County — seems affordable. But wait: Half of the money raised by this measure would fund destruction of thousands of healthy, mature trees in the East Bay hills.

This isn’t the first time this deforestation has been proposed. In 2013, FEMA offered a similar plan, to be implemented by UC Berkeley, the city of Oakland and the EBRPD. After the plan’s environmental impact was discussed in three public hearings, citizens responded with 13,000 written comments, which, by FEMA’s count, were 90 percent against the plan.

The reason, subsequently confirmed in litigation, was that the plan would involve significant, permanent negative impacts to the environment but would still fail to achieve its stated goal — to reduce risk of fire in the hills. The U.S. Forest Service commented that in terms of mitigating risk, it would be better to do nothing than to proceed with FEMA’s plan. The reason this type of proposal keeps popping up is because it is the object of long-term lobbying by a clique of nativists who want to rid the hills of species they don’t like. Their reasoning depends on myths such as these:

  • Once upon a time, before white people came and changed things, the hills were a stable environment of so-called native vegetation that was healthy and inherently fire-resistant;
  • “native” species tend to be less likely to ignite, and they have manageable flame lengths (the distance at the ground from the flame’s leading edge to its tip);
  • and trees are the culprit and were the primary reason that the 1991 fire burned out of control.

These statements are not only incorrect, they are the opposite of the truth. The old landscape burned regularly; the flame lengths of “native” brush and grasses are multiples of mature trees’ flame lengths and create conflagrations that fire personnel won’t fight because they spread and change direction so fast; the 1991 fire was a STRUCTURE fire, not a vegetation fire: houses set fire to trees, not the other way around.

Factually, the ’91 fire was human-caused. First, it was a contractor’s construction debris fire that escaped into the brush; secondly, it was a reignition from embers that the Oakland Fire Department had failed to extinguish. The official report examining the causes doesn’t mention trees but does criticize the OFD’s failures in its incident command’s preparation, training and management during the fire. Of the 16 major fires in the hills since 1905, there are basically two categories: human-caused (10 fires) and “unknown cause” — it’s a safe bet most of those “unknowns” were also human-caused.

If Measure FF is truly focused on fire risk mitigation, it would fund regular removal of fine fuels around the base of the trees — as EBMUD does so successfully — because it is the brush, grasses and debris on or near the ground that are most likely to ignite and are key to the fire’s spread and ferocity. Leave the tall trees alone, because they reduce wind, shade the ground, catch fog drip and discourage growth of flammable, weedy plants. If trees are not cut down, then repeated applications of herbicides to kill re-sprouts are unnecessary.

Measure FF proposes to fund some good things — maintenance and improvements in the parks — but they make FF a Trojan horse. They are sugar-coating on a foul and foolish enterprise: deforestation to create so-called “oak-bay savannahs,” which are actually grass- and brush-covered hills, dotted with occasional low trees — the type of landscape that has been burning so fast and ferociously in Lake and Sonoma counties and throughout the state. We must send the FF authors back to the drawing board, telling them to come back to us when they have plan that will actually reduce, not increase, the fire hazard.”

Peter Scott, Oakland, California

No one is more knowledgeable about East Bay fire history and fire hazard mitigation than Peter Scott.  He is a founding member of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy and the Hills Conservation Network.  He is passionate about fire safety in the East Bay partly because of his personal loss.  His home burned down in 1970 and 1991 and his mother was killed in the 1991 fire.  Since 1991, he has made fire hazard mitigation one of his personal priorities.  Peter Scott and his wife, Teresa Ferguson, instigated the Civil Grand Jury report about the ’91 fire.

Alameda County Green Party says “NO on Measure FF”

The Alameda County Green Party has recommended that “green” voters vote NO on Measure FF, with reservations. This was a difficult decision for the Green Party, as it was for us. We all love the parks and we know that some of the money raised by Measure FF will be used to make needed and appropriate park improvements. They explain their reservations and the reluctant conclusion they reached in their Green Voter Guide that is available on line. Here’s what they say about their decision (emphasis added):

“The Green Party of Alameda County recommends a NO vote, with reservations, on Measure FF (Alameda/Contra Costa Counties):

If approved by voters, Measure FF would simply continue existing Measure CC funding. Voters passed Measure CC in 2004 to provide local funding for park infrastructure, maintenance, safety, and services. Measure CC is a $12/year parcel tax that is set to expire in 2020. Measure FF is expected to raise approximately $3.3 million annually until it expires in 20 years.

Measure CC boasts a long list of successful improvement to East Bay Regional Parks in areas of public safety, wildfire mitigation, healthy forest management, shoreline protection, environmental stewardship, habitat preservation, park infrastructure and maintenance, recreational and educational programming, and visitor services.

While impacts of the Measure have been wide-ranging and largely celebrated, record California wildfires in 2018 have caused both opponents and proponents of the Measure to highlight the wildfire mitigation aspect of the program. Neither Measure CC nor Measure FF contains language that details how to approach reducing wildfires, however, Measure CC’s funds helped in developing the Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan (“Plan”) that was approved in 2010 by the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) Board of Directors.

Proponents state that passing Measure FF is critical to continue to reduce risk of wildfires along the wildland-urban interface. They accept that thinning of certain tree species and controlled use of herbicides are tools outlined in the Plan to accomplish the task.

Opponents are against unnecessary removal of non-native species and use of herbicides (EBRPD has expanded use of herbicides and clear-cutting), arguing that extreme fires are driven by effects of climate change, not a particular tree species. Opponents agree with many fire experts that the key defense of homes against wildfire is defensible space, and argue that clear-cutting removes trees that sequester carbon (mitigating climate change) and removes the canopy that provides habitat for species and helps cool the environment. On pesticide use, they simply say: “If organic farmers can do it, so can EBRPD!”

We agree with the opponents: There are environmentally-sensitive alternate approaches to reducing wildfire risk that do not involve removing so many trees and applying poisons in East Bay parks, but the EBRPD Board must be willing to implement them. Vote “No” to send a message to the Board that we can do better. Our reservations are that we like the parks and want to protect them, and we appreciate most of the improvements that Measure FF funds.”

Alameda County Green Party

We are deeply grateful to the Green Party for their decision and we commend them for considering all sides of this complex issue, which is seldom done by political organizations.

Deliver the message to the Park District

Whatever the outcome of this election, votes against Measure FF will deliver a clear message to the Park District:  STOP destroying healthy trees and killing harmless plants and trees with dangerous pesticides!! 

This is the big, beautiful yard sign that you can put in your yard and neighborhood road medians in the East Bay.

Peter Scott and the Green Party have delivered this message and you have the opportunity to add your voice by placing a yard sign in your own yard and in the road medians in your neighborhood in the East Bay.  The Forest Action Brigade is offering yard signs at no cost to you.  Request your yard sign by contacting the Forest Action Brigade:  forestactionbrigade@gmail.com or call (510) 612-8566.

Vote NO on Measure FF!!

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.  

Tree removals increase pesticide use because herbicides are required to prevent the trees from resprouting.  Also, when the shade of trees is eliminated, the unshaded ground is soon colonized by weeds that are then sprayed with herbicide.  The destruction of trees has put public land managers on the pesticide treadmill.

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.

On Friday, August 31st, the Forest Action Brigade participated in a press conference rally at Bayer headquarters in Berkeley. Bayer is the new owner of Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate. The rally was sponsored by a labor organization that is concerned about exposing workers to glyphosate, which is probably a carcinogen.  The President of the Forest Action Brigade, Marg Hall, spoke at the rally.

The Voter Information Guides in Contra Costa and Alameda counties have published the following argument against Measure FF that was submitted by the Forest Action Brigade.  We hope you will read it and take this important opportunity to protect our public parks from being needlessly damaged.

Million Trees

Argument Against Measure FF

“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 FF will “protect against wildfires.”  Destroying harmless trees miles away from any residential structures and replacing the shaded, moist forest with dry grassland that easily ignites will NOT “protect against wildfires.”

·       EBRPD claims Measure FF will “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.

·       EBRPD claims Measure FF will “protect redwoods and parklands in a changing climate.”  Destroying hundreds of thousands of healthy trees, storing millions of tons of carbon, will exacerbate climate change.  Our redwood forest in the East Bay was confined to less than 5 square miles prior to settlement because of the restrictive horticultural requirements of this treasured native tree.  Because redwoods require more water than most of our urban forest, it is a fantasy that they can be expanded beyond their native footprint.  Where they have been planted outside of that range, many are already dead.

·       EBRPD claims Measure FF will “restore natural areas.”  Our pre-settlement landscape in the East Bay was predominantly grassland in which fire hazards are greatest.  A landscape that has been sprayed with pesticide cannot be accurately described as “natural.”  Previous attempts to convert non-native annual grassland to native grassland have consistently failed, partly because the soil has been poisoned with herbicide.

You can help

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: forestactionbrigade@gmail.com 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.

Million Trees

Wildfire cover story is the lie that binds

Native plant advocates originally thought they would be able to destroy all non-native trees in California based entirely on their preference for native plants.  People who value our urban forest quickly challenged that assumption.  Native plant advocates devised a new strategy based on fear.  Fear is the most powerful justification for many public policies that deliver a wide range of agendas, including the current prejudices against immigrants that is shared by many native plant advocates.  After the destructive wildfire in Oakland in 1991, native plant advocates seized on fear of fire to convince the public that all non-native trees must be destroyed.  They made the ridiculous claim that native plants and trees are less flammable than non-native plants and trees.

Scripps Ranch fire, San Diego, 2003. All the homes burned, but the eucalypts that surrounded them did not catch fire. New York Times

Like most lies, the wildfire cover story has come back to bite the nativists.  As wildfires rage all over the west, becoming more frequent and more intense, the public can see with their own eyes that every fire occurs in native vegetation, predominantly in grass and brush and sometimes spreading to native forests of conifers and oak woodlands.  It has become difficult for nativists to convince the public that native vegetation isn’t flammable because the reality of wildfires clearly proves otherwise.

Vegetation that burned in the North Bay files of October 2017. Source: Bay Area Open Space Council

Recently, nativists have become the victims of their own wildfire cover story as they try to reconcile the contradictions in their hypocritical agendas.  These contradictions are now visible both nationally and locally in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We will tell you about the lie that binds nativism today.

Sierra Club caught in the wringer of its own making

The New York Times published an op-ed by Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Chad Hansen, ecologist and member of the Sierra Club Board of Directors.  They informed us of a proposed federal farm bill to destroy trees on thousands of acres of national forests without any environmental review.  The stated purpose of this federal plan is to reduce wildfire hazards.

The national leaders of the Sierra Club emphatically disagree that destroying trees will reduce fire hazards.  In fact, they say “increased logging can make fires burn more intensely” because “Logging, including many projects deceptively promoted as forest ‘thinning,’ removes fire-resistant trees, reduces the cooling shade of the forest canopy and leaves behind highly combustible twigs and branches.”

They point out that climate change and associated drought have increased the intensity of wildfires.  Therefore, they say we must “significantly increase forest protection, since forests are a significant natural mechanism for absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.”  Destroying forests contributes to climate change and climate change is causing more wildfires.

The leaders of the Sierra Club tell us that the most effective way to reduce damage caused by wildfires is to “focus on fire-safety measures for at-risk houses.  These include installing fire-resistant roofing, ember-proof exterior vents and guards to prevent wind-borne embers from igniting dry leaves and pine needles in rain gutters and creating ‘defensible space’ by reducing combustible grasses, shrubs and small trees within 100 feet of homes.  Research shows these steps can have a major impact on whether houses survive wildfires.”

Does that strategy sound familiar?  Perhaps you read that exact strategy here on Million Trees or on many other local blogs that share our view that destroying trees is not the solution to fire hazard mitigation and safety. 

Unfortunately, the Sierra Club continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth.  While the national leadership speaks rationally on the subject of wildfires, the local leadership of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club continues to demand that all non-native trees in the Bay Area be destroyed. 

The City of Oakland recently published a draft of its Vegetation Management Plan (VMP) with the stated purpose of reducing fire hazards.  The draft plan recommends removal of most non-native trees on 2,000 acres of open space and along 300 hundred miles of roads.  The plan seemed unnecessarily destructive to those who value our urban forest and have a sincere interest in reducing fire hazards, but it was unacceptable to the local chapter of the Sierra Club because it does not go far enough to destroy all non-native trees.  Here are some of the revisions they demand in their public comment (1) on the draft VMP:

  • “…removal of all second-growth eucalyptus trees, coppice suckers and seedlings in city parks…”
  • “…removal of 20-year old Monterey Pine seedlings that were allowed to become established after the original pines burned and were killed in the 1991 fire…”
  • “…identify areas of overly mature and near hazardous Monterey Pine and Cypress trees that could be removed…”
  • “…recommend adoption of specific updated IPM policies for the city to implement that will allow appropriate and safe use of herbicides…”
  • “The Sierra Club has developed the right approach to vegetation management for fire safety…The Sierra Club’s program for vegetation management can be summarized by the Three R’s:”
    • “Remove fire dangerous eucalyptus, pine, and other non-native trees and other fire dangerous vegetation like French and Scotch broom…”
    • “Restore those areas with more fire safe native trees like bays, oaks, laurels and native grasslands…”
    • “Re-establish the greater biodiversity of flora and fauna that results from the return of more diverse habitat than exists in the monoculture eucalyptus plantations…”

The local chapter of the Sierra Club is making the same demands for complete eradication of non-native trees in the East Bay Regional Park District.  The pending renewal of the parcel tax that has paid for tree removals in the Park District for the past 12 years was an opportunity for the Sierra Club to make its endorsement of the renewal contingent upon the Park District making a commitment to remove all non-native trees (and many other commitments).

“…the Sierra Club believes it is critical that in any renewal of Measure CC [now Measure FF on the November 2018 ballot] funding for vegetation management should be increased for the removal of non-natives such as eucalyptus and their replacement with restored native habitat…Measure CC [now FF] funds should not be used to thin eucalyptus but must be allocated to the restoration of native habitat.” (1)

The Sierra Club has endorsed the renewal of the parcel tax—Measure FF—that will be on the ballot in November 2018.  In other words, the Park District has made a commitment to removing all non-native trees on our parks.  We have reported on some of the clear cuts that the Park District has done in the past 6 months.

Sibley Volcanic Reserve. Photo by Larry Danos, March 2018

The national Sierra Club and the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club are at odds on fire hazard mitigation.  The national leadership understands that destroying trees will not reduce fire hazards.  They also understand that destroying trees will contribute to climate change that is causing more destructive wildfires.  The local leadership clings to the cover story that native trees are less flammable than non-native trees.

Local nativists change their tune

There is no history of wildfires in San Francisco and there is unlikely to be in the future because it is foggy and soggy during the dry summer months when wildfires occur.  But the reality of the climate conditions and the absence of fire in the historical record never prevented nativists in San Francisco from trying to use the fire cover story to support their demand that thousands of non-native trees be destroyed. 

Summer fog blanket over San Francisco. Courtesy Save Mount Sutro Forest.

Jake Sigg, retired San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) gardener who is considered the doyen of the Native Plant movement in San Francisco, has a widely circulated email newsletter. In that newsletter, he repeatedly claimed that eucalyptus were dying during the extreme drought and had to be destroyed so they would not cause a catastrophic wildfire.  In fact, eucalyptus did not die in San Francisco or elsewhere in the Bay Area during the drought because they are the most drought-tolerant tree species in our urban forest.  More native trees died in California during the drought than non-native trees. 

Jake Sigg made those dire predictions before the native plant agenda was finally approved in 2017 after 20 years of heated debate and before many wildfires in California have established the truth that wildfires start in grass and brush and seldom in forests and in every case in exclusively native vegetation.

So, to accommodate this new reality, Jake Sigg has changed his tune.  He got his wish that thousands of non-native trees be destroyed in San Francisco as well as a commitment to restore the native grassland that he prefers.  Consequently it is no longer consistent with that agenda to claim that there are acute fire hazards in San Francisco, requiring the destruction of flammable vegetation.

The San Francisco Chronicle published an article about the concerns of park neighbors about dead/dying/dormant grass and brush in parks that they believe is a fire hazard and they want the San Francisco park department to clear that flammable vegetation.  Jake Sigg is now quoted as saying that it isn’t necessary to clear that vegetation—which he prefers—because there are no fire hazards in San Francisco: 

“What protects much of San Francisco’s forested area is the city’s famed fog, said Jake Sigg, a conservation chairman of the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society.  While walking on Mount Davidson on a recent afternoon, he said, one area was so muddy from fog that he has to be careful not to slip…’In the past, (fires) haven’t been too much of a concern for the simple reason that we have had adequate rainfall,’ Sigg said.”

According to nativists, the wet eucalyptus forest must be destroyed, but the dead/dried flammable brush and grassland must be preserved because it is native.

Serpentine Prairie restoration. East Bay Regional Park District

The elusive truth

Despite the constantly shifting story, we are not fooled.  The truth is that native vegetation is just as flammable as non-native vegetation and that destroying trees—regardless of their nativity—will not reduce fire hazards.


(1) These letters on Sierra Club letterhead were obtained by public records requests and are available on request.