Forest Action Brigade: “Oakland’s Vegetation Management Plan is significantly improved”

The City of Oakland began the process of developing a Vegetation Management Plan (VMP) over three years ago.  The purpose of the VMP is “to evaluate the specific wildfire hazard factors in the Plan Area [2,000 acres of city-owned parks and open space and 300 miles of roadsides] and provide a framework for managing vegetative fuel loads…such that wildfire hazard is reduced and negative environmental effects resulting from vegetation management activities are avoided or minimized.” (revised VMP, page 3)

The first draft of the VMP was published in June 2018.  There were significant issues with the first draft that were described by Million Trees HERE.

The VMP was revised and published on November 1, 2019.  It is available HERE.  Written comments can be submitted until December 12, 2019. Scoping comments may be submitted by email (arobinsonpinon@oaklandca.gov) or by mail to Angela Robinson Piñon, 250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 4314, Oakland California 94612.  “Scoping” is the first step in the process of preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The purpose of scoping is to identify the issues that must be evaluated by the EIR.

The Forest Action Brigade accepts the revised VMP because fire hazards are real and compromise is needed to address them.  Public comments submitted by the Forest Action Brigade regarding scoping for the EIR explain our reasoning. See below. We believe the revised VMP will reduce fire hazards in Oakland without destroying more trees than necessary and limiting herbicide use primarily to preventing trees from resprouting after they are removed.  It is counterproductive to destroy more trees than necessary because climate change has made wildfires more frequent and destructive and carbon sequestered by mature trees is one of the most effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

TO: Angela Robinson Pinon, Oakland Fire Department
arobinsonpinon@oaklandca.gov
FROM: Forest Action Brigade
RE: Oakland’s Vegetation Management Plan, Scoping Comments for EIR

The revised Vegetation Management Plan is a significant improvement over the first draft.  We accept the revised Vegetation Management Plan for the City of Oakland because:

  • Standards for creating and maintaining defensible space around structures, along roadsides, and on ridgelines are reasonable and consistent with both fire science and State law.
  • Forests will be thinned, but “broad based tree removal is not proposed.” Mature trees will be retained, which reduces carbon loss.  Fire ladders to tree canopies will be eliminated.
  • Forest canopy will be retained so the forest floor is shaded and growth of flammable understory grasses and shrubs is suppressed. Density of the canopy will be reduced, but the canopy will be intact.
  • Herbicide will be used to prevent resprouts of trees that are removed, but foliar spraying will be “minimized.” The VMP acknowledges that vegetation killed by foliar spraying is left in place and becomes dry, easily ignited fuel.
  • Best Management Practices for herbicide use require that all applications be done by certified applicators and requests for herbicide application be approved by a licensed pest control advisor.
  • The revised VMP acknowledges that the flammability of plants and trees is unrelated to the nativity of the species. The VMP classifies some species of both native and non-native plants and trees as “pyrophytic.” Non-native plants are not inherently more flammability than native plants.  Flammability is related to the physical and chemical characteristics of plants, not their nativity.
  • The VMP clearly states that the implementation of the VMP is the responsibility of the Oakland Fire Department. OFD is not obligated to respond to the wishes of advocacy organizations unless their proposals are consistent with fire hazard mitigation.

The revised VMP will reduce fuel loads and risk of ignition.  The revised VMP is a fire hazard reduction project with one exception:  the VMP continues to propose the destruction of individual non-native trees within stands of native trees.    However, that proposal is ranked as Priority 3 and is therefore unlikely to be funded. Oakland’s Tree Services Division is inadequately funded and severely understaffed.  Tree Services does not have the resources to remove trees unless they are dead or pose a hazard to the public.  Neither Tree Services nor this VMP is responsible for landscape type conversion: “This VMP does not propose vegetation type conversion as an end goal or strategy…” (Page 1)  Moreover, such unnecessary removal of mature trees damages the surrounding environment, especially in riparian areas, and increases carbon loss, contributing to climate change.

If the VMP is ultimately funded by renewal of the parcel tax for fuels management, revenues should not be used to hire contractors to destroy individual non-native trees within stands of native trees because that would not reduce fire hazards.  The previous parcel tax was cancelled by voters partly because it was misused to fund native plant projects that conflict with fire hazard mitigation.  When native plant advocates plant rare, protected plants in Oakland’s parks and open spaces (which they do), they then oppose fuels management that threatens the plants they prefer.  It is not possible to mow a meadow of grass to prevent ignition without simultaneously destroying individual plants in that meadow.  We saw that principle at work at the public hearing by the Planning Commission on November 20, 2019.  The parcel tax that we would vote for would explicitly prohibit the use of the revenue for vegetation type conversion that is incompatible with fire hazard mitigation.

Scoping Issues

These issues must be addressed by the Environmental Impact Report for the revised VMP, as required by CEQA State law:

  • Carbon loss resulting from tree removals must be estimated. Mitigation for carbon loss must be proposed or negative environmental impact must be acknowledged and estimated. Carbon loss contributes to climate change and climate change is making wildfires more frequent and intense.  Therefore carbon loss increases wildfire hazards and must be estimated by the EIR for this project.
  • The EIR must identify the herbicides and estimate the quantities that will be used to implement the VMP. The amount and impact of pesticides to be used in the VMP should be compared with Oakland’s current levels of herbicide use in the city, including roadside applications. Known hazards of the herbicides that will be used should be acknowledged by the EIR, such as collateral damage to non-target trees and vegetation, damage to the soil, risks to wildlife and human health, mobility and persistence in the environment, etc.  The EIR should mitigate for the increased herbicide use by providing mechanisms for accountability to the public, such as a yearly publicly accessible report on pesticides used in this project, including brand names, location, date, method of application, and quantities. Prohibition of herbicide applications by “volunteers” who are not employees or contractors of the City of Oakland should also be added to Best Management Practices to prevent unauthorized herbicide applications in Oakland.
  • CEQA requires that alternative plans must be considered by an EIR. Typically, “no project” is one of the alternatives.  A third alternative should be less destructive, not more destructive than the proposed project.  For example, an alternative to destroying only non-native trees, as proposed by the VMP, would be to destroy bay laurels that are also a pyrophytic species, as well as vectors for Sudden Oak Death that has killed 50 million oaks in California since 1995.  In 2019, the rate of SOD infection increased from 1% to 12% in one year in sampled trees between Richmond and San Leandro.   Source:  https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/Sudden-oak-death-spreading-fast-California-s-14815683.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result

There are several advantages to thinning bays and Monterey pines rather than eucalyptus:

  • Every dead oak becomes fuel. Therefore, reducing SOD infections prevents oaks from becoming fuel.
  • Bays branch to the ground, providing fuel ladders that are difficult to eliminate because the tree trunk often sprawls on the ground.
  • Removing bays instead of eucalyptus also reduces carbon loss because bays are smaller trees and they have shorter lives than eucalyptus trees, which are expected to live another 200-300 years in the Bay Area based on their longevity in their native range.
  • Monterey pine has a shorter lifespan than eucalyptus and it is a soft-wood tree. Therefore, removal of Monterey pine will result is less carbon loss than destruction of eucalyptus. Furthermore, Monterey pines do not resprout after destruction.  Therefore, they will not require herbicide treatment to prevent resprouts as eucalyptus does.  Many Monterey pines in the East Bay are nearing the end of their lives because of when they were planted as well as pine pitch canker infection.
  • “We ask that a 4th alternative be considered by the EIR.  A “no pesticides” alternative would acknowledge the public’s concerns about the potential for increased pesticide use in Oakland that could be enabled by the completion of the EIR.  That alternative must propose a method of preventing tree resprouts without using herbicides.  There are precedents for such methods.  East Bay Municipal Utilities District does not use herbicides to prevent resprouts.  UCSF does not use any pesticides in the Sutro Forest where thousands of trees have been destroyed and thousands more will be destroyed in the future.”  Addendum 12/2/19
  • CEQA requires that cumulative impacts of similar projects be identified by the EIR. Fuels management projects similar to the VMP are being implemented all over the East Bay. Tree removals by PG&E should be included. The cumulative impact of all fuels management projects in the East Bay must be acknowledged by the EIR.

We hope the revised VMP will survive the public process required to bring it to fruition because we believe it will reduce fire hazards in its present form.  We believe that fire hazards are real and that compromise is needed to address them.  We congratulate the consultants who prepared the VMP and OFD for shepherding it to completion. Those who were involved in its preparation listened patiently and were responsive to the public’s concerns.  We are grateful.

Forest Action Brigade

Tilden Park, October 2016. East Bay Regional Park District has thinned this area to distances of 25 feet between remaining trees. The forest floor is still shaded because the canopy is intact.

Action Opportunity: Speak up about Oakland’s Vegetation Management Plan

The stated purpose of Oakland’s Vegetation Management is to reduce fire hazards in Oakland.  Oakland’s Vegetation Management Plan will determine the fate of 2,000 acres of public parks and open spaces and 300 miles of roadside in Oakland.  It will also substantially increase the use of pesticides if approved in its present form.  Two public meetings will take place in November to discuss revisions of the draft plan:

Date: Thursday, November 15, 2018
Time: 5:30-7:30 PM
Location: Richard C. Trudeau Training Center, 11500 Skyline Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619

Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Time: 5:30-7:30 PM
Location: Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Hearing Room 2, Oakland, CA 94612

The agenda for these meetings has been carefully crafted to accommodate the wishes of native plant advocates, as expressed in their public comments on the draft plan.  This is the agenda for these public meetings:

  1. “The Plan should better incorporate the role of volunteers and stewardship groups that actively maintain vegetation at various City-managed parks/open space areas. The City should conduct additional outreach to such groups to continue to receive their input and feedback.”
  2. “The Plan should include more specificity regarding vegetation management recommendations at each City-managed parcel.”
  3. “The Plan should include cost estimates, or a range of potential costs, for the recommended treatments to assist the City for longer-term work budgeting and planning. The cost estimates and site-specific plans for City-managed parks would also help identify activities that volunteers can conduct.”

The first meeting on November 15th is “targeted towards the park steward/volunteer groups working on City-owned parcels.”  The second meeting on November 20th “will focus on the issue of plan specificity.  It is requested that participants come prepared to discuss their recommended edits/comments.  At each meeting we will briefly discuss each project site/area, and your feedback will be collected and considered for the revised draft Plan to be released in 2019.”

In other words, the public process that will result in a Vegetation Management Plan for Oakland is now entirely in the hands of native plant advocates (“park stewards/volunteer groups”), despite the fact that there were other important issues raised in the public comments.  Only the public comments of native plant advocates are being considered in the revision of the draft.  None of their requested revisions have anything to do with reducing fire hazards.  Their revisions are intended to greatly increase Oakland’s commitment to native plant “restorations.”

These are the issues being ignored

If you are an Oakland resident with a sincere interest in fire hazard mitigation, who does not believe the draft plan will reduce fire hazards, please attend one of these meetings.  These are the issues we believe are being ignored and must be addressed by the City of Oakland.

  • Pesticides are being used in the parks of the East Bay Regional Park District after completion of an Environmental Impact Report in 2009. The pesticide applications of the Park District are a preview of what will happen in Oakland city parks if the Vegetation Management Plan is approved as presently drafted.

    Pesticide use in Oakland city parks and open spaces is presently prohibited by Oakland’s city ordinance because no Environmental Impact Report has been completed for a revision of the ordinance that was proposed by the City Council in 2005. If the draft Vegetation Management Plan is approved and an Environmental Impact Report is completed as planned, pesticides will be permitted in Oakland’s parks, open spaces, and roadsides. 

  • Pesticide use will increase greatly because pesticides are required to prevent the tens of thousands of trees that the draft plan proposes to destroy from resprouting. Pesticides will also be needed to eradicate the flammable weeds that will colonize the unshaded ground.
  • Native plant advocates are opposed to goat grazing because goats eat both native and non-native plants. Goat grazing is a non-toxic alternative to pesticides.  Shade is the most benign method of weed control.
  • Native plant “restorations” do not mitigate fire hazards because native vegetation is as flammable as non-native vegetation. When non-native trees are destroyed, as proposed by the plan, no native trees will be planted to replace them.  Therefore, the moist forest will be replaced by grassland that ignites more easily than forests.
  • Every wildfire we have witnessed in California in the past 20 years has occurred exclusively in native vegetation. Wildfires in California have become more frequent and more intense because of climate change.  Deforestation is the second greatest cause of climate change because trees release the carbon they have stored throughout their lives, and in their absence carbon storage is reduced in the future.

The native plant movement has a death grip on our public lands in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Few would object to their advocacy if their projects were as constructive as they are destructive.  They are welcome to plant whatever they want, but they should not have the right to destroy everything that is non-native, particularly using pesticides, which is their preferred method.

I would like to believe that public policy is in our hands if we will participate in the political process.  It is becoming more difficult to believe in that ideal.  Please attend one of these meetings, if only to keep our democracy alive and well.

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.

Action Opportunity: Draft of Oakland’s Vegetation Management Plan

The City of Oakland applied for a FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grant in 2005 to clear-cut all non-native trees on 122 acres of city owned property in the East Bay hills, based on the claim that it would reduce fire hazards.  FEMA cancelled that grant in September 2016 in settlement of a lawsuit against the project. 

The City of Oakland began the process of writing a new plan to reduce fire hazards in the hills by hiring a consultant to develop a Vegetation Management Plan in November 2016.  The new plan will be much more comprehensive than the original plan, covering 1,925 acres of open space and 308 miles of roadside in Oakland.  Oakland also made a commitment to an open public process to develop the plan.  A survey of public opinion was conducted and two public meetings were held in 2017. 

A draft of Oakland’s Vegetation Management Plan is now available HERE.  There are detailed maps of the areas that will be covered by the plan.  We suggest you take a look at those maps to determine what effect the plan will have on your neighborhood and the parks and open spaces you visit.

 A public meeting about the draft was held on May 23, 2018 and written public comments will be accepted until June 11, 2018. Comments may be submitted in the following ways: Download comment card; Email VMPcomments@oaklandvegmanagement.org; Mail:  266 Grand Avenue, Suite 210, Attn: Ken Schwarz, Oakland, CA 94610.  We hope you will participate in this public process that will determine the future of much of the landscape in the Oakland hills.

We are publishing an excerpt of the written public comment of one of our readers, which we hope will help you understand the issues and to write a comment of your own.  Asterisks indicate where some detail has been omitted.  You can see the entire public comment HERE: Oakland Draft Vegetation Management Plan – public comment

 Million Trees


Ken Schwarz
Horizon Water & Environment
266 Grand Avenue, Suite 210
Oakland, CA 94610

I am broadly supportive of the Draft Vegetation Management Plan (DVMP) because:

  • It will create defensible space around structures in Very High Wildfire Hazard Severity Zones.
  • It will clear easily ignited vegetation on roadsides in places where fire hazards are greatest.
  • It sets priorities for implementation in places where fire hazards are greatest.

These three elements of the plan will reduce fire hazards while limiting destruction of trees and vegetation and being fiscally responsible.

My public comment will identify some weaknesses in the plan and make specific suggestions for improving the plan with the goal of minimizing fire hazards as well as collateral damage to the environment.

The 300-foot “buffer” zone is unnecessarily destructive.  California law requires 100-feet of defensible space around structures.  The DVMP proposes extending defensible space along roadsides and around structures to 300-feet, the length of a football field.  Such a wide clearance of vegetation greatly exceeds California fire code and is therefore unnecessarily destructive.  In a recently published op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, two academic scientists confirm our understanding of how to keep our communities safe:  “The science is clear that the most effective way to protect homes from wildfire is to make homes themselves more fire-safe, using fire-resistant roofing and siding, installing ember-proof vents and exterior sprinklers, and maintaining “defensible space” within 60 to 100 feet of individual homes by reducing grasses, shrubs and small trees immediately adjacent to houses. Vegetation management beyond 100 feet from homes provides no additional protection.”[1]

The buffer zone should be eliminated, reduced in size, or reduced to Priority 3 so that it is less destructive and costly. 

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The description of herbicide use in the draft is unnecessarily vague, because it provides no information about what herbicides will be used and the health and environmental hazards of specific herbicides.  Nor does it explain how, where, or why herbicides will be used.

Instead of providing that information, the plan describes the public’s opposition to herbicides as “social stigma,” which implies that our opposition is a baseless prejudice against herbicides.  In fact, our opposition is based on scientific information about the dangers of herbicides and those dangers must be acknowledged by the final version of this plan.

The dangers of herbicides are well documented and well known. ****** Here is a brief list of some of the most recent studies that conclude that glyphosate products are very dangerous to the health of animals and humans:

  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015. The IARC is composed of an international team of scientists convened by the World Health Organization of the United Nations.
  • The State of California responded to that news by requiring all glyphosate products sold in the State to be labeled as carcinogens. The State was sued several times by the manufacturer of Round Up—Monsanto–to prevent the labeling requirement.  The State of California recently won in the state court of appeals[2].  Unless Monsanto appeals and wins in the State Supreme Court, all glyphosate products will be labeled as carcinogens in California.
  • US National Toxicology Program recently conducted tests on formulated glyphosate products for the first time. In the past, tests were conducted only on the active ingredient…that is glyphosate alone. The formulated products that are actually applied as weed killers contain many other chemicals, some of which are not even known. The head of the National Toxicology Program Laboratory, told The Guardian newspaper the agency’s work is ongoing but its early findings are clear on one key point. “We see the formulations are much more toxic. The formulations were killing the cells. The glyphosate really didn’t do it,” DeVito said. A summary of the NTP analysis said that “glyphosate formulations decreased human cell ‘viability’, disrupting cell membranes. Cell viability was ‘significantly altered’ by the formulations, it stated.”[3]
  • The Global Glyphosate Study is being conducted by six scientific institutions all over the world. ******* This international consortium of scientific institutions recently published preliminary resultsof their study: “The results of the short-term pilot study showed that glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) were able to alter certain important biological parameters in rats, mainly relating to sexual development, genotoxicity and the alteration of the intestinal microbiome, at the ‘safe’ level of 1.75 mg/kg/day set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”[4]  In other words, at doses deemed safe by the US EPA, significant negative health effects were found in animals used in testing.
  • The German Agriculture Minister announced on April 17, 2018 that she was finalizing a draft regulation to end use of the weed-killer glyphosate in household gardens, parks and sports facilities, and to set “massive” limits for its use in agriculture.[5] Germany is one of 25 countries that have issued outright bans on glyphosate, imposed restrictions or have issued statements of intention to ban or restrict glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup  Countless US states and cities have also adopted such restrictions. [6]
  • Marin Municipal Water District quit using all pesticides in 2015. In a letter to East Bay Municipal Utilities District, a member of the Board of MMWD explains why that decision was made.  (Attachment 2)  MMWD hired scientists at UC Davis to conduct a study of the biological persistence of glyphosate.  They found that glyphosate persisted for at least 84 days when applied to foliage, and perhaps longer after the study ended.

Garlon with the active ingredient triclopyr is more toxic than glyphosate.  Garlon is the herbicide that is used to prevent eucalyptus and acacia from resprouting when the trees are destroyed.  Its use was also specifically allowed for that purpose by Oakland City Council Resolution 79133.   Although the DVMP does not mention its use, we assume—unless specifically told otherwise by the final version of the VMP—that Garlon will be used to control resprouts.

  • Triclopyr is an organochlorine product, in the same family of pesticides as DDT, which was banned in the US in 1972. Organochlorine products bioaccumulate and are very persistent in the environment.  Nearly 50 years after it was banned, DDT is often found in the ground, in the water, and in people’s bodies.[7]
  • Organochlorine products are endocrine disrupters. The Pesticide Research Institute did a risk assessment of triclopyr for the California Invasive Plant Council.  They reported that triclopyr “poses reproductive and developmental risks to female applicators.” [8]
  • The Pesticide Research Institute did a risk assessment of triclopyr for Marin Municipal Water District in which they informed MMWD that birds and bees are both harmed by triclopyr and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil are damaged by triclopyr.[9]

More research has been done on Round Up than on Garlon because it is more widely used.  It is more widely used, partly because it is actually less dangerous than Garlon (it is also a non-selective plant-killer).  Because of the toxicity of Garlon, several public land managers in the Bay Area have made a commitment to controlling resprouts without using herbicides: ******** Marin Municipal Water District,  Marin County Parks and Open Space, UC San Francisco, and East Bay Municipal Utilities District (the supplier of our drinking water).

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There is no evidence that eucalyptus is inherently more flammable than native trees. ******** Eradicating non-native trees and shrubs will not reduce fire hazards because they are not inherently more flammable than the native vegetation that will remain.  Therefore, the reduction of fuel loads must be based on flammability, NOT the nativity of the flammable species.  The nativity of plant species is irrelevant to reducing fire hazards and must be abandoned as criterion for destroying plants and trees.

Vegetation that burned in the North Bay fires of October 2017 was almost exclusively native. Source: Bay Area Open Space Council

I support the thinning of eucalyptus, acacia, Monterey pine and cypress to reduce fuel loads, as long as the canopy is intact.  ******** When the canopy is intact, the forest floor is shaded which retains moisture that retards ignition and suppresses the growth of easily ignited weeds. The DVMP proposes to thin the targeted non-native trees to distances of 35 feet, creating gaps in the canopy of 10 feet within the 300-foot “buffer zone.”  The distance between the trees must be reduced to 25 feet to maintain the canopy.  In addition to reducing fire hazards, maintaining the canopy will also be less destructive and will reduce the amount of stored carbon released into the atmosphere.

Tilden Park, October 2016. East Bay Regional Park District has thinned this area to distances of 25 feet between remaining trees. The forest floor is still shaded because the canopy is intact.

My greatest disappointment in the DVMP is its proposal to remove all individual non-native trees where they presently exist in native vegetation outside the “buffer zone.” ******** Removing non-native trees in riparian areas and in redwood groves as proposed by the DVMP is not fire hazard mitigation because fire hazards in those areas are minimal.

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Furthermore, destroying healthy trees damages the trees that remain because the herbicide that is used to prevent eucalyptus and acacia from resprouting is mobile in the soil and it is known to damage mycorrhizal fungi in the soil that is essential to the health of the native trees.  ******* It is not possible to destroy isolated trees without damaging neighboring trees in close proximity. ****** Studies show that eucalyptus trees in native forests are not doing any damage to neighboring trees. ********

If individual non-native trees within native vegetation are not doing any environmental damage and do not increase risk of fire they should not be destroyed because destroying them WILL damage native vegetation.  Please leave them alone!

 Putting the DVMP into the long-term big picture

Finally, I suggest that we all take a step back from the details of the DVMP and consider the proposal in the context of the entire environment.  The final VMP must minimize damage to the environment while mitigating fire hazards because:

  • The climate has changed and it will continue to change. When the climate changes, the vegetation changes.  That is one of the axioms of ecology and it will continue to be.  If non-native plants and trees are better adapted to the current and anticipated climate, we should abandon futile attempts to force plants to live where we want them to live.
  • If we want trees in California, we must look to the future, not the past. 130 million native conifers have died in California since 2010. 5-10 million oaks in California have been killed by Sudden Oak Death. The future of redwoods in California is in jeopardy because they require a lot of water and they don’t tolerate wind.

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A climate change specialist at the US Forest Service tells us in a recent study that native tree species are the most vulnerable to climate change. USFS found that native trees are more vulnerable to the changes in temperature, precipitation, growing season, and other effects of accumulating greenhouse gases. The assessment found that 88 percent of invasive tree species are expected to prove resilient in the changing climate, ranked with low vulnerability, compared to 20 percent of natives.[10]

  • We are contributing to climate change by destroying healthy trees that are storing tons of carbon that will be released into the atmosphere as the destroyed trees decay. The primary reason why wildfires are more frequent and more intense is because of the warmer, drier climate.  Therefore destroying more trees than necessary increases fire hazards because we are exacerbating climate change by destroying more trees than necessary.
  • It is a fiction that destroying trees will release less carbon than the wildfires imagined by those who demand their destruction. According to a recently completed study at Oregon State University, “wildfire is not the biggest source of climate-warming carbon dioxide in Oregon forests—logging and wood products are.”[11]

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The trees that will be destroyed in Oakland will not be used as lumber, which means they will contribute even more carbon to the atmosphere.  Timber that is used for building retains its stored carbon until the building deteriorates or is destroyed.

  • The herbicides that are used to destroy vegetation and prevent trees from resprouting damage the soil and pose serious health risks to animals and humans. The more vegetation and trees the VMP destroys, the greater the damage caused by herbicides.  Therefore, we must minimize the amount of vegetation that is destroyed as much as possible if herbicides are used.

We achieve nothing if the damage we do to the environment and to ourselves is greater than real or imagined reduction in fire hazards.

Thank you for your consideration.

Resident of
Oakland, California
June 2018


[1] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-hanson-miller-governor-fire-orders-20180525-story.html

[2] https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/State-can-label-widely-used-herbicide-as-possible-12849147.php

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/08/weedkiller-tests-monsanto-health-dangers-active-ingredient

[4]https://sustainablepulse.com/2018/05/22/monsanto-in-epic-fail-with-attempted-attack-on-global-glyphosate-study/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=gmos_and_pesticides_global_breaking_news&utm_term=2018-05-23#.WwhUfkgvyUl

[5] https://sustainablepulse.com/2018/04/17/germany-moving-ahead-with-plans-to-restrict-weed-killer-glyphosate/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=gmos_and_pesticides_global_breaking_news&utm_term=2018-04-18#.WwhWWUgvyUl

[6] https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/toxic-tort-law/monsanto-roundup-lawsuit/where-is-glyphosate-banned/

[7] https://www.sciencealert.com/ddt-consistently-found-in-humans-study

[8] https://www.pesticideresearch.com/site/pri-resource-centers/weed-management-resource-center/herbicide-risk-comparisons/workers/

[9]http://www.marinwater.org/DocumentCenter/View/254/HRA_Chap4_Triclopyr_1_1_2010

[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2018/04/15/hug-your-native-trees-goodbye-thanks-to-climate-change/#4ad4a4176abd

[11] https://www.hcn.org/articles/climate-change-timber-is-oregons-biggest-carbon-polluter

Another legal victory in the long fight to save our urban forest

The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) has won the third legal battle against the many attempts to destroy the urban forest in the East Bay.  Every lawsuit they have filed has resulted in significant victories that have prevented three public land managers from destroying as many trees as they wanted.  We will briefly describe HCN’s early victories and end by telling you about their most recent victory.  Finally, we will explain the implications of those legal successes for the threats to the urban forest that are still anticipated.

East Bay Regional Park District

Frowning Ridge after 1,900 trees were removed from 11 acres in 2004.  This is one of UC Berkeley’s first projects to destroy all non-native trees on its properties.

When UC Berkeley clear cut all non-native trees on about 150 acres of their properties in the hills over 10 years ago, there was no opportunity for the public to object to those projects because there was no environmental impact review.  Those projects were a preview of the damage that other public land managers intended and they helped to mobilize opposition to the projects when they were formally presented to the public.

The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) published its “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” in 2009.  That plan proposed to radically thin and/or clear cut all non-native trees on several thousand park acres.  Along with HCN, I was one of the members of the public who objected to those plans for many reasons:  the loss of stored carbon and carbon storage going forward, the pesticides used to poison the non-native trees and vegetation, the increased fire hazard resulting from grassy vegetation that occupies the unshaded forest floor when the trees are destroyed.

Tilden Park, Recommended Treatment Area TI001, June 5, 2016. This in one of the projects of East Bay Regional Park District, in process.

EBRPD chose to ignore our objections and published an Environmental Impact Report based on the unrevised plans.  We repeated our objections to the project when the EIR was published.  The Hills Conservation Network filed their first lawsuit against the EBRPD EIR, which did not adequately address the environmental impacts of the plans.  HCN and EBRPD engaged in a long and arduous negotiation which resulted in a settlement that saved many trees in Claremont Canyon and some in other project areas.  EBRPD continues to implement their plans as revised by the HCN settlement. 

UC Berkeley and City of Oakland

Meanwhile, UC Berkeley and City of Oakland wrote their own plans and applied to FEMA for grants to implement their plans.  Their plans were more extreme than those of EBPRD.  They proposed to clear cut ALL non-native trees on their project acres. 

Once again, along with HCN, I asked that FEMA not fund those grants to UC Berkeley and City of Oakland because of the environmental damage they would do and the increased fire hazard that would result if the projects were implemented.  FEMA’s response to our objections was to require an Environmental Impact Study (the federal equivalent of an EIR) for the projects.

I joined HCN in recruiting over 13,000 public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS).  About 90% of those public comments were opposed to the projects.  Despite that public opposition, the EIS was approved with a few small concessions.  A few project acres would be “thinned” over a 10-year period, but ultimately all non-native trees would be destroyed on the project acres of UC Berkeley and City of Oakland.

HCN sued FEMA to prevent the funding of the projects as described by the EIS.  The Sierra Club prevented any negotiation from taking place by counter-suing.  The Sierra Club lawsuit demanded that EBRPD clear-cut ALL non-native trees.  The Sierra Club was not satisfied with the radical thinning that EBRPD is doing on most project acres.  These competing lawsuits produced a stalemate that lasted until September 2016, when FEMA cancelled all grant funding to UC Berkeley and City of Oakland in settlement of HCN’s lawsuit against FEMA.

That was truly a fantastic victory that was not anticipated.  In fact HCN’s lawsuit only asked that UC Berkeley and City of Oakland scale back their plans to use the same “thinning” strategy being used by EBRPD.  To this day, it feels like a gift.

Sierra Club’s lawsuit to force EBRPD to clear cut non-native trees on their property was dismissed by the same judge who approved the FEMA settlement.  The Sierra Club has filed an appeal of that dismissal.  Sierra Club remains fully committed to its agenda of destroying all non-native trees and using pesticides to prevent them from resprouting.

UC Berkeley’s response to losing FEMA grant

UC Berkeley attempted to satisfy CEQA requirements for an Environmental Impact Report for their FEMA project by writing an addendum to their Long Range Development Plan.  They claimed that their Long Range Development Plan adequately evaluated environmental impacts of their planned tree removals.  If they had succeeded, they would have been in a position to implement their plan without FEMA funding. 

The Hills Conservation Network filed their third lawsuit against UC Berkeley on the grounds that a brief addendum to UC’s long-range development plan did not meet legal requirements for an EIR.  The judge who heard arguments for a permanent injunction to delay implementation of the project until completion of a full EIR, agreed with HCN.  He pointed out to UC Berkeley’s lawyer that the description of the project in the long-range development plan bore little resemblance to the project presently planned.  The judge had done his homework.

The final chapter in this legal saga was that UC Berkeley attempted to avoid paying HCN’s legal fees.  California’s environmental law (CEQA) requires that the losing party pay the legal fees of the winning party.  This provision is intended to enable small citizen groups to challenge deep pocket corporations and institutions.  HCN (and its legal representative) had been adequately compensated in its first two legal battles, but UC Berkeley thought it could refuse.

The judge thought otherwise.  Not only did he require UC Berkeley to pay for its illegal attempt to avoid environmental impact review, he commended HCN for its public service:  “The Court determines that Petitioners were a successful party in this action, and that this case resulted in enforcement of important public rights and conferred a significant benefit on the public.” Yes, indeed, HCN has performed a valuable public service and we are grateful for the judge’s recognition.

For the moment, we believe that UC Berkeley’s plans to destroy all non-native trees are on hold.  They have several options.  They can complete an EIR for the original plans.  Or they can revise or abandon their plans.  We will watch them closely.

Update:  On June 14, 2017, UC Berkeley filed a lawsuit against FEMA and California Office of Emergency Services to reverse the settlement that cancelled the FEMA grants to destroy all non-native trees on UC Berkeley project acres.  (Media report on UCB lawsuit is available HERE.)  HCN is developing a legal strategy to address this latest move by UC Berkeley.  UC Berkeley’s lawsuit implies that they are still committed to their original plans to destroy all non-native trees. 

City of Oakland’s response to loss of FEMA grants

The reaction of City of Oakland to the cancellation of their FEMA grant was thankfully very different from UC Berkeley’s reaction.  In November 2016, they signed a contract to write a vegetation management plan for the purpose of reducing fire hazards.  That contract makes a commitment to conducting a complete public process, including an environmental impact review.  The contractor has already held two public meetings and an on-line survey.  We will participate in this process and we urge others to participate.  Sign up HERE to be notified of the public meetings.

The Oakland Fire Department has announced the next public meeting regarding the development of the vegetation management plan on Thursday, June 29, 2017 to provide project updates and offer an opportunity to ask questions/provide feedback. Project staff will be available to give a summary of the community survey responses received in March/April 2017, and to provide an update on Vegetation Management Plan development, methodologies, and work completed and underway.

  • Public Meeting: June 29, 2017, 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
    Richard C. Trudeau Conference Center
    11500 Skyline Blvd
    Oakland, CA 94619
These are the Oakland city properties that will be covered by the vegetation management plan: 1,400 acres of parks and open spaces and 300 miles of roadsides.  Interactive map is available here: https://oaklandvegmanagement.org/

We are hopeful that Oakland’s vegetation management plan will be one that we can live with.  The City of Oakland should understand that another lawsuit is an alternative if the vegetation management plan is as destructive as their original plans. 

Although I contributed to the cost of HCN’s lawsuits (along with many others), I don’t have the stomach to engage in them.  Therefore, I am deeply grateful to HCN for their courage and fortitude in preventing the total destruction of our urban forest.  Although I was skeptical of legal challenges as the way to prevent the destruction of our urban forest, I am now a convert.  The HCN lawsuits were the most effective tool we had.