Losing Battles to Save our Trees

In our posts “They can destroy your trees”   and “KILLER TREES!! Scare Tactic #3”  we told you about two efforts to save eucalyptus trees that were threatened with destruction.  Today we must tell you that those battles have been lost.

In Larkspur, 25 trees that have been destroyed were on private property.  The owner of that property was sued by her neighbors who demanded that the trees be destroyed because they believed them to be dangerous.  The owner of the trees made every effort to save her trees, even appealing unsuccessfully to the California Supreme Court for reversal of the court order to destroy most of her trees.  She organized demonstrations in a fruitless effort to interest local politicians to come to the defense of her trees.  Finally, when she was cited for contempt of court, she had her beautiful trees cut down.  



Yesterday we attended a memorial for her trees.  We find it hard to believe that her neighbors would prefer the barren landscape that remains or the PG&E pole that was installed to hold the electrical wires that had previously been held by the trees. 

In San Leandro, the neighbors worked equally hard to save the eucalyptus trees on the banks of the San Leandro Creek from being destroyed.  They faithfully attended a series of community meetings which were theoretically an opportunity for them to defend the health, safety, and beauty of their trees.  As is often the case when we advocate on behalf of our trees, we may be successful in demanding a public process, but that rarely seems to save our trees.

 That was the case in San Leandro.  Neighbors were informed at the last public meeting that 31 of the 47 trees originally in jeopardy will be removed and 2 will be “trimmed” to stumps, but allowed to regenerate (1).  After months of effort, neighbors have saved only 14 of their trees and the assumption is that the remaining 1,000 eucalypts on the banks of the creek remain in jeopardy. 

However, the county has made a commitment to an environmental review, which it had originally intended to avoid by destroying the trees piecemeal.  This environmental review will give the neighbors another opportunity to document the negative environmental impacts of tree destruction, whether the trees are native or non-native. 

As the needless destruction of non-native trees continues unabated, millions of native  oaks are being killed by Sudden Oak Death, millions of native pines are being killed by bark-beetles, and the ranges of native plants and trees are shifting to higher elevations as the climate changes.  Those who demand the destruction of non-native trees which are adapted to current climate, soil, and air quality conditions will doom us to a barren, treeless environment. 

It is long past time for environmentalists to reorder their priorities to put climate change mitigation ahead of their commitment to native plants.  Their crusade against non-native trees is contributing to climate change by releasing tons of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere.  Ironically, as the climate changes, the native plants to which they are devoted are dying.  In other words, they are shooting themselves and the plants they prefer in the proverbial foot.

 (1) San Leandro Times, 9/2/10

KILLER TREES!!! Scare Tactic #3

We have recently learned of another tree removal project in the Bay Area.  In this case, the San Leandro Creek Tree Management Project by the Alameda County Flood Control & Water Conservation District proposes to destroy about 50 eucalypts in the short run and approximately 1,000 more in the long run.  All eucalypts will be removed.  All other species of trees will remain.

St. Mary’s Ave: Try to picture this neighborhood without any of the tall trees in the background.

In this case the apparent “cover story” for yet another native plant restoration is that the trees are hazardous.  As we have said in other posts, native plant advocates have had difficulty convincing the public—and therefore their political representatives–of the need to destroy non-native trees and plants and so they have frequently resorted to scary cover stories.   Particularly in the East Bay, the most powerful argument has been the claim that the trees are flammable.  The argument heard more commonly in San Francisco, where there is no history of wildfire, is that the trees are invasive and are killing native plants.  Fortunately, there is scientific evidence that these claims are not accurate.

Native plant advocates also claim that eucalypts are more dangerous than other trees.  However, the public record indicates that every species of tree—both native and non-native—can fall.  The most recent “death-by-tree”  in San Francisco occurred on April 14, 2008, when a visitor to Stern Grove was killed by a huge branch from a Redwood tree that had been judged to be hazardous by a certified arborist 5 years earlier.  Unfortunately, the arborist’s report was ignored, resulting in the needless death of a young woman in the prime of her life.  The City of San Francisco paid her family $650,000 for their negligence…a waste of a life and the taxpayer’s money for a death that could have been easily prevented.

Tragic events such as this make it clear that we should not oppose the destruction of hazardous trees.  Unfortunately, that is a judgment that is not clear-cut or irrefutable.  When native plant advocates demand the destruction of non-native trees, we are deeply suspicious of the claim that the trees are hazardous.  In the case of the San Leandro Creek project, it is simply not credible that every eucalyptus is hazardous, but not any other species of tree in the watershed. 

After many years of being put in the awkward position of evaluating the truth of such claims, we have concluded that we trust only the judgment of certified arborists, but not those paid to destroy the trees.  There are a handful of arborists whom we know not to be biased against non-native trees, especially eucalypts.  If we are told by these arborists that a particular tree is hazardous, we accept that judgment.

The neighbors of the San Leandro Creek who were about to lose many of the trees they love, organized and fought back.  They protested the removals not just because they love their trees, but also because the project was invisible to them until the Alameda County Flood Control & Water Conservation District granted itself a categorical exemption from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements for an environmental review.  Short of a legal suit there was little that could be done to stop the project except scream.  So, that’s what they did.

What is unique about this project is that the neighbors have prevailed.  For the moment, it appears that this project has been halted.  The Flood Control District has apparently agreed to step back, start over, and involve the neighbors before implementing their plans.  We should all learn from this experience.  We must speak up for our trees when they are threatened with needless destruction.
Million Trees usually reports such projects directly from the public record.  In this case, we have access to little of the public record.  We have asked the Water District’s representative for answers to many questions about this project, but have not received answers.  We are therefore reporting based on what little documentation is available on line, reports of the neighbors, and one media report .  We invite any needed corrections to this report and we will correct any errors, based on verifiable documentation.
Update:  We are pleased to tell you that this controversy was finally resolved to the satisfaction of the neighbors of San Leandro Creek.  Neighbors forced the county to do another evaluation of the trees in the creek.  As a result, plans to destroy as many as 1,000 eucalyptus trees were finally reduced to a total of 17 trees deemed hazardous. 
Glen Drive: What will this property be worth after the tall trees are removed? Significantly less.