InfoWar: UC Berkeley bombards us with propaganda against trees

First we must recapitulate the long history of UC Berkeley’s destruction of non-native trees on its property.

UC Berkeley (UCB) started destroying non-native trees on its property in the East Bay hills in 2000 and continued destroying trees until 2005, when it applied for FEMA grant funding to complete the destruction of all non-native trees.  UCB published detailed reports of its first phase of tree destruction, which reported the destruction of about 18,000 trees on 150 acres on Panoramic Hill, Claremont Canyon, Frowning Ridge, Chaparral Hill, and Lower Strawberry Canyon.

UCB completed the first phase without completing an Environmental Impact Report, which is what enabled it to avoid informing the public in advance of the destruction.  When UCB applied for FEMA funding it expected to be able to continue those projects without completing an environmental impact report. UCB’s FEMA grant application proposed to destroy 54,000 trees on 284 acres in Strawberry and Claremont canyons and Frowning Ridge. But the public was now alerted to UCB’s intentions and objected to the project being done without environmental review.  After completing the Environmental Impact Statement required by federal law, the FEMA grant to UCB was cancelled after a successful legal challenge of the project. 

UCB tried to implement its plans with its own funding without completing an Environmental Impact Report, as required by California State law.  Again, they lost a legal challenge that prohibits it from implementing its plans without an EIR. 

UCB’s most recent demonstration of its continued commitment to destroying all non-native trees on its property was a legal complaint filed in June 2017, which demands that FEMA reinstate the grants that were cancelled about one year ago.  At the same time, UCB has launched a new public relations effort to convince the public to support its projects.  In this post we will take a closer look at UCB’s recent round of propaganda.

New “informational” signs in Strawberry Canyon

We learned of new “informational” signs along the fire trail in Strawberry Canyon in July 2017, but we don’t know precisely when they were installed.  Those who often visit Strawberry Canyon tell us the signs are recent. This sign about “biodiversity” is an example of the message UCB is sending to the public.

Many of the statements on this sign are inaccurate:

  • Monarch butterflies roosting in eucalyptus tree.

    The sign claims that native plants “provide food and habitat for native wildlife” but that non-native plants “provide food and habitat for other non-native species.” Neither of these statements is accurate.  If a native plant provides food and habitat for native wildlife, it also provides both to non-native wildlife.  Conversely, if a non-native plant provides food and habitat for non-native wildlife, it also provides both to native wildlife. The notion that wildlife makes such distinctions is ridiculous.  Wildlife does not know or care what humans consider native or non-native.  If the plant is edible, it is food.  If the plant provides cover, it is useful habitat.

  • The sign also claims that the roots of native plants are deep, but the roots of non-native plants are shallow. These are equally ridiculous statements.  The depth of roots may vary, but that variation is completely unrelated to whether or not the plant is native.

Tree roots

Nativists often claim that the roots of eucalyptus trees are shallow (except when they claim they are very deep in order to make the opposite case that they use more water than other tree species).  So, we will digress briefly to provide some information about tree roots from a reputable, scientific source.

According to a study of tree roots by Harvard’s forestry research institution, Arnold Arboretum, (1) tree roots vary little by species.  The configuration of tree roots varies somewhat over the life of trees.  Early in their life, trees often have a deep tap root, but the tap root is slowly replaced by a wide, lateral network of fine roots around the perimeter of the tree, usually far wider than the tree canopy.  To the extent that the root system varies, it is more a reflection of soil conditions.  If the soil is very compact or the tree is planted in a rock or concrete basin, the width of the root system will be physically constrained.  If the tree is unstable in the ground, it is usually because of where it has been planted.

UC Alumni Magazine gins up fire hysteria

 In June 2017, the UC alumni magazine published an article in defense of its plans to destroy all non-native trees in the East Bay hills.  (Available here: UC Alumni Mag – Glen Martin interviews Scott Stephens)  Curiously, this article appeared in an edition devoted to climate change and adaptation to the changing climate.  You might think that concern about climate change would predict a greater respect for our urban forest, which stores the carbon that will contribute to greenhouse gases when the trees are destroyed.  Again, don’t look for consistency in the nativist viewpoint.  You won’t find it.

Here are a few of the absurd statements made in the article in the alumni magazine:

  • The article claims that the 150 acres where UCB destroyed trees over 15 years ago are now covered in native trees and shrubs that “came in” on their own when the trees were destroyed. All of these areas are easily visited and observed.  They are occupied by non-native weeds and piles of wood chips.  Here is a picture of one of those areas taken on August 6, 2017.
Site 29. The tall, dry weeds are the remains of poison hemlock that dominates this site where eucalyptus was destroyed by UCB. Shade is lost when trees are destroyed and weeds thrive in the full sun. The weeds dry out during dry summer months and become fuel for summer fires.
  • The article repeats the ridiculous claim that eucalypts are called “gasoline trees” in Australia. The word “gasoline” is not used in Australia.  As in all British Commonwealth nations, what we call gasoline is called petrol.  Calling eucalyptus trees “gasoline trees” is an American rhetorical device.  A native plant advocate probably made it up, then it was shared in their closed community until it became a “fact” in their minds.  It is a means of generating fear.  It is a tool used by native plant advocates to support their demand to destroy all non-native trees in California.
  • The article describes the huge die off of native conifers in California, caused by climate change and related infestation of native bark beetles and it predicts that they will be replaced by different species of trees that are adapted to present climate conditions. These observations are made with no apparent understanding of how it contradicts UCB’s strategy here in the Bay Area.  If the climate is changing in California and its landscape must change along with it, why is UCB trying to install the landscape that existed here 250 years ago?

UCB’s latest propaganda installment

The recent fire in the East Bay Hills was another opportunity for UCB to gin up the fear machine against non-native trees.  The fire started on Grizzly Peak Blvd where UC Berkeley destroyed 1,900 eucalyptus trees on 11 acres in 2004.  When the trees were destroyed, the ground was quickly colonized by non-native annual grasses and the road was lined with the trunks of the trees they had destroyed.  The dried grass and the dead logs were the fuel of the fire that started on August 2, 2017.  The fire was stopped when it crossed the road into the eucalyptus forest in Tilden Park.

This area on the west side of Grizzly Peak is known as Frowning Ridge. It is one of the first areas that was clear-cut by UC Berkeley over 10 years ago. Destroying the trees did not prevent the grass and shrubs from igniting in the August 2017 fire. Pictures of that area before and after the trees were destroyed are available here:

UCB now writes in its alumni magazine that there was no major damage to property and no loss of life because of UC’s “fuels management program” that destroyed the trees.  The fire risk to life and property was increased by the “fuels management program,” as facts on the ground tell us.  Scott Stephens, speaking for UCB, speculates that the fire “would have thrown embers miles ahead, starting hundreds of spot fires that would also burn explosively and merge.  That’s what happened in 1991.”

In fact, that’s NOT what happened in 1991.  The only source of embers identified by the FEMA Technical Report on the 1991 fire was “brush.”  That report also says the maximum distance of the fire spread was less than 3 miles, so if embers started spot fires, they did not travel many miles.

A study by US Forest Service of embers starting spot fires during wildfires all over the world included the 1991 fire.  The only known ember reported in the ‘91 fire was a wooden shingle from one of the homes that burned.  That study said of urban fires in California, “In the wildland-urban interface fires in California—Berkeley in 1923, Bel-Air in 1961, Oakland 1991—wooden shingles which were popular in California as roof material, assisted fire spread. Wooden shingles increase fire hazard owing to both ease of ignition and subsequent firebrand production.” (2)

But here is the kicker to this rewriting of fire history by Scott Stephens.  Less than a month ago, Stephens was interviewed about the many wildfires in California this year.  He blamed the wildfires on the heavy rains that produced a lot of grass and he said forests are less likely to burn: “UC Berkeley Fire Science Professor Scott Stephens says most of the fires so far have been in grassland areas that were revived from the rain, then dried out early during triple-digit heat waves… He says forests are better at retaining moisture and the Sierra will be more resilient this year because of the rains.” 

Stephens knows what is causing wildfires in California, but he chooses to misrepresent the fire in the East Bay Hills last week, presumably in the service of UCB’s desire to destroy our urban forest.  Perhaps it is naïve of me to expect more from a faculty member at California’s most prestigious research and educational institution.  But I find it disappointing.

Please join Million Trees in rejecting fear as the maker of public policy.  Be suspicious when you are asked to be afraid of something.  Are you being manipulated?  Do the fear mongers have ulterior motives? 

  1. Thomas O. Perry, “Tree Roots:  Facts and Fallacies,” Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University
  2. Eunmo Koo, et. al., “Firebrands and spotting ignition in large-scale fires,” International Journal of Wildland Fire, 2010, 19, 818-843

FEMA funding for East Bay tree destruction is cancelled!

We republish with permission a Huffington Post article by Jennifer and Nathan Winograd about the cancellation of FEMA funding for the destruction of hundreds of thousands of trees on the properties of UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland.  We are grateful to the Winograds and to the thousands of people who participated in the effort to prevent these projects from being implemented, including the Hills Conservation Network, which bravely filed the expensive lawsuit that resulted in this outcome.

It remains to be seen if the City of Oakland and UC Berkeley will implement their plans using other fund sources.  We therefore urge our readers to continue to follow the issue until we have some assurance that the plans have been abandoned.

The Winograds have also provided the following introduction to their Huffington Post article, which explains that this outcome could have been avoided if those who demanded the destruction of our urban forest had been willing to engage in a meaningful dialogue about the projects.

“Many of us tried to engage in meaningful dialog with Bay Area politicians and land managers about our objections to the clear cutting and poisoning of the hills. We were rebuffed. Some, like Mayor Libby Schaaf, did not even extend the courtesy of a reply. Others, like Dan Kalb, Oakland City Councilmember, calls anyone who disagrees with him “stupid.” We tried to engage the media — local newspapers, television and radio, magazines — and with few exceptions, our objections were largely ignored. When we were mentioned, we were ridiculed. Refusing to give us a fair hearing, the Contra Costa Times and San Francisco Chronicle claimed we were indifferent to public safety. Regardless of how many experts — including the U.S. Forest Service, the EPA, and former firefighters — substantiated our concerns, they remained defiant, insisting that even more forests should be clear cut and more poisons be spread. With local politicians, the media, and proponents refusing to engage in reasonable dialog, this left opponents no choice but to force the discussion in a court of law. That lawsuit, filed by Hills Conservation Network, ultimately prevailed with FEMA, which withdrew millions of dollars in funding to the City of Oakland and UC Berkeley. That’s a good thing and here’s why:”

FEMA Pulls Funding for Oakland, Berkeley Clear Cutting

Eucalyptus forest, Lake Chabot
Eucalyptus forest, Lake Chabot

The City of Oakland just lost millions of dollars in federal funding. Given what the intended use of that money was for, that’s a good thing. Combined with similar funding for UC Berkeley and the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD), over 400,000 trees across seven Bay Area cities were to be chopped down and thousands of gallons of cancer-causing herbicides spread on their stumps to prevent regrowth. Slated for eradication were the vast forests above the Caldecott Tunnel and Caldecott Field, North Hills Skyline, Strawberry and Claremont Canyons in Berkeley, and 11 regional parks including Sibley, Huckleberry, and Redwood in Oakland. Costing nearly $6 million, the plan would have radically transformed the character and appearance of the Oakland hills. Why?

The Scripps Ranch Fire of 2003 burned 150 homes but none of the Eucalyptus abutting those homes.
The Scripps Ranch Fire of 2003 burned 150 homes but none of the Eucalyptus abutting those homes.

If you believe proponents, it is because the trees pose a heightened risk of fire. Since the infamous Firestorm of 1991 which burned scores of homes and killed 25 people, they have worked tirelessly to turn public opinion in the East Bay against Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees. Chief among their claims is that these trees were to blame for the ferocity of that fire because they are alleged to possess unusually high quantities of volatile oils that make them more flammable and prone to shooting off embers which enable the spread of fire. These claims have been repeated so many times they are often regarded as self-evident, even though the evidence does not support them, nor does the history relating to the ignition and spread of past fires. Indeed, the 1991 fire itself (and a later 2008 fire) started in grasses, the very sort of vegetation that clearcutting is intended to proliferate throughout the hills. In fact, the stated aim of the deforestation effort is to replace Oakland forests containing species of trees that are among some of the tallest in the world with shallow grasses that are highly susceptible to fire and which the EBRPD admits are “one of the most dangerous vegetation types for firefighter safety due to the rapid frontal spread of fire that can catch suppression personnel off guard.”

In a report highlighting the heightened fire risk which would have resulted from this plan, David Maloney, former Chief of Fire Prevention at the Oakland Army Base, criticized the spread of misinformation about these trees as motivated by native plant ideology, calling it “a land transformation plan disguised as a wildfire hazard mitigation plan” that will “endanger firefighters and the general public” and “be an outrageous waste of taxpayer money.” And he’s not alone in his concerns.

The U.S. Forest Service objected, saying it would “increase the probability of [fire] ignition over current conditions” because “removal of the overstory trees can introduce changes to the environment which increase fire behavior in undesirable ways.”

The U.S. Fire Administration Technical Report on the 1991 Fire led to the conclusion that removal of the trees would lead to growth of highly flammable brush species, noting that “brush fuel types played a significant role in the progression of the fire” and that brushland made up “a large portion of the available fuel.”

The Environmental Protection Agency stated that it is predicated on “extensive use of herbicides” and “risks posed to human health and the environment from that use.” It went on to express concern about the “potential impacts of climate change,” including “the length and severity of the fire season.”

FEMA itself admitted that the plan would result in “unavoidable adverse impacts … to vegetation, wildlife and habitats, protected species, soils, water quality, aesthetics, community character, human health and safety, recreation, and noise.”

During the summer, 5,200 California firefighters battled 14 fires across the state. The vast majority of the fires were in grass and brush, with a few in so-called “native” Oak woodlands.
During the summer, 5,200 California firefighters battled 14 fires across the state. The vast majority of the fires were in grass and brush, with a few in so-called “native” Oak woodlands.

But you would not know any of this by reading Bay Area newspapers, watching Bay Area television news programs, listening to local radio stations, reading local magazines, or hearing Bay Area politicians. These are discussions those who oppose this plan tried to engage in with the Mayor, the Oakland City Council, the media and even plan supporters in order to find a compromise, but were rebuffed. Instead, the “need” for deforestation and herbicide use was deemed “self-evident” and opponents were labeled as indifferent to public safety who debased the memory of those who died in the 1991 Firestorm.

In the absence of public discussion about the expertly substantiated criticism that the plan would have increased rather than reduced fire risk, exposed citizens to huge amounts of dangerous chemicals, released over 17,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases into our environment, poisoned and displaced wildlife, radically altered the appearance of our parks, threatened homeowners values by degrading the aesthetics upon which those values depended, eliminated erosion control for hillside homes, and caused a variety of other harms, the public was denied information that would have allowed them to make a sound and informed choice. This troubling bias does not honor the memory of those who died in that tragic fire 25 years ago; it shames it. Their loss should have served to embolden our resolve to prevent a recurrence of their tragedy through rigorous public debate, rather than hobbled us with emotionally charged rhetoric that stifled discussion before it was allowed to begin and threatened to turn the response to that fire into the root cause of yet another disaster.

For while opponents sought to elevate the discussion on this plan to prevent a future tragedy, local media, politicians, and supporters proved themselves incapable of moving beyond a narrative that was so sensationalist and even after more than two decades, so raw, that the abandonment of caution, reason, and critical analysis were paradoxically and counterproductively portrayed as the moral high ground. It left opponents no choice but to force the discussion in a court of law, a point of view that ultimately prevailed with FEMA. Whether the Mayor, City Council, deforestation advocates, and Bay Area media outlets learn from their failings going forward remains to be seen. But one thing is abundantly clear. If the result of the lawsuit proves anything, it proves opponents of deforestation and poisoning were right.

Land Management: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In January 2015, UC Berkeley destroyed about 25 eucalyptus trees at the top of Dwight Way, above the intersection of Sports Lane.  We visited the area shortly after the trees were destroyed and told our readers about the project.  We also reported that the project was an example of the huge gap between policy and practice in UC Berkeley’s tree removal projects.  The following is an excerpt from a letter that a member of the public sent to FEMA about this project, detailing the discrepancies between UC Berkeley’s theoretical commitments to “best management practices” and their actual land management practices:

  • Green dye is added to Garlon and sprayed on the stump of the tree shortly after it is cut down. January 2015
    Green dye is added to Garlon and sprayed on the stump of the tree shortly after it is cut down. January 2015

    “The stumps of the trees that were removed have been dribbled with green dye, indicating they were sprayed with herbicide to prevent them from resprouting.  However, no herbicide application notices were posted at the site as required by law* and as described in the Final Environment Impact Statement for the FEMA grants: “In addition to the herbicide application measures, the subapplicants would follow procedures for public notification and education, including posting the timing, location, and appropriate amounts and types of pesticides or other chemicals to be applied at least 24 hours in advance.” (EIS, page 5.10-14)

  • “The Final EIS also states that “in general” most tree removals will be done “from August to November to avoid the wet season and the bird nesting and fledging season.” (EIS page 3-34) This commitment made by UC Berkeley in the EIS has been violated by this round of tree removals in January after heavy rains.
  • “In addition to the approximately 25 trees that were recently destroyed, we counted over 100 stumps that have been destroyed in this area in the past. This area is not described in the Cumulative Impact Section (EIS 6.0) of the EIS. In other words, cumulative impact of the proposed FEMA projects is underestimated by the EIS.
Tree removals, Dwight Way and Sports Lane. January 2015
Tree removals, Dwight Way and Sports Lane. January 2015

Consequences of tree removals

One of our readers contacted us in late May 2016, suggesting that we revisit this location to see the consequences of tree removals in January 2015.  So, we went to take a look.  The scene some 18 months later is a stark reminder of why we are opposed to the destruction of all non-native trees in the East Bay Hills.

Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016
Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016

Where all of the trees were destroyed in January 2015, the ground is now completely covered in non-native weeds.  There are several species of thistle and poison hemlock that are over 6 feet tall.

Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016
Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016

In some places, the trees were only thinned and the tree canopy is still intact.  The shaded forest floor is significantly less covered in tall weeds.

Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016
Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016

We also saw the evidence of attempts at weed control.  In some places there was a sharp dividing line between dead weeds and green weeds, suggesting that the brown areas had been sprayed with herbicide.  In other places, the grassy weeds seemed to be have been cut down, perhaps with a weed whacker.  A sign indicated that goats were also being used to graze the weeds.

Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016
Dwight Way and Sports Lane. May 2016

Misguided choices create more maintenance issues

When the tree canopy is destroyed, increased sunlight creates opportunities for weeds to colonize the bare ground.  Once the weeds take over, land managers are forced to use herbicides to reduce the weed growth.  The only alternatives to using herbicide are more costly, such as hand-operated mechanical methods or renting goat herds.  This is a man-made problem that could have been avoided by leaving the tree canopy intact.

However, we don’t want to leave our readers with the impression that we support the radical thinning of our eucalyptus forest.  We are opposed to such thinning because the herbicide that is used to prevent the trees from resprouting is mobile in the soil.  It kills the tree by killing its roots.  In a dense eucalyptus forest, the roots of the trees are intertwined.  The herbicide used on one tree travels through the intertwined roots and damages surrounding trees that were not destroyed.

The herbicide also damages mycorrhizal fungi in the soil because they are extensions of the tree’s roots.  Mycorrhizal fungi play an important role in forest health because they transfer moisture and nutrients from the soil to the tree.  Therefore, the success of a succession landscape is handicapped by the damage done to the soil.

Also, the trees develop their defenses against the wind as they grow in a specific location with specific wind conditions.  If they are suddenly exposed to a great deal more wind because they have lost the protection provided by their neighbors, the result is often catastrophic windthrow.  That is, the chance that a tree will fall down greatly increases when it is exposed suddenly to more wind than it grew in.

The idea of “thinning” is an appealing compromise to a heated controversy.  However, the consequences of thinning must be weighed against the entirely theoretical benefit of reduced fire hazard.  The cost/benefit analysis does not make a strong argument in favor of radical thinning.

The continuum from Good to Bad land management

East Bay Regional Park District began to implement its “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” in 2011, after the Environmental Impact Report for the plan was approved.  According to a presentation made by Fire Chief McCormack to the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors on June 3rd, there are 3,100 acres of park land to be treated for fuels management over the life of the plan, of which 863 acres will be done by the end of 2016 and 64 acres will be done in 2017.  The Fire Chief said, in answer to a question, that 1,360 acres (44%) of the total acres are forested with eucalyptus.

Tilden Park, Recommended Treatment Area TI001, June 5, 2016
Tilden Park, Recommended Treatment Area TI001, June 5, 2016

We went to see one of the “initial treatment” projects in Tilden Park on June 5th.  “Recommended Treatment Area” TI001 is along Nimitz Way, which is a paved road/path on the ridgeline.  About 17 acres of it is heavily forested in eucalyptus on both sides of the road.  The project apparently started recently and is not yet completed, judging by the presence of a lot of heavy equipment still on site.  So, these observations of this project should be considered preliminary:

  • The smallest trees are being cut down and those immediately adjacent to the road.
  • The tree canopy is intact. That is, the forest floor is still shaded.
  • The stumps were sprayed with herbicide, judging by the blue dye on the stumps.
  • There were pesticide application notices, but they had been wiped clean. Presumably there was information on those notices during the spraying and perhaps for some time after the spraying, then the information was removed.



We must say that we were not horrified by what we saw.  There are still a lot of trees left and we are encouraged that the forest floor is still shaded.  As we have reported, when the eucalyptus forest is clear-cut the bare ground is quickly colonized by non-native weeds, which then must be sprayed with herbicide.  Since we don’t know the tree density prior to the project and what it will be when the project is complete, we can’t say what percentage of the trees were destroyed.

We plan to visit this area again after a year or so to answer these questions:

  • Is there evidence that the trees that remain were damaged or killed by the use of herbicides on the neighboring trees that were destroyed?
  • Is there evidence of fallen trees, suggesting that increased wind in the forest caused windfall?

One of our concerns about these projects was not addressed by what we saw.  The beginning of June is still in the height of bird breeding and nesting season.  We heard the calls of many nesting birds, including quail.  We are surprised and disappointed that this project began before the end of nesting season, which is the end of July.  We also wonder if some effort was made to check for nesting birds before trees were cut down.  There is no mention in the requests for proposal that the company doing the work was required to do such nest surveys before the work began.

We are describing a project that is not yet complete.  If many more trees are destroyed, it’s possible that the tree canopy will be destroyed and the forest floor will not be shaded.  If the tree canopy is intact when the project is complete, we consider this project less damaging than the clear-cuts being done by UC Berkeley and being demanded by the lawsuit of the Sierra Club.  On the continuum from Good to Bad projects, East Bay Regional Park District is closer to Good than to Bad.  EBRPD also deserves credit for supplying more information to the public about their projects than other land managers, including posting pesticide application notices.

*Last week we reported that we recently learned that pesticide application notices are not required by California law before, during, or after the spraying of Garlon or glyphosate for non-agricultural purposes.  You can read about that HERE.

Update:  On October 18, 2016, we went to see the result of “initial treatment” of Recommended Treatment Area TI001 in Tilden Park.  We confirmed with East Bay Regional Park District that initial treatment is complete, although they reserve the right to destroy more trees “if we discover something we missed this summer.” 

Our over-all impression of the project is not substantially changed from our first visit in June 2016, shortly after the project began.  These are our observations:

  • The project is accurately described by the “prescription” for the Recommended Treatment Area TI001. The prescription is available on EBRPD’s website HERE.
  • With the exception of a few small areas at the ends of the project area, trees were thinned rather than clear-cut. The trees are on average about 25 feet apart.
  • The canopy is still intact and the forest floor is shaded, though not heavily.
  • New growth of poison oak and blackberry is already emerging from the leaf litter.
Initial treatment of Recommended Treatment Area TI001 in Tilden Park, October 2016
Initial treatment of Recommended Treatment Area TI001 in Tilden Park, October 2016
New sprouts of poison oak in TI 001.
New sprouts of poison oak in TI 001.

As we have said before, maintaining the canopy should suppress the growth of weeds and retain moisture in the leaf litter.  If so, fire hazards are not substantially increased by this type of treatment.

However, a few of our objections to these projects remain:

  • Pesticides were used to prevent the trees from resprouting and also sprayed on the understory to destroy the fuel ladder to the trees.
  • The pesticides that are used are known to damage the soil, which could damage the trees that remain as well as whatever plants remain.
  • The trees that remain are now more vulnerable to windthrow.
  • Valuable habitat has been lost and wildlife may have been harmed by the pesticides that were used and will be used going forward.

In conclusion, even radical thinning is preferable to clear cuts.  However, the benefits of thinning are questionable, particularly because of the pesticides used by these projects.

UC Berkeley tries to dodge environmental impact review of its FEMA projects

On March 1, 2016, UC Berkeley published an Addendum to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for its Long Range Development Plan. They claim the Addendum is a substitute for an EIR for its portion of the FEMA Grant projects in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons.  The Addendum is available HERE.

Public comments on the Addendum are accepted prior to 5:00 pm on Tuesday March 22, 2016.  Send public comments to  The announcement of the Addendum says, “The University will consider whether to approve the proposed project, as described and analyzed in the addendum, as well as all comments received, in the spring of 2016.”

The project is unchanged

Our reading of this document is that it makes no changes in the project as described by the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA Grants (available HERE).  Therefore, whatever comments you submitted on the EIS for the FEMA Grants are equally relevant to UC’s Addendum. 

Frowning Ridge after 1,900 trees were removed from 11 acres in 2004
Frowning Ridge after 1,900 trees were removed from 11 acres in 2004

Additional justification for the project

We read only the “guts” of the Addendum, Sections I to V.   We did not read sections regarding “Mitigating Monitoring Program” or “Biological Opinion Post Treatment Monitoring Plan.”  Therefore, our comments here should not be considered comprehensive.  However, we noted new justifications for the project that seem legally bogus in some cases and scientifically unsound in others.

UC Berkeley destroyed about 600 trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete. FEMA has therefore refused to fund that portion of the grant.
UC Berkeley destroyed about 600 trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete. FEMA has therefore refused to fund that portion of the grant.

Justification for carbon loss

The Addendum cites Cal-FIRE policy regarding quantifying carbon loss.  Cal-FIRE states that although “There is not an approved forest carbon protocol for fuel reduction projects,” it suggests:  “On an acre treated for fuels the carbon balance emitted from the treatment subtracted from the carbon retained multiplied by its reduced probability of loss [by fire] over the time of treatment is effective.”  (Addendum page 18)

In other words, Cal-FIRE suggests that if the probability of fire is lowered by the project, carbon loss associated with such a theoretical fire can be subtracted from the carbon loss resulting from the destruction of trees by the project.

There are several problems with this justification for the carbon loss associated with the destruction of trees by the project:

  • The claim that the probability of fire will be lowered by the proposed project is entirely theoretical. Many highly qualified analysts of this project believe that the project will increase the probability of fire, not decrease it.  For example, the US Forest Service said, “Removal of the eucalyptus overstory would reduce the amount of shading on surface fuels, increase the wind speeds to the forest floor, reduce the relative humidity at the forest floor, increase the fuel temperature, and reduce fuel moisture.  These factors may increase the probability of ignition over current conditions.”
  • The law that defines and regulates environmental impact reviews is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), not Cal-FIRE policy. CEQA requires that environmental impact is defined by a comparison of existing conditions with post-project conditions.  In other words, environmental impact is not measured by comparing some theoretical landscape in which a theoretical fire occurred with the post-treatment landscape.  Therefore, the methods used by the Addendum to quantify carbon loss do not conform to the law (CEQA) that regulates environmental impact reviews.
  • The Cal-FIRE policy defines its fuels reduction program as follows: “vegetation treatment…will focus on selectively removing understory trees and brush to reduce fire hazards, improve tree growth, and increase forest health and resilience.”  Therefore, the Cal-FIRE policy is not relevant to the project of UC Berkeley, which intends to destroy ALL non-native canopy trees and does not intend to remove understory brush and trees.  Consequently, carbon loss will be significantly greater than the projects proposed by Cal-FIRE because carbon storage is greater in the large, mature trees that will be destroyed than carbon stored in the understory.

The science of carbon storage

We have heard many absurd statements about carbon storage in the many years we have defended our urban forest, such as “grass stores more carbon than trees.”  But the explanations provided by UC’s Addendum that their project will not cause carbon loss enter the realm of science fiction:

  • UC claims, “The report concluded that the HCFRR project area currently stores an estimated 61,565 CO2e tons, the majority of which will remain stored in the project area in the form of post-treatment chips.” (Addendum, page 19)

When questioned by the consultant (URS Corporation) that was hired to complete the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA projects about the flammability of 2 feet of wood chip mulch in the project area, UCB responded that the chips would decay within 3 to 5 years (available HERE).  Now UCB wishes us to believe that the wood chips will not decay, but will continue to store carbon forever.  UCB contradicts itself or it is ignorant of the role of decomposition in the release of carbon stored during the life of the tree.  As the wood decomposes, the carbon stored in the wood is released into the atmosphere:

“Two common tree disposal/utilization scenarios were modeled:  1) mulching and 2) landfill.  Although no mulch decomposition studies could be found, studies on decomposition of tree roots and twigs reveal that 50% of the carbon is lost within the first 3 years.  The remaining carbon is estimated to be lost within 20 years of mulching.  Belowground biomass was modeled to decompose at the same rate as mulch regardless of how the aboveground biomass was disposed” (1)

  • UC claims, “Remaining native trees will continue to grow and sequester carbon at a rate of ~ 530 ton equivalents per decade therefore…this will increase to 10,560 in year l00.” (Addendum, page 19) In other words, UC assumes, without factual support and in defiance of reality that native trees will not burn for 100 years.  UC also ignores the much larger amounts of carbon that the eucalypts would sequester if left in place because larger trees store more carbon than smaller, younger trees.
  • UC claims that a project area currently storing 61,565 CO₂ₑ tons will release 50,000 tons of CO₂ₑ if it burns. That is a gross over-estimate of the degree of carbon loss from trees in a fire.  According to the National Park Service, 2/3rd of the fuel load in a eucalyptus forest is in the trunks and only 1/3rd in fine fuels (branches, twigs, leaves, etc). (2)  The trunks of the trees do not burn in a fire, which is why they are left lying on the ground after they are destroyed.  Therefore only 1/3rd of the wood burns in the fire and only 1/3rd of the carbon stored in the tree – approximately 20,000 tons – would be lost in the fire.

We are profoundly disappointed that a world-class scientific institution, such as UC, would make such scientifically unsound claims in defense of its destructive project in the East Bay Hills.

If you read UC’s Addendum and you see other issues that we don’t mention here, we hope you will post a comment to inform others of what you have found.  This is a collaborative effort that we invite everyone to participate in.  The Hills Conservation Network believes the strongest criticism of UC’s Addendum to the EIR for their Long Range Development Plan is that it is not a legally acceptable substitute for a complete EIR.  You can read their arguments on their website.  There is also a petition to UCB on their website.

Status of lawsuit of Hills Conservation Network

 Meanwhile, the lawsuit of the Hills Conservation Network (HCN) against the UC Berkeley and City of Oakland portions of the FEMA grants projects in the East Bay Hills is moving forward.  HCN Informed its supporters of the current status of its lawsuit on March 2, 2016:

“Hills Conservation Network took a momentous step yesterday with the filing of our opening brief for the lawsuit against FEMA, the City of Oakland, UC, EBRPD and Cal OES. Despite extensive efforts to find another solution we decided this was the only reasonable course of action open to us.

While this is a complex matter and we are told that one never knows how a NEPA suit will turn out, we believe we have a very strong case and hope that we will prevail and these forests will be saved. If you are interested you can read the brief at

Needless to say, this has been expensive. We have spent well over $10,000 on legal fees in the past 3 months and expect that it will take at least that much more to see this through the process, which is expected to result in a ruling in the summer.

Yesterday we were notified by UC that they intend to obtain CEQA clearance for their projects (which we hope will not be funded by FEMA) by issuing an addendum to their 2020 Long Range Development Plan. We are consulting with our lawyers on how best to respond to this and expect to propose a strategy to the public by Monday.

Again, your contributions are what makes all this possible. Were it not for your support these forests would have been long gone, but with your support we are able to prevent this environmental disaster from unfolding.

Please do what you can to support this important cause.” [You can make a donation to the lawsuit at]

  1. Nowak, David,, “Effects of urban tree management and species selection on atmospheric carbon dioxide,” Journal of Arboriculture 28(3) May 2002

A retired university planner critiques the FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills

We recently finished reading all of the 13,000 public comments on the FEMA draft EIS.  FEMA says that about 90% of the comments are opposed to the project and having read the comments that seems about right. 

It was a very rewarding experience to read the comments and we recommend it to anyone who is discouraged or doubtful that we can prevent the destruction of our urban forest in the East Bay (available HERE).

There were many excellent comments, many from people with specific expertise and knowledge of the issues that inform our opposition to these projects.  We plan to publish a few of them, as we obtain permission from their authors.  Today, we publish the public comment of Christopher Adams, with his permission.  We hope you are as impressed with his astute analysis as we are.


 Comments on Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction, East Bay Hills, CA,

Draft EIS

Prepared by Christopher Adams


My comments here are made solely in my capacity as a private citizen, but I think it is germane to state my background. I am a retired university planner, and for several years I directed the office which was responsible for review of every environmental document prepared by all the campuses and other facilities of the University of California. In addition, I was directly involved with the drafting, the public hearings, and the response to comments and preparation of two major Environmental Impact Reports, prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act for a UC campus. I also live near the EB Hills in an area subject to wild fires and share the concerns of others about the risk of fire.


The Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction, East Bay Hills, CA, Draft EIS is a deficient document, beginning with its basic premise. While purportedly for the purposes of fire management, the proposed actions appear to be mostly motivated by a dream of a restoring the EB Hills to some imagined Eden prior to the European and American colonization of California. Instead of applying scientific and policy analysis to the impacts of the proposed actions the DEIS authors appear to have decided that the proposed clear cutting and herbicide measures are the right ones for fire protection and then cherry‐picked evidence, whether in the description of existing conditions or the possible alternatives solutions, which supports this conclusion. The DEIS rejects out of hand fire management alternatives that do not involve clear cutting and massive application of herbicides. In so doing the DEIS is a classic example of post hoc rationalization. Unless the DEIS is re‐issued with corrections and additions responding to the comments below, I believe that FEMA is seriously exposed to potential litigation. More significantly, if FEMA does not consider other less draconian and less expensive fire management measures, it will not be serving the interests of the citizens most impacted by fire danger, not to mention the taxpayers who will ultimately foot the bill.

Specific Comments:

The DEIS fails to note the existence of native trees which are specifically susceptible to the effects of one of the herbicides proposed for use. Section notes that the native trees in the woodlands include madrone (Arbutus menziesii). However, in Section Strawberry Canyon‐PDM there is no mention of madrones in the list of trees in the “native forest” (first paragraph of section). This is a significant omission, because there are madrones in Strawberry  Canyon, yet in the third paragraph of this same section one of the two herbicides proposed for use to stifle stump regeneration is Stalker (imazapyr) which has been identified elsewhere as being used specifically to eliminate madrones. According to the EPA Reregistration Eligibility Decision for Imazapyr: “Imazapyr use at the labeled rates on non‐crop areas when applied as a spray or as a granular to forestry areas present risks to non‐target plants located adjacent to treated areas.” (1)

The DEIS fails to acknowledge the growing threat of French broom in the UCB area.

While the presence of eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia is repeatedly discussed, there is almost no mention of the rapid invasion of French broom. It is mentioned only in passing and without its scientific name in the discussion in Section under “Northern Coastal Scrub.” While French broom has been rapidly increasing in the upper slopes of the Strawberry Canyon PDM and Claremont PDM areas, there is no mention of it at these locations in the DEIS. This plant is an active pyrophyte which chokes out native vegetation, can be poisonous to livestock, and is of limited benefit to native animals. The increase in sunlight from the proposed removal of large amounts of eucalyptus will encourage its spread. There is no mention of the fire risk from French broom in the discussion of fire risk in Northern Coastal Scrub, Section, and I could find no mention of its removal anywhere in the document.

The UCB project description does not explain if a fuel break is planned in the UCB areas and if so to describe it.

Section 1.1.1 UCB states that it will follow the “same general approach…which is included in Oakland’s grant application (see Section 1.1.2 below).” In Section 1.1.2 it is stated there the Oakland PDM would “create a fuel break on the west side of Grizzly Peak Boulevard north and east of the Caldecott Tunnel [presumably this means the west entrance to the tunnel].” UCB Strawberry Canyon properties also abut Grizzly Peak Boulevard, so the statement of “the same general approach” implies that UCB also proposes a “fuel break,” but none is described. Since the term “fuel break” implies clearing to the bare soil, with potential significant environmental impacts, this is a serious omission.

The DEIS fails to consider the impact on global climate change by the wholesale destruction of trees. The DEIS states that for UCB Strawberry Canyon alone 12,000 trees will be destroyed. Because trees absorb CO2 at an average rate of 13 pounds per year, this represents a potential loss in CO2 absorption of 78 tons per year. Given the growth patterns of native trees in Berkeley, which tend to be riparian or to grow on north facing slopes in a widely scattered pattern, the number of replacement trees will not come close to compensating for those destroyed. The difference should be estimated and calculated.

The DEIS fails to consider an actual and accomplished fuel management program when dismissing the alternative described in Section

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is located on 175 acres on the north side of Strawberry Canyon immediately adjacent to the UCB and EBRPD areas described in the DEIS. LBNL, which is managed by the University of California, employs more than 4,000 persons on this site in laboratory buildings and with equipment that is worth several billion dollars. LBNL has recently completed a fire management program which is essentially what is described in Section of the DEIS, Removal of Brush, Surface Fuels, Lower Limbs and Small Trees. The entire project was completed within the LBNL maintenance budget without special grants and has given the laboratory a great deal of fire security, according to its professional fire personnel. Yet there is no reference to this in the DEIS. The LBNL program is further described in the following links. This first links to a powerpoint slides; the second to a video discussion of the slides. http://www.lbnl‐ on%2C%20Lab%20Fire%20Marshal.pdf


The links convey much more effectively than my comments how an alternative to massive clear cutting and massive application of herbicides will effectively accomplish the goal of managing fire in the East Bay Hills.

The DEIS is incomplete and verging on the dishonest about the use of herbicides.

“Management of resprouts without herbicides is expensive….and thus was removed from further study.” This ignores the management of resprouts used successfully by LBNL as described in the above referenced powerpoint and video. There is no study about the use of herbicides at the scale proposed, e.g. 12,000 trees in Strawberry Canyon alone, on human populations, let alone native plants and animals.

The DEIS fails completely to discuss the realities of encouraging native plants after the clear cutting and heavy and repeated application of herbicides.

1) Restoration ecology is barely in its infancy, yet this DEIS expects us to accept on faith alone that when the clear cutting is done and the slopes sprayed with herbicides the native vegetation will miraculously reappear.

2) At the present time live oaks and bays are common on the north side (south facing side) of Strawberry Canyon under eucalyptus. This is probably because the fog drip from the eucalyptus and the shade encourage their growth in what would otherwise be a very dry area. Compare, for example, on slopes of similar aspect in portions of the EB Hills behind El Cerrito or Fremont. There is nothing in the DEIS to explain how native trees will increase or survive after the clear cutting has destroyed their source of water and shade.

3) Because of the abundance of deer in Strawberry Canyon and adjacent areas, small trees need to be protected against browsing. (See the LBNL powerpoint for an illustration of wire protective cages. http://www.lbnl‐ on%2C%20Lab%20Fire%20Marshal.pdf) The DEIS says nothing about preventing deer browsing.

4) California native oaks of several species, including Quercus agrifolia are subject to the fungal disease Sudden Oak Death Syndrome (SODS), which has been found in the East Bay Hills. The DEIS fails to discuss the existence of SODS or its impact on replacement vegetation after the clear cutting and application of herbicides.

5) The DEIS states that “alleopathic oils” in the leaves and bark of eucalyptus suppress the growth of other vegetation. Yet the DEIS fails to state how covering slopes two feet deep with eucalyptus slash will not inhibit growth of new “native” plants.

6) Native California bunch grasses have largely been supplanted by European annual grasses, many of which form mats which choke out other plants. Similarly native shrubs such as coyote bush (Baccharis species) are being supplanted by invasive plants such as broom. The DEIS fails to explain how native plants will succeed in competition for sun and water with these plants.

The DEIS fails to consider the aesthetic impact to views from the trails and roads within the canyon and from houses near it after the clear cutting.

Section 4.12.2 of the DEIS states that a goal of the UCB LRDP (2005) is to “Maintain the visual primacy of the natural landscape in the hill campus” but there is no mention of the impact of clear cutting on this natural landscape. The north side of the lower portion of Strawberry Canyon forms the main campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). While individual buildings at LBNL are attractive in design, the overall effect of the site is essentially industrial, similar to an office park one might see along a freeway. The views of LBNL from the fire road that winds through the canyon are now largely screened by the large trees which will be destroyed by clear cutting. The trees also offer cooling shade to those using the area for recreation. The fire road is a major recreation amenity for UCB students, employees, and neighbors, used daily by hundreds of hikers, joggers, dog walkers, and mountain bikers. Removal of most of the trees as proposed will completely change the views enjoyed from the fire road. The DEIR provides absolutely no analysis of this impact either verbally or by providing illustrations of any viewing point in Strawberry Canyon. Most of the discussion of Section 5.8 is oriented to views over the hills from high points to the bay, which indeed may be improved by clear cutting. There is no discussion of views from within the areas to be clear cut and no reference to Strawberry Canyon.

The DEIS bases its list of plant species slated for destruction on incomplete and inaccurate botanical and fire danger information.

The authors of the DEIS seem not to understand the difference between “native” and “endemic” and they seem to have arbitrarily selected some “native” plants to extirpate while keeping others based on criteria having little or no relationship to fire hazards. Section states that “Non native trees, including all eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia would be cut down.” The Jepson Manual  (2), which is the definitive source for California plants divides the state into geographic areas. According to Jepson Monterey pines (Pinus radiata) are native to California, and while not endemic to the EB Hills, they are native in the geographic area CCo, which includes both portions of Monterey County and the EB Hills with similar climatic conditions. Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are also found in Strawberry Canyon but not as an endemic. They are also native to the geographic area (CCo). In contrast to Monterey pines, however, Coast Redwoods appear to escape destruction by clear cutting; at least there is no mention of such action in the DEIS. Another native and Strawberry Canyon endemic, California Bay (Umbellularia californica), is specifically listed in the DEIS to be retained. But in a publication of the University of California Cooperative Extension (3) it is listed as a “High Fire Hazard Native Tree.” Note that these comments are not meant to imply favoring destruction of redwoods or bay trees but to further illustrate the inaccurate information and the arbitrary nature of the DEIS conclusions. Similarly cypress species which grow in parts of Strawberry Canyon are also listed as pyrophites in this UC document, but the DEIS does not propose their extirpation.

The DEIS fails to consider the impact on Strawberry Creek of run‐off from the predicted massive amounts of slash, from the standpoint of hydrology and flood control or the impact on the biota of the creek.

Section of the DEIS states within Strawberry Canyon there will be clear cutting on 56 acres and that the downed trees will be chipped and left on 20% of the site at a depth of 2 feet. Based on these numbers the cumulative amount of material on the ground will be 975,744 cubic feet (.2 x 56 x 43,560 x 2). If merely 1% of this material is washed away in a storm, which seems a very conservative estimate considering the slopes where the material would be placed, there could be more than 1,000 cubic yards of slash material washed into Strawberry Creek. The DEIS does not discuss the impact on the biota of the creek of this potential massive amount of new material. Nor does the DEIS discuss the impact of this material on stream flow in storm conditions. Given that the culverts in the lower levels of the creek, near the Haas Clubhouse and the University Botanic Garden, are only about 9.5 square feet in cross section (See Figure 1.), there is a strong likelihood that the slash material would block the culverts and cause flooding. Section states that “if the site yields a large number of large tree trunks,” some “may” be removed or used for other purposes than left on the site; however, the DEIS fails to state the criteria for determining what the “large number” is that would trigger such action. The hydrologic and ecological impacts are presumably left to the loggers to evaluate.

FEMA comment - Adams 1 copy

Figure 1, Culvert on lower fire trail, near Botanic Garden


The DEIS implies that trees other than eucalyptus, Monterey pines, and acacias will not be cut, but current actions in Strawberry Canyon suggest that UCB will cut anything at any time regardless of environmental regulations. The DEIS must be amended and re‐issued to include other UCB actions as part of cumulative impacts.

During the past week (June 6‐13, 2013) I have personally observed the cutting of at least six healthy, mature California live oaks, bays, and cypresses in Strawberry Canyon. (See Figures 2 and 3.) The oaks were particularly magnificent, and their destruction is tragic. I am familiar with the needs for passage of fire trucks as I own woodland property on a narrow privately maintained road. None of the trees just cut would have prevented passage of trucks, but I was told by one of the tree cutters that the excuse was “Fireman.” To my knowledge this cutting was done without any compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is the state equivalent of NEPA and applies to all UCB actions. This cutting constitutes a violation of the CEQA Guidelines Section 15304, which states that exemptions from CEQA apply only to actions “which do not involve the removal of healthy, mature, scenic trees.” If UCB is flagrantly cutting trees now, while the DEIS is out for public comment, what can we expect once the NEPA process is completed?

FEMA comment - Adams 2 copy

Figure 2. Bay stump on lower fire trail, cut on or about June 11 2013, diameter +/‐42”

FEMA comment - Adams 3 copy

Figure 3. Live oak stump on lower fire trail, cut on June 10, 2013, diameter +/‐ 38”

(1) EPA 738‐R‐06‐007, 2006

(2) The Jepson Manual of Vascular Plants of California, 2nd Edition, UC Press, 2012

(3) Pyrophytic vs. Fire Resistant Plants, FireSafe Marin in Cooperation with University of California Cooperative Extension, October 1998

Thank you, Mr. Adams, for taking the time and trouble to write this excellent public comment on the FEMA draft EIS.


Hills Conservation Network files suit to stop FEMA grants in East Bay Hills

Ten years after UC Berkeley, City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District applied for FEMA grants to fund the destruction of hundreds of thousands of non-native trees on 1,000 acres of public open space, FEMA announced its final decision on Thursday, March 5, 2015.  FEMA’s announcement of that final decision, which was sent to those who commented on the draft plans, implied that the projects had been revised to be less destructive.  In fact, those who take the time to read the final version of the plans will learn that the original plans are fundamentally unchanged in the final version.

East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) will destroy about 90% of the trees in its project area, as originally planned.  “Thinning” is not an accurate description of EBRPD’s project.  UC Berkeley (UCB) and City of Oakland will destroy 100% of all non-native trees on their project properties.  On a small portion of UCB and Oakland property (29 of 460 acres), tree removals will be phased over the 10-year project period.  In other words, the final version of these projects will destroy as many trees as originally proposed by the grant applicants.  However, FEMA has refused to fund tree removals on Frowning Ridge (185 acres) because UC Berkeley removed hundreds of trees there before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete, in violation of FEMA policy.

UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.
UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.

The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) filed suit to prevent the funding and implementation of these projects on March 6, 2015.  Below is the press release announcing HCN’s suit.  Please contact the Hills Conservation Network if you wish to contribute to the cost of this suit: or email


Hills Conservation Network

Preserving the East Bay Hills

March 6, 2015                                                                                                          

For Immediate Release

HCN announces lawsuit against FEMA EIS

Today the Hills Conservation Network, an Oakland, CA based environmental non-­‐profit, filed suit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also naming the Regents of the University of California, the City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District in the suit.

The suit was filed in opposition to the Record of Decision released March 5, 2015 finalizing FEMA’s decision to award approximately $7.5 million in fire risk mitigation grants. The suit contends that the Environmental Impact Study used as part of the grant process was significantly flawed, and as such cannot be used to justify awarding these funds.

The lawsuit argues that FEMA did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives and reached unsupportable conclusions in deciding to allow the three agencies named in the suit to remove large numbers of healthy trees, with the goal of eradicating certain species of non-­‐native trees (acacia, Monterey pine, eucalyptus) by the end of ten years.  HCN proposed a more nuanced approach that would have resulted in higher levels of fire risk mitigation at a much lower cost and with far less environmental damage than the current plan that calls for the removal of well in excess of 100,000 healthy trees that provide shade canopy (preventing the growth of highly flammable weeds) as well as storing tons of carbon that contribute to the greenhouse gases warming our planet.

This step marks the latest chapter in this process that began in 2005. During the Draft EIS review in 2013 approximately 13,000 comment letters were received by FEMA, 90% of them opposed to the proposed projects. In response to this public outcry FEMA reworked the EIS, and while the Final EIS is somewhat less destructive than the Draft EIS, it essentially calls for the same level of environmental damage, but over a longer time period.

The Hills Conservation Network is an Oakland, California based 501c3 comprised of residents of the Oakland hills that were directly affected by the 1991 fire. Several members of the group lost their homes in this conflagration and have committed themselves to driving change in Oakland to ensure that similar events never happen again. Members of HCN have been involved in the Grand Jury investigation of the ’91 fire and in developing enhanced emergency response capabilities in Oakland.

Please direct inquiries to Dan Grassetti at 510-­‐849-­‐2601.


Another round of tree removals by UC Berkeley

Hikers in the Berkeley Hills have stumbled on another round of tree removals by UC Berkeley.  Once again, these tree removals violate theoretical commitments UC Berkeley made in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills.  Our readers have alerted FEMA to this new violation of policies UC Berkeley has claimed in the EIS they are following. The EIS is apparently a big pile of paper with no relationship to what is actually happening on the ground.  


January 26, 2015

Alessandro Amaglio
Region IX Environmental Officer
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Oakland, CA

RE: East Bay Hills – Environmental Impact Statement – FEMA – RIX

Dear Mr. Amaglio,

Once again we must alert you to a new round of tree removals by UC Berkeley on their property. Within the past two weeks or so, UC Berkeley has removed about 25 trees on their property south of Dwight Way at the intersection of Sports Lane.


Since this property is not in the project area for the proposed FEMA grants, you might wonder how it is relevant to FEMA’s consideration of those grants. There are several reasons why this latest round of tree removals is relevant to FEMA’s impending decision:

• The stumps of the trees that were removed have been dribbled with green dye, indicating they were sprayed with herbicide to prevent them from resprouting.  However, no herbicide application notices were posted at the site as required by law and as described in the Final Environment Impact Statement for the FEMA grants: “In addition to the herbicide application measures, the subapplicants would follow procedures for public notification and education, including posting the timing, location, and appropriate amounts and types of pesticides or other chemicals to be applied at least 24 hours in advance.” (EIS, page 5.10-14)


• The Final EIS also states that “in general” most tree removals will be done “from August to November to avoid the wet season and the bird nesting and fledging season.” (EIS page 3-34) This commitment made by UC Berkeley in the EIS has been violated by this round of tree removals in January after heavy rains.

• In addition to the approximately 25 trees that were recently destroyed, we counted over 100 stumps that have been destroyed in this area in the past. This area is not described in the Cumulative Impact Section (EIS 6.0) of the EIS. In other words, cumulative impact of the proposed FEMA projects is underestimated by the EIS.

Once again, UC Berkeley has demonstrated that they are not following the policies and practices that are described by the EIS and the cumulative impact of those projects has not been accurately described by the EIS.

We ask that this information be made available to those who are considering the Decision of Record of the FEMA grants in the East Bay Hills.

Thank you,
[Concerned Citizens]

Cc: Sal Genito, Associate Director, Grounds, Custodial, Environmental Services, UCB
Robert Newell, Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor, Physical Plant, UCB

FEMA has published the final Environmental Impact Statement for projects in the East Bay Hills

Readers of Million Trees will recall some of the most controversial projects in the San Francisco Bay Area which propose to destroy hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay Hills.  The owners of these properties—UC Berkeley, City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District—applied for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund these projects, based on the claim that fire hazards would be reduced  by the projects.  Detailed descriptions of the proposed projects as originally planned are available HERE

The public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement closed in June 2013.  FEMA has announced the publication of the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is available HERE FEMA now reports that it received more than 13,000 public comments and informs us that the final EIS reflects the concerns expressed in the public comments as well as the analysis of “subject matter experts.”  We haven’t read either the public comments or the final EIS yet, so we are only quoting excerpts directly from FEMA’s announcement so that you have this information as soon as possible.  If you read these documents, we welcome your reaction to them. 

Here are excerpts from FEMA’s announcement of the final EIS (emphasis added):

“One of the major revisions to the draft EIS influenced by information gathered during the public process is that FEMA will not fund the proposed methodology of eradicating designated tree species without a phased approach.  The originally proposed eradication methodology to completely and immediately remove the “overstory” was deemed not to satisfy the purpose and need for the grant of fire reduction, and therefore did not meet hazard mitigation program eligibility requirements.

Identifying and analyzing implementation options is another required element of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decision-making process that must be explored before federal funding can be awarded.  Based on input and issues raised during the public comment process, and in consultation with the grantee, sub applicants, and cooperating federal agencies, FEMA revised the vegetation management methodology for two of the three sub applicants – City of Oakland and UC Berkeley.  The revisions align the majority of proposed projects with a thinning alternative, the approach originally proposed by East Bay Regional Parks District as described in the Draft EIS.

The thinning approach has been scientifically validated by subject matter experts to effectively reduce fire risk.   The revised vegetation management methodology will result in fewer trees being removed in any single year in certain areas, with the same total fuel reduction accomplished by the conclusion of the project.  The EIS considers the overall impacts to the environment based on the amount of land treated and consequent impacts to resources.  Each grant applicant is responsible for their ongoing land management practices and determination for how much vegetation will be removed to accomplish their fire reduction goals within the scope of the vegetation management approach defined in the EIS.  Clear-cutting, a logging practice, is not part of the methodology considered in the EIS for any of the projects.

The final EIS and response to comments are available on the web at:

and will also be made available at

The public also may view hard copies of the EIS at the following locations:

  • Oakland Main Library, 125 14th Street Oakland, CA 94612
  • Oakland Rockridge Library, 5366 College Avenue Oakland, CA 94618
  • Berkeley Main Library, 2090 Kittredge Street Berkeley, CA 94704
  • San Leandro Main Library, 300 Estudillo Avenue San Leandro, CA 94577
  • Richmond Main Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza Richmond, CA 94804
  • FEMA Region IX Headquarters, 1111 Broadway, Suite 1200, Oakland, CA 94607-4052
  • East Bay Regional Park District, 2950 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, CA 94605-0381
  • City of Oakland, Office of the City Clerk, Oakland City Hall, 2nd Floor, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612
  • California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Unit 10390 Peter A. McCuen Blvd First Floor Sacramento, CA 95655


“Mulch Madness” and other restoration mistakes

Thanks to Professor Gordon Frankie (UC Berkeley), we have learned a lot about the bees in the Bay Area.  He has been studying our bees for over 20 years and has made a wealth of interesting information available on his website.

Native bee (Anthrophora urbana) approaching nest in ground at Albany Bulb

Unlike the European honeybee, our native bees are usually solitary.  That is, they do not live in social colonies such as the hives of the European honeybee.   Most (60-70%) California native bees live in small nests in the ground.  Although they may produce enough honey to feed their own young, they don’t store an excess of honey like the honeybee.

Professor Frankie has identified one of the biggest challenges to native bees in urban gardens, “Mulch Madness.” 

“[If] you happen to be one of the many ground-nesting bees that looks for garden sites for digging small tunnels where you will lay your eggs in individually-made brood cells that you will provision with pollen and some nectar, [you have a new problem in urban gardens]…Something has happened in recent years to those favored bare dirt sites that makes your task much harder and oftentimes impossible.  MULCH MADNESS has arrived and has become a highly promoted ‘eco-friendly’ method for suppressing weeds, conserving water, and unknowingly discouraging ground-nesting bees!”

Anyone who is familiar with native plant restorations knows that most are covered in a thick layer of mulch.  When tree removals are required for a restoration, the mulch is usually composed of the chips of the trees that have been cut down.  The projects of UC Berkeley for which UC is applying for FEMA funding (based on its claim that the clear-cutting of all non-native trees will reduce fire hazards) say specifically that the clear-cut areas will be covered with 24 inches of mulch composed of the chips of the destroyed trees.

The UC Berkeley projects also claim that native vegetation will return to these clear-cut areas without being planted, based on an assumption that the seeds of native plants are dormant in the soil.  One wonders how these seeds would be able to germinate when covered with 24 inches of mulch, or how the sprouts could penetrate it.  Their proposal contains the fanciful suggestion that squirrels will plant the acorns of oaks in the mulch, which may be true of the oaks, but is an unlikely scenario for the many other native plants and trees which UC claims will populate their “restorations” without being planted.

Accommodating bees in native plant restorations

In the unlikely event that native plants would emerge from this tomb of mulch, they won’t find a population of bees to pollinate them in the future because bees will not be able to populate these projects:  “bees will not dig through a thick layer of mulch.”  Frankie suggests that “about 50% of your garden be left in bare dirt for the bees and other organisms.”  Studies indicate that it will take between 10 and 15 years for 24 inches of mulch to decompose.

Native plant restorations also require the use of herbicides.  A particularly toxic herbicide, Garlon, is used to kill the roots of the non-native trees after they have been cut down.  If the stump isn’t sprayed with this herbicide immediately, the tree will resprout.  The plans for the UC Berkeley projects say that retreatment with this herbicide is required twice per year for 10 years.  Although insecticides are considered one of the primary reasons why bee populations are declining in the United States, less is known about the effect of herbicides on bees and other insects, because testing of these chemicals is minimal. Some scientists believe that all pesticides (both insecticides and herbicides) are more harmful to bees and other animals than we presently know.*  Professor Frankie recommends against the use of all “synthetic chemicals” in a garden in which bees are welcome.

Would native plant restorations benefit from more bees?

The restorations with which we are familiar in the San Francisco Bay Area are often unsuccessful.  That is, they are not usually populated by native plants unless they have been intensively planted, weeded, and irrigated.  Few managers of public lands have the resources for such intensive gardening.  UC Berkeley has been clear-cutting non-native trees on its properties for about 10 years, so we can visit some of those areas to see the results of such projects.  They are now weedy messes, as shown in this photograph.

Results of clear-cutting non-native trees, UC Berkeley project

The use of heavy mulches and herbicides in native plant restorations raises these questions:    Would using less mulch and herbicide attract more bees?  Would more bees benefit the native plants?  Would restorations be more successful if they were more attractive places for bees?  We don’t claim to know the answers to these questions.  However, we don’t think that the managers of these projects know the answers either.

Would scientific methods produce more successful native plant restorations?

What the managers of these projects call “adaptive management,” we call “trial-and-error.”  There is no science involved in these projects.  Control areas are not set up to test questions such as “Will a more bee-friendly environment benefit our projects?”    We think a more methodical approach to these efforts would be less wasteful and more successful.  If we could see more success, perhaps we would be less opposed to what seems like the needless destruction of non-native trees.  As it is, the consistently poor results do not justify the destruction that we witness.

* Schacker, Michael, A Spring without Bees, Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2008.