Season’s Greetings with Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly in San Francisco - copyright Janet KesslerIt’s a lovely coincidence that here in California, the holiday season is Monarch butterfly season. We bring you this post (partially based on a post from SutroForest.com, used with permission) to celebrate the season with butterflies.

We wish all our readers and supporters a wonderful holiday season, and a happy and fruitful year in 2016.

THE WESTERN MIGRATION OF THE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

Unlike the Monarchs east of the Rockies (which migrate from Canada to Mexico and back), the butterflies in the West migrate between the interior and the coast. The butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains go south to Mexico in winter. The butterflies on the Western side come to the California coast in search of warmer, milder weather than the inland winters.

From November to February, monarch butterflies gather in thousands in tall trees by the coast.

fallmigrationmap usfws

One of the wonderful things eucalyptus trees do is provide wildlife habitat. In particular, they are crucial to supporting the Western Migration of the the Monarch butterflies, by providing a roost for the butterflies to spend the winter. A study by Dennis Frey and Andrew Schaffner of 300 over-wintering sites showed that three-quarters of them were in eucalyptus trees. In fact, there’s some evidence that the butterflies’ Western migration exists because of the eucalyptus trees.

Most winters, you can see the butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park, about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. Some years they’re even found right in San Francisco, in places like the Presidio and Treasure Island. This is one of those years: The Monarch butterflies came to San Francisco and also to Oakland’s Aquatic Park.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES IN SAN FRANCISCO IN 2015

Janet Kessler visited the Presidio and took these lovely pictures of Monarchs on the eucalyptus trees there. They’re published here with permission.

monarch and shadow on eucalyptus copyright Janet Kessler

monarch butterfly in a San Francisco eucalyptus tree - copyright Janet Kessler

Monarch butterfly on eucalyptus leaf - copyright Janet Kessler

CHILDREN DRAW MONARCHS

Also in celebration, we’re proud to publish these pictures from Girl Scout Troop #61902, sent in by Alma Sorenson, Troop Leader:

Grace-'Untitled' sm

Monarch Butterfly – by Grace M.

Addy-'The Monarch in Golden Gate Park' sm

The Monarch in Golden Gate Park – by Addy

Emma-'Take Flight' smm

Take Flight – by Emma

Angelina-'One Monarch in a San Francisco Eucalyptus Tree' sm

One Monarch in a San Francisco Eucalyptus Tree – by Angelina S.

Lindsey-Monarch Butterflies Love Eucalyptus Trees' sm

Monarch Butterflies Love Eucalyptus Trees – by Lindsey D.

 

Troop 61902 Sign sm

Girl Scouts: Building girls with courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place

From Ms. Sorenson:

“We are a troop of twelve 4th and 5th grade Juniors from five different San Francisco schools focused on learning and earning Girl Scout badges, and on serving our community.

“We have our donated time and our cookie money to My New Red Shoes, the SFSPCA, and Project Open Hand. This year we will continue our theme of helping kids in need and on the environment.

 

Expert Panel on East Bay Hills Deforestation – Nov 19, 2015

There’s an interesting panel discussion on the East Bay Hills project on Thursday, November 19th, 2015. We are providing the details (with permission) from the website of the Tree Spirit Project. Its founder, Jack Gescheidt, is the moderator for the panel. Please pass on the word to anyone who might be interested.

450000-tree-PANEL-TALK-Nov-19-2015-800p-WEB

Expert Panel Presentation on East Bay hills 450,000-tree deforestation,

with AUDIENCE Q&A

7-10pm Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015
Oakland Center for Spiritual Living,

5000 Clarewood Drive, Oakland, CA 94618

A panel of experts with decades of experience and in-depth knowledge of the plan to cut down 450,000 trees in the Oakland and Berkeley hills, then use thousands of gallons of herbicides (Dow Garlon™ & Monsanto Roundup™) on the stumps for years following, will detail its history, evolution and details, and then answer your questions.

READ CLEARCUT PLAN DETAILS.

1-HOUR AUDIENCE Q&A – Ample time will be provided to get your questions answered about this BIG PLAN most citizens know so little about.

PANELISTS include:
1) Dave Maloney, former Chief of Fire Prevention at Oakland Army Base;
2) Dan Grassetti, founder of The Hills Conservation Network;
3) Peter Gray Scott, 1991 Oakland hills fire survivor who instigated The Grand Jury investigation of that fire

MODERATOR: Jack Gescheidt, TreeSpirit Project founder

Free parking onsite, and lots of it.
$10 at the door supports ongoing educational and community outreach like this event.

Oakland-Center-for-Spiritual-Living-LOGO-narrow-WEBWHEN & WHERE: 7-10pm, Thurs. Nov. 19, 2015 @ The Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, 5000 Clarewood Drive, Oakland, CA 94618.
The Center is available for community service events with a range of views and opinions. Not all views and opinions expressed at events reflect the Center’s.

• LEARN MORE about the 450,000-tree deforestation plan: CLICK HERE
• DOWNLOAD & PRINT EVENT FLYER: CLICK HERE

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Sierra Club Denies the Facts

Environmentalists are battling a horrible project that will destroy hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay Hills. Most people would expect the Sierra Club to fight this project as well. Instead, it has a law-suit to force FEMA to cut down even more trees! We supported a petition asking the Sierra Club to withdraw this suit and its support for the projects, which will not only kill trees but also dump thousands of gallons of herbicides (including ones now considered “probably carcinogenic) over the land. (You can sign that HERE if you haven’t already done so. It already has over 2,650 signatures!)

The Sierra Club’s response? A public relations effort denying the very facts contained in their law-suit! The article below details what they’re saying and why it’s not true. (It has a list of references at the end.)

This article from Death of a Million Trees (a website fighting unnecessary tree destruction) is republished with permission.

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SIERRA CLUB CANNOT HIDE BEHIND ITS SMOKE SCREEN
(from Death of a Million Trees)

On August 25, 2015, opponents of the projects in the East Bay Hills which will destroy hundreds of thousands of trees staged a protest at the headquarters of the Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club and delivered a petition. The petition (available HERE) asks the Sierra Club to quit advocating for deforestation and pesticide use in the San Francisco Bay Area and to drop its lawsuit which demands eradication of 100% of all non-native trees on 2,059 acres of public land in the East Bay. The protest was successful as measured by the size of the crowd and the even-handed media coverage of the protest.

Sierra Club protest, August 25, 2015. About 80 people attended the peaceful protest.

Sierra Club protest, August 25, 2015. About 80 people attended the peaceful protest.

However, although the protest has produced a flurry of defensive propaganda from the Sierra Club, it has not created new opportunities for dialogue with them. We tried to get the issue on the agenda of the Conservation Committee following the protest and once again our request was denied. We were also denied the opportunity to publish a rebuttal to articles in their newsletter about the projects. It is still not possible to post comments on the on-line version of the Yodeler, although each article dishonestly invites readers to “leave a comment.”

And so, open letters to the Sierra Club are the only means of communication available to us. Here are our replies to the latest round of propaganda published in the Yodeler on September 16, 2015 (available HERE). Excerpts from the Sierra Club article are in italics and our replies follow.


 

“The preferred strategy for vegetation management in the East Bay hills entails removing the most highly flammable, ember-generating trees like eucalyptus in phases — only in select areas considered most at risk for fire along the urban-wild interface.”

Preferred by whom? Neither fire experts nor the public think this project is a good idea, let alone the Sierra Club’s more extreme version of the project demanded by its suit. Over 13,000 public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement were sent to FEMA, of which 90% were opposed to this project according to FEMA. More recently, a petition in opposition to this project has over 65,000 signatures on it. This project is NOT the “preferred strategy for vegetation management in the East Bay hills.”

Eucalyptus is not more flammable than many other trees, including native trees:

  • A study by scientists in Tasmania found that the leaves of blue gum eucalyptus were more resistant to ignition than other species of Tasmanian vegetation tested. The study credits the “hard cuticle” of the leaf for its ability to resist ignition. (1)
  • The National Park Service, which has destroyed tens of thousands of eucalyptus and other non-native trees, states that eucalyptus leaves did not ignite during a major fire on Mount Tam. (2)
  • The leaves of native bay laurel trees contain twice as much oil as eucalyptus leaves and the fuel ladder to their crowns is much lower than eucalyptus, increasing the risk of crown fires. The “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District states explicitly that bay laurel is very flammable and recommends selective removal.
  • Eucalyptus contributed more fuel to the 1991 fire in Oakland because a deep and prolonged freeze the winter before the fire caused eucalyptus and other exotic vegetation to die back. The dead leaf litter was not cleaned up, which contributed to the fire hazard. Such deep freezes are rare in the Bay Area. There has not been such a freeze for 25 years and another is unlikely in the warming climate.

    Eucalyptus logs line the roads where UC Berkeley has destroyed trees. Do they look less flammable than living trees?

    Eucalyptus logs line the roads where UC Berkeley has destroyed trees. Do they look less flammable than living trees?

  • Ordinarily, eucalyptus does not contribute more fuel to the forest floor than native oak-bay woodland. This is confirmed by the National Park Service, which includes logs in the calculation of fuel loads. (2) Logs are extremely difficult to ignite. The so-called “fire hazard mitigation projects” are leaving all the eucalyptus logs on the ground when the trees are destroyed, suggesting that they aren’t considered a fire hazard. The National Park Service also separates the fuel loads of oaks and bays, which when combined are equal to the fuel load of eucalyptus. Since our native woodland in the East Bay is a mixture of oaks and bays, it is appropriate to combine them when comparing their fuel loads to eucalyptus.
  • Eucalyptus are sometimes blamed for casting more embers than native trees because they are taller than the oak-bay woodland. However, redwoods are as tall, if not taller, and they were also observed burning in the 1991 fire: On Vicente Road, “Two redwoods up the street caught fire like matchsticks.” (3) Yet, the Sierra Club is not suggesting that redwoods be destroyed to eliminate the risk of casting embers.

The Sierra Club now says the trees will be removed “in phases,” yet in its suit against the FEMA grants it objects to the phasing of tree removals. The main focus of their suit is opposition to the “unified methodology” which proposes to remove trees over the 10 year period of the grant on only 29 acres of the total project acreage of 2,059. To those who objected to this project, that small concession is little consolation, but for the Sierra Club it was a deal-breaker. Their suit demands that all non-native trees be removed immediately on all project acres.

If the Sierra Club withdraws its suit against the FEMA projects, it is free to tell another story, as it attempts to do in its Yodeler article. As long as that suit remains in play, the Sierra Club is stuck with that version of reality.

“Once the flammable non-native trees are removed, less flammable native species can reclaim those areas and provide for a rebound of biodiversity. This model of fire prevention can summarized as the the [sic] “Three R’s”:

REMOVE the most flammable non-native trees in select areas most at risk for fire;

RESTORE those areas with more naturally fire-resistant native trees and plants; and

RE-ESTABLISH greater biodiversity of flora and fauna, including endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake.”

This is a stunning display of ignorance of the project as well as the natural history of the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • The FEMA projects do not provide for any planting or funding for planting after the trees are removed. FEMA’s mission is fire hazard mitigation, not landscape transformation. The scientists who evaluated the FEMA projects said that a native landscape is not the likely result of the project: “However, we question the assumption that the types of vegetation recolonizing the area would be native. Based on conditions observed during site visits in April 2009, current understory species such as English ivy, acacia, vinca sp., French broom, and Himalayan blackberry would likely be the first to recover and recolonize newly disturbed areas once the eucalyptus removal is complete. These understory species are aggressive exotics, and in the absence of proactive removal there is no evidence to suggest that they would cease to thrive in the area, especially the French broom which would be the only understory plant capable of surviving inundation by a 2-foot-deep layer of eucalyptus chips.” (4)
  • The US Forest Service evaluation of the FEMA projects stated that the resulting landscape would be more flammable than the existing landscape: “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.” (5)
  • The US Forest Service evaluation predicts that the resulting landscape will be “a combination of native and non-native herbaceous and chaparral communities.” Despite the overwhelming evidence that wildfires in California start and spread rapidly in herbaceous vegetation such as dry grass, the myth persists that all non-native trees must be destroyed to reduce fire hazards. An analyst at CAL FIRE has explained to the Center for Investigative Reporting that the reason why wildfires were so extreme this summer is because of the heavy rains in December 2014, which grew a huge crop of grass: “The moisture did little to hydrate trees and shrubs. But it did prompt widespread growth of wild grasses, which quickly dry out without rain. ‘They set seed, they turn yellow and they are done,’ said Tim Chavez, a battalion chief and fire behavior analyst with CAL FIRE. ‘All that does is provide kindling for the bigger fuels.’” (6) We know that more dry grass starts more wildfires, yet the Sierra Club demands that we destroy the tree canopy that shades the forest floor and produces leaf litter, which together suppress the growth of the grasses in which fires ignite.
  • The claim that native plants are “naturally fire resistant” is ridiculous. Native vegetation in California—like all Mediterranean climates—is fire adapted and fire dependent. The wildfires all over the west this summer occurred in native vegetation. There are over 200 species of native plants in California that will not germinate in the absence of fire and persist for only 3-5 years after a fire. (7) Although all native vegetation is not equally flammable, many species are considered very flammable, such as coyote brush, bay laurel, and chamise. To say otherwise is to display an appalling ignorance of our natural history.

    When did "environmentalism" devolve into demonizing trees?

    When did “environmentalism” devolve into demonizing trees?

  • There is no evidence that the destruction of our urban forest will result in greater “biodiversity.” There are many empirical, scientific studies that find equal biodiversity in eucalyptus forest compared to native forests. There are no studies that say otherwise, yet the Sierra Club and their nativist friends continue to make this claim without citing any authority other than their own opinions. (8, 9, 10) Bees, hummingbirds, and monarch butterflies require eucalyptus trees during the winter months when there are few other sources of nectar. Raptors nest in our tall “non-native” trees and an empirical study finds that their nesting success is greater in those trees than in native trees.

The Sierra Club’s 3Rs can best be summarized as “repeat, repeat, repeat.” Their 3Rs are based on 3 Myths: (1) eucalyptus trees are the most serious fire hazard; (2) “native” vegetation is categorically less flammable than “non-native” vegetation, and (3) native vegetation will magically return to the hills when trees are clearcut and the hills are poisoned with herbicide. All available evidence informs us that these are fictions that exist only in the minds of the Sierra Club leadership and their nativist friends.

“The Sierra Club’s approach does NOT call for clearcutting. Under “Remove, Restore, Re-establish” thousands of acres of eucalyptus and other non-natives will remain in the East Bay hills. Our proposal only covers areas near homes and businesses where a fire would be most costly to lives and property. In fact, removing monoculture eucalyptus groves and providing for the return of native ecosystems will create a much richer landscape than the alternative — thinning — which requires regularly scraping away the forest floor to remove flammable debris.”

The Sierra Club’s suit against FEMA demands that all eucalyptus and Monterey pine be removed from 2,059 acres of public property. While it is true that the project acres are not 100% of all land in the East Bay, with respect to the project acres, it is accurate to describe the Sierra Club’s suit as a demand for an immediate clearcut of all non-native trees.

FEMA Project Areas

FEMA Project Areas

Most of the project acres are nowhere near homes and buildings. They are in parks and open spaces with few structures of any kind. CAL FIRE defines “defensible space” required around buildings to reduce property loss in wildfires. CAL FIRE requires property owners to clear flammable vegetation and fuel within 100 feet of structures. Using that legal standard, the FEMA project should not require the removal of all trees from project acres.

As we said earlier, Sierra Club’s description of the landscape that will result from the removal of the tree canopy is contradicted by scientists who evaluated the FEMA project. And their prediction that “thinning” would “require regularly scraping away the forest floor to remove flammable debris” is not consistent with the predictions of those scientists who have advised that the loss of shade and moisture resulting from the complete loss of the tree canopy will encourage the growth of flammable vegetation and require more maintenance than the existing landscape.

“Our preferred approach does NOT focus on eucalyptus merely because they are non-natives. Rather, it is because they pose a far higher fire risk than native landscapes. Eucalyptus shed ten to fifty times more debris per acre than grasslands, native live oak groves, or bay forests — and that debris, in the form of branches, leaves, and long strips of bark, ends up draped in piles that are a near-optimal mixture of oxygen and fuel for fire. Eucalyptus trees ignite easily and have a tendency to dramatically explode when on fire. Also, eucalyptus embers stay lit longer than embers from other vegetation; coming off trees that can grow above 120 feet tall, those embers can stay lit as the wind carries them for miles.”

The Sierra Club’s suit demands the eradication of Monterey pine as well as eucalyptus. The scientists who evaluated the FEMA projects stated that there is no evidence that Monterey pine is particularly flammable and they questioned why they were targeted for eradication: “The UC inaccurately characterizes the fire hazard risk posed by the two species however…Monterey pine and acacia trees in the treatment area only pose a substantial fire danger when growing within an eucalyptus forest [where they provide fire ladders to the eucalyptus canopy]. In the absence of the eucalyptus overstory, they do not pose a substantial fire hazard.” (4) It is not credible that the Sierra Club’s demand that these tree species be entirely eradicated has nothing to do with the fact that they are not native to the Bay Area. If flammability were truly their only criterion, they would demand the eradication of native bay laurel trees. If fear of lofting embers from tall trees were their only concern, they would demand the eradication of redwoods.

As we said earlier, redwoods looked as though they were exploding when they ignited in the 1991 fire. And we are seeing wildfires all over the west this fire season in which native trees look as though they are exploding when they ignite. That’s what a crown fire looks like, regardless of the species.

It defies reason to think that an ember is capable of traveling miles and still be in flames on arrival. In fact, Sierra Club’s suit says “non-native trees can cast off burning embers capable of being carried up to 2,000 feet in distance.” That’s a fraction of the distance the Sierra Club now claims in its hyperbolic description of the issues in the Yodeler. Surely we can all use a little common sense to consider how unlikely it is that a fragment of a tree small enough to be carried in the wind could travel miles while remaining on fire. Likewise, we must ask why fragments of eucalyptus trees are likely to burn longer than any other ember of equal size. We are not provided with any reference in support of these fanciful claims other than the opinions of the authors.

“Any herbicide use to prevent the regrowth of eucalyptus once they’ve been cut down (they quickly sprout suckers otherwise) would be hand applied in minimal amounts under strict controls. Any herbicide application must undergo a full environmental review to prevent impacts on humans, wildlife, and habitat. There are also methods other than herbicide that can be used to prevent regrowth, and the Sierra Club encourages the agencies that manage the land where fire mitigation occurs to explore these alternatives to find the most sustainable, responsible option.”

Once again, the Sierra Club is stuck with the public record which describes the FEMA projects:

  • East Bay Regional Park District has stated in the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA project that it intends to use 2,250 gallons of herbicide to prevent the regrowth of eucalyptus. (11) This estimate does not include the herbicides that will be used by UC Berkeley or the City of Oakland. Nor does it include the herbicides that will be needed to kill flammable non-native vegetation such as fennel, hemlock, broom, radish, mustard, etc. Surely, we can all agree that thousands of gallons of herbicide cannot be accurately described as “minimal.”
  • The Sierra Club now seems to be suggesting that further environmental review will be required for herbicide use by this project. They are mistaken in that belief. The Environmental Impact Statement for this project is completed and it admits that the project will have “unavoidable adverse impacts” on “human health and safety” and that there will be “potential adverse health effects of herbicides on vegetation management workers, nearby residents, and users of parks and open space.” The Sierra Club’s smoke screen cannot hide that conclusion.
  • The FEMA grants have been awarded to the three public land owners and they explicitly provide for the use of herbicides to prevent eucalyptus and acacia from re-sprouting. There is nothing in the Environmental Impact Statement that indicates that “methods other than herbicide can be used to prevent regrowth,” as the Sierra Club now belatedly opines in its latest propaganda. If the Sierra Club wants other methods to be considered, we could reasonably expect they would make such a demand in their suit against FEMA, along with all their other demands. They do not make such a demand in their suit. Therefore, claims that other methods are being explored are not credible.
  • Sierra Club’s claim that herbicides will be applied “with strict controls” is not credible because there is no oversight of pesticide application or enforcement of the minimal regulations that exist in the United States. After 25 years of working for the EPA, E.G. Valliantatos wrote in 2014 of his experience with pesticide regulation in Poison Spring: “…the EPA offered me the documentary evidence to show the dangerous disregard for human health and the environment in the United States’ government and in the industries it is sworn to oversee…powerful economic interests have worked tirelessly to handcuff government oversight.”

The Sierra Club has also explicitly endorsed the use of herbicides in the public comments they have submitted on these projects and in other articles in the Yodeler:

  • Sierra Club’s written public comment on Scoping for the FEMA EIS: “We are not currently opposed to the careful use of Garlon as a stump treatment on eucalyptus or even broom when applied by a licensed applicator that will prevent spread into adjacent soils or waters.” Norman La Force (on Sierra Club letterhead), September 12, 2010
  • “There is no practical way to eliminate eucalyptus re-sprouting without careful use of herbicides.” Yodeler, May 25, 2013

Obfuscation and insincere backpedaling

The latest Yodeler article about the FEMA projects is a lot of hot air. It makes claims about the issues for which it provides no evidence and for which considerable contradictory evidence exists. It contradicts previous statements the Sierra Club has made. Most importantly, as long as Sierra Club’s suit remains in play, the demands the Sierra Club makes in that public document cannot be denied. If the Sierra Club wishes to back away from its previous positions, it must start by withdrawing its suit, which demands that 100% of all non-native trees in the FEMA project areas be destroyed immediately. Withdrawal of the suit would be a most welcome start on the long healing process that is required to mend the damage the Sierra Club has done to its reputation as an environmental organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, the Sierra Club will not be able to reclaim its status as an environmental organization without renouncing all pesticide use on our public lands.

The Sierra Club has isolated itself from reality. Its leadership refuses to speak with anyone with whom they disagree. They have become the victims of incestuous amplification. They apparently do not read the documents they use to support their opinions. For example, the Sierra Club suit claims the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) has classified blue gum eucalyptus as “moderately” invasive. In fact, Cal-IPC’s rating of blue gum eucalyptus is “limited.” This reflects the fact that a study of aerial photographs of Bay Area parks and open spaces, taken over a 60 year period find that eucalyptus and Monterey Pine forests were smaller in the 1990s than they were in the 1930s. (12)

We will send our petition soon to the national leadership of the Sierra Club. If you have not yet signed our petition, we hope you will consider doing so now.


 

  1. Dickinson, K.J.M. and Kirkpatrick, J.B., “The flammability and energy content of some important plant species and fuel components in the forests of southeastern Tasmania,” Journal of Biogeography, 1985, 12: 121-134.
  2. “The live foliage proved fire resistant, so a potentially catastrophic crown fire was avoided.” http://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/upload/firemanagement_fireeducation_newsletter_eucalyptus.pdf
  3. Margaret Sullivan, Firestorm: the study of the 1991 East Bay fire in Berkeley, 1993
  4. URS evaluation of UCB and Oakland FEMA projects
  5. FEMA DEIS – evaluation of US Forest Service
  6. https://www.revealnews.org/article/rampant-california-wildfires-can-be-blamed-on-last-decembers-rain/?utm_source=Reveal%20Newsletters&utm_campaign=2d4c52ebf5-The_Weekly_Reveal_09_24_159_23_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c38de7c444-2d4c52ebf5-229876797
  7. Jon Keeley, Fire in Mediterranean Ecosystems, Cambridge University Press, 2012
  8. http://milliontrees.me/2011/02/04/biodiversity-another-myth-busted-2/
  9. http://milliontrees.me/2013/04/09/biodiversity-of-the-eucalyptus-forest/
  10. http://milliontrees.me/2013/11/22/invertebrates-such-as-insects-are-plentiful-in-the-eucalyptus-forest/
  11. See Table 2.1 in Appendix F: http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861356241-0d76d1d9da1fa83521e82acf903ec866/Final%20EIS%20Appendices%20A-F_508.pdf
  12. William Russell and Joe McBride, “Vegetation Change and Fire Hazard in the San Francisco Bay Area Open Spaces,” Landscape and Urban Planning, 2003

SF Fire Department Busts Some Myths

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Gonzales smRecently, Supervisor Norman Yee called a hearing of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee to find out how prepared San Francisco was to deal with fires in brush and forest. The San Francisco Fire Department busted some myths we’ve heard all too often.

MYTH #1:  The forests of San Francisco – in particular those on Mount Sutro and Mount Davidson – are a fire hazard.  Vegetation fires are 12-13 times more likely to occur in grass and brush than in forests. And importantly –  in the north and west of the city, the fog protects it by adding moisture. The south-east is more vulnerable to vegetation fires, particularly around the freeways. (But the real fire danger in San Francisco is from structure fires because of closely-placed wooden houses, not so much from vegetation fires.)

MYTH #2: As city fire-fighters, SFFD wouldn’t know how to respond to a forest fire. Actually, SFFD have 200 fire-fighters trained to fight vegetation fires. This myth is a quarter-century out of date.

MYTH #3: SFFD doesn’t have the equipment or information to fight vegetation fires. Actually,  SFFD has special resources including four maneuverable “mini-pumpers” for fighting outside fires. And it has a mutual aid agreement with other cities and can call on their resources if needed.

MYTH #4: San Francisco’s Wildland Urban Interface is a very high fire hazard severity zone. No, it’s not. It’s not technically a Wildland Urban Interface (though there are some pockets) and the whole of San Francisco has a “moderate” fire hazard severity rating (that’s CALFIRE’s lowest rating).

We attended the hearing, and were impressed by SFFD’s well-planned arrangements. After an introduction from Supervisor Norman Yee who convened the hearing and Fire Chief Joanna Hayes-White who stressed that SFFD was prepared for vegetation fires, Deputy Chief Mark Gonzales gave a detailed presentation on where they happened and how SFFD handled it. This was followed by a talk about  prevention from Lieutenant Mary Shea, (mainly weed-abatement in vacant lots and similar). The Department of Emergency Services’ Bijan Karimi  described preparedness,  to help affected families stay safe and return to normalcy in the event of any disaster. Then Curtis Itson, UCSF’s fire marshal, spoke specifically about Sutro Forest, and finally there were some comments from the public – including a singer!

WHERE THE OUTSIDE FIRES ARE

San Francisco’s main concern is actually more with structure fires, because as Deputy Chief Gonzales said,  “…we have wood buildings in the districts, and they’re all next to each other.”

However, there are some calls for outside fires. They tend to be concentrated around the south and east of the city. Because of the fog, the north and west of the city (i.e., areas that include Mount Sutro Forest and Mount Davidson) are generally moist and not a concern. The focus for outside fires is in the drier South east part of San Francisco: Hunter’s Point, McLaren Park.

grass and outside fire calls - SFFD

From the presentation by Deputy Chief Mark Gonzales:

“… we have fog and even during the drought the rest of the city, the west and the northwest gets the fog. The best weather is in Hunters Point, southeast, so that’s where it’s driest.  One of the concerns is Mclaren park.  So the four mini-pumpers are in that area. We have front line stations in the city.  A lot of those companies have been trained in wild land operations, and the chief mentioned that we have over 200 firefighters that do that.”

The open weedy area around freeways are also a concern. Thrown cigarettes and occasional campfires may account for ignition. He said: “…actually there is a big correlation if you noticed near the freeways… all along and open patches of lands that we respond to, to knock those out.”

When there are vegetation fires, they are mostly in grass and brush. The data the Deputy Fire Chief showed indicated that in the last three years,  fires in grassland and/or brush were 12-13 times more likely than fires in forested areas/ wild lands.

He also pointed out that SFFD did have the resources to fight vegetation fires:

  • Four “mini-pumpers” – small maneuverable trucks for fighting outside fires (as well as operating in crowded conditions). They can go off-road and carry special equipment for fighting vegetation fires.
  • Two hundred firefighters with training in fighting vegetation fires, unlike 20-25 years ago when it had few if any. In fact, 30 of SFFD’s people were deployed to help fight the Butte fire and the Valley fire in other parts of California.
  • There’s a mutual aid arrangement in place that would allow SFFD to call for help if it faced an outside fire it could not control with its own resources. The people it would call on would be at least as well-trained as SFFD’s own fire-fighters – possibly more so because they are from hotter less built-up areas where they experience more outside fires.

NOT A WILDLAND URBAN INTERFACE, AND ONLY MODERATE HAZARD

Lieutenant Mary Shea, who is responsible for Prevention, started by pointing out that San Francisco was not technically considered a Wildland-Urban interface, though there were pockets that appeared so.  She also said that based on topography and fuel, CALFIRE considered San Francisco a moderate fire hazard area, not a high fire hazard zone. [“Moderate” is actually CALFIRE’s lowest rating.]

 not WUI fire area
Her prevention efforts therefore  focused on overgrowth of weeds, grass and vines,  30-foot defensible spaces, tree-limbs within 10 feet of chimney outlet, buildup of leaves or pine needles on roofs.

SFFD weed abatement program

They mainly responded to complaints from neighbors, perhaps half of which were justified and the remainder were people disgruntled with the next-door tree overhanging their house or yard. They usually sent out abatement notices two weeks before 4th of July. Owners usually complied and most yards were well-maintained – the owners didn’t want fires, either. The main problem was in abandoned properties where the neighbor could not be found, or people unable for some reason to maintain their homes. SFFD worked with such cases to ensure safety. Most notices came from Hunters Point/ Bayview around the freeways, and Bernal, places like that.

UCSF MAY DO ANOTHER ROUND OF “FIRE HAZARD REDUCTION”
Chief Joanna Hayes-White praised UCSF for the “fire safety” work 2 years ago, and they said they would be reviewing it this fall. She talked about defensible space and fuel reduction.

UCSF’s  fire marshall, Curtis Itson, emphasized that UCSF has a commitment to keep buildings, visitors, and nearby neighborhoods safe.

In comments, we pointed out that given the fog and the way the vegetation trapped moisture, we needed to be careful that we did not increase fire hazard by reducing the forest’s ability to retain moisture.

More important public comments:

  • In the parks and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, native plant interests are felling trees and substituting more-flammable native plants for fire-resistant non-natives like trees and ice-plant. These landscape transformations increase fire hazard.
  • Trees are a lot less flammable than the myths say. In the parks,  trees are felled and left on the ground as fuel, while toxic herbicides are in use. SFRPD’s forest management needs improvement.
  • Someone  talked about dying trees as fire hazards along O’Shaughnessy, and a singer sang that it would be alright.

If you want to view the hour-long hearing, here’s the LINK.

Mt Davidson’s Moist Green Forest in September 2015

Moisture content of vegetation is one of the key determinants of fire hazard. In Mount Davidson, the drier side is clearly the native plant area, not the forest. This visitor went up to the forest to see – and document –  how the drought has affected the plants under the trees. Here, after four years of drought, is Mt Davidson’s forest.
This is another of our Park Visitor series: First-person accounts of visits to our San Francisco parks.

 

Mt Davidson google map

This google earth view shows the forest on the west side of the park and the grassland on the east side. Homes surrounding the park are also visible. I walked from the north side from Rockdale Drive and ended on the south side along Myra Way.

A presentation by Michie Wong, SFFD fire marshal, to the SF Urban Forestry Council, stated that the condition of the forest floor is the key to fire hazard. If it is green it is not flammable, but dry grass and shrubs are.

How has several years of drought affected the understory in the forest at Mt. Davidson Park? I visited the forest to see and document the moisture conditions in the forest’s understory. This article comprises my pictures and notes.

A WALK THROUGH MT. DAVIDSON PARK ON SEPT 15, 2015

Mt Davidson 1 - entrance with NAP warning sign and blackberry bushesNatural Areas Sign at trail entrance surround by green berry bushes.

Mt Davidson 2 - fuschia flourishing despite drought, watered by the trees catching the fogFurther up the trail on the north side of the park fuchsias thrive despite years of drought.

Mt Davidson 3 - greenery along pathwayHere’s a close-up of greenery on the forest floor.

Mt Davidson 5 - the girdled tree still has moisture and is sproutingWalking east to the grassland part of the park.  A eucalyptus tree has new sprouts — despite the drought and despite being girdled in attempt to kill it.

The greenery around it has been cleared or killed with herbicides for planting of natives species, now marked with green flags.

Mt Davidson 6 - the native plants are dry and flammableView of dead grass and shrubs among native coyote bush on east side of park.

Mt Davidson 7 - dead and dry plants near homesDead and dry vegetation next to houses.

Mt Davidson 8 - standing water while the native plants are dryHeading west in the park into the forest along the fire road.

A 4-foot wide puddle remains from the recent drizzle and thick fog that followed a week of record heat. It is typically muddier on Mt. Davidson in the summer (the “fire season” elsewhere) than the winter because of the fog.

Mt Davidson 9Heading down the fire road to the west side of the park.

Mt Davidson 10 Ferns on roadside despite the droughtFerns growing in the rocky slopes despite the drought.

Mt Davidson 11 - roadside grass and plants are greenGrass along the road is green and the ivy too.

Mt Davidson 12 - lush greenery on both sides of trailLush greenery on the both side of the road on the western side of the park.

Mt Davidson 13 - only watered by the trees catching fog its still green during droughtFurther down the hill, at the intersection with the Juanita trail.  No sign of drought here, despite no one ever watering this area like they do in Golden Gate Park.

Mt Davidson 14 - Southern side with sun exposure - still greenSouthern entrance to the park, with most sun exposure, is still green too.

Mt Davidson 15 - ivy is green and not flammableBoundary of park next to homes on Myra Way.

Ivy on forest floor has been cleared from fence but remains green and not a fire hazard.

We thank this Park Visitor for this report. We would especially like to draw attention to the picture of the girdled eucalyptus. Despite the effort to kill this tree, it still contains a lot of moisture – as evident from the sprouts. The grass and shrubs on the East side of the mountain are far more flammable.

PETITION: Sierra Club, Please Stop Advocating Against Trees and For Pesticides

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is joining a petition to ask the Sierra Club to stop advocating for the destruction of trees and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may be shocked to learn that the local chapter of the  Sierra Club is supporting – not opposing! – the destruction of 450,000 trees in the East Bay and is in fact suing to force FEMA to destroy all the trees, not just most of them. There is a petition to Sierra Club to withdraw its support for this environmental disaster.

Cutting these trees down will  stop them from fighting climate change and reducing pollution. The project would release thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides into the environment. It would increase fire risk by encouraging the replacement of damp and cool tree stands with shrubs and grasses that burn rapidly when dry. The post below is reproduced with permission from Death of a Million Trees, which fights the unnecessary destruction of our urban forest.

Please sign the Petition HERE.

sign petition to sierra club

Please also note the planned demonstration on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, at 4 pm, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Suite I, Berkeley, CA – the headquarters of the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter.

Monarch butterflies over-winter in California's eucalyptus groves

Monarch butterflies over-winter in California’s eucalyptus groves

Million Trees is sponsoring a petition to the national leadership of the Sierra Club in collaboration with San Francisco Forest Alliance. The petition asks the Sierra Club to quit advocating for the destruction of the urban forest and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. It also asks the Sierra Club to withdraw its suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees (eucalyptus, Monterey pine, acacia). This is an on-line petition which can be signed HERE. If you are signing this petition and you are a present or former member of the Sierra Club, please mention it in your comments.

There will be a demonstration by supporters of this petition at the headquarters of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, at 4 pm, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Suite I, Berkeley, CA. Please join us if you can.

If you are a regular reader of Million Trees, you probably understand why we are making this request of the Sierra Club. For the benefit of newer readers, we recap the long history of trying to convince the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club that its support for the destruction of our urban forest, as well as the pesticides used to prevent its return, contradicts the mission of the Sierra Club as a protector of the environment.

  • This “open letter” was sent to the leadership of the local chapter of the Sierra Club. It informs the Sierra Club of many misstatements of fact in the chapter’s newsletter about the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District.
  • This article is about the Sierra Club’s public comment on the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District. The Sierra Club instructs EBRPD to put the “restoration of native plant communities” on an equal footing with fire hazard reduction. It also specifically endorses the use of pesticides for this project. In other words, native plants are more important than public safety in the opinion of the Sierra Club.
  • This “open letter” is about misstatements of fact in the chapter newsletter about San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program. We wrote that “open letter” because the newsletter refused to publish our letter to the editor.
  • This article is about misstatements of fact in the chapter newsletter about the FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills. This incident occurred during the brief period of time when the on-line version of the newsletter was accepting on-line comments. That opportunity to communicate with the chapter enabled a correction of inaccurate statements in the newsletter.

Sierra Club’s suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees in the East Bay Hills was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Chronic annoyance at the club’s endorsement of destructive and poisonous projects was suddenly elevated to outrage. HERE is the Club’s description of its suit, which is available in its on-line newsletter. Attempts to communicate our outrage to the Club by posting comments on that article failed. That is, the Club is no longer publishing comments it doesn’t like, thereby cutting off any means of communicating with them. Our petition is the only means of communication left to us. The text of the petition follows and it can be signed HERE. Please distribute this petition to your friends and neighbors who share our concern about the destruction and poisoning of our public lands in the San Francisco Bay Area.


 

Title: Sierra Club must STOP advocating for deforestation and pesticide use in San Francisco Bay Area

Petition by: Million Trees and San Francisco Forest Alliance

To be delivered to:
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club, michaelbrune@sierraclub.org
Aaron Mair, President, Board of Directors, Sierra Club, aaronmair@gmail.com

We are environmentalists who ask the Sierra Club to quit advocating for the destruction of the urban forest and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. We also ask that the Sierra Club withdraw its suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees (eucalyptus, Monterey pine, acacia). If you are signing this petition and you are a present or former member of the Sierra Club, please mention it in your comments.

Over the past 15 years, tens of thousands of trees have been destroyed on public lands in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay are in jeopardy of being destroyed by a FEMA grant to three public land managers. The Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club has actively supported all of these projects and now it has sued FEMA to demand the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees.

These projects have already used hundreds of gallons of herbicide to prevent the trees from resprouting and to kill the weeds that grow when the shade of the canopy is destroyed. Now, the FEMA project intends to use thousands of gallons of herbicide for the same purpose. These herbicides (glyphosate, triclopyr, imazapyr) are known to be harmful to wildlife, pets, and humans.

This environmental disaster will release tons of carbon into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to climate change. It will destroy valuable habitat for wildlife, introduce poisons into our watershed, cause erosion, and eliminate our windbreak. We call on the national leadership of the Sierra Club to prevent the active participation of the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club in this environmental disaster.

Petition background:

The San Francisco Bay Area was virtually treeless prior to the arrival of Europeans. The landscape was predominantly grassland, scrub, and chaparral. Trees grew only in ravines where they were sheltered from the wind and water was funneled to them. The trees that were brought from other areas of California and from other countries were chosen because they are the species that are best adapted to our local conditions. John Muir, the Founder of the Sierra Club, also planted these tree species around his home in Martinez and was as fond of those trees as many of us are still today.

The Sierra Club has now turned its back on this cosmopolitan view of nature in favor of returning our landscape to the pre-settlement landscape of grassland, scrub, and chaparral. This approach has led to the destruction of tens of thousands of trees and the use of herbicides to prevent them from resprouting.

In the East Bay, native plant advocates have also falsely claimed that “non-native” trees are more flammable than native plants. Although fire hazard reduction was the stated purpose of the FEMA grants, fire hazards will be increased by the clear-cuts of our urban forest for the following reasons:

  • Tons of dead, dry wood chips will be scattered on the ground to a depth of 24 inches.
  • The fog drip which is condensed by the tall trees moistens the ground and will be lost when the canopy is destroyed. The ground vegetation will therefore be drier and more likely to ignite.
  • The tall trees provide a windbreak which has been demonstrated repeatedly to be capable of stopping a wind-driven fire, which is typical of California wildfires.
  • The project does not intend to plant any replacement plants or trees. Therefore, the most likely colonizers of the bare ground are annual grasses which ignite easily during the dry season and in which most fires in California start and spread.
Hummingbird in eucalyptus flower. Courtesy Melanie Hoffman

Hummingbird in eucalyptus flower. Courtesy Melanie Hoffman

Many empirical studies document the rich biodiversity of our urban forest today. Bees, hummingbirds, and monarch butterflies require eucalyptus trees during the winter months when there are few other sources of nectar. Raptors nest in our tall “non-native” trees and an empirical study finds that their nesting success is greater in those trees than in native trees.

In short, the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club is promoting an environmental disaster that is adamantly opposed by tens of thousands of people. FEMA received over 13,000 public comments on its draft Environmental Impact Statement, over 90% in opposition to this project, according to FEMA’s own estimate. The signers of this petition are also opposed to this project as presently described by FEMA grant applications and its Environmental Impact Statement.

Environmentalists in the San Francisco Bay Area have been denied due process by the local chapter of the Sierra Club. The Bay Area Chapter has blocked every effort to communicate with them: they ignore our emails, block our comments on their blog, refuse our letters to the editor of their newsletter, and do not answer our phone calls. We believe that the national leadership has an obligation to consider our complaint because the actions of the local chapter are inconsistent with the mission of the Sierra Club. The local chapter is actively contributing to climate change and endorsing the use of toxic pesticides in our environment.

Can We Save These San Francisco Trees?

street tree with removal noticeThere are plans under way to cut down hundreds of street trees along some of San Francisco’s main thoroughfares. Generally, these plans get little publicity until the trees are posted with 30-day notices (these are the notices that inform neighbors that the trees are to be cut down). Neighbors are often shocked and dismayed at these plans. Though the notices usually provide a contact to protest the removal of the trees,  by that point it’s an uphill battle to save the trees.

It can be done: Consider the saved trees at Fisherman’s Wharf, and next time you visit there, consider how bare the road and brick walls would be without the trees! But it takes mobilization, determination, speaking up, persistence and luck.

San Francisco’s tree canopy is already inadequate at 13.7%, as against an ideal of 25%.  Street trees are enormously valuable to the community. They reduce pollution by trapping particulates in the air and thus keep them out of our lungs. They provide habitat for birds and butterflies like the Western Tiger Swallowtail that breeds in our London Plane Trees. They sequester carbon and thus fight climate change. They absorb sound and thus reduce noise pollution. They reduce storm water runoff. (Here’s a link to an article discussing all the benefits of urban trees.)

They have also have very significant health benefits. A recent article in the New Yorker mentioned research that quantified how much. The article noted that ten mature street trees per block was the equivalent of giving every household on that block $10,000:

“After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. “To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars—or make people seven years younger,” Berman told me.”

Removing mature trees and planting saplings instead doesn’t provide the same benefits. It takes decades for the replacements to grow to the same maturity – and  meanwhile, all the benefits to environment, health, and habitat are accordingly reduced.

We would also point out that urban trees (or any trees) are seldom perfect. They grow in challenging conditions. Often, the justification for removing trees is that they are not in “good” shape. We would point out that unless a tree is actually hazardous, the standard should not be perfection, but that it is “good enough” to survive in the location to which it has adapted.

If you wish to fight to save these trees, there are two hearings coming up shortly. They will be held in Room 416 at San Francisco’s City Hall. [Edited to Add: If you cannot attend, you can still email your comments to the Department of Public Works and they become part of the public and official record. These are the email addresses: Chris.Buck@sfdpw.org and urbanforestry@sfdpw.org ]

GEARY AND MASONIC: HEARING ON 24th Sept 2015

At Geary and Masonic, there’s a grove of trees that softens an otherwise gritty and urban intersection. For pedestrians – including those who use the nearby bus shelter under the trees it provides a welcome green environment. These trees have been slated for removal. Neighbors are extremely upset, the more so because this project has been extensively discussed – but not the tree removal part. Instead, all the focus was on the loss of parking spaces as bike lanes were created. “I had the impression,” one neighbor said, “That they would be keeping all the existing trees and planting more trees.”

There’s a hearing scheduled for September 24th. A neighbor fighting to save these trees sent us this poster. You can print out the PDF here if you want to disseminate it: Geary_Masonic_Tree_removal

Masonic Geary trees slated to be felledVAN NESS CORRIDOR: HEARING on AUGUST 24th  2015

A neighbor wrote to us recently to say that 193 trees had been posted for removal in the Van Ness/ Lombard corridor:

“I want you to know that the SFMTA just put out tree notice removals on Van Ness and Lombard for their rapid transit project. There was no mention of this before to anyone living along the corridor when they began discussing this project. They are planning to cut down 193 mature trees along the corridor, and this is an outrage. These trees are important to the people who live along Van Ness and Lombard and they provide shade and bird habitat. They say they will plant 400 trees once the project is finished. What about all the birds who live in the tree opposite my mother’s home now? What about the hawks who nest opposite us?”

Here are the details of the hearing:

“I encourage you and any other interested party to attend the Public Hearing regarding the removal of the trees on August 24 at 5:30 p.m.in Room 416 of City Hall, located at 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place. If you are unable to attend the hearing, you may submit written comments regarding the subject matter to the Bureau of Urban Forestry, 1680 Mission Street, 1st floor, San Francisco, CA 94103. These comments will be brought to the attention of the hearing officer and made a part of the official public record.

TREASURE ISLAND

We don’t have any details yet, but the Treasure Island Development Agency is planning to cut down trees as part of its development plans. We would note that this is one location where Monarch butterflies overwinter in some years.

MORE PROJECTS?

We believe even more tree removals are planned, for instance along Geary. The San Francisco Forest Alliance will try to keep track of these projects and post what information we can about the proposals.

San Francisco can do better than this. If all our public agencies realized the true benefits and value of mature trees, they would seek to preserve them rather than cutting them down and replacing them with saplings. Or nothing at all. We all recognize that trees sometimes need to be cut down to allow for roadwork or construction. But we do think that preserving trees needs a much higher priority than it currently gets, and the public needs better (and earlier) information than it currently gets.

We wrote about Seattle, where road-work was accompanied by notice to save trees, not remove them. Here’s another. It’s a tree not even as pretty or mature as the San Francisco victim at the top of the page, but it’s been saved.

saved tree in seatttle

Trees are cut down for all kinds of reasons in San Francisco. Poorly designed projects are a major factor. So is poor maintenance. We support Supervisor Scott Wiener’s effort to fund tree maintenance by city experts rather than leaving street trees to home owners who may not have the expertise or resources to care for it and instead destroy it.

overpruned tree

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799

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