Ecological “Restoration”: “Someone Pays and Someone Profits”

The article below was first published on April 1st on MillionTrees.me – a site defending unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Though it references mainly the widespread tree destruction planned for the East Bay, the same principles apply broadly.  The article is republished here with permission

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The Ecological “Restoration” Industry: Follow the money

Matt Chew is one of many professional academics that criticize invasion biology.  Unlike most, he emphasizes explaining the weaknesses of eco-nativism using scientific, historical, and philosophical methods, depending on the issue.  This has made him a useful collaborator and resource for like-minded but primarily science-oriented colleagues. Million Trees is deeply grateful for his willingness to speak publically about the fallacies of invasion biology, including the generous gift of his time in writing this guest post for us.

Dr. Chew is a faculty member of Arizona State University’s Center for Biology and Society and an instructor in the ASU School of Life Sciences.  He teaches courses including the History of Biology, Biology and Society, and a senior conservation biology course in “novel ecosystems,” described HERE on the university’s “ASU Now” news website.

He was also a speaker at the 2013 annual conference of Beyond Pesticides.  A video of his presentation is available HERE (go to 24:40).  He says that “invasive” plants are convenient scapegoats that are presenting a marketing opportunity for the manufacturers of pesticides. Invasion biology is at the core of the greening of pesticides.

In his guest post, Matt helps us to understand how he chose to pursue a multidisciplinary critique of one topic rather than adopting a single disciplinary approach and identity. He began his professional career as a practicing conservation biologist, experiencing firsthand the sometimes startling disconnects between laws, policies, aspirations, public expectations, and realities “on the ground.” 

We celebrate April Fool’s Day with Matt Chew’s article.  When we waste our money on ecological “restorations” the joke is on us!

Million Trees

Matt Chew with his class in novel ecosystems


Those familiar with my academic work know I invest most of my efforts documenting and explaining the flaws and foibles of “invasion biology.” But I got into this messy business as a practical conservation biologist, a natural resources planner “coordinating” the Arizona State Natural Areas Program during the late 1990s. I found the toxic nativism of natural areas proponents morbidly fascinating, and the practical politics of natural areas acquisition and management morbidly galling. I chose to follow my fascination. But as “Death of a Million Trees” marks the end of its seventh year as a WordPress blog, and in light of recent decisions by Bay Area authorities, it’s time for a galling reminder:  Follow the money.

Authorities responsible for suburban fire suppression and recovery necessarily view stands of living trees as liabilities. They can’t see the forest for the fuels. The prospect of eliminating them merely drives their value further into the negative. That it must be subsidized is ironic because eucalyptus and Monterey pine are plantation grown in many countries for timber or pulp. But they aren’t traditional sources of California wood products and a glut of more familiar drought-killed trees awaits salvage far from finicky neighbors.

So condemned trees can’t just be disappeared by pointing them out to eager loggers. “Concept planning” can be fairly vague, but “action planning” must be very specific. A job this big requires both general and sub-contracting. It requires hiring and training and supervising. Capital equipment will be acquired, maintained and repaired. Affected areas must be surveyed and material volumes estimated. Before trees can be felled, access routes must be surveyed and created. After trees are felled they must be sectioned, staged, loaded and hauled away for disposal. More often they are shredded in place. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Where “ecological restoration” is the objective, stumps must be pulled or blasted and roots must be excavated. The eucalyptus seed bank will need to be eliminated or rendered inert. Perhaps even a century’s accumulation of organic topsoil will need amending, or removing and replacing to reconstitute prehistoric substrates. Seed suppliers and nurseries will be contracted to provide plant “native” materials. After the armies of tree-fellers and stump-blasters will come waves of laborers, tractors, diggers, spreaders, and planters in an endless relay of trucks. Ecological restoration is farming, all the more so in proximity to a cityscape arrayed in exotic plants. If all goes well and the rain falls in judicious quantities at auspicious times, planting will be followed by perpetual weeding. At every step, someone pays and someone profits.

It’s hardly surprising that FEMA has no intention of underwriting restoration on that scale. Their plans envision minimally spreading shredded wood, leaving a layer up to two feet deep to gradually decompose, and hoping whatever oaks and other present understory plants they haven’t accidentally fractured or flattened will thrive in the sudden absence of big trees. Two feet of material will gradually compact, but assurances that it will rot into organic soil within a few years are pretty optimistic. Whether and when it will support anything resembling a native plant assemblage is dubious. Meanwhile, some viable stumps will require recurring treatment with the herbicide du jour and occasional supplemental felling. It’s not a reset-and-forget strategy. It’s just the first step of a long and contentious cycle of interventions. And of course, at every step, someone pays and someone profits.

Whenever public property and expenditure is concerned there should be an open procurement process with a clear data trail. A call for proposals is written and published, bids are received, contracts awarded, and work commences. But we can be certain that by the time the prospect of deforesting the Bay Area was openly discussed by policymakers, potential bidders were positioning themselves to influence the shape of the emerging policy and take advantage of it. And various interest groups who saw deforesting the hillsides as a means to their ends became a de facto coalition of advocates. Some acted more openly than others, and some to greater effect. But prominent nonprofit organizations expect returns on their investments. Nothing happens unless someone pays and someone profits.

Some of the premises underlying the logic of the program will inevitably be faulty. Should it falter at any step due to unforeseen events (e.g., meteorological, horticultural, ecological, economic or political), contingencies will be implemented… if funds are available. There are only three certainties. Firstly, no action occurs unless someone pays and someone profits. Secondly, nature, within which I include all aspects of human society, is complex and capricious. No one can predict with much certainty how a post-deforestation landscape will look or function. Finally, a coalition of the discontented will emerge and agitate for improvements that require someone to pay, and allow someone to profit.  As Nancy Pelosi recently reminded us, “we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.”   

Matt Chew

Neighbor Activists on Mt Davidson

We received this report from  FRIENDS OF MOUNT DAVIDSON, neighborhood activists who staged some outreach on Easter Sunday morning at Mt Davidson

 

We gave out more than 100 flyers to visitors before and after the service, at the two most heavily trafficked trail entrances and at the top. Spoke to many, at least briefly. Our group did an awesome job with the yellow ribbons and signs at many spots, along the trails, and around the top plateau. Big visual impact.

That had a lot of people hungry for more information and answers, so the handouts then gave them some details. Most were supportive, confused, or surprised, a few were dismissive or claimed it to be untrue. Some signs had been torn down in the less trafficked areas even after we had monitored and replaced several, but most of the ribbons at the top and on the main trail road thankfully survived the morning.

Tree with Yellow ribbon on Mt Davidson – Easter, 2017. Photo credit Pavel Fedorov (PavelFedorov.com)

We went around and removed the ribbons and signs on a nearly all the trees after people had left, to clean up. Decided to keep a few of the prominent ones that were perfectly intact in the main areas, to last the day and inform more visitors. We were there by 6:30am and home by 9:30am, just as the rain started.

Please send an individual email message directly to Phil Ginsburg, Ed Lee, and your Supervisor as the flyer asks, to say how shocked you are as a citizen by this tree removal plan. Emails to:

MayorEdwinLee@sfgov.org; Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org; Philip.Ginsburg@sfgov.org

[You can see the flyers here: EasterMtD4.17 and here: MT DAVIDSON4.15.17 ]

Tree on Mt Davidson – photo credit Pavel Fedorov (pavelfedorov.com)

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So Much City, So Little Green

This beautiful aerial view of San Francisco, taken by Fiona Fay and used here with permission, shows just how important our urban forests are. At just 13.7% cover, San Francisco has amongst the smallest tree canopy of any major city. And yet, there are plans to cut down thousands of trees – even though we’re already behind on replacing those that die naturally.

Photo Credit: @FionaFaytv of the IRN- NutritionHub.org

It shows may of the places now vulnerable to the plans of the land managers – mostly SF Recreation and Parks’ Natural Resources Division, which uses toxic pesticides, cuts down healthy and mature trees, and limits access in the name of protecting native plants; but also UCSF, which owns most of Sutro Forest and partners with the Sutro Stewards that have the same nativist bias; and Treasure Island Development Authority, which is using a nativist plan similar to that of the Natural Resources Division.

Visit these places, make your memories and photograph their beauty. Send us pictures on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/ForestAlliance/] or by email to SFForestNews@gmail.com – we will publish and archive them. (If you want them shared on this website, please include permission to do so.)

Photo Credit: @FionaFaytv ; Labels: SFForest

Our trees provide enormous health and environmental benefits. Especially in these difficult times, every tree counts.

Read More: Twenty Reasons Why Urban Trees are Important to Us All

Yet, our tree canopy is small, and shrinking not growing.

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City

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Roundup, Garlon, and Pesticide-Free Parks

New evidence has emerged that Monsanto influenced the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) to downplay the cancer-causing risk of Roundup. This pesticide, and others that may be even more hazardous, are used in our parks and watersheds. And now, since San Francisco is adding ground water to the Hetch Hetchy water we have been getting, our water may contain traces of these hazardous chemicals.

 

MONSANTO OFFERED TO GHOST-WRITE KEY REPORT SECTIONS ON ROUNDUP

Bloomberg and other news sources show that Monsanto offered to ghost-write sections of the EPA report on glyphosate, and sought the help of an EPA official to kill the reports that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

We reported earlier that a letter by an EPA employee Dr Marion Copley, written as she was dying, says: “It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer.” She also said it is an endocrine disruptor, and alleged corruption within the EPA.

A California Superior Court judge has ruled that Roundup can be added to the Prop 65 list of known carcinogens, despite Monsanto’s attempts to block such a listing. “State regulators were waiting for the formal ruling before moving forward with the warnings, said Sam Delson, a spokesman for the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.” 

Dr Copley’s letter only used glyphosate (Roundup, Aquamaster) as an example. The letter hinted that other chemicals might have fared similarly – that is, not been properly evaluated because of corporate influence on EPA employees. We the public cannot assume that toxicology tests performed by the companies producing the pesticides or scientists they may pressure are sufficient to prove the chemicals are harmless.

ROUNDUP AND GARLON IN OUR PARKS

Roundup has been used for years by SFRPD and other city entities. Only in  2015 was it designated a Tier I (most hazardous) pesticide. We tracked its use in San Francisco’s Natural Areas from 2008 to 2016. (It’s also used in other parks, and by the PUC, but we have not compiled those data.)

In the bar-graph here, the green section represents Roundup. The Natural Resources Department (NRD) increased its use of Roundup each year from 2009 to 2013, then decreased it in 2014, slightly increased it in 2015, and now has brought it down to below 2010 levels – though not as low as in 2009 or 2010.

The orange section is Garlon, a Tier I (Most Hazardous) herbicide that’s considered even more toxic than Roundup. Garlon is also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )

Nowadays, Garlon in San Francisco is used only by the Natural Resources Department against Bermuda buttercups (oxalis).

PROGRESS – AND A NEW PROBLEM ABOUT TO HAPPEN

SF Environment has responded to community concerns (including a petition opposing pesticides in schools and parks that has more than 12,000 signatures) by introducing a list of restrictions on the use of Tier I (but not Tier II) chemicals. (Their Tier system classifies all allowable pesticides as Tier III – Least Hazardous, Tier II – More Hazardous, and Tier I – Most Hazardous.)

Though we believe the restrictions do not go far enough, they are a start. SF Environment has not published the final version, but there is a current draft. We are providing our comments to the Commission for the Environment and to SF Environment in the hope that they will modify the conditions under which use of Tier I herbicides are permitted. (We’ll post about this soon.)

But – starting 2017, SF Environment is going to approve the use of something new: Milestone VM Plus. It’s a mix of Garlon and Milestone VM (aminopyralid). This combination is being approved as a Tier II herbicide. Amino-pyralid is the pesticide so persistent that it lasts for years – and if an animal eats treated vegetation, its droppings become toxic too. It was considered a Tier I pesticide until SF Environment decided to reclassify it as Tier II in 2013. It’s banned in New York and effectively in a number of other states too.

We’ve protested. Here’s our letter:

Dear Commissioners, Director Raphael, and Dr Geiger,

We are dismayed that a new triclopyr-based pesticide is being added to the 2017 pesticide list, and in combination with aminopyralid – and that too as Tier II. This is at a time when we’re working to *remove* triclopyr (as Garlon) from the list. We refer to Milestone VM Plus, which is Aminopyralid, triisopropanolamine salt, 2%; Triclopyr, triethylamine salt, 16%. It’s for injection and for tree stumps. As we understand it, this is a mixture of Garlon 3 and Milestone.

This could be disastrous. Triclopyr is one of the most toxic herbicides still on the list. And Milestone VM (Aminopyralid) is uncannily persistent – it can last for years. If vegetation treated with it is eaten by animals and excreted, the excreta still contains enough herbicide to harm plants. Until 2013, Milestone was considered a Tier I chemical for its persistence – and then changed to Tier II (possibly at the request of the Natural Resources Department, since other SFRPD departments don’t use Milestone VM.)  If Milestone VM Plus is used on trees in a forest or stand of trees, it could weaken adjacent healthy trees through the intergrafted root network, thus destabilizing groups of trees.

We urge you to delete Milestone VM Plus from your restricted list. It’s no better than using Garlon with some added Milestone. If it must be retained, please classify it as Tier I.

Respectfully,
San Francisco Forest Alliance

HERBICIDES IN OUR WATER?

This year,  San Francisco started adding well water drawn from under the city to our tap water. Roundup or Aquamaster (glyphosate) and other pesticides such as Garlon (triclopyr), Milestone (aminopyralid), and Stalker (imazapyr) – and their breakdown products, some of which may be even more toxic – could well be contaminating our water supply.

Pesticide supporters argue it doesn’t matter, because the amounts are small. But:

  • Herbicides (and other chemicals) could interact in ways that are unpredictable. No one has researched them.
  • There’s no way of knowing how much the cumulative exposure is for any individual. This is particularly a concern for children, whose low body weight and fast growth make them especially vulnerable; and for people with illnesses or chemical sensitivities.
  • Importantly, if they are endocrine disruptors – which means they act like hormones in the human body – tiny amounts can have a disproportionate impact. It’s an exception to the “dose makes the poison” saying. Here’s an article that cites references to studies showing endocrine disruption from glyphosate: Why Low Dose Pesticides are Still Hazards.

PESTICIDE FREE PARKS

We have heard some parents don’t take their children to Glen Canyon any more, owing to pesticide concerns. One of the restrictions that SF Environment will impose is no use of Tier I pesticides in areas frequented by children. (Tier II herbicides will still be allowed.)

While the San Francisco Forest Alliance asks for no pesticides in our parks (and watersheds), San Francisco could make a start by converting parks with children’s play areas to Pesticide-Free Parks. Here’s an example from Seattle.

Opponents of restricting pesticide use in this way might fear that the park looks awful, so we went and had a look. It was a sunny afternoon, and the park was beautiful.


The park was full of kids of all ages, from babies and toddlers to teenagers. One man rocked his tiny pink-clad baby daughter.  Another dad brought his small son to kick a ball around in the grass. School age kids chased each other with squirt-guns. Some families brought their dogs, who are allowed in the park. It must be a relief to know that you can safely take your family to such a park, and not encounter Roundup or Garlon, Stalker or Milestone VM.

The park has a nice playground.

It also had an organic community garden…

… complete with a green roof.

And a rain garden.

And a multilingual welcome sign.

It was a lovely example of the kind of Inclusive Environmentalism that San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for.

Natural Areas EIR Approved

We’re reporting back on the Board of Supervisors  hearing on the appeal for the Appeal on the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)  for the Natural Areas Management Plan on Feb 28th. Supervisor Yee (District 7) voted for our appeal; unfortunately the other 9 supervisors voted against.  (Jane Kim, District 6, was absent).

GREAT RALLY

We had an excellent rally before the meeting, with about 40 people attending with signs and leaflets outside City Hall. We had banners and music, and chants of “EIR is Flawed: SEND IT BACK!”

Unfortunately, many of those who attended the rally could not stay for the public comments, but they had sent them in earlier in writing or on the phone. One of the supervisors said they got more comments and phone calls on this issue than any other.

DELAY, AND WILD EQUITY WITHDRAWS APPEAL

The hearing itself was considerably delayed. We were told it would start at 3 p.m. but in fact, the Chair accepted other items first, pushing it back to 5.30 p.m. Some of our supporters had to leave, but some stuck it out anyway for the extra hours it took. If you were one who came, thank you – whether or not you were able to comment. As soon as we had made our 7-minute presentation, we were informed that the other appellant – Wild Equity Institute et al – had withdrawn their appeal in response to San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) committing not to use the dredged material from the Laguna Salada at Sharp Park to raise the golf course fairways.

Supervisor Yee voted in favor of our appeal, primarily because he was concerned that the pesticide issue was not completely covered in the EIR. The other Supervisors opposed the appeal.  Some thought that because it was a “program level” EIR, they could expect that each individual project would be reviewed separately later. To make this actually happen will require a lot of vigilance, because it’s easier to give each project a ‘negative declaration’ – saying that it does not require a new EIR.

A SUPPORTER’S ANALYSIS

Here’s an analysis by one of our long-time supporters who watched the TV and video of the proceedings:

  • The comments of our speakers were far more substantive than those of NRD supporters.  Our speakers demonstrated deep knowledge of the complex issues.  They were well informed and their criticisms of the EIR were significant.
  • Of the 26 speakers in support, 16 (over 60%) were new.  This reflects both the success of our outreach efforts and the public’s growing awareness of what is being done in their parks.  The more  NRD does, the more the public will react, which predicts that opposition will only grow in the future.
  • Of the 29 NRD supporters, 6 were golfers who really had no interest in any of the other NRD issues; they want to preserve the Sharp Park golf course. The other NRD supporters were the regular activists who have spoken in support of NRD many times, some of them as long as 20 years ago.  They had nothing new to say.  In other words, new recruits to nativist ideology are not materializing.
  • Surprisingly, not a single NRD supporter bashed dogs or blamed NRD opposition on dog owners.  This is a significant departure from previous strategies.  The fact that two of the Supervisors specifically expressed concern about maintaining off-leash recreation was equally remarkable.
  • This EIR is a “programmatic review” – a sort of overall acceptance of the Project’s environmental impacts. A programmatic review does not contain details about each project, such as the amount and type of herbicide that will be used.  Theoretically, each individual project (except Sharp Park, which is a project EIR) would be reviewed before implementation, and some Supervisors were concerned about the lack of such information and were placated by RPD’s “promises” of project level environmental reviews. In fact, such projects often get “negative declarations” (i.e. a declaration that no EIR is needed) and those will not be visible to anyone.

OUR WINS

Even though the vote went against us, we have definitely communicated our concerns. Both SFRPD and the Board of Supervisors have had to recognize that the public has serious doubts about the theoretical benefits of “biodiversity” and turning San Francisco’s parks into native plant museums fuelled by Tier I herbicides like Roundup and Garlon.

Garlon v. Oxalis – in 10 Easy Slides

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Before and After in the “Natural” Areas

Satire… for when truth is so strange that most people don’t believe it

san-francisco-before-and-after2a