One of our supporters reports the “Natural Resources Department” (NRD) of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is using a new pesticide on Mt Davidson: Vastlan (from Dow). It’s being applied in a so-called “natural area” now named a “significant natural resource area.”
VASTLAN REPLACES GARLON 4 ULTRA…
Only, the pesticide is not really new: the active ingredient is triclopyr. This is the same as Garlon, the highly toxic pesticide that has been listed as HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND A REPLACEMENT since at least 2009.
SF Department of the Environment – SFEnvironment – groups those pesticides that the city permits to be used on city properties into three Tiers. Tier III is least hazardous; Tier II is More Hazardous; and Tier I is Most Hazardous.
In 2019, SF Environment added Vastlan to the list of pesticides permitted for use on city-owned land, with a Tier II classification (as compared with Tier I for Garlon 4 Ultra). It’s been listed as a Lower hazard alternative to Garlon 4 Ultra. You can see the 2019 “Reduced Risk Pesticide” list here: SFEnvironment Reduced Risk Pesticide List 092419
Though it’s Tier II, the restrictions on its use are the highest, i.e. “Most limited“ and the note against it says: “Use only for targeted treatments of high profile or highly invasive exotics via dabbing or injection. May use for targeted spraying only when dabbing or injection are not feasible.” This is exactly the same as for Garlon 4 Ultra, which was Tier I (and is being phased out with a “Use up existing stock” note).
… BUT SFRPD IS USING IT MORE BROADLY
But. Based on what we’ve seen with other pesticides, NRD seems to respond to the Tier rating rather than to the Use Restrictions. Already, they’ve used Vastlan on “Poison oak and other encroaching shrubs.” This is a broader use than Garlon 4 Ultra, which they had limited to oxalis.
IS IT REALLY SAFER?
Frankly, we are also dubious about whether Vastlan is actually safer than Garlon 4 Ultra. (The company has reduced its signal word from Danger to Warning.)
Vastlan has not been in use long enough for its risks to become apparent, and it’s always in a company’s interests to understate them if possible. The saga of the FDA and Monsanto’s Roundup suggests that they may also be understating risks.
Dow’s Label for the pesticide can be read at the link: Vastlan label Dow
It includes the warning:
WARNING May be fatal if swallowed • Causes substantial but temporary eye injury • Prolonged or frequently repeated skin contact may cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing.
In 2014, we first published our statement of support. It’s with something between sadness and horror that it’s essential we publish it again. In the intervening years, things have not improved for the African-American community. Because of the racism inherent in our society, they are at risk of death while doing nothing more than living normal lives. All black people, but especially black men, face violence from the very entities that should be protecting them. As we said in 2014:
This website normally focuses on issues relating to the environment, and more specifically to the damage being done by “nativist” thinking that destroys trees and habitat to favor “native” plants. But this topic is too important for us to ignore.
With a growing sense of outrage and concern, we’ve watched what has happened to African American adults and children – that they cannot assume they will get the same rights and consideration that others do in this country. We’re dismayed that parents need to talk to their young children, particularly their sons, about the special submissive behaviors they must adopt to avoid getting killed.
The San Francisco Forest Alliance cannot be silent on this. We stand with many other environmental organizations in our support of the movement for change.
We stand against prejudice and embedded bias, and stand with communities of color in their struggle.
In 2019, SFRPD applied herbicides 243 times, the most since 2013. Of these, 144 applications were in “Natural Areas” (this includes PUC areas managed in the same way – i.e. use of toxic herbicides against plants they dislike). Though the Natural Areas comprise perhaps a quarter of the park land in San Francisco (not counting the PUC lands), they used nearly half the herbicides measured by volume of active ingredient.
As we have been doing for some ten years now, we obtained and compiled monthly pesticide use reports from San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). Our analysis omits Harding Park golf course, which is under contract to the PGA and must be tournament-ready at all times. We do include other golf courses, including the nearly pesticide-free Sharp Park in Pacifica. Here is our report for 2019.
NRD USES MORE PESTICIDES
The Natural Resources Department (NRD, formerly the Natural Areas Program or NAP) is the entity that in trying to bring “native” plants to more than a thousand acres of our parks, cuts down trees and restrict access to people and their pets. (For details, see this LINK.) We analyze their usage separately; they are the largest user of the most toxic (Tier I) herbicides.
The targets are a growing list of mostly non-native plants, currently more than 50 species. New to the list in 2019 are Ox tongue (Picris echioides), Velvet grass, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), and Teasel (Dipsacus). (SF Department of the Environment – SFEnvironment – groups those pesticides that the city permits to be used on city properties into three Tiers. Tier III is least hazardous; Tier II is More Hazardous; and Tier I is Most Hazardous.)
The Tier I (Most Hazardous) chemicals used in the Natural Areas are the probable carcinogen Roundup Custom (glyphosate) and Garlon 4 Ultra (triclopyr). As indicated in the column-chart NRD Herbicide Use 2014-2019, Tier I pesticide usage fell in 2016, and has been climbing since. In 2019, both Roundup (green column) and Garlon (orange) usage rose. In 2019, Natural areas/ NRD accounted for 98% of the Tier I herbicides used by SFRPD. Herbicides are applied in these areas both by the NRD itself, and by an outside contractor. (On Point Land Management, associated with former contractor Shelterbelt.) Unless NRD changes its objectives, it will always need herbicides – Roundup, Stalker/ Polaris, Milestone VM, Garlon 4 Ultra. If it reduces one, there’s a temptation to increase another.
Even Sharp Park in Pacifica (also managed by NRD), which had been practically exempt from herbicide use for many years, has seen pesticide use edging upward since 2017.
THE ILL-ADVISED AND TOXIC WAR ON OXALIS
The continued increase in the use of Garlon (triclopyr), the most toxic herbicide that SFEnvironment permits is disturbing. Ever since we started following herbicide use in SFRPD, it’s been declared “HIGHEST PRIORITY TO FIND ALTERNATIVE. It’s used in their perennial, pointless, and apparently escalating war on oxalis. NRD increased its use of Garlon by about 90% from 2017 to 2018, and now by a further 14% in 2019. If NRD were to call off this futile effort, it could reduce its Garlon usage to zero.
Honeybee in oxalis flower
Oxalis is a beneficial plant: It produces copious amounts of nectar, which is food for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Its bulbs provide food for (native!) pocket gophers and some birds. Its brilliant yellow flowers bloom early in spring, before most other flowers. Kids like to chew on its sour stems (it’s also called sourgrass) and even adults have fond memories of this plant. Other than nativist purists, most people love it for its beauty – it’s a sign of spring in San Francisco.
NO GOOD NEWS: NRD HERBICIDE USAGE RISES AGAIN
After reducing its pesticide use in 2016, SFRPD (excluding Harding, and excluding NRD) increased its use of herbicides each year. In 2019, it more than doubled. The main cause was the use of Clearcast herbicide in and around lakes and ponds, as well as Milestone being used in its war on Cape Marigold. The main increase has been in “Other Tier II herbicides” – mainly Clearcast and Lifeline. These are glufosinate ammonium herbicides. They also used Axxe, which may not be as bad as some others; it has an OMRI listing for organic use. The only small positive is that since 2017, SFRPD other than NRD and Harding Park, has used almost no Tier I herbicides.
SFRPD also used 482 fluid ounces of Avenger (by active ingredient), which we have omitted from the chart above. Avenger is based on lemongrass oil, or what is called a “botanical.” It’s actually considered acceptable for organic gardening. However, it’s classified as Tier II because it can cause allergic reactions in its undiluted form.
The percentage of herbicide use by NRD has fallen (from 70% in 2018 to 46% in 2019) because usage by other SFRPD departments has increased even more rapidly than usage on NRD lands.
One of the main reasons is that they used a lot of Clearcast against water-primrose (ludwigia) and other plants – including calla lilies! – in and around San Francisco’s ponds and lakes.
In 2018, SFRPD declared war on Cape Marigold, arctotheca. Cape Marigold (also called the Plain Treasure Flower) has bright yellow flowers that look like daisies. It’s a ground-cover plant in the aster family, has a fairly long flowering period, and is attractive to butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. SFRPD considers “invasive” – i.e., successful in the urban environment we currently have in San Francisco. This “war” has continued into 2019, resulting in 32 applications of Milestone. This pesticide is applied in small quantities, but is extremely persistent.
What about the other golf courses? Their pesticide use is minimal. They used 18 fluid ounces of Lontrel (clopyralid).
KILLING THE WEEDS THE INSECTS NEED
At a time when environmentalists are concerned about the reduction in insect populations, we should be working to preserve our “weeds.” Unlike many garden plants, which are bred for attractive flowers and often have less value to insects, these weeds flower early and abundantly. They provide food for insects of all kinds, the foundation of the web of life. But many of the target plants are beneficial to insects: eucalyptus, the world’s largest flowering plant; oxalis, a foundation species in our urban ecosystem; fennel, the food plant for the anise swallowtail butterfly; wild radish; wild mustard; blackberry, which provides not only food but cover for birds and animals… the list goes on.
Anise Swallowtail butterfly lays eggs on fennel (c) Janet Kessler
It’s time for SFRPD and SF Environment to move to a more environment-friendly approach: Preserve the plants that wildlife needs and stop using toxic and persistent pesticides.
We would like to see SF Environment take the leadership in moving San Francisco to a policy of No Pesticides in our Parks and Watersheds.
In its April 2020 issue, the Smithsonian Magazine published an interview with Doug Tallamy, considered one of the fathers – or at least popularizers – of nativism. They asked Art Shapiro, who represents a broader view of the ecological role of all species, to respond. Then they gave Tallamy space to rebut his responses, but they did not give Shapiro a further chance to rebut the rebuttal. The MillionTrees blog stepped up to respond. This article is re-published with permission.
Doug Tallamy speaks…Art Shapiro responds…Million Trees fills in the gaps
Smithsonian Magazine published an interview with Professor Doug Tallamy, the entomologist who is committed to the eradication of non-native plants and most influential with native plant advocates in the United States. The Smithsonian article gives Professor Art Shapiro an inadequate opportunity to respond to Tallamy’s assertions about the superiority of native plants. Million Trees steps up to fill in the gaps in response to Tallamy.
The Smithsonian article says,“As a scientist, Tallamy realized his initial obligation was to prove his insight empirically. He began with the essential first step of any scientific undertaking, by applying for research grants, the first of which took until 2005 to materialize. Then followed five years of work by relays of students.”
The first study that Tallamy conducted is not mentioned in this article because it disproved his hypothesis: “Erin [Reed] compared the amount of damage sucking and chewing insects made on the ornamental plants at six suburban properties landscaped primarily with species native to the area and six properties landscaped traditionally. After two years of measurements Erin found that only a tiny percentage of leaves were damaged on either set of properties at the end of the season….Erin’s most important result, however, was that there was no statistical difference in the amount of damage on either landscape type.” (1)
The Smithsonian article says, “… insects tend to be specialists, feeding on and pollinating a narrow spectrum of plant life, sometimes just a single species. ‘Ninety percent of the insects that eat plants can develop and reproduce only on the plants with which they share an evolutionary history’…:”
Anise Swallowtail butterfly in non-native fennel. Courtesy urbanwildness.org
A “specialist” insect is rarely confined to using a single plant species. Mutually exclusive relationships in nature are very rare because they are usually evolutionary dead-ends. The study in which this claim about “specialization” originated, actually concluded: “More than 90 percent of all insects sampled associate with just one or two plant families.”* There are over 600 plant families and thousands of plant species within those families. Most plant families include both native and non-native plant species. An insect that uses one or two plant families, is therefore capable of using both native and non-native plant species. For example, there are 20,000 plant members of the Asteraceae family, including native sagebrush (Artemisia) and non-native African daisy. In other words, the insect that confines its diet to one family of plants is not very specialized.
The Smithsonian article says,“But he [Tallamy] thinks this [transition of insects to non-native plants] is likely to take thousands of generations to have an impact on the food web. Shapiro maintains he has seen it occur within his own lifetime.”
There are many empirical studies that document the transition that insects make from native to non-native plants within generations. Professor Tallamy provides a few examples of such rapid transitions in his first book, Bringing Nature Home: wooly adelgids from Asia have had a devastating effect on native hemlock forests in the eastern United States; Japanese beetles introduced to the United States are eating the foliage of over 400 plant species (according to Professor Tallamy), some of which are native (according to the USDA invasive species website).
Soapberry bug on balloon vine. Scott Carroll, UC Davis
The soapberry bug made a transition from a native plant in the soapberry family in less than 100 generations over a period of 20 to 50 years. The soapberry bug-balloon vine story is especially instructive because it entailed very rapid morphological as well as behavioral change; the beak length was quickly (a few years) selected for the dimensions of the fruit of the new host. (2)
Doug Tallamy claims that Art Shapiro’s findings are “anecdotal.” They are not.Art Shapiro’s published study is based on nearly 40 years of data. (3)
Monachs in eucalyptus, Pacific Grove Museum
In a recent NY Times article about declining populations of monarch butterflies on the West Coast, an academic scientist explains how he used Professor Shapiro’s data set to study the decline: “The monarch’s decline is part of a larger trend among dozens of butterfly species in the West, including creatures with names like field crescents, large marbles and Nevada skippers, said Matt Forister, an insect ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, whose conclusions are based on a nearly 50-year set of data compiled by Art Shapiro, a researcher at the University of California, Davis. “The monarch is very clearly part of a larger decline of butterflies in the West.” Clearly, other academic entomologists do not consider Professor Shapiro’s data “anecdotal.”
The Burghardt/Tallamy study (4) does not contradict the findings of Professor Art Shapiro because Professor Shapiro is studying butterflies (not moths) in “natural areas” that have not been artificially created by choosing a limited number of plant species, as Tallamy’s study did. In other words, the adult and larvae stages of butterflies that Professor Shapiro studies have more options, and when they do they are as likely to choose a non-native plant as a native plant for both host plant and food plant. You might say, Professor Shapiro’s study occurs in the “real world” and the Burghardt/Tallamy study occurs in an artificially created world.
Dismissing observations as anecdotal is a well-worn rhetorical device. Creationists often claim that evolution cannot be proven because the theory is based on millions of observations, rather than empirically tested by experiments. Yet, virtually all scientists are firm believers in the validity of evolutionary principles.
Tallamy dismisses climate change as a factor in plant and animal extinctions, preferring to place the blame solely on the mere existence of non-native plants.
This claim is contradicted by a multitude of studies, such as a collection of studies recently reported by Yale E360 that concludes: “A growing number of studies show that warming temperatures are increasing mortality in creatures ranging from birds in the Mojave Desert, to mammals in Australia, to bumblebees in North America. Researchers warn that heat stress could become a major factor in future extinctions.”
Climate change is the environmental issue of our time. When the climate changes, the vegetation changes. When the vegetation changes, wildlife adapts or dies. Non-native plants are one of the consequences, not the cause of climate change or plant and animal extinctions.
*Professor Shapiro has provided a caveat to this definition of specialization of insects in a private communication, published with his permission: “A couple of observations: Hardly any insects feed on entire plant families. Rather, they feed on specific lineages within those families, typically defined by secondary chemistry (which is the necessary releaser for oviposition and/or feeding behavior). The relationship was summed up symbolically by A.J.Thorsteinson half a century ago: feeding=presence of nutrients+presence of required secondary chemicals-deterrents-antifeedants-toxins. Thus the Anise Swallowtail species-group feeds on the carrot family, Apiaceae, but NOT on Apiaceae lacking the proper chemistry.But they DO feed on some Rutaceae (including Citrus) that, though unrelated, are chemically similar. That was worked out by Vincent Dethier in the 1940s and further developed by John Thompson at UC Santa Cruz. A whole slew of things require iridoid glycosides as oviposition and feeding stimulants. Most plants containing these were in the family Scrophulariaceae before DNA systematics led to its dismemberment, but one whole branch of Scrophs is chemically unsuitable. Milkweed bugs eat milkweed, but they also eat the Brassicaceous genera Erysimum and Cheiranthus, which are chemically similar to milkweeds but not to other Brassicaceae…and so on. Native vs. non-native has nothing to do with it.” (emphasis added)
Tallamy, Doug, “Flipping the Paradigm: Landscapes that Welcome Wildlife,” chapter in Christopher, Thomas, The New American Landscape, Timber Press, 2011
Carroll, Scott P., et. al., “Genetic architecture of adaptive differentiation in evolving host races of the soapberry bug, Jadera haematoloma,” Genetica, 112-113: 257-272, 2001
SD Graves and AM Shapiro, “Exotics as host plants of the California butterfly fauna,” Biological Conservation, 110 (2003) 413-433
Karin Burghardt, Doug Tallamy, et. al., “Non-native plants reduce abundance, richness, and host specialization in lepidopteran communities,” Ecosphere,November 2010
This article is republished from SutroForest.com, with permission.
Sutro Forest extended along Christopher to Clarendon Avenue.
The section at Christopher and Clarendon was decimated for the rebuilding of the pump station in 2009, possibly poisoned in 2013… and in 2019, it’s been clear-cut. It’s gone.
Also gone – the tall trees that lined Clarendon Avenue in front of the Aldea San Miguel UCSF student housing.
I remember a time when you couldn’t even see the fence from the street. When UCSF thinned the vegetation there many years ago, they promised plantings that would conceal the chain link fence. Well, they planted some vines, but the concealment didn’t happen.
The chain-link fence is more prominent than ever.
And across the road, a swath of trees adjacent to the homes on Clarendon have been felled too, probably by SF Rec and Parks (or possibly Sutro Tower, not sure).
The destruction of Sutro Forest – and indeed, many of the ancient trees of San Francisco – continues. It’s probably not a coincidence that nearly all the trees felled are eucalyptus.
Note: This article is based (with permission) on a version published on ForestKnolls.info
Though San Francisco’s tree cover is inadequate by the standards of any major city, it is fortunate to have a lot of old trees – many of them over 100 years old. Unfortunately, instead of treasuring these trees – it’s cutting them down. 2019 was a bad year for our trees.
THE WONDERFUL TREES OF LAKE MERCED
The tall trees around Lake Merced not only add to its beauty, they provide valuable habitat. Cormorants and herons have been nesting there for years.
The trees and bushes lining the road protect the lake from the pollution and noise from the motor traffic on the road – which is likely to increase as an alternate route to bypass the Great Highway.
…ARE NOW STUMPS
But – the city has been felling these trees nevertheless. There’s been clearcutting in areas along the roads surrounding the lake.
When we took these pictures, some cormorants were flying back and forth, carrying twigs, perhaps seeking a nesting site that was no longer there. Are these remaining trees along the road also doomed?
Meanwhile, pesticides are going to be used on the stumps of the trees that have already been destroyed.
Pesticide notice on one of the trees that wasn’t felled
This was a majestic tree before it was felled. Lake Merced, San Francisco CA
The nativist sentiment that drives a lot of the antipathy toward eucalyptus is based on number of myths. The myths about eucalyptus we’ve been trying to counter for years. See HERE for Eucalyptus Myths.
In fact, Lake Merced’s trees have been under attack for years. As far back as 2012, we took these pictures of trees felled inside the park.
SAN FRANCISCO’S SCANTY URBAN TREE CANOPY
It’s not as though San Francisco is so heavily forested that it can afford to wantonly destroy its trees, especially the mature well-established ones. Its tree cover is only 13.7%, less than any major city.
San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City
“Small and Shrinking Tree Canopy
San Francisco has one of the smallest tree canopies of any major U.S. city.
San Francisco was naturally a non-forested environment with fewer trees than east coast or other forested environments. Today, the City’s urban tree canopy (13.7%), measured by the amount of land covered by trees when viewed from above, is one of the smallest of any large U.S. city – less than Los Angeles (21%), Chicago (17%) and New York City (24%) – and unfortunately, it’s on the decline. New plantings are not keeping pace with tree removals and mortality, while tens of thousands of potential street tree planting spaces remain empty.”
Cutting down healthy and mature trees is certainly one of the reasons that this tree canopy is shrinking instead of growing.
San Francisco Forest Alliance is a 501(c)4 not-for-profit organization with a mission of Inclusive Environmentalism. We oppose the use of toxic pesticides in our parks, public lands, and watersheds.
Pesticide Notice on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, CA
Herbicidal chemicals are more toxic, more persistent, more mobile and more dangerous than their manufacturers disclose;
The aesthetic or ideological “danger” from “weeds” is not a risk to health and welfare;
Scientific studies associate exposure to herbicides with cancer, developmental and learning disabilities, nerve and immune system damage, liver or kidney damage, reproductive impairment, birth defects, and disruption of the endocrine system;
There is no safe dose of exposure to those chemicals because they persist in soil, water, and animal tissue, so even low levels of exposure could still accumulate and harm humans, animals, and the environment;
Especially vulnerable individuals include infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and chemical sensitivities;
Toxic runoff from herbicides pollute streams and groundwater, and therefore the drinking water sources;
Herbicides are harmful to pets and wildlife – including threatened and endangered species, plants, and natural ecosystems;
Herbicides are harmful to soil microbiology and contaminate soil into the future, reducing biodiversity in sensitive areas.
People have a right not to be involuntarily exposed to herbicides in the air, water or soil that inevitably result from chemical drift and contaminated runoff. With the many court cases against Monsanto regarding Roundup, land managers have been considering reducing the use of this herbicide at one time considered safe. This is not enough. In many cases, other herbicides are being used instead – and these may be even more harmful than the ones being replaced, albeit with less research available.
We must do better by limiting synthetic herbicide use only to those classified as “minimum risk” by EPA.
It’s not impossible.
• The Marin Municipal Water District has been herbicide free since 2005.
• In a 2017 pilot project, Marin successfully demonstrated that traffic medians could be maintained without glyphosate (the only synthetic herbicide previously used on medians). Marin County will continue to move forward without herbicides on all medians and roadside landscapes.
• The City of Richmond completely banned use of all herbicides by the city in 2016.
• France banned pesticides from public forests, parks and gardens since the end of 2016, and in 2019 will extend it to private gardens.
We should immediately be moving toward the goal of No Pesticides in our Parks and Watersheds.
Jake Sigg, considered the doyen of San Francisco’s native plant activists, has an influential newsletter. Recently, it said: “Did you know that 90 percent of insects can only eat the native plant species with which they’ve co-evolved?” It included a link to a video from the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) … which provided no evidence for the statement at all. Nor was there any data to substantiate the claim – which is false. In fact, as Professor Art Shapiro points out, insects easily adapt to using other plants than the ones they “co-evolved” with. He notes, “… the urban-suburban California butterfly fauna is now overwhelmingly dependent on non-native plants.“
Not only did the video from not contain any reference to 90% of insects, it was in itself an interesting piece of sleight-of-hand. It made the fair point that plants were the foundation of the web of life.
Then, I suppose because it was from CNPS, it said: “None of us can live without them, especially native plants” and “Native plants support local wildlife”… the video shows a Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly fluttering in. They’re native butterflies, but they don’t need native plants. In San Francisco, they breed on (non-native) London Plane Trees that are found on Market Street and other urban streets, which means their caterpillars readily eat those non-native leaves.
The video continues...”and ecosystems. The web of life depends on them For habitat“
And it illustrates this with a photograph of a great horned owl, which nests on large tall trees, usually non-native eucalyptus, as in this photograph below.
Bumblebee on oxalis flower
Bumble bee on wild radish flower
Then it shows a bumblebee on a Western thistle (native)… except that bumblebees happily nectar on a vast number of non-native plants, including wild radish and the yellow oxalis that Jake Sigg loves to hate.
Then it adds a picture of a Monarch butterfly… which does indeed depend on milkweed as its nursery plant (though it nectars on non-native ivy flowers as well as eucalyptus blossoms). But it readily breeds on non-native milkweed as well as native milkweed (and contrary to some native species activists, non-native milkweed does not spread disease or reduce breeding success). More to the point, the western migration of the Monarch butterfly relies heavily on (non-native) eucalyptus trees to over-winter in. Without the eucalyptus, the western migration will probably die out.
It argues that habitat is shrinking (with a picture of a highway in LA), which is perhaps reasonable (though farming is more likely the culprit than urban sprawl). And goes on to suggest planting native plant gardens. That’s not objectionable in itself, of course, but it’s planting a mix of various kinds of plants that will benefit the most species.
So though the video certainly shows the need for plants as the basis of an ecosystem, it emphatically does not make the case for native plants.
NO, 90% OF INSECTS DO NOT DEPEND ON NATIVE PLANTS
We reprint, with permission and minor changes, a thorough refutation of the statement from Professor Art Shapiro, published on the Million Trees blog. In sum, Professor Shapiro challenges the statement, and points out that “ecological fitting” – which allows species that didn’t “co-evolve” to interact – is very common. He cites examples from all over the world.
We briefly reactivate the Million Trees blog to publish an interesting and important debate between Jake Sigg and Professor Art Shapiro about the relationship between insects and native plants. Their debate was initiated by this statement published in Jake Sigg’s Nature News on April 26, 2019:
“Did you know that 90 percent of insects can only eat the native plant species with which they’ve co-evolved?”
Jake Sigg has been the acknowledged leader of the native plant movement in the San Francisco Bay Area for 30 years. He is a retired gardener for the Recreation and Parks Department in San Francisco. Art Shapiro is Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolution at UC Davis. He has studied the butterflies of Central California for 50 years.
Jake and Art are both passionately committed to the preservation of nature, but their divergent viewpoints reflect their different experiences. Jake’s viewpoint is based on his personal interpretation of his observations. As a gardener, his top priority is the preservation of plants rather than the animals that need plants. As a scientist, Art’s viewpoint is based on empirical data, in particular, his records of plant and butterfly interactions over a period of 47 years as he walked his research transects about 250 days per year. The survival of butterflies is Art’s top priority.
Although their discussion is informative, it does not resolve the questions it raises because Jake and Art “agree to disagree.” Therefore, Million Trees will step into the vacuum their discussion creates to state definitively that it is patently false to say that “90% of insects can only eat native plants.” That statement grossly exaggerates the degree of specialization of insects and underestimates the speed of adaptation and evolution.
There are several reasons why insects do not benefit from the eradication of non-native plants:
Insects use both native and non-native plants.
Pesticides used to eradicate non-native plants are harmful to both plants and insects as well as the entire environment.
There is no evidence that insects are being harmed by the existence of non-native plants.
INSECTS USE BOTH NATIVE AND NON-NATIVE PLANTS
This statement was recently made in an article published by Bay Nature magazine about Jake Sigg: “More than 90 percent of all insects sampled associate with just one or two plant families.” (7,500 insect species were sampled by the cited study. There are millions of insect species and their food preferences are largely unknown.) This exaggerated description of specialization of insects seems the likely origin of the subsequent, inappropriate extrapolation to the statement that specialized insects require native plants.
There are over 600 plant families and thousands of plant species within those families. Most plant families include both native and non-native plant species. An insect that uses one or two plant families, is therefore capable of using both native and non-native plant species.
We will use the Oxalidaceae plant family to illustrate that insects can and do use both native and non-native plants. Oxalidaceae is a small family of about 5 genera and 600 plant species. We choose that family as an example because Jake Sigg’s highest priority for eradication is a member of that plant family, Oxalis pes-caprae (Bermuda buttercup is the usual common name). In a recent Nature News (April 9, 2019), Jake explained why: “Oxalis is not just another weed; this bugger has a great impact on the present and it will determine the future of the landscapes it invades.”
Garlon is toxic to bees, birds, and fish. It is an endocrine-disrupter that poses reproductive and developmental risks to female applicators. It damages the soil by killing mycorrhizal fungi that are essential to plant health by facilitating the transfer of nutrients and moisture from the soil to plant roots.
A recent article in the quarterly newsletter of Beyond Pesticides explains that insecticides are not the only killers of insects: “Insecticides kill insects, often indiscriminately and with devastating consequences for biodiversity, ecosystem stability, and critical ecosystem services. Herbicides and chemical fertilizers extinguish invaluable habitat and forage critical to insect survival. Taken together, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers make large and growing swaths of land unlivable for vast numbers of insect species and the plants and animals they sustain.” The loss of insects where herbicides are used to kill non-native plants are undoubtedly contributing to the failure of attempts to “restore” native plants which require pollinators and insect predator control as much as non-native plants.
In other words, eradicating non-native oxalis is damaging the environment and the animals that live in the environment. Furthermore, after twenty years of trying to eradicate it, Jake Sigg admits that there is more of it now than there was when this crusade began: “Maybe you’ve noticed that there’s more and more of it every year, and fewer and fewer other plants. That is unlikely to reverse.” (Nature News, April 9, 2019).
In fact, local failure of eradication efforts mirrors global failures of similar attempts: “…despite international policies aimed at mitigating biological invasions, the implementation of national- and regional-scale measures to prevent or control alien species has done little to slow the increase in extent of invasions and the magnitude of impacts.”
[Ref: “A four-component classification of uncertainties in biological invasions: implications for management,” G. LATOMBE , S. CANAVAN, H. HIRSCH,1 C. HUI, S. KUMSCHICK,1,3 M. M. NSIKANI, L. J. POTGIETER, T. B. ROBINSON, W.-C. SAUL, S. C. TURNER, J. R. U. WILSON, F. A. YANNELLI, AND D. M. RICHARDSON, Ecosphere, April 2019.]
DO INSECTS BENEFIT FROM ERADICATING NON-NATIVE PLANTS?
There is no question that insects are essential members of every ecosystem. They are the primary food of birds and other members of wildland communities. They perform many vital functions in the environment, such as consuming much of our waste that would otherwise accumulate.
The Economist magazine has reported the considerable evidence of declining populations of insects in many places all over the world. (However, the Economist points out that the evidence does not include large regions where insect populations have not been studied. The Economist is therefore unwilling to conclude that the “insect apocalypse” is a global phenomenon.) The report includes the meta-analysis of 73 individual studies that describe declines of 50% and more over decades. The meta-analysis concluded that there are four primary reasons for those declines, in order of their importance: habitat loss, intensive farming, pesticide use, and spread of diseases and parasites. The existence of non-native plants is conspicuously absent from this list of threats to insect populations.
In other words, although the preservation of insects is extremely important, there is no evidence that the eradication of non-native plants would benefit insects. In fact, eradication efforts are detrimental to insects because of the toxic chemicals that are used and the loss of the food the plants are providing to insects.
JAKE SIGG AND PROFESSOR SHAPIRO DISCUSS INSECTS AND NATIVE PLANTS
The discussion begins on April 26, 2019, with this statement published in Jake’s Nature News:
“Did you know that 90 percent of insects can only eat the native plant species with which they’ve co-evolved?”
On April 26, 2019, Arthur Shapiro wrote:
“No, I didn’t know 90% of insects can only eat the native plants with which they’ve co-evolved. I’ve only been studying insect-plant relationships and teaching about them for 50 years and that’s news to me, especially since on a global basis we don’t know what the vast majority of insects species eat, period! That’s even true for butterflies and moths, which are probably the best-studied group. And it’s even true here in California, one of the best-studied places on the planet (though way behind the U.K. and Japan). Where on earth did that bit of non-information come from?”
Jake Sigg responds:
“Art, I did my best to run down source for that statement. As I suspected, it may lack academic precision. That kind of precision is hard come by, and what exists is not entirely relevant. Most of the information comes from Doug Tallamy. But the statement is not accurate; it should have read “…90 percent of plant-eating insects eat only the native plants they evolved with”. Whether that is true or not I don’t know, but it accords with my understanding and I am willing to go along with it, even if proof is lacking. If you wait for scientific proof on everything you may wait a long time and lose a lot of biodiversity. I have had too much field experience to think that exotic plants can provide the sustenance that natives do.
I expect you will be unhappy with this response.”
On May 2, 2019, Art Shapiro replies:
“If Tallamy said “90% of the plant-eating insects that I have studied…” or “90% of the plant-eating insects that have been studied in Delaware…” or some such formulation I might take him more seriously. The phenomenon of “ecological fitting,” as described by Dan Janzen, is widespread if not ubiquitous. “Ecological fitting” occurs when two species with no history of coevolution or even sympatry (co-occurrence) are thrown together and “click.” A.J.Thorsteinson summed up some 60 years ago what is needed for an insect to switch onto a new host plant: the new plant must be nutritionally adequate, possess the requisite chemical signals to trigger egg-laying and feeding, not possess any repellents or antifeedants and not be toxic.
That set of circumstances is met very frequently. To those of us who study it, it seems to happen every other Tuesday. As we showed, the urban-suburban California butterfly fauna is now overwhelmingly dependent on non-native plants. The weedy mallows (Malva) and annual vetches (Vicia) are fed upon by multiple native butterfly species and are overall the most important butterfly hosts in urban lowland California. . Within the past decade, our Variable Checkerspot has begun breeding spontaneously and successfully on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii). The chemical bridge allowing this is iridoid glycosides. When I was still back East I published that the Wild Indigo Dusky Wing skipper, Erynnis baptisiae, had switched onto the naturalized European crown vetch (Coronilla varia) which had converted it from a scarce and local pine-barrens endemic to a widespread and common species breeding on freeway embankments. And the hitherto obscure skipper Poanes viator, the Broad-Winged Skipper, went from being a rare and local wetland species best collected from a boat to becoming the most abundant early-summer butterfly in the New York metropolitan area by switching from emergent aquatic grasses and sedges to the naturalized Mesopotamian strain of Common Reed, Phragmites australis. I can go on, and on, and on. If you find a sponsor for me to give a lecture about this in the Bay Area, I’ll gladly do it. If you promise to come!
I won’t snow you under with pdfs. Here’s just one, a serendipitous one that resulted from my walking near Ohlone Park in Berkeley. And one from the high Andes in Argentina. That paper cites one of mine in Spanish demonstrating that the southernmost butterfly fauna in the world, in Tierra del Fuego and on the mainland shore of the Straits of Magellan, is breeding successfully on exotic weeds.-! Copy on request.”
On May 2, 2019, Jake Sigg published his last reply:
“I believe many of your statements, Art, and many of these cases I am familiar with. A conspicuous local example is the native Anise Swallowtail butterfly that still lays eggs on native members of the Umbelliferae, the parsley family, but which also breeds on the exotic fennel, which is an extremely aggressive weed that in only a few years can transform a healthy and diverse grassland supporting much wildlife into a plant monoculture—that, btw, won’t even support the butterfly, which shuns laying eggs where its larval food plant is too numerous and easy target for a predator, like yellow jackets.
What puzzles me is why you can keep your equanimity at the prospect of losing acres of very diverse habitat to a monoculture of fennel. You live in the heart of the world’s breadbasket where for hundreds of miles both north and south there are almost no native plants except those planted by humans. That would tend to distort one’s view. I don’t mean to be flip, but it is not normal for even an academic to be indifferent about a loss of this magnitude. I have worked hands-on on the land (I was raised on a ranch) all my life and still work every Wednesday maintaining our natural habitat in San Francisco—a task that hundreds of citizens pitch in on because they value the quality and diversity of the areas. And why do you remain indifferent, are you just a contrarian? You cite examples to bolster your view, but the examples are too small a percentage to be meaningful and wouldn’t stand up against a representative presentation.
I got my view from life. I type this in my second-floor sunroom, which looks into a coast live oak growing from an acorn I planted in the late 1960s, about 50 years ago and which is immediately on the other side of the window. It is alive with birds of many different species—flocks of bushtits, chickadees, juncos every day (plus individuals of other species), which species-number balloons in the migratory season. What I can’t figure out is how the tree can be so productive as to stand up to this constant raiding. I will take instances of this sort as my guide rather than the product of academic lucubrations. And I will throw in Doug Tallamy; the world he portrays is one I recognize and love.
I think our battle lines are drawn. This discussion could go on, as we have not even scratched the surface of a deep and complex subject. But will either of us change our minds? No.”
“Jake Sigg: N.B. Art responded with another long epistle, not for posting. It clarified some of the points that were contentious and seemed to divide us. We differ, but not as much as would appear from the above discussion.”
On a personal note, we’d like to point out that one of the writers of this article has a (non-native) red wattle tree outside their window – which also attracts bushtits, juncos, and chickadees, not to mention hummingbirds (both Anna’s and Allens), house finches, white-crowned sparrows, and a bunch of other species. Oak trees are certainly good habitat – but so are a lot of other plant and tree species, where ever they originate.
Throughout the city and the whole San Francisco Bay area, urban and suburban forests are being destroyed. The Natural Resource Area Management Plan targets 18,000 trees in San Francisco and Pacifica. In the East Bay, more than 50,000 trees may be felled – some estimates go to half a million.
In many cases, the relevant authority argues they are really removing trees that “dead or dying.” We question whether the so-called “dying” trees are actually dying, or merely in a defensive mode against four dry years, from which they would have recovered after this wet winter had they been given the chance.
And importantly, the dead trees have enormous value in the forest. We republish this article by Jack Gescheidt, first published at Treespirit.com with permission and minor changes. (The article and all the images are copyright to Jack Gescheidt.)
DEAD, DYING AND DECAYING TREES PLAY AN ESSENTIAL ROLE IN INCREASING FOREST LIFE
Even tree lovers may not know the myriad ways trees some label “dying” or “sick” or “infected” or “infested” (with beetles or other insects) are in fact beneficial to a forest. Perhaps you’ve figured this out already, or know it intuitively, but forests do just fine without us humans interfering. Especially when our “helping” is driven by financial gain.
But fans of forest beware: timber companies hellbent on extracting more wood from U.S. and world forests have concocted yet another way of saying down is up, wrong is right, and denuding forests does a forest good. Their newest sell-off-the-forest pitch is to “remove” only “dead” or “dying” trees, to “clean up” or “manage” forests more “responsibly” implying this does no harm. Don’t believe it. All the quotations are used to indicate these terms are euphemisms which don’t convey the reality of how damage is done in “responsibly” “managing” a forest. This would actually entail leaving it alone, and certainly not bringing in heavy machinery.
Extracting “dead” or “down” or “dying” trees is only the latest insidious way of doing additional harm while ignoring the reality of our current situation: global warming is threatening humanity, which is caused in large part by decades of massive, and ongoing deforestation, nationally and globally. What we humans should instead be doing is leaving existing forests be, especially old-growth forests, not inflicting more damage or extractions of any kind. And planting more trees than we cut down — I mean, “harvest.” Important note: planting a sapling is NOT an equivalent replacement for cutting down a mature tree. Leave mature trees stand AND plant more trees. This would benefit us humans — as well as animals and plants and planet, because we’re actually all in this together. Deforestation for short term profit equals environmental and societal catastrophe in the long term.
The timber industry’s latest assaults begin ideologically. If they win over your mind, and public opinion, they will destroy our forests, and harm all of us in the end. In the public relations assault you’ll hear and read this lie: that forests benefit from industrial removal of “dead” or “dying” trees; that doing so has little or no impact on a forest’s health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Standing dead trees, and trees that have fallen over, and trees in any and every state of decay, are essential to the life cycles of decay and regeneration of a forest. And thus our health depends upon these, since we depend upon forests for carbon sequestration, oxygen production, soil creation, water filtration, wildlife habitat, and so much more.
Chad Hanson, Director of the John Muir Project, UC Davis researcher, and Sierra Club board member, says this about dead trees and forests:
We are trapped by an outdated cultural idea that a healthy forest is one with nothing but green trees. An ecologically healthy forest has dead trees, broken tops, and down logs. Such forests may not look tidy from the perception of a forester, but it (a forest with lots of dead trees) is the most biologically diverse and healthy, from a forest ecosystem perspective….Pound for pound, ton for ton, there is probably no more important habitat element in western conifer forests than large snags and large down logs.
The old practice of killing trees — what modern industry euphemistically calls “harvesting” — to make too many products that are either unnecessary or readily replaced with non-tree sources, has now become a suicidal practice. By killing trees and destroying forests everywhere, we are also killing ourselves, slowly, surely, and increasingly not so slowly.
Beware, too, other misleading, non-scientific labels like “invasive” and “non-native” which are also now commonly used to justify killing trees, plants, and animals, sometimes even by well-intentioned but tragically misled environmentalists. All have drunk the industrial agricultural public relations Kool-Aid. Meaning they kill wild plants and animals, imagining they are doing good, even justifying toxic herbicide use to do so.
Beware, too, other misleading, non-scientific labels like “invasive” and “non-native” which are also now commonly used to justify killing trees, plants, and animals, sometimes even by well-intentioned but tragically misled environmentalists. All have drunk the industrial agricultural public relations Kool-Aid. Meaning they kill wild plants and animals, imagining they are doing good, even justifying toxic herbicide use to do so. READ MORE: http://www.TreeSpiritProject.com/Invasion Biology
Dead and decaying trees are precious to a forest. Here’s a short list of services they perform:
• DEAD TREES are wildlife habitat — homes! — for many species of insects, birds and mammals including beetles, bees, wasps, ants, mice, squirrels, salamanders, shrews, bats, rats, and wildcats (lynx, bobcat), raccoons, martens, and even cover for larger mammals including mountain lions and bears.
• DEAD TREES feed numerous fungi like mushrooms which in turn feed myriad animals, including rodents like voles.
• DEAD TREES provide crucial habitat (nesting, roosting and food storage) for many species of woodpeckers that rely solely upon them. Woodpeckers require dead wood that’s easier to penetrate than living wood. So woodpecker habitat is destroyed when timber companies extract dead trees, and forest health suffers as woodpecker services are diminished.
• DEAD TREES are food for insects which in turn feed larger animals including birds and mammals, all essential to forest health.
• DEAD TREES create new soil, a critical component from which all life springs
• DEAD TREES retain critical moisture in a forest as decomposing woody material
We must protect all remaining un-logged, or old-growth (over 200 years old) forests and leave intact any and all forests for their critical ecological service in our era of anthropogenic global warming. These include carbon sequestration (CO2 storage) as double duty; keeping the carbon in a living tree in its wood and out of the atmosphere, as well as allowing living trees to continue extracting additional CO2 from the atmosphere every day it is alive.
In addition to these obvious, rational-minded functions, now is also an ideal time for us planetary citizens to become more aware of the equally valuable emotional and spiritual tonic trees provide us. Notice and appreciate each individual tree growing near you, regardless of its species or its country of origin.
There are no “invasive” trees! You may have your favorites kinds of trees, but all provide critical ecological service. Maintain trees, care for them, plant more of them, and feel how they can reconnect us to the natural world we have for too long abandoned. If more of us do this more often, we just might be able to save our own species from dying too.
For many years now, we have been obtaining and compiling monthly pesticide use reports from San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). This is our report for 2018.
Our analysis omits Harding Park, which is under contract to the PGA and must be tournament-ready at all times. We do include other golf courses, including the nearly pesticide-free Sharp Park in Pacifica (of which more later).
We analyze the data separately for the Natural Resources Department (NRD, formerly the Natural Areas Program or NAP). This is the entity that is trying to bring “native” plants to more than a thousand acres of our parks, cuts down trees and restrict access to people and their pets. (For details, see this LINK.) It uses toxic herbicides against non-native plants it considers invasive, currently nearly 50 species.
The NRD was the largest single user of herbicides within SFRPD. In fact, it used significantly more herbicides than the rest of SFRPD put together, including all the golf courses except Harding. SFRPD applied herbicides 223 times, of which 175 176 were in “Natural Areas” (this includes PUC areas managed in the same way – i.e. use of toxic herbicides against plants they dislike).
[Edited to Add: We have changed the chart above to correct the data.]
THE (SORT OF) GOOD NEWS
SFRPD (excluding Harding, and excluding NRD) continued to reduce its use of herbicides. Which is good news. They’ve also almost stopped using Tier I products. (SF Department of the Environment – SFEnvironment – groups those pesticides that the city permits to be used on city properties into three Tiers. Tier III is least hazardous; Tier II is More Hazardous; and Tier I is Most Hazardous.) The only usage in 2018 was Roundup Custom on a tree stump in Duboce.
There are some disturbing developments; the drop was a mere 6%, compared to a 34% fall in 2017, a 56% decline in 2016, and 30% in 2015.
BAD NEWS: NRD HERBICIDE USAGE RISES AGAIN
NRD dropped its pesticide usage sharply in 2014, and continued the decline through 2016. But in the last two years it started climbing again, and it now is at the highest it’s been in five years (see the graph below).
They’ve added another Tier II pesticide to their arsenal: Axxe, which they tried on oxalis. On the whole, this herbicide is probably not as bad as some others; it has an OMRI listing for organic use. They also used Clearcast on Lake Merced against waterplants.
The increase is clearer in the graph below. (The orange columns are Garlon.) NRD increased its use of Garlon by about 90% from 2017, and it’s the highest it has been in the last five years.
Oxalis is a beneficial plant: It produces copious amounts of nectar, which is food for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Its bulbs provide food for (native!) pocket gophers and some birds. Its brilliant yellow flowers bloom early in spring, before most other flowers. Kids like to chew on its sour stems (it’s also called sourgrass) and even adults have fond memories of this plant. Other than nativist purists, most people love it for its beauty – it’s a sign of spring in San Francisco.
A NEW WAR: CAPE MARIGOLD
Last year, SFRPD declared war on Cape Marigold, arctotheca. This is a ground-cover plant that’s attractive to butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, but is considered “invasive” – i.e., successful in the urban environment we currently have in San Francisco. In 2018, this attempt resulted in 21 applications of herbicides (of a total of 223), including the first time since August 2010 that pesticides have been used in Sharp Park, habitat for the endangered red-legged frog and the California garter snake.
Nearly all applications were of Milestone VM (aminopyralid) but one was of Sapphire (penoxsulam) – hitherto restricted to golf-courses ONLY in preparation for tournaments. On this occasion, it was being used on the St Mary’s playing field.
Cape Marigold (also called the Plain Treasure Flower) has bright yellow flowers that look like daisies. It’s in the aster family, has a fairly long flowering period, and also provides food for butterflies and bees.
NEW CHEMICALS – AND NEW TARGETS
As we said in our half-year report, three new herbicides have been added to the list permissible for use in San Francisco: Axxe (which we mentioned above), Lifeline, and Clearcast.
The list of target species is also growing, and we’ve now counted 47 types of plants that are being sprayed with herbicides. The 2018 newcomers to the list are a couple of succulents: Aeonium, and crassula. Also added to the list is “Cat’s Ear,” an edible plant resembling dandelions and widespread enough that if it’s a target it would provide an excuse for considerable pesticide use. There’s another plant listed as Cape vertigo (sometimes the form is unclear!), which may be an ornamental grass.
We slightly modify our conclusions from our Half-Year report in July: While we are glad that SFRPD has moved to reduce herbicide use (at least in non-Natural areas), we’re disappointed that it continues to consider pesticides a viable strategy. We’re also disappointed at the opening of more battle-fronts against plants, which will inevitably push for more pesticide usage. We’re disappointed at the rising usage by the NRD.
We would like to see SF Environment take the leadership in moving San Francisco to a policy of No Pesticides in our Parks and Watersheds.
In 2017, UCSF introduced a Plan that reduces the UCSF forest area by one-third, removes around 6,000 trees (new estimate!) and all the understory/ midstory shrubs. This has started. The article below is republished with permission and minor changes from SaveSutro.com, the website to publicize and resist the destruction of the forest.
A short time ago, UCSF sent out a circular saying it was going to start the tree-felling in Sutro Forest. [ETA: The circular from UCSF used a header surprisingly like SFForest’s current logo above. We would like to clarify: We absolutely oppose the destruction of Sutro Forest and the felling of thousands of its trees.]
We were surprised, because they’re supposed to avoid doing this in the winter when the ground is unstable with rain, and in the spring and summer when it’s the bird-nesting season. Tree-felling season was supposed to be in the Fall. But no, it’s happening now and they intend to finish by March. Thousands of trees will be gone, and the forest as we know it will be severely depleted.
Well, it’s started. Recently, a forest-supporter sent us these pictures:
The email that accompanied the pictures was unhappy. “Not much of a canopy anymore. This sucks.”
“In that location there were also trees marked with red paint, presumably for future removal?” they said in a follow-up email regarding tree-cutting near Clarendon Avenue. “Feel free to use my photos on your site. It wasn’t very long ago when running or walking these trails transported you into a different almost magical world. Increasingly as more and more trees are cut down, the surrounding city intrudes. Thank you very much for your advocacy.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
Tree cutting has started in the East Ridge area (above the UCSF student housing at Aldea), Clarendon area (parallel to Christopher Drive), the Woodland Canyon Area (below Medical Center Way), the Farnsworth area (between Edgewood Avenue and the UCSF campus).
These are, coincidentally, the areas of the forest that as long ago as 2009, UCSF had targeted for tree destruction. (This was back when they were seeking a FEMA grant to pay for it – which they withdrew when FEMA wanted evidence.) The language of the memo presents this as removal of dead and dying trees, though we have concerns both about the definition of ‘dead and dying’ and about the habitat impact of so much tree removal. (And dead trees, are, in fact, a habitat treasure for wildlife.)
The memo says they plan to bring in goats to eat the understory in February 2019, but a subsequent memo says it’s happening earlier.
Anyway, what we can expect in Sutro Forest this year is a lot less forest – thousands of trees removed, missing canopy, and bare open patches where the understory is also gone.
We hope you have made memories of the beautiful forest as it used to be. This site has been fighting the battle since 2009; others started in 1999. Sadly, the Sutro Stewards, who partner with UCSF in working in this forest, support this felling of trees and destruction of the understory.
This 130-year-old forest is no longer going to be a forest.
Three of the most flammable plants in California landscapes are bay laurels, coyote brush, and chamise – all native. An evenhanded presentation of fire hazard ratings for all plants that does not downplay the danger of native plants or exaggerate the danger of non-native plants would better serve people working to address fire hazards. So we wrote this letter to the California Native Plant Society, which is updating its Fire Recovery Guide. (You can see it here as a 64-page PDF document: cnps-fire-recovery-guide-lr-040618 )
To: Daniel Gluesenkamp, Executive Director of the California Native Plant Society
Dear Mr. Gluesenkamp,
We have read the CNPS Fire Recovery Guide. Property owners will undoubtedly find it useful advice to prevent post-fire erosion and unnecessary destruction of trees and plants that are likely to survive in the long term. The specific advice about creating defensible space also seems helpful.
We understand that your organization is working on an update of this Guide. We are therefore writing to make a few suggestions for improving its accuracy and therefore its credibility.
If the Guide is going to suggest that home owners avoid planting specific plants within their defensible space, we would suggest a more neutral approach that would focus more on fire hazard and less on nativity. The Guide cites eucalyptus and non-native pines as presenting severe fire hazard. See pages 5, 30 and 52. However, the evidence from the recent fires does not implicate non-native trees. The documents cited in your guide (pages 44-45) show that the acreage of non-native tree species that burned in the recent fires was insignificant compared to the overwhelmingly native vegetation that burned. Two papers are cited to support the claim that non-native trees are more hazardous than native trees, Lambert and Landis. Neither paper presents and analyzes data to support the claim. Each paper contains a table of non-native plants considered to be fire hazards, but no information is presented to support them. There is a large quote about the fire hazard of eucalyptus on page 30, but with no indication who made the statement.
There are many available lists of flammable plants that should be avoided within defensible space. Marin Fire Safe lists both native and non-native plants on its list of flammable plants: http://www.firesafemarin.org/plants/fire-prone
The Oakland Firesafe Council also provides a link to that list on their website. Three of the most flammable plants in California landscapes are are bay laurels, coyote brush, and chamise. An evenhanded presentation of fire hazard ratings for all plants that does not downplay the danger of native plants or exaggerate the danger of non-native plants would better serve people working to address fire hazards.
Page 56 of the Guide dismisses the role SOD may have played in the fires. The Big Basin fires are discussed in support of this, but there is no analysis of the Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino fires. Matteo Garbelotto, the scientist at UC Berkeley who conducts the annual survey of SOD infections reports that “A dramatic increase this year in the number of oaks, manzanita and native plants infected by the tree-killing disease known as sudden oak death likely helped spread the massive fires that raged through the North Bay… http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/SanFranciscoChronicle/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=HSFC%2F2017%2F10%2F20&entity=Ar00101&sk=FE15FEB2&mode=text
It seems likely the vegetation killed by SOD did play a role in fires. Why downplay the possibility?
SOD is a terrible thing. We should not ignore its consequences.
When recommending that property owners plant oaks on their land (page 21), it might be wise to steer them toward other tree choices if the SOD pathogen is known to exist at their location. A detailed map of where SOD infections have been found is available here: https://nature.berkeley.edu/matteolab/?page_id=4262
There is some confusion in the guide between plants that are flammable versus fire intolerant. BayLaurels are flammable, but fire tolerant. See page 56.
We hope that the year ahead will bring a more positive attitude in the world to the environment, to preserving trees and growing more of them, and getting rid of toxic pesticides in our parks and watersheds. It’s a long battle, but we are hopeful.
Season’s greetings to all our readers and supporters! And thank you for your continuing support and voice!
The proposition, City Privacy Guidelines, would set guidelines for future privacy laws, regulations, policies, and practices for the City. All parts of City government would be authorized to implement any, all or none of these principles. The measure would require that the City Administrator, by May 31, 2019, propose an ordinance establishing the actual criteria and rules for the City. Proposition B is not actually necessary, as it only contains guidelines that may or may not be incorporated into the actual ordinance to be proposed by the City Administrator.
However, the proposition would codify one very important and dangerous thing. Subsection (i) says: “Notwithstanding any other provision of the Charter, the Board of Supervisors is authorized by ordinance to amend voter-approved ordinances regarding privacy, open meetings, or public records, provided that any such amendment is not inconsistent with the purpose or intent of the voter-approved ordinance.”
In other words, the Board of Supervisors is granting themselves the authority to re-interpret and change Chapter 67 of the San Francisco Administrative Code. This Sunshine Ordinance, is intended to “to ensure that deliberations of commissions, boards, councils and other agencies of the City and County are conducted before the people and that City operations are open to the people’s review.” (You can see the Sunshine Ordinance HERE.)
The Sunshine Ordinance is vital to the rights of individuals to know clearly what their government is doing, and to our free press to fulfill its duty to help the public uphold a fully informed democracy.
City Hall already has too much power to resist transparency and scrutiny. Prop B would unacceptably give our decision makers even more power to further marginalize public accountability and community participation.
San Francisco Forest Alliance supported The Forest Action Brigade in opposing Measure FF. This article, republished here with permission from Death of a Million Trees (a website/ blog opposing unnecessary tree destruction and pesticide use) , outlines why it’s important to vote NO on Measure FF. These are our reasons for opposing this Measure. We believe its impact on parklands will be negative and environmentally destructive, with more toxic herbicides – like glyphosate (Roundup) – and the loss of thousands of trees.
A vote against Measure FF on the ballot for the November 6, 2018 election is a vote against pesticide use in the East Bay. If Measure FF passes, it will renew a parcel tax for 20 years. For the past 15 years, the parcel tax has funded the destruction of thousands of trees on thousands of acres of public parks in the East Bay. The renewal of the parcel tax will increase the percentage of available funds for tree removals and associated pesticide use from 30% to 40% of funds raised by the parcel tax.
The public tried hard to convince the East Bay Regional Park District to stop destroying healthy trees and quit using pesticides in our parks. We attended public hearings and wrote letters to Park District leadership and its governing board. We made many suggestions for useful park improvements that would be constructive, rather than destructive. Our requests and suggestions were ignored.
After making every effort to avoid opposition to Measure FF, we reluctantly take a stand against it. The parks are important to us and we would much prefer to support park improvements. Unfortunately, Measure FF will not improve the parks. Rather, it will continue down the destructive path the Park District has been on for the past 15 years. In fact, Measure FF would escalate the destruction and poisoning of our public lands.
On Friday, August 31st, the Forest Action Brigade participated in a press conference rally at Bayer headquarters in Berkeley. Bayer is the new owner of Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate. The rally was sponsored by a labor organization that is concerned about exposing workers to glyphosate, which is probably a carcinogen. The President of the Forest Action Brigade, Marg Hall, spoke at the rally.
The Voter Information Guides in Contra Costa and Alameda counties have published the following argument against Measure FF that was submitted by the Forest Action Brigade. We hope you will read it and take this important opportunity to protect our public parks from being needlessly damaged.
Argument Against Measure FF
“We love public parks, and we support taxation which benefits the common good. Nevertheless, We urge a NO vote. East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) has previously used this measure to destroy, unnecessarily, thousands of healthy trees under pretexts such as “hazardous tree” designations and “protection against wildfires”. But fire experts point out that tree shade retains moisture, thereby reducing fire danger. The measure has also funded so-called “restoration”—destruction of “non-native” plants, in a futile attempt to transform the landscape back to some idealized previous “native” era.
EBRPD’s restoration and tree-cutting projects often utilize pesticides, including glyphosate (Roundup), triclopyr, and imazapyr. We agree with the groundswell of public sentiment opposing the spending of tax dollars on pesticides applied to public lands. Not only do pesticides destroy the soil microbiome; they also migrate into air, water arid soil, severely harming plants, animals, and humans. Because EPA pesticide regulation, especially under the current administration, is inadequate, it is imperative that local jurisdictions exercise greater oversight. While EBRPD utilizes “Integrated Pest Management” which limits pesticide use, we strongly advocate a no pesticide policy, with a concomitant commitment of resources.
Given the terrifying pace of climate change, it is indefensible to target certain species of trees for eradication. All trees—not just “natives” —are the planet’s “lungs,” breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. When a tree is destroyed, its air-cleansing function is forever eliminated, and its stored carbon is released into the atmosphere, thus worsening climate change.
Throughout history, plants, animals, and humans have migrated when their given habitats became unlivable. Adaptation to new environments is at the heart of evolutionary resilience. To claim that some species “belong here” and others do not strikes us as unscientific xenophobia.
Until EBRPD modifies its approach, we urge a NO vote.”
Forest Action Brigade
Do not be misled
The arguments in favor of Measure FF are misleading. East Bay Regional Parks District attempts to portray a destructive agenda as a constructive agenda. Please look beneath these pretty-sounding euphemisms for the destructive projects of Measure FF:
· EBRPD claims Measure FFwill “enhance public safety” and “preserve water quality.” Spraying thousands of acres of open space in our water shed with pesticides will endanger the public and contaminate our water supply.
The Forest Action Brigade is offering yard signs in opposition to Measure FF (shown below). You can get a yard sign and/or help to place them in your neighborhood medians by sending an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please state how many signs you would like and the neighborhood where you plan to place them. These are the East Bay cities in which Measure FF will be on the ballot: Oakland, Alameda, Piedmont, Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, Richmond, San Pablo, El Cerrito. These cities are the top priority for yard sign placement.
This article originated in a letter from one of our supporters, Matthew Steen, who is active in numerous causes including protecting street trees. San Francisco, as we have said before, is doing a very poor job of protecting its tree canopy, which, at 13.7% is well below the 25% benchmark for a Western city. Instead of seeking ways to expand this tree cover, to fight global warning and protect the health of residents, San Francisco is cutting down trees for any and every reason, whether on the streets and in the parks.
San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City
Read the letter below.
LETTER ABOUT TREE DESTRUCTION IN SAN FRANCISCO
San Francisco Forest Alliance,
There has been an ongoing mass removal of street trees and parklands canopy occurring throughout the City since the 2016 passage of Prop E and before. Keeping up with these proposed and ordered removals has proven a large challenge to me.
I have been speaking with individual city Supervisors, their staff and political candidates over the last year about this continuing war on trees and wildlife habitats, its negative impact on the city’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change locally and being out of conformity with the city’s General Plan and its 8 priority elements.
As we well know, our urban forest canopy provides many public benefits, from improved respiratory health, erosion and subsidence control, carbon sequestration, reduction of storm water drrainage into the aging sewer infrastructure, outfall discharges into the ocean and Bay waters, building heating and cooling and the urban aesthetic. According to the Urban Forestry Council, we had a total net gain of but 121 trees in 2017!! [Note: This is not even fraction of a percent of the total number of trees.]
The case of the trees at 100 Portola in Upper Market is but one small example. A DPW hearing on this proposed removal was held last night as a result of filed protests by neighborhood residents. The reason for removal was because of re-routing a sewer line. There were also half a dozen other tree removal plans (all protested) heard, involving 20 trees at various locations —
Clearly, neither I nor SFFA nor affected neighborhoods can take a piecemeal approach to slow down, impede or prevent this destruction that is rapidly depleting the number and volume of our forest canopy in all of its component parts. As a reminder, there are 29 separate city agencies and special districts reporting to UFC on the status of trees on their properties. Some, like GGNRA and Presidio Trust no longer even bother reporting to UFC.
I have personally intervened in dozens of tree removal plans and involved SFFA in some of these as a matter of record. The death of my partner has slowed me down in 2018 for obvious reasons. The link I provide above leads to hundreds of DPW tree removal hearings over the last several years that document the swathe and size of this destruction. SFFA’s efforts to preserve the canopies on Mt. Sutro and Mt. Davidson and opposition to NAP have valiantly attempted to halt, slow down and reverse this trend.
This is quickly devolving into a catastrophe.
Documenting is merely bearing witness. We need to assume a more proactive approach.
MEANWHILE IN SEATTLE
Seattle is a city that’s growing very rapidly. Along transit corridors, small one- and two-story buildings on large lots are being demolished and replaced by 6-story structures for apartments and offices occupying the whole lot. In this atmosphere, San Francisco people would expect that trees would be removed wholesale as the footprint expanded.
Here’s an example of what’s actually happening. The worksite below was formerly a gas station, with a couple of low-rise buildings behind it. It’s on a main thoroughfare in the busy Ballard area. The mature trees along the building site are protected with orange netting and plyboard boxes during the construction period.
Similar scenes are repeated at worksites all over Seattle, including one only a few blocks from here. As a result, Seattle’s tree canopy cover is probably larger than in 2007, the basis of the graph at the beginning of the article – it’s been reported at 28%, with a goal of 30% by 2037. Meanwhile, the city is proactively protecting trees. If a tree must be felled for development, the city requires a compensatory planting – or a payment into a tree fund.
THE WASHINGTON SQUARE TREES IN SAN FRANCISCO…
… are gone. A construction company apparently damaged their roots. Not only did San Francisco fail to protect the trees during construction, they did not even try to save them. Rather than cordoning off the area and allowing the trees to recover, the city cut them all down. Will they be replaced? We don’t know. But these iconic mature trees are gone for ever.
All our street trees and park trees are at risk as soon as there are enough funds for any “improvements” – they all start with, Let’s Cut Down the Trees.
We have long opposed the use of toxic pesticides in our parks and watersheds. The article below, published in Death of a Million Trees, illustrates some of the issues. It’s republished here with permission and minor changes.
Garlon, Aquamaster, Milestone on Mt Davidson. March 2018
DIGGING IN: NATIVISTS AGGRESSIVELY DEFEND THEIR USE OF HERBICIDES
The trial of DeWayne Johnson vs. Monsanto began early in July. This is the first trial of about 4,000 lawsuits against Monsanto for “product liability.” Mr. Johnson is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He believes that the glyphosate that he sprayed as an employee of the Benicia School District from 2012 to 2015 has caused his terminal cancer. His lawyer will present evidence at the trial that Monsanto knew the health risks of the glyphosate they manufactured and hid that information from the public.
This trial could be the turning point that will determine the future of glyphosate in America. Therefore, this is a suitableopportunity to explain how we got here and why the fate of glyphosate may also determine the fate of the native plant movement.
Update August 10, 2018: BREAKING NEWS!!!
”A San Francisco jury has found in favor of a school groundskeeper dying of cancer whose lawyers argued that a weed killer made by the agribusiness giant Monsanto likely caused his disease.
“Dewayne Johnson was awarded nearly $290 million in punitive damages and another $39 million in compensatory damages.
“Johnson’s lawsuit against Monsanto was the first case to go to trial in a string of legal complaints alleging the glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“He sprayed Roundup and another Monsanto product, Ranger Pro, as part of his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, his attorneys have said.
“He was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014, when he was 42.
“Monsanto, for its part, vehemently denies a link between Roundup and cancer.
“But jurors at San Francisco’s Superior Court of California, who deliberated for three days, found that the corporation failed to warn Johnson and other consumers about the risks posed by its weed-killing products.
This could be the beginning of the end for glyphosate. There will be many appeals of this decision, but there are also many other lawsuits in line by people who believe they were harmed by glyphosate. This is a significant step forward.
THE STORY BEGINS
I have followed the native plant movement in California for over 20 years. I knew that herbicides were used by land managers to eradicate plants they consider “invasive” only because I made the effort to inform myself of what they were doing. It wasn’t easy to figure out that they were using herbicides because many land managers do not post notices of their pesticide applications and even fewer report their pesticide use to the public. State law does not require posting of pesticide application notices if the manufacturer claims that the product dries within 24 hours, which exempts most of the herbicides used by land managers, including glyphosate (Roundup) and triclopyr (Garlon).
Pesticide use by land managers in California. Source California Invasive Plant Council
Ninety-four percent of land managers are using herbicides to control plants they consider “invasive.” Sixty-two percent are using herbicides frequently.
Ninety-nine percent of the land managers who use herbicides, use glyphosate products. Seventy-four percent use Garlon, which is one of the most hazardous herbicides available on the market. The Pesticide Research Institute says that Garlon “poses reproductive and developmental risks to female applicators.”
Foliar spray is the method used most frequently by land managers to apply herbicides. This method of application has the potential to drift into non-target areas and kill non-target plants.
CHAPTER TWO: THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TAKES A POSITION
In 2015, one year after the Cal-IPC survey was done, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” That decision suddenly and radically altered the playing field for the use of glyphosate, which is the most heavily used of all herbicides.
Since that decision was made, 25 countries have issued outright bans on glyphosate, imposed restrictions or have issued statements of intention to ban or restrict glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup. Countless US states and cities have also adopted such restrictions. Locally, the Marin Municipal Water District made a commitment to not using pesticides—including glyphosate—in 2015. MMWD had stopped using pesticides in 2005 in response to the public’s objections, but engaged in a long process of evaluating the risk of continuing use that resulted in a permanent ban in 2015.
CHAPTER THREE: NATIVISTS DIG IN
The reaction of native plant advocates to this bad news of the dangers of glyphosate has been to dig in and aggressively defend their use of herbicides.
One of the first indications of this reaction was an article about the IARC decision in the Fall 2015 newsletter of the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) that concludes: “In the final analysis, this means that there’s no good reason to stop using glyphosate whether it’s a carcinogen or not.” If the IARC decision isn’t a good reason, what is? If the prospect of cancer isn’t a legitimate reason not to use glyphosate, what is?
In its Fall 2016 newsletter, Cal-IPC stepped up the volume. The Executive Director’s introductory letter stated the highest priorities for Cal-IPC, including, “the increased need for Cal-IPC to publicly support the appropriate use of herbicides.”
That edition of the Cal-IPC newsletter also includes a review of Tao Orion’s book, Beyond the War on Invasive Species. Tao Orion is a practicing permaculturalist who shares many of the objectives of native plant advocates. Permaculture is committed to conservation, preservation, and restoration, but practitioners achieve those objectives without using pesticides. They focus on restoring ecological functions by identifying and correcting the underlying causes of change, such as loss of water resources.
Given Cal-IPC’s commitment to herbicide use, it was unable to find value in Orion’s book. Much of their criticism seemed unfair. They said that Orion’s recommendations for using restoration methods such as burning or grazing that don’t require the use of pesticides are preaching to the choir. They claim that native plant restoration projects are, in fact, doing the same thing. Yet, the survey Cal-IPC conducted in 2014 says otherwise. Forty-seven percent of land managers said they “never” use grazing to control “invasive” plants, compared to 94% who said they use pesticides. Burning was not mentioned by any land manager as a method they use.
In October 2017, Cal-IPC published a position statement regarding glyphosate, “The Use of Glyphosate for Invasive Plant Management.” Cal-IPC’s “position on the issue” is: “Cal-IPC supports the use of glyphosate in invasive plant management as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. When using glyphosate according to the label, with appropriate personal protective equipment and best practices, glyphosate is low-risk for wildlife, applicators and the public.” Their position is primarily based on their belief that doses of glyphosate used in wildland weed management are too low to be a health hazard.
Several new studies, published after the IARC decision, strengthen the case against glyphosate. New research suggests that glyphosate is a health hazard at low doses considered “safe” by the EPA. The Global Glyphosate Study is being conducted by six scientific institutions all over the world. This international consortium of scientific institutions recently published preliminary results of their study: “The results of the short-term pilot study showed that glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) were able to alter certain important biological parameters in rats, mainly relating to sexual development, genotoxicity and the alteration of the intestinal microbiome, at the ‘safe’ level of 1.75 mg/kg/day set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” In other words, at doses deemed safe by the US EPA, significant negative health effects were found in animals used in testing.
Another recent study of glyphosate found that the formulated product is considerably more toxic than the active ingredient alone. US National Toxicology Program recently conducted tests on formulated glyphosate products for the first time. In the past, tests were conducted only on the active ingredient…that is glyphosate alone. The formulated products that are actually applied as weed killers contain many other chemicals, some of which are not even known. The head of the National Toxicology Program Laboratory, told TheGuardian newspaper the agency’s work is ongoing but its early findings are clear on one key point. “We see the formulations are much more toxic. The formulations were killing the cells. The glyphosate really didn’t do it,” DeVito said. A summary of the NTP analysis said that “glyphosate formulations decreased human cell ‘viability’, disrupting cell membranes. Cell viability was ‘significantly altered’ by the formulations, it stated.”
Is Cal-IPC aware of these recent studies? Are the people who apply glyphosate aware of these studies? Are the employers of these applicators aware of these studies? Are these applicators the plaintiffs of future product liability lawsuits against Monsanto?
CHAPTER FOUR: CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANT SOCIETY DEFENDS HERBICIDES WITH FANTASIES
If you read the publications of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) or attend their conferences, you know that little mention is made of herbicides by their followers and those who engage in “restoration” projects. In the past, the best defense was to turn a blind eye to herbicide use.
More recently, the intense opposition to the use of herbicides on public lands seems to have forced CNPS to become actively engaged in the defense of herbicides. The most recent edition of the Journal of the California Native Plant Society, Fremontia (Vol. 46 No. 1) is a “Special Issue on Urban Wildlands.” The introductory article is illustrated with a photo of Oyster Bay. I nearly choked on this statement in that article: “In order to control invasive plants, agencies and volunteers have sometimes resorted to using herbicides as a step in integrated pest control. While use of herbicides is contentious, the use for spot treatments has enabled small groups of volunteers to successfully eliminate invasive weeds in some areas where future herbicide use will not be needed.” Oyster Bay is being doused with herbicides as we reported in a recent article that is available HERE.
Oyster Bay herbicide applications, May 2018
That same edition of Fremontia also includes several articles in which specific native plant “restorations” are described in detail. All of the projects use herbicides, often repeatedly and often without successfully establishing native plants:
“Bull Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project: Not Quite a Success Story”: This project began in 2008, after over 10 years of planning. Bull Creek was reconfigured with bull dozers, eliminating the existing landscape. Although natives were planted, weeds quickly took over the site. It was weeded by hand initially and considered a success until the creek bank eroded significantly and the artificial oxbow filled with silt. But “weeds continued to thrive” because the native plants were irrigated and they resorted to herbicide applications in 2010. Subsequent failures of native plants were blamed on unauthorized public access and the state-wide drought. Volunteer weeding has been abandoned. The future of this project is very much in doubt.
“Weed Control Efforts in the Sepulveda Basin”: “Based on more than 20 years of experience with attempting to control various weeds in the Sepulveda Basin, and given the lack of support from the city due to budgetary priorities, it is apparent that without herbicide it will be impossible to control non-native weeds that threaten regional biodiversity.”
“Nature in the City: Restored Native Habitat Along the LA River…”: “The site was sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate) several times to remove as much of the non-native seed bank as possible. Weeding continued throughout the habitat restoration and construction period.”
Did CNPS notice the contradiction between their first article and subsequent articles in the same publication? Their introductory article claims they rarely use herbicides and when they do it is only temporary. But subsequent articles about specific projects make it clear that herbicides are routinely and repeatedly used and even then, weeds persist.
Pesticides used in San Francisco’s “natural areas.” Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance
In the Bay Area, one of the oldest native plant “restorations” is in San Francisco, where the so-called Natural Areas Program (now called Natural Resources Division) started in 1998. They have used pesticides consistently since the program began. The San Francisco Forest Alliance began tracking their use of pesticides in 2008. In their most recent report, the Forest Alliance informs usthat pesticide use in the so-called “natural areas” has increased significantly in the first half of 2018. This increase was anticipated because the program plan and its Environmental Impact Report were finally approved in spring 2017, after 20 years of being hotly contested. The approval of the program enabled them to increase the staff of pesticide applicators from one to five. Most of the increase in pesticide use in 2018 is of Garlon, one of the most toxic pesticides available on the market. San Francisco’s native plant restorations are a specific example of the long term use of large quantities of herbicide.You can visit those areas to see for yourself that 20 years of effort and herbicides have not successfully established native plant gardens.
GOOD LUCK TO DEWAYNE JOHNSON
It is difficult to understand how nativists can continue to advocate for the use of herbicides. It is even more difficult to understand how land managers can continue to use public money to spray herbicides on our public parks and open spaces. Since they are apparently impervious to scientific assessment of the health hazards of herbicides and blind to the failures of their projects, we can only hope that DeWayne Johnson will prevail in his lawsuit against Monsanto. We would like to see justice for Mr. Johnson and his family and the bonus will be the legal liabilities and associated economic costs of continuing to use a dangerous herbicide that damages the environment and everyone who lives in it.
Below is the text of a letter San Francisco Forest Alliance sent yesterday to the Environment Commission and the SF Department for the Environment. We stand for no toxic pesticides in our parks and watersheds.
To: Director Deborah Raphael, Dr Chris Geiger, and the Commission for the Environment
From: San Francisco Forest Alliance
Dear Dr. Geiger,
Dear Director Raphael,
Dear Members of the Environment Commission
Your Notice of Annual Public Hearing Regarding Pest Management Activities on City Properties incorrectly states that “San Francisco city staff have been national leaders in integrated pest management (IPM) since the City passed its Integrated Pest Management Ordinance in 1996.”
In fact, 1996 Ordinance was gutted in 1997.
While San Francisco has made some progress, we are far from being national leaders. Our current system enshrines the routine use of herbicides.
At present, the city can use whatever pesticide it wishes, wherever it wishes, as much as it wishes – as long as the pesticide is on “Reduced Risk Pesticide List” (Reduced compared to what?). If it wishes to go outside the list, it can seek an exemption. Such exemptions are seldom refused, particularly in “Natural Areas.”
The Marin Municipal Water District has been herbicide free since 2005.
Meanwhile San Francisco continuously uses hazardous herbicides in our watersheds.
In a 2017 pilot project, Marin successfully demonstrated that traffic medians could be maintained without glyphosate (the only synthetic herbicide previously used on medians). Marin County will continue to move forward without herbicides on all medians and roadside landscapes.
The City of Richmond had completely banned use of all herbicides by the city in 2016.
The use of all synthetic pesticides in parks, open space parcels and public rights of way and buildings owned and maintained by the Town of Fairfax is prohibited and a neighbor notification is required prior to the use of pesticides on private property.
In 2000 the Arcata City Council approved by unanimous vote the ordinance which bans the use of pesticides on all properties owned or managed by the city.
In France the pesticides are banned from public forests, parks and gardens since the end of 2016.
The city of San Francisco, on another hand, cannot even commit to use reduction targets for herbicides. In 2017, herbicide usage by the Natural Resources Department rose 57%.
The city claims that the high hazard herbicides are used only as a last resort. In fact, they are used regularly throughout the year, and have been used regularly for many years.
The city claims that the high hazard herbicides are necessary to help “sensitive species,” while in accordance with the court order their use is prohibited in Sharp Park precisely because of the presence there of the endangered California garter snake and threatened red-legged frog. A 2002 paper from UC Davis pointed out that over 40% of Californian butterfly species depend on non-native plants in urban-suburban areas, and notes, “Were certain alien weeds to be eradicated or their abundance greatly reduced, the urban-suburban butterfly fauna would disappear.”
Last week the trial of DeWayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company – the first of over 4,500 such cases – got underway in San Francisco Superior Court.
Meanwhile, glyphosate remains on the SF “Reduced Risk Pesticide List” and is being used by the city – three years after it has been classified as a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization.
San Francisco Forest Alliance brings to your attention that:
• herbicidal chemicals are more toxic, more dangerous, more persistent, and more mobile than their manufacturers disclose;
• the “danger” from “weeds” is aesthetic or ideological rather than to health and welfare;
• scientific studies associate exposure to herbicides with cancer, developmental and learning disabilities, nerve and immune system damage, liver or kidney damage, reproductive impairment, birth defects, and disruption of the endocrine system;
• there is no safe dose of exposure to those chemicals because they persists in soil, water, and animal tissue for prolonged periods of time, so even low levels of exposure could still be harmful to humans, animals, and the environment;
• infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and chemical sensitivities are especially vulnerable to herbicide effects and exposure;
• herbicides are harmful to pets, wildlife including threatened and endangered species, soil microbiology, plants, and natural ecosystems;
• toxic runoff from herbicides pollute streams and groundwater, and therefore the drinking water sources;
• people have a right not to be involuntarily exposed to herbicides in the air, water or soil that inevitably result from chemical drift and contaminated runoff.
Because of above considerations we ask that all synthetic herbicides classified as Tier I and all non-organic herbicides classified as Tier II by the San Francisco Hazard Tier Rating System shall be banned on all City property and the lands managed by the city, with the only exemption for Harding Park Golf Course which is under PGA contract.
We also ask that:
– no other herbicide exemption shall be granted for any other City Property or the land managed by the city,
– such herbicides would be immediately removed from the Reduced Risk Pesticide List with the special exception for use on Harding Park Golf Course only,
– the City stop purchasing hazardous herbicides, and disposes of any remaining stock immediately, following the city’s hazardous waste disposal protocols; again exempting the herbicides intended for use on Harding Park Golf Course only.
We ask SF Environment to lead San Francisco toward the goal of No Pesticides in our Parks and Watersheds.
The Natural Resources Department’s low-pesticide-usage honeymoon is over, judging by the pesticide usage data from the first half of 2018. If this continues in the second half, NRD will end the year at nearly the level of pesticide use in 2013.
The NRD accounted for 80% of the herbicide use (calculated by active ingredient) and for 85% of the applications in Jan-June 2018. The NRD, which is responsible for the “Natural Resource Areas” of San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD), is the largest user of herbicides in SFRPD (barring Harding Park, which we exclude because the golf course is managed under contract with the PGA Tour).
Except for the NRD, the rest of SFRPD has been extremely effective at reducing herbicide use. and used no Tier I herbicides at all in this time. The Tier system, implemented by the SF Department of the Environment (SF Environment), is a hazard rating. Tier III is “Least Hazardous”‘ Tier I is “Most Hazardous.”
POURING ON THE GARLON
NRD is the only user of Garlon in SFRPD, which it uses only on yellow-flowering oxalis. In six months of 2018, it had already used more Garlon than in any whole year in the last four years. (That’s the orange column in the chart below.) Garlon is the worst of the “reduced risk” herbicides. It’s Tier I (according to the SF Environment rating system, where Tier I is “most hazardous” and Tier III is “least hazardous.”) and has been listed as “HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE” for at least a decade.
The use of Roundup (or Aquamaster) dropped in 2016, after the WHO declared glyphosate (the active ingredient) a probable human carcinogen and SF Environment moved it from a Tier II to a Tier I rating. (See: Roundup Probably Carcinogenic) But it’s rising again. If the second half is as bad as the first half, glyphosate use will exceed 2017’s, which was more than double the amount used the 2016.
NRD uses four herbicides: Garlon (triclopyr) the most hazardous, which is Tier I; Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) which was re-rated to Tier I in 2015; Polaris/ Habitat (imazapyr), a pesticide whose breakdown product is a neurotoxin, and is persistent and mobile in the soil; and Milestone VM (aminopyralid), which is even more persistent and can remain active for years and keep poisoning the soil. Its usage of all four has risen, if we prorate the half-year usage figures.
OTHER PESTICIDES ALSO RISING
SFRPD is has added three new herbicides: Axxe, Lifeline and Clearcast. The last two are on the draft “Reduced Risk” list for 2018, though the SF Environment website says the 2017 list is still the current one. SFRPD has been using Clearcast in lakes in Golden Gate Park (GGP Nursery) against water primrose and parrot feather plant. Lifeline has been used once, on the hardscaping in Golden Gate Nursery. Axxe, which is a Tier II pesticide and is actually on the 2017 list has been used a number of times. In the Natural Areas, it’s been used on Twin Peaks against oxalis (that’s the “Other Tier II” in the column chart above).
While we are glad that SFRPD has moved so strongly to reduce herbicide use (at least in non-Natural areas), we’re disappointed that it continues to consider pesticides a viable strategy. We would like to see SF Environment take the leadership in moving San Francisco to a policy of No Pesticides in our Parks and Watersheds.