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

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

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The Ecological “Restoration” Industry: Follow the money

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

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

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

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

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

Million Trees

Matt Chew with his class in novel ecosystems


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Chew

Neighbor Activists on Mt Davidson

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So Much City, So Little Green

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: @FionaFaytv ; Labels: SFForest

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

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

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

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

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

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Old Trees Trap More Carbon and Fight Climate Change

This article is reprinted with permission from SutroForest.org, a website fighting to save the century-old forest on Mount Sutro in San Francisco, CA.

The older a tree grows, the more carbon dioxide it grabs out of the air and sequesters, thus fighting climate change. Cutting down these large old trees releases this carbon back into the atmosphere.

tree-x-ed-out-jan-mt-davidson-2017

An article published in the Nature Journal summarizes the results of a huge research project by the US Geological Survey. This directly disproves the myth that young trees sequester carbon rapidly, but large old trees do not.

“The trees that are adding the most mass are the biggest ones, and that holds pretty much everywhere on Earth that we looked,” says Nathan Stephenson, an ecologist at the US Geological Survey in Three Rivers, California, and the first author of the study, which appears today [i.e. 15th January 2014]  in Nature.

“Trees have the equivalent of an adolescent growth spurt, but it just keeps going.”

The study, which looked at over 673 thousand trees of more than 400 species, found it was universally true.  This confirmed the results of a 2010 study that had focused on redwoods and on a eucalyptus species.

Former trees in a pile of woodchips sm

All the huge old trees that are cut down in San Francisco were fighting climate change – but now, whether as mulch or as rotting logs, they are contributing to it.

DETAILS OF THE STUDY

Here is the abstract of the study, from the NIH website [formatting and emphasis ours]:

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Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size.
Stephenson, Das, Condit, Russo, Baker, Beckman, Coomes, Lines, Morris, Rüger, Alvarez, Blundo, Bunyavejchewin, Chuyong, Davies, Duque, Ewango, Flores, Franklin, Grau, Hao, Harmon, Hubbell, Kenfack, Lin, Makana, Malizia, Malizia, Pabst, Pongpattananurak, Su, Sun, Tan, Thomas, van Mantgem, Wang, Wiser, Zavala.

Abstract
Forests are major components of the global carbon cycle, providing substantial feedback to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Our ability to understand and predict changes in the forest carbon cycle–particularly net primary productivity and carbon storage–increasingly relies on models that represent biological processes across several scales of biological organization, from tree leaves to forest stands. Yet, despite advances in our understanding of productivity at the scales of leaves and stands, no consensus exists about the nature of productivity at the scale of the individual tree, in part because we lack a broad empirical assessment of whether rates of absolute tree mass growth (and thus carbon accumulation) decrease, remain constant, or increase as trees increase in size and age.

Here we present a global analysis of 403 tropical and temperate tree species, showing that for most species mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size. Thus, large, old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees; at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree.

The apparent paradoxes of individual tree growth increasing with tree size despite declining leaf-level and stand-level productivity can be explained, respectively, by increases in a tree’s total leaf area that outpace declines in productivity per unit of leaf area and, among other factors, age-related reductions in population density. Our results resolve conflicting assumptions about the nature of tree growth, inform efforts to undertand and model forest carbon dynamics, and have additional implications for theories of resource allocation and plant senescence.

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And here is a link to the study itself in Nature: Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size.

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Rally for Trees & Against Pesticides in Our Parks!  Feb 28, 2017

rally-and-hearing-feb-2017

Rally for Trees & Against Pesticides in Our Parks!

Join Our City and San Francisco Forest Alliance to demand that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors vote to reject the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that allows the Recreation and Park Department to cut down over 18,000 trees and spray toxic herbicides to ‘manage’ our public parks.

After the rally we will assemble in the City Hall Board of Supervisors chamber, room 250, to speak in favor of the appeal to block Rec & Park’s plan.

Rally
WHEN:       1:00 pm Tuesday February 28th
WHERE:     SF Civic Center Plaza (across from City Hall, Polk St. steps

Hearing
WHEN:       3:00 pm Tuesday February 28th
WHERE:     Board of Supervisors Chamber, SF City Hall, Room 250
(come early to get a seat)

Map – http://tinyurl.com/SFCityHall-Plaza-BART
Directions – http://sfgov.org/cityhall/directions-city-hall

More information: https://sfforest.org and https://sfforest.org/blog-updates/

See you at City Hall!

San Francisco Forest Alliance

Public opinion does make a difference!

Thank you for your support

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is a non-profit 501(c)4 environmental organization working to protect urban forests, reduce pesticide use, and preserve access to our parks.

 

San Francisco – More Public Trees Destroyed

We recently received this report from a long-term member of the Fort Mason Community Garden. More trees have been destroyed, shocking those who cared about them.

More bad news about the trees we have enjoyed for many, many years. The entrance to our beautiful Fort Mason Community Garden was lined with plum trees that flowered magnificently in the Spring and then had burgundy colored leaves when the flowers dropped (see photos below). The Park Service has chopped them all down and plan to plant native stuff in their place. [Webmaster: No trees.] As most of you know, native plants remain brown most of the year so now our entry way is completely ruined, in my opinion, and those of many other garden members.

Below are before and after photos of the entry way, and then a report on how the Park Service tries to justify why they did this horrible thing. They claim that the trees were beyond their life span and beginning to die off. However, the below photo was taken this past Spring and these plum trees sure look very healthy and beautiful to many of us. None of the garden members knew anything about this until all the plum trees were chopped down — a big shock to most of us.

plumblossomsfortmason

There seems to be an epidemic of chopping down trees in this city that is contagious, and it is very sad and terrible for our environment and the esthetics of San Francisco. It is happening all over the city (200 coming down on Van Ness alone and many more in other neighborhoods). However, I was not expecting this horrible epidemic to affect the once very lovely entry to our beautiful Fort Mason Community Garden—which is a haven in the middle of a busy city.

(Signed) A Very Sad and Frustrated long-term FMCG member

ornamentalplumsgone-at-fort-mason-san-francisco-12-28-16

THE PARK SERVICE JUSTIFICATION

Plum Tree Removal at Fort Mason (SF) – Dec 2016

November 18, 2016 Posted by: GGNRA Public Affairs

GGNRA will remove the plum trees at the Fort Mason entrance and replace with drought tolerant native plants.

The tree removal will begin in December with planting to follow early in the new year.

Plans for adding the Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera) trees were developed early in the park’s history, 1974, but following the historic period of significance. These trees typically have much less than the 42 year life span we’ve enjoyed. Within the last 5 years, the plums have begun to die back and shed limbs, indicating they are well into decline.

Removing the trees will re-establish a historic view to the Chapel along Franklin Street. Overgrown yews that flank either side of the Chapel entrance door will also be removed and replaced. The project will also remove about 7,000 sq ft of turf.

Native, drought tolerant plants are coming from our Presidio nursery, grown from local seed.

By establishing this low water plant community at the park’s headquarters entrance, we are signalling our commitment to environmental sustainability. We will also replace the irrigation system with a much more efficient model and expect to be able to stop all watering in the entry area within 5 years.

These before-and-after renderings were developed by the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation as a treatment recommendation included in the 2012 Cultural Landscape Report Volume II.

fort-mason-after-tree-removal

Before and After from NPS. (Our notation.)

Disturbing Story of the Mt Davidson Bench

Here’s the story of the Mount Davidson Eagle Scout bench, from its sudden removal by the Natural Areas Program, to the silly lie included in the Environmental Impact Report on the Natural Resource Areas Management Plan.  The Natural Area Program’s disregard for the public is illustrated at every twist and turn along the way.

Once upon a time, there was a nice little bench on Mt. Davidson.  It was built by Boy Scouts.  It wasn’t much, but people liked it and it was well used.

benchphoto1

THIS IS THE BENCH THE SCOUTS BUILT

Then one day the bench disappeared.  Who were the vandals?

It turns out it was actually the work of our RPD Natural Areas Program.  When people complained they received this response from NAP management:

To: XXXXXXXXXXX
CC: XXXXXXXXXXXX; Lisa.Wayne@sfgov.org
Subject: Re: Bench missing on Mt. Davidson
From: Christopher.Campbell@sfgov.org
Date: Thu, 27 May 2010 08:42:45 -0700

Hello XXXXXX,

The bench that you’re referring to was installed by the Recreation and Park Natural Areas Program. It was installed a number of years ago on this site to take advantage of the views, beauty and serenity of the plateau. We monitored the use of the bench and it unfortunately became an attractive nuisance. The secluded location was a draw for night time drinking and smoking. Bottles were thrown down the hill slope and most often broke, causing a hazard for both animals and people. Secondly the bench became a draw for commercial dog walkers, at times with more than 12 dogs in the area at once. This activity resulted in trampling of this sensitive slope, disturbance of wildlife and the creation of trails around the bench. One of the trails remains in the grassland below the bench location. After consideration we concluded it was best to remove this bench.

Over the coming year we will evaluate the installation of benches city-wide. This will be done in correlation with a natural areas trail project . Due to the activities associated with this bench we unfortunately do not have intentions to re-install one on the lower plateau at Mount Davidson.

Sorry for the disappointment this may bring,

Christopher Campbell
Natural Areas Program

 

Why does NAP management take credit for installing this popular bench?  They had nothing to do with it.  Why did they remove it?  Because people liked it and it attracted them to this area of the park. Clearly the NAP does not want us in their Natural Areas.

storyphoto2

THIS IS THE BENCH THAT WAS UNDER THE TREE THE NATIVISTS KILLED

After much pressure, the NAP finally installed a replacement bench a bit higher up the mountain.  For some reason they sited it right under a dead tree.  In fact, it was a tree they had killed by girdling some years earlier.  Given the NAP’s zeal for removing even slightly hazardous trees along its “trail Improvement” projects, it seems especially odd they would site a popular amenity directly under this tree.

Can you guess what happened next?  The tree fell over right across the bench.  Thankfully no one was sitting there at the time.

benchphoto3

In the photo below you can see where a wide ring of bark was cut away to kill the tree.

benchphoto4

It appears when the facts don’t suit the writers of the EIR, they substitute other “facts.”

That brings us to today.  The final Environmental Impact Report for the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) has been released.  In the section addressing public comments made during review of the draft EIR the bench makes another appearance. (page 4-340)  In response to questions raised by the public about the removal of benches from NAP areas, some specifically citing the Mt Davidson bench, the NAP offers the following response,

“These comments refer to prohibition benches and the removal of a bench at Mt. Davidson Park. In 2011, SFRPD removed a bench on the northern portion of Mt. Davidson because it was rotting and unsafe for sitting. In late 2012, SFRPD installed a replacement bench close to where the unsafe bench had been located.”

“rotting and unsafe for sitting”?.  That is a bold lie.  How many other items in the SNRAMP EIR are based on fabrications like this? (Quite a few)

Claiming the original was unsafe and installing a replacement right under a tree they purposefully killed – That is disturbingly ironic.

benchphoto5

 

This little story is just the tip of the iceberg.

See the rest of the problems with the SNRAMP EIR at:
https://sfforest.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/arguments-against-certification-of-snramp-eir.pdf

Additional coments against EIR organized on CA Environmental Quality Act Criteria