Montara Chainsawed Trees: Town Hall on Nov 12, 2017

We reported recently that some people interested in going on the walk at Rancho Corral de Tierra in Montara were unable to get in. Now a Town Hall has been scheduled on Nov 12, 2017.

In response to public interest, GGNRA will be hosting a second public meeting on Sunday, November 12th from 2-3:30 pm at Farralone View Elementary School. A meeting invite with details will be sent to everyone on our email distribution list.  To stay informed about the November 12th public meeting and other park related matters in San Mateo County, please sign up for our [i.e, GGNRA’s]  “San Mateo County” mailing list here.

 

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What Happened at the Montara Walk with Jacquie Speier – Trees at Rancho Corral De Tierra

Recently, we announced the news that a public walk had been planned for Oct 30, 2017 to discuss the sudden and deplorable destruction of trees at Montara’s Rancho Corral de Tierra. (We reported on that here: National Park Trees meet Chainsaws in Montara.) However, when supporters tried to sign up, they found the walk had filled up within days, maybe hours, of the announcement. Fortunately, one person did manage to go, and has sent us this report.

THEY’RE CUTTING DOWN TREES BECAUSE THEY HAVE THE MONEY – FOR NOW

Emotions ran high during a Monday mid-afternoon public hike led by a large contingent of National Park Service officials to quell community uproar over the sudden removal of healthy Monterey cypress and pines along popular trails at Rancho Corral de Tierra.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier kicked off the trailhead gathering of 30 or so nearby Montara and Moss Beach residents with sharp criticism of the Park Service’s “woefully failed” communications effort about its grasslands restoration program.

People questioned whether it was truly necessary to cut down 25 isolated trees – some 100 years old and community favorites – to preserve a rare flower called Hickman’s potentilla by replanting native grasses and wildflowers. They also asked why the Park Service did not publicly identify the trees slated for destruction or disclose its use of the herbicide Glyphosate, better known by the brand name RoundUp. California may soon require cancer warnings on Glyphosate products. [The chemical is considered “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization, and an insider from the Environmental Protection Agency said, “It is essential certain that glyphosate causes cancer.”]

While the Park Service conceded it could have done a better job of communicating plans, they offered tortured answers to critical questions about the project.

Officials said it would be too difficult to identify the trees to be felled because markings could not be placed so they are visible at every angle from various directions people walk. They said the herbicide spraying schedule is unpredictable due to weather and, therefore, does not allow for advance notification or signs but that trails are closed off by staff standing guard during the spraying.

The Park Service said it contracts with outside crews for tree-cutting that must be completed under a $200,000 grant that only funds the project for three years.

It’s not clear whether the Park Service conducted an environmental analysis despite claiming they are required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect the potentilla at Rancho under the Endangered Species Act. If that is their rationale they are as matter of law required to conduct a public process before making significant changes that affect the landscape and recreation.

Congresswoman Speier announced she would hold a joint town hall with the GGNRA deputy superintendent to seek resolutions working together with the community. The town hall will be November 12 in Montara in the evening.

It’s important that folks try to attend because the Park Service has only agreed to stop killing trees until that meeting takes place. We’ll post more information when the meeting time and location are set. Stay tuned.

Tree stumps of chainsawed trees in Rancho Corral De Tierra, Montara, CA, USA

Stumps and Sawdust Where there were Beloved Trees

Montara Walk with Jackie Speier – The Why of the Chainsawed Trees

Owing to public outcry, the tree cutting in Montara has been paused. Now a walk has been announced for October 30, 2017, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, in Montara,  presumably for explanations about why the trees were cut and what is planned for the future.

HICKMAN’S POTENTILLA

Hickman’s Potentilla – cc by 2.0 – John Game – wikimedia

We understand that the “restoration” project is about a tiny yellow flower called Hickman’s Cinquefoil or Hickman’s Potentilla.  The picture here is from a Wikipedia article about it, and is used under a Creative Commons license.) It’s very rare.

It’s been seen in Monterey, growing in a quarter-acre patch of grassland in a pine forest. They tried planting more in Monterey, but a combination of predators, competition from grasses, and low reproduction defeated this effort.

Montara has the largest known population, and maybe half of it is in Rancho Corral de Tierra.  Here’s a 2009 USFWS report on the plant: UFWS report on Hickmans Potentilla 2009

The key question: Will chopping down the trees actually help this plant? There’s some speculation that maybe the trees are shading out the flowers. But the real issue for the Potentilla seems to be a combination of being over-run by grasses, eaten by gophers, deer, and slugs, and not reproducing vigorously.

The trees have been there a long time, and are part of the environment for the Potentilla already. It’s quite possible that the drastic change from cutting down the trees will just make everything worse; the effects of their removal is quite unpredictable when you need to address it down at the level of grasses, wind, erosion, and water movement in small patches of land.  The best results are more likely to come, not from disturbing the environment, but from clipping the grass around the plants, and figuring out how to protect them from predators.

DETAILS OF THE WALK

Time and Place: October 30, 20172:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Montara

Here are the details that were sent to us. The invitation came from C. Fitzgerald at the Parks Conservancy:

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Rancho Corral de Tierra Grassland Restoration

Public Meeting and Walk

Please join National Park Service staff and Congresswoman Jackie Speier for a public meeting and walk at Rancho Corral de Tierra to discuss grassland restoration efforts and recovery actions for the Federally endangered Hickman’s potentilla. Project staff will discuss the project goals, review park planning processes and discuss future restoration plans. Park restoration efforts include removing invasive vegetation, such as grasses and trees, and revegetating with native plant communities.

RSVP REQUIRED | Please RSVP here so that we can accommodate all participants. A Rancho meeting location will be sent to all registered attendees at least 5 days prior to the event.
MEETING & WALK | This gathering will begin with a 30 minute meeting/talk at the trailhead which will be followed by a walk to view the project area for further discussion. The walk terrain is moderately strenuous.
PARKING | Parking is limited. Carpooling or walking is highly encouraged.
ATTIRE | Please wear comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots.
ACCESSIBILITY | Accommodations will be made for all interested attendees. Please call 415-561-4994 to request alternate accommodations.
QUESTIONS | For more information or questions, please call 415-561-4994.

 

 

Cutting Down Forests Releases Green House Gases

Eucalyptus forests are exceptionally good at sequestering carbon: They’re big and fast-growing, with dense wood and long lives. The forests store even more carbon in the soil, much of it in the top three feet. This is true of Sutro Forest, of Mt Davidson, of the forested areas of Sharp Park and McLaren Park and Bayview Hill, the forests on Yerba Buena island. All these forests are threatened, and the people who want to cut them down have understated the expected release of carbon once the trees are cut down, the soil churned up, and the chipped trees left to decay.

The article below is specifically about such understatements in UCSF’s Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Sutro Forest Management Plan (that starts with cutting down 6,000 trees in Phase I). But it’s the same story in all the other forests we mentioned: The carbon impacts are ignored or minimized with bad data.

This article is reprinted with permission from SaveSutro.com, a website that advocates for Sutro Forest.

Sutro Forest is an excellent carbon sink: The eucalyptus trees are tall, fast growing and have dense wood. In some parts of the forest, the mid-story of blackwood acacia boosts this carbon storage as well. The understory is lush and evergreen. The forest floor is damp most of the time. It’s practically the perfect carbon forest. It’s also a special ecosystem and excellent wildlife  habitat.


Disturbing this forest is going to release Green House Gases (GHG), and the Sutro Forest DEIR (where the deadline for comments closed on September 22nd) underestimates how much. Here, we publish with permission the comment from Eric Brooks. He’s the Sustainability Chair, San Francisco Green Party and Campaign Coordinator, Our City SF. [Please note: all the photographs in this article are ours and not part of the comment sent to UCSF.]

##########

Comments To: Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) – UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan

Fundamental GHG Calculation Flaws & Neglect of Wildlife Habitat Retention Strategy

To all concerned with the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the UCSF Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan,

I write to raise very serious concerns about very fundamental and deep flaws in the Draft EIR (DEIR) assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed project and related wildlife habitat impacts.

The assessment has key and deep flaws in its methodology for greenhouse gas assessment, and must be fundamentally changed, and the assessment completely redone.

1) The first deep flaw in the methodology and assessment is the assumption on page 4.7-3 that:

“Forest‐soil carbon is a large, stable pool, accounting for some 50 percent of the total forest carbon and changing very slowly over hundreds of years (Kimmins 1997). For timeframes of 100 years and less, forest accounting can ignore this pool and focus on changes to more labile forest carbon components (i.e., trees, understory, litter).”

This assumption is simply not correct and completely ignores the fact that when forest soils become both disturbed and more exposed to the elements, due to tree and vegetation removal, vast amounts of carbon in the form of CO2 and methane are released *from* the soil. The greenhouse gas emissions calculations and assessment must therefore be completely redone to include soil carbon losses in the calculations.

2) The second deep fundamental flaw in the DEIR greenhouse gas assessment is its reliance on the Significance Criteria under section 4.7.5 on page 4.7-10

This criteria is solely an arbitrary emissions cap and is the wrong criteria. The only proper criteria by which to assess greenhouse gas emissions of a forest is to compare its net carbon sequestration and emissions before disturbance, to its net sequestration and emissions after disturbance, in order to make a comprehensive assessment of its full internal net sequestration and emissions impacts – including all soil impacts and carbon losses and sequestration. It is the percentage net increase of greenhouse gas emissions in any given forest that matter, not an arbitrary cap on a specific emissions number which is not related to the full carbon cycle of that specific forest.

Therefore this assessment must be fully redone to examine solely the correct net sequestration and emissions, from the forest area that will be managed, accounting for all factors, and also accounting for the fact that near term net emissions over the next 20 years are the most significant because it is over the next 20 years that the planet is hitting a wide array of extremely dangerous climate crisis tipping points, and also because that is the proper window in which to analyze the forcing effect of methane (about 87 times higher than CO2 under that time frame).

3) Besides, and partly because of, the completely incorrect omission of soil carbon loss in the assessment, the net sequestration/emissions calculations in section 4.7 are far too optimistic and appear to be incorrect. This section does not properly and fully account for all emissions and sequestration losses, with an eye to new data which shows that after forests are disturbed it takes at least a century, and likely longer, for a disturbed forest to return to net sequestration of carbon. See links below which discuss these dynamics and which can serve as a starting point for redesigning and redoing your greenhouse gas analysis to make it an accurate one.

4) Chipping of felled and downed trees induces them to lose their carbon to the atmosphere much more rapidly. This assessment must be redone to show options for not chipping felled and downed trees at all, and instead leaving these trees intact, and on site, both as snags and downed trees. (See point 5.)

Chipping in Sutro Forest – 2016

5) Removing any vegetation (especially trees, including dead and felled trees) from a forest, drastically reduces the ecological capacity of that forest to uptake, store and retain carbon, and also dramatically reduces the crucial role of intact dead and dying trees to serve as wildlife habitat.

This DEIR contains no management assessment or mitigation plans that would call for a dramatic reduction in tree felling and removals in order to leave the forest and its soils as undisturbed as possible in order to maximize carbon sequestration, and maximize wildlife density and biodiversity through enhanced intact habitat. See the third link below to the report “The Myth of Catastrophic Wildfire” by expert forest ecologist Chad Hanson, PhD, to get a sense of, and some numbers on, the importance of leaving dead and dying trees intact and on site in a forest.

This assessment must be completely redone to show a management and mitigation option which *only* removes dead and dying trees *which pose a direct threat to human health and safety and property integrity* while leaving all other trees in the forest undisturbed. This assessment must include both net greenhouse gas, and wildlife density and diversity impacts.

References:

Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks – Sebastiaan Luyssaert, et al
(contains extensive data showing that forests store more carbon the less they are disturbed)
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/42089659_Old-growth_forests_as_global_carbon_sinks_Nature

Forest Carbon Basics – Mark E. Harmon, PhD (contains basic numbers for how forest and soil carbon dynamics operate over both short and long term timescales, and shows clearly that disturbed forests store less carbon for a century or longer)
http://our-city.org/Forest_Carbon_Basics-Harmon.pdf

The Myth of Catastrophic Wildfire – Chad Hansen, PhD
(See pages 19, 22 and 23 *and* referenced documents and studies)
http://johnmuirproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/TheMythOfTheCatastrophicWildfireReport.pdf

Thanks for your attention to this extremely important matter.

Eric Brooks
Sustainability Chair, San Francisco Green Party
Campaign Coordinator, Our City SF

Sutro Forest

Sutro Forest viewed from Forest Knolls

Trees Cut Down in McLaren Park with No Warning

One of our readers has this news about trees being cut down in McLaren Park. The destruction has just begun. We’ve published letters in defense of McLaren’s trees before. See Trees Matter: McLaren Park and Environmental Justice.

.

— xxx—

Sept 14, 2017

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD’s Natural Areas Program has started cutting trees in support of their trail plan for McLaren Park.  So far 15 Monterey cypress and eucalyptus trees have been chain sawed around Brendt’s Knoll (a.k.a. Philosopher’s Hill, a.k.a. Labyrinth Hill) to make way for their new trail.  This is despite the fact SFRPD has not even presented their final trail plan to the public.

Further, the Natural Areas Management Plan states that, “any removal of trees over 6 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) requires coordination with, and evaluation by SFRPD’s Arborist.  In addition, prior to any tree removal, individual trees measuring 6 inches dbh or greater must be posted for 30 days (Section 1).”  Most of the trees cut down were larger than this and none of them were posted.

This just demonstrates, once more, SFRPD’s disdain for the public and disregard for the law.

The fact they cut down so many trees for just a short stretch of trail confirms our worst suspicions.  Their broad straight trails will not wind through the trees as today’s trails do, instead they will blaze a path of destruction through our forests.

Contact your supervisor and the Park Commission and let them know this is unacceptable.

— xxx—

Here’s the email of the Parks Commission: recpark.commission@sfgov.org  and Telephone: 415-831-2750
Here’s a current list of the emails of the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org,
Norman.Yee@sfgov.org,
sandra.fewer@sfgov.org,
Mark.Farrell@sfgov.org,
Aaron.Peskin@sfgov.org,
Katy.Tang@sfgov.org,
breedstaff@sfgov.org,
jane.kim@sfgov.org,
jeff.sheehy@sfgov.org,
Hillary.Ronen@sfgov.org,
Malia.Cohen@sfgov.org,
Ahsha.Safai@sfgov.org

 

Mount Sutro Plan = Landslide Risk

The article below is reprinted with permission from the SutroForest.org website. It’s important because it discusses the issue of increased landslide risk from tree destruction on steep slopes. UCSF outlines the hazard – with a Mount Sutro map – but the mitigations are extremely inadequate.

This is relevant for Sutro Forest, but also for Mount Davidson and other areas where trees are being cut down on or above slopes.

Landslide under blue tarp. South Ridge at top left.

We’re reading the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the 2017 Sutro Forest Plan, and got to the section on landslide risk. This has been one of our concerns, especially since the tragedy at Oso, Washington, where the felling of trees in previous years was a factor in destabilizing the slope. (We wrote about that HERE: Cut Trees, Add Landslide Risk) We know this area is subject to landslides – we had a blue tarp covering unstable areas in Forest Knolls for a year when cutting trees destabilized a slope, and another just above UCSF’s Aldea housing area.

SHOCKING LANDSLIDE INFORMATION

We were shocked at what we found in the DEIR:
“Increased instability could cause a landslide that would impact Crestmont Drive, Christopher Drive, and Johnstone Drive. An existing landslide scarp is visible above Christopher Drive. Some homes along Christopher Drive could be placed at additional risk from localized landslides due to plan implementation. Phase I activities would result in a potentially significant impact…”

The map above is taken from the DEIR. All the dark green areas are potentially unstable. All the gold areas are potentially unstable. All the cream areas are potentially unstable. The little red blobs and stars are already unstable. The black arrows show the direction of potential landslides – right into our communities. Here’s the key to the map. The light yellow and light green areas are where they are cutting down trees in Phase I (five years, starting this fall – 2017):

Legend to Landslide Hazard Map Sutro Forest 2017

What’s the proposed “mitigation”? Avoiding work in the forest for 2 days when the soil is wet after rain. This completely ignores the fact that landslides are a MULTI-YEAR hazard after tree removal.

Here’s the proposed mitigation in their own words:
“After a significant storm event (defined as 0.5 inches of rain within a 48-hour or greater period), the following conditions shall be met prior to any vegetation management activities:

  • The maps detailing areas of historic slope instability or rock fall in the Final Geotechnical and Geological Evaluation Report for UCSF Mount Sutro shall be reviewed (Rutherford + Chekene 2013) 
  • If ground-disturbing or vegetation removal activities are proposed within or adjacent to areas of historic slope instability or rock fall, the saturation of the soils shall be estimated in the field; if muddy water drips from a handful of soil, the soil is considered saturated (Brouwer, Goffeau and Heibloem 1985) 
  • The areas of historic slope instability or rock fall shall be flagged if the moisture content of the soils is determined to be high (i.e., muddy) and ground-disturbing or vegetation removal activities shall be avoided for a minimum of 48-hours after a significant storm event to permit soil drying…”

In other words, we won’t chop down trees in the rain or when the soil is wet.

Other mitigations are palliative. They’re planning to build roads into the forest for trucks and heavy equipment, and those roads will follow the contour of the slope. The quarter-acre staging plazas – where they’ll remove trees so trucks can turn around and heavy equipment be parked – will be flattish, with a slight slope for drainage. None of this is as effective as not building these roads or bringing in heavy equipment in the first place.

WHY THE MITIGATION IS MEANINGLESS

The problem is, the effect of cutting down trees is a LONG TERM problem. The effect of tree removal takes years – not days, not months – to fix. In Oso, Washington, the slope gave way three years after the last tree-destruction. Here’s the story (from the article we published at the time). The tragedy was foreseen… but the regulators thought they had enough mitigations in place.

On March 22, 2014, a huge landslide destroyed the small Washington community of Oso. Rain was of course a factor, as was erosion at the base of the slope. But it’s probable that tree-cutting above the slide area was an important factor too. An article in the Seattle Times that quotes a report from Lee Benda, a University of Washington geologist. It said tree removal could increase soil water “on the order of 20 to 35 percent” — and that the impact could last 16-27 years, until new trees matured. Benda looked at past slides on the hill and found they occurred within five to 10 years of harvests [i.e. felling trees for timber].

There had been red flags before. The area was second growth forest, grown back from logging in the 1920s/30s. Over 300 acres were again logged in the late 1980s.

The first time regulators tried to stop logging on the hill was in 1988. But the owner of the timber successfully argued that measures could be taken to mitigate the risk. Eventually, the state only blocked it from logging some 48 acres, and the owners  gave in on that.

In 2004, new owners applied to cut 15 acres; when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) objected, they halved the area and re-located the cut. DNR gave approval, subject to no work during heavy rain and for a day afterward. The tree-cutting finished in August 2005.

In January 2006, there was a major landslide 600 feet from the cut zone. The state built a log wall to shore up the slope.

The owners continued logging. In 2009, they removed 20% of the trees. In 2011, they removed another 15%. In 2014, the hillside collapsed.

The regulators were aware of the risk; they thought they were mitigating it with their restrictions and reaching a compromise with the owners. But it wasn’t enough. Destabilizing the mountainside is a long-term thing; the effects can show up in months, but it’s more likely to take years.

THE LESSON FOR MOUNT SUTRO

Our mountains not only are potentially unstable, they actually have landslides. The picture at the end of this article shows one on Twin Peaks, where rocks tumble after nearly every heavy rainy season.

The roots of the trees are helping to hold the unstable soil in place and that as the roots rot, landslide risk will increase.  It is going to be more unstable 2-3 years after the trees are removed than 2 days after it rains.  The information that instability increases over time is a little counter-intuitive.

Moreover, removing the trees takes away their ability to suck water out of the soil. If the tree-cutting is done in dry years, it may take a wet winter to trigger landslides… which would not have happened if the trees had been regulating the water and functioning as a living geotextile.

Since UCSF are not going to use herbicides on the stumps to prevent them from resprouting, they say they will grind the stumps.  That is an effective way to prevent resprouting, but it will greatly increase the instability of the soil because the heavy equipment digs down several feet into the stump to destroy the roots.  That’s another reason why they should not destroy trees where slide risk has been identified.

Anyone seriously considering the map above can only hope that UCSF will draw a better conclusion than the Washington State loggers and regulators. The planned destruction of thousands of trees – many within the first five years – could cause landslides in surrounding communities not days or months later, but years after the event.

UCSF: First, do no harm!

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