Another Attack on Trees in The East Bay

This article is republished with permission from “Death of a Million Trees“, a website dedicated to fighting unnecessary tree destruction in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you want to help save these trees, please sign the petition.

sign for East Bay MUD TreesAlso, if you would like to comment, EBMUD is accepting comments until September 2, 2016. This massive destruction of trees across our Bay Area affects us all. Trees fight climate change by sequestering carbon, provide habitat for native birds and animals, as well as for forage for bees and other insects, and provide shade and beauty. This is not just an East Bay issue.

 

East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) is the public utility that supplies our water in the East Bay. To accomplish that task, EBMUD manages thousands of acres of watershed land. Like most open space in the Bay Area, the vegetation on EBMUD’s land is a mix of native and non-native species.

Lafayette Reservoir, one of many EBMUD properties in the East Bay

Lafayette Reservoir, one of many EBMUD properties in the East Bay

EBMUD is revising its Master Plan. The draft Master Plan makes a new commitment to destroying all eucalyptus and Monterey pines in favor of native vegetation. The draft Master Plan is available HERE. EBMUD is accepting written public comments on the draft Master Plan until September 2nd. Comments should be sent to watershedmasterplan@ebmud.com or by mail to Doug Wallace, EBMUD, 375 11th St, Oakland, CA 94607.

EBMUD held a public meeting about its draft Master Plan on Monday, August 15, 2016. That meeting was attended by over 200 people. Most of the crowd seemed to be there to defend their access to EBMUD trails by bicycles.

There were 10 speakers who defended our trees against pointless destruction and the consequent pesticide use to prevent their resprouting. As usual, the Sierra Club came to object to increased access for bicycles and to demand the eradication of our trees. As usual, claims of extreme flammability of non-native trees was their stated reason for demanding the destruction of the trees. Update: HERE is a video of speakers at the EBMUD meeting for and against tree destruction and pesticide use.

If you are watching the news, you know that there are now eight wildfires raging in California. All of these wildfires are occurring in native vegetation. The claim that non-native trees are more flammable than native trees and vegetation is nativist propaganda.

Furthermore, our native trees are dying of drought and disease. This article in the East Bay Times informs us that 70 million native trees have died in the past four drought years and that the millions of dead trees have substantially increased fire hazards. In other words, it is profoundly stupid to destroy healthy, living trees at a time when our native trees are dying and pose a greater fire hazard.

We are grateful to Save the East Bay Hills for permitting us to publish their excellent letter to EBMUD about their misguided plans to destroy our urban forest. We hope that their letter will inspire others to write their own letters to EBMUD by September 2, 2016. Save the East Bay Hills is a reliable source of information about our issue. Thank you, Save the East Bay Hills for all you do to defend our urban forest against pointless destruction.

Update: Save the East Bay Hills has also created a petition to EBMUD that we hope you will sign and share with others. The petition is available HERE.


saveeastbayhills

August 15, 2016

Douglas I. Wallace
Environmental Affairs Officer
Master Plan Update Project Manager
East Bay Municipal Utility District
375 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Dear Mr. Wallace,

This letter serves as our response to the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s invitation for the public to review and comment on the draft of the East Bay Watershed Master Plan (“Draft Master Plan”) update. There is much in the plan to recommend itself and much that leaves a lot to be desired.

We are grateful that the Draft Master Plan recognizes the value of trees regardless of their historical antecedents, specifically noting that,

“Eucalyptus trees provide a source of nectar and pollen that attracts insects, which in turn serve as a prey base for birds and other animals. Hummingbirds and many migratory bird species feed extensively on the nectar. In addition, eucalyptus trees produce an abundant seed crop. These tall trees are used as roosting sites for birds. Bald eagles have roosted in eucalyptus groves in the San Pablo Reservoir watershed, and a great blue heron rookery exists in the eucalyptus trees at Watershed
Headquarters in Orinda. A great blue heron and great egret rookery was active near the northern arm of Chabot Reservoir in the recent past.”

The Draft Master Plan recognizes, “the ecological value and likely permanence of certain nonnative species and habitats,” including Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine. It recognizes that these two species of trees, especially Monterey Pine “provide stability to watershed soils” and “provide erosion control with a widespreading root system.”

It recognizes that they provide “protection from solar exposure, wind, and noise.”

It recognizes that they “provide biodiversity value (bald eagle and other raptor species) on District watershed lands.” For example, “Monterey Pine seeds provide food for small rodents, mammals and birds…”

It cites to the EBMUD Fire Management Plan which recognizes the value of trees in mitigating fire: “They do not represent a significant fire hazard when the understory is maintained for low fire intensities… Stands that are well spaced with light understory, proper horticultural practices, and maintenance of trees, e.g. spacing and above-ground clearance, can serve to minimize fire hazard.”

It admits that removing the trees would lead to inevitable grasses and shrubs which increase the risk of fire: “The most susceptible fuels are the light fuels (grasses, small weeds, or shrubs)…”

Finally, it recognizes that these tall trees occupy a very small portion of District lands: 1% for Eucalyptus and 2% for Monterey Pines.

Given their immense beauty, the habitat they provide, their mitigation against fire, the erosion control, all the other recognized benefits, and the fact that they occupy such a small percentage of overall District lands, why does the Draft Master Plan propose that they be eradicated over time?

The answer appears to be nothing more than perceived public will:

“As this species is considered a nonnative pyrophyte, regional pressure is present to reduce the number of Monterey Pine stands.”

“As a nonnative pyrophyte, eucalyptus plantations are a target of regional public pressure for removal.”

This is a misreading of the public will. The Draft Master Plan is elevating the nativist agenda of a loud, vocal minority over good sense, good science, ecological benefit, protection against fire, and the desires of the vast majority of residents and users of District lands. How do we know?

The City of Oakland, the University of California, and the East Bay Regional Park District have also proposed eradicating Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus trees and of the 13,000 comments received by FEMA during the public comment period following its draft plan, roughly 90% were in opposition by FEMA’s own admission. Moreover, over 65,000 people have petitioned the City of Oakland to abandon its effort to remove the trees.

That EBMUD does not hear from people who find beauty, shade, and benefit in the trees is not because they do not care; rather, it is because most members of the public do not understand the extent to which these trees are under siege by nativists, nor the level of cooperation these individuals are receiving from public lands managers to see their vision prevail.

For most members of the public, it simply strains credulity that those tasked with overseeing our public lands would cooperate with efforts to destroy not only large numbers of perfectly healthy trees, but given their height and beauty, trees that are the most responsible for the iconic character of East Bay public lands and the appeal of our most beloved hiking trails. And for what end? To treat our public lands as the personal, native plant gardens of those who subscribe to such narrow views. In short, there is no widespread desire to get rid of these trees and they should not be removed.

Indeed, the Draft Master Plan recognizes several “emerging challenges” as a result of climate change including, but not limited to, “increasing average temperatures, prolonged droughts, erosion, decreased soil moisture, and augmented risk of fires.” Tall trees like Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine help mitigate these challenges. For example, fog drip falling from Monterey Pines in the East Bay has been measured at over 10 inches per year. In San Francisco, fog drip in the Eucalyptus forest was measured at over 16 inches per year.

Moreover, Eucalyptus trees are an important nesting site for hawks, owls and other birds and are one of the few sources of nectar for Northern California bees in the winter. Over 100 species of birds use Eucalyptus trees as habitat, Monarch butterflies depend on Eucalyptus during the winter, and Eucalyptus trees increase biodiversity. A 1990 survey in Tilden Park found 38 different species beneath the main canopy of Eucalyptus forests, compared to only 18 in Oak woodlands. They also prevent soil erosion in the hills, trap particulate pollution all year around, and sequester carbon.

Many of these benefits are especially important in light of Sudden Oak Death which the Draft Master Plan admits is an ongoing challenge and is likely to increase because of climate change. If Sudden Oak Death impacts oak woodlands and EBMUD intentionally cuts down Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine which are proving themselves more suitable for the environment, it risks a treeless landscape, which would not only be a loss of beauty and loss of wildlife habitat, but exacerbate the challenges already faced by EBMUD as a result of climate change.

We also object to the Draft Master Plan accepting the labels “native” and “non-native” and making decisions based on that fact alone. “Non-native” and “invasive species” are terms that have entered the lexicon of popular culture and become pejorative, inspiring unwarranted fear, knee-jerk suspicion, and a lack of thoughtfulness and moral consideration. They are language of intolerance, based on an idea we have thoroughly rejected in our treatment of our fellow human beings — that the value of a living being can be reduced merely to its place of ancestral origin.

Each species on Earth, writes Biology Professor Ken Thompson, “has a characteristic distribution on the Earth’s land surface… But in every case, that distribution is in practice a single frame from a very long movie. Run the clock back only 10,000 years, less than a blink of an eye in geological time, and nearly all of those distributions would be different, in many cases very different. Go back only 10 million years, still a tiny fraction of the history of life on Earth, and any comparison with present-day distributions becomes impossible, since most of the species themselves would no longer be the same.”

This never-ending transformation — of landscape, of climate, of plants and animals — has occurred, and continues to occur, all over the world, resulting from a variety of factors: global weather patterns, plate tectonics, evolution, natural selection, migration, and even the devastating effects of impacting asteroids. The geographic and fossil records tell us that there is but one constant to life on Earth, and that is change.

Even if one were to accept that the terms “native” and “non-native” have value, however, not only do they not make sense as it relates to Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus, but the outcome would not change for three reasons. First, Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus provide numerous tangible benefits as previously discussed, while the claimed “problem” of their foreign antecedents is entirely intangible. That a plant or animal, including the millions of humans now residing in North America, may be “non-native” is a distinction without any practical relevance beyond the consternation such labels may inspire in those most prone to intolerance; individuals, it often seems, who demand that our collectively owned lands be forced to comply to their rigid and exiguous view of the natural world. What does it matter where these trees once originated if they provide such tremendous beauty and benefit here and now?

Second, the fossil record demonstrates that Monterey Pine are, in fact, “native” to the East Bay. (See, e.g., http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/montereypines_01.) Monterey Pine fossils from the middle Miocene through the Pleistocene have been found in several East Bay locations. Similarly, since Eucalyptus readily hybridizes with other species, many experts now claim that California Eucalyptus hybrids could rightly be considered native, too.

Of more immediate concern, however, is that the five narrowly defined “native” stands of Monterey Pine — the Año Nuevo-Swanton area in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel in Monterey County, Cambria in San Luis Obispo County, and Guadalupe and Cedros Islands off Baja California in Mexico — are in danger. In light of escalating temperatures due to climate change, to save Monterey Pine requires “a new foundation for conservation strategies of the species and its associated ecosystems. If Monterey pine has long existed in small, disjunct populations and if these have regularly shifted in location and size over the California coast in response to fluctuating climates… then it would be consistent to extend our conservation scope…” “Areas not currently within its [narrowly defined so-called] native range could be considered suitable habitats for Monterey pine conservation.” (Millar, C., Reconsidering the Conservation of Monterey Pine, Fremontia, July 1998.)

As tree lovers and environmentalists in Cambria are banding together to determine how, if at all, they can save their precious remaining Monterey Pines now dying from drought in record numbers, here in the East Bay – less than 224 miles away – land managers at EBMUD are considering plans to willfully destroy them in record numbers. It is ecologically irresponsible and for those of us who dearly love the stunning, even arresting, beauty of these trees, it is also truly heartbreaking.

Third, and perhaps more importantly, removing Eucalyptus and restoring “native” plants and trees is not only predicated on the ongoing use of large amounts of toxic pesticides, it does not work, a fact acknowledged by cities across the country. In the last ten years, the City of Philadelphia has planted roughly 500,000 trees, many of which are deemed “non-native” precisely because “native” trees do not survive. “[R]ather than trying to restore the parks to 100 years ago,” noted the City’s Parks & Recreation Department, “the city will plant non-native trees suited to warmer climates.”

For all these reasons, we oppose the elimination of Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus, even if phased over time as proposed, and likewise oppose EBMUD’s participation in the destruction of similar Pine and Eucalyptus forests in the Caldecott Tunnel area, in partnership with outside agencies. We ask that these be stricken from the Master Plan.

Finally, we oppose the ongoing and, if the trees are cut down, potentially increasing use of pesticides and ask that a ban on their use be put in effect in the final Master Plan, for the following reasons:

● Extremely low levels of pesticide exposure can cause significant health harms, particularly during pregnancy and early childhood.

● Children are more susceptible to hazardous impacts from pesticides than are adults and compelling evidence links pesticide exposures with harms to the structure and functioning of the brain and nervous system and are clearly implicated as contributors to the rising rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, widespread declines in IQ, and other measures of cognitive function.

● Cancer rates among children are increasing at an alarming rate and pesticide exposure contributes to childhood cancer, as well as other increasingly common negative health outcomes such as birth defects and early puberty.

● Approximately 4,800,000 children in the United States under the age of 18 have asthma, the most common chronic illness in children, and the incidence of asthma is on the rise. Emergence science suggests that pesticides may be important contributors to the current epidemic of childhood asthma.

● Animals, including wildlife and pets, are at great risk from exposure to pesticides, including lethargy, excessive salivation, liver damage, blindness, seizures, cancer, and premature death.

● Pesticides contain toxic substances, many of which have a detrimental effect on animal health, including pets, raptors, deer, and other wildlife, which is compounded when the bodies of poisoned animals are ingested by subsequent animals.

● The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recommended non-chemical approaches, such as sanitation and maintenance.

These concerns are compounded by the fact that pesticides are to be administered near reservoirs, threatening the safety and integrity of our water supply and the water supply of the plants and animals who also depend on it. These reasons are why the Marin Municipal Water District removed the use of herbicides from further consideration in its Draft Plan and maintained the pesticide ban it has had in place for several years.

Pesticides are not only dangerous, they are also incredibly cruel. Rodenticides, for example, are opposed by every animal protection group in the nation because not only do they kill animals, but they do so in one of the cruelest and most prolonged ways possible, causing anywhere from four to seven days of suffering before an animal finally comes to the massive internal bleeding these poisons facilitate. This long sickness period often includes abnormal breathing, diarrhea, shivering and trembling, external bleeding and spasms, suffering and death that is perpetuated when their dead bodies are ingested by subsequent animals, such as owls and raptors. Put simply, EBMUD should not be in the business of targeting any healthy animals, trees, and plants for elimination; and doing so by pesticides harms animals well beyond the target species, including humans.

In summary, public agencies overseeing public lands have a responsibility to minimize harm and reject radical transformations of those lands and the ecosystems they contain, especially in absence of any clear public mandate. Not only have these lands been handed down in trust from prior generations for us to enjoy, preserve, and bequeath to future generations, but there is a reasonable expectation on the part of most citizens that those overseeing our collectively owned lands not undertake agendas to destroy large numbers of healthy trees, kill healthy animals, and poison our environment. Regardless of how Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees may be maligned by the extreme few, they are beloved by the many, being in large part responsible for the East Bay’s beauty, iconic character and treasured, shady walking trails and picnic areas.

In the case of EBMUD, this orientation is even more alarming and a violation of the public trust because it elevates the ideological driven, nativist agenda of the few above the agency’s primary mandate and interests of the many: ensuring the integrity and safety of our water supply and the plants and animals who reside there. Adopting plans to alter pre-existing landscapes through the use of toxic pesticides in order to placate unreasonable and xenophobic demands on lands that contain the public’s precious reserves of drinking water is a deep inversion of priorities.

We respectfully request that these proposed ends and means be stricken from the Master Plan.

Very truly yours,
Save the East Bay Hills

Barn Owls in Glen Canyon

2016-07-26 (2)

Did you know that Glen Canyon has Barn Owls (Tyto Alba) as well as our famous Great Horned Owls?!  Barn owls are much smaller than the cat-sized Great Horned Owls, weighing just over a pound and reaching about a foot in length. Their wingspan reaches over a yard.

Compare this to our Great Horned Owls whoooo [misspelling intended] can reach a length of 25 inches, weigh anywhere from two to six pounds, and have a wingspan of 5 feet. Great Horned Owls are considered “true” owls whereas Barn Owls are classed differently as Tytonidae.

Barn Owl (Tyto Alba). Their huge eyes don’t move in their sockets like ours do, so an owl must move it’s entire head, rather than just its eyes, to see things clearly. This owl is twisting its head to examine me. Their eyes are no good during the too-bright-light-for-them-during-daylight, so it’s also squinting.

Barn Owl (Tyto Alba). Their huge eyes don’t move in their sockets like ours do, so an owl must move it’s entire head, rather than just its eyes, to see things clearly. This owl is twisting its head to examine me. Their eyes are no good during the too-bright-light-for-them-during-daylight, so it’s also squinting.

2016-07-26

Although they usually glide and “moth their wings” without a trace of sound, Barn Owls can also be quite noisy, as when they really bat their wings loudly on purpose to scare off an intruder, or when they are vocalizing. It is because of their noise that I recently ran into some. I was really surprised when the squawks I heard turned out not to be those of a nearby bluejay warning off the owls. No, it was the owls themselves protecting a youngster! Barn owls, it turns out, don’t “whoo, whoo, whoot”, as we all might expect, as the Great Horned Owls do. Instead, they screech in a bunch of different ways. I made a recording of the sounds:

Press here for AUDIO: Notice there are a couple of distant coyote barks at the 34-39 second marker, and the owls get really intense at the 2:54 marker. The recording lasts 3:24 minutes.

For years I’d seen one at dawn or dusk, gliding and swooping in its silveriness, ever so silently through the dark. You could only see them as you do the bats — against the lighter night sky before total darkness set in in the evening, or before the light of day set in at dawn, or as a shimmer against the darker trees at these twilight hours.

Once, I lay down on the ground and was able to capture, in a photo, one of these owls as it “mothed” right above me, from what seemed like five feet away, examining me out of curiosity — no, it was not courting me! It was because that owl was against the lighter sky that the camera was able to capture its image — it was actually dark outside.

They are nocturnal, so if you want to see them you should begin your walk in the dark — and keep your eyes on the sky above the tree-line: you may see one floating silently by before returning to its roost at dawn, or as it begins its “day” hunting at dusk. I’ve Googled some interesting information which I’ve added below.

Barn Owl "moths" over me

Barn Owl “moths” over me

Territoriality. Barn Owls defend the area around their nests, but they don’t defend the area where they hunt from others of their same species — they share. In other words, more than one pair of Barn Owls may hunt on the same fields.

Contrast this with the Great Horned Owls who live in the same parks as the Barn Owls but who are very territorial: only one mated Great Horned Owl pair and their offspring live and hunt in any one area. Their territoriality which excludes other Great Horned Owls actually places a limit on the number of breeding pairs in any given area. Great Horned Owls who haven’t been able to establish territories are known as “floaters” — they live along boundaries of established territories.  In fact, it may be that just the male Great Horned Owls defend the territories. They are known to kill each other in territorial conflicts, and sometimes resort to cannibalism. Not the Barn Owls!

In the summer, the Barn Owls’ home hunting ranges are a little over a square mile; in the winter they can be many times larger. If food is extremely scarce, both of these owl species might move out of their established territories, but there is no annual migration and they maintain their territories for life.

Nesting. I found out that most Barn Owls mate for life — they are monogamous, as are Great Horned Owls — though there have been reports that some males have had several female mates at the same time. And Barn Owls tend to use the same nest site year after year. One of their courting displays is hovering in front of the female in a “moth-like fashion” — Oh, I experienced this several years ago! Chicks usually start flying at 9-10 weeks and begin leaving the nest for good at about 11-12 weeks. All will probably be gone by 14 wks.

If there is nesting in July, as is the case with this find of mine, it’s usually a second clutch for the mated pair. About 10% of barn owls reproduce two times a year — and some even produce three clutches in a year! And, although the breeding season is considered from March to August — having expanded due to climate change from an original breeding season which was almost always in May — they, in fact, can produce youngsters at any time of the year.

They lay as many as 6 eggs, but more often than not, only about 4 of them hatch. The eggs are laid asynchronously, every 2-3 days and they hatch in the order in which they were laid (sounds like a business telephone answering service, doesn’t it?!). So chicks from the same clutch can actually vary up to about 21 days in their ages. They don’t “build” nests, but find places to lay their eggs which they line with their pellets.

Owl Pellet -- Guano dripping down a tree trunk -- Great Horned Owlet spitting up a pellet

Owl Pellet — Guano dripping down a tree trunk — Great Horned Owlet spitting up a pellet

Poop. Pellets are actually excrement regurgitated through the mouth. Owls swallow their prey whole, but they don’t digest the bones and fur. The parts of the prey that actually pass through the digestive tract and out of their rumps are excreted as a softish, whitish “guano” — like that of all birds. Guano can often be found dripping down the tree trunks on which they perch.

However, in owls the larger, indigestible parts of the prey, including bones and fur, are kept in their gizzard for a couple of hours as a pellet which then travels back up into the Proventriculus (the first part of the stomach) where it remains for ten hours before being regurgitated. This stored pellet actually blocks the owl’s digestive system so that new prey cannot be swallowed until the pellet is ejected. Twice a day these are spat-up, or regurgitated out of their mouths, as “pellets”. These pellets basically look like the poop of other animals except that they are oval-shaped and not long. [see Digestion in Owls]

Hunting. All owls’ eyesight is pretty superb — they hunt at night [see “Coyote Night Vision”]. In addition, the ability of Barn Owls to capture prey by sound is the best of any animal that has ever been tested. Their satellite-dish shaped faces helps with this. They eat mostly small mammals such as rats, mice, voles, gophers. Also bats. They don’t eat squirrels so much because they are less active at night. They also eat some song birds. 91% of barn owls, post-mortem, are found to contain rat poison. The most long-lived Barn Owl ever recorded was 15 years old.

Poisons. Everyone, please don’t use poisons to eradicate rats, and please ask your neighbors to do the same. Rat poison is a horrible and slow death for rats, causing them to bleed from the inside out, and causing them to become disoriented and slow. This is why owls catch them. But worse, the poison actually travels up the food chain to these owls. Several years ago I sent in two dead barn owls for toxicity tests: they were found to have huge amounts of rat poisons laced throughout their bodies. We’ve also had a number of our Great Horned Owls killed by rat poisoning: One, this year, we guessed, was the mother of owlets who then never made it to adulthood.

[Photo and Story by Janet Kessler]

Who is Funding the Campaign for Prop B? (And, Ooops!)

find the moneyYou’re probably going to see lots of material in support of Proposition B (the 30-year, $4.65 billion set-aside for park funding with very little oversight on how it’s spent). They have a war-chest of nearly $400 thousand to promote this measure. Where’s the money coming from?

More than half of it is from two sources:

  • The San Francisco Parks Alliance ($101 thousand) and
  • “Committee to Expand the Middle Class, Supported by AirBNB Inc.” ($100,000).

Other funders include  developers, investors, and construction companies. Here’s the list, provided by a San Franciscan who obtained it from the Ethics Commission.

Person or organization Employer Contribution
25-Apr-16 COMMITTEE TO EXPAND THE MIDDLE CLASS, SUPPORTED BY AIRBNB, INC. 100,000
11-Jan-16 SAN FRANCISCO PARKS ALLIANCE 75,000
26-Apr-16 SAN FRANCISCO PARKS ALLIANCE 26,000
10-May-16 OSL BISON, LLC 25,000
26-Apr-16 THOMAS COATES JACKSON SQUARE PROPERTIES 25,000
14-Apr-16 WILLIAM S. FISHER X INVESTOR MANZANITA CAPITAL 16,666
14-Apr-16 JOHN J. FISHER X PRESIDENT, PISCES, INC. 16,666
14-Apr-16 Robert Fisher managing director, Pisces 16,666
11-May-16 RONALD CONWAY INVESTOR, SV ANGEL, LLC 12,500
18-May-16 SUPERVISOR MARK FARRELL FOR SAN FRANCISCO COMMITTEE  11,492
6-May-16 THE RELATED COMPANIES OF CALIFORNIA & AFFILIATES 10,000
12-Apr-16 THE CALIFORNIA CONSERVATION CAMPAIGN (ID# 10,000
19-May-16 PG&E CORPORATION 5,000
12-May-16 BRIAN BOTHMAN VICE PRESIDENT, BOTHMAN CONSTRUCTION 5,000
9-May-16 VIVEK KHULLER CEO, CLEARFLY COMMUNICATIONS 5,000
5-May-16 UA LOCAL 38 COPE FUND 5,000
4-May-16 ROSELYNE SWIG 5,000
2-May-16 BOSTON PROPERTIES, LP 5,000
18-Apr-16 BAUMAN LANDSCAPE & CONSTRUCTION 5,000
4-May-16 ELLEN HARRISON ACCOUNTANT,  ROSS 2,500
8-Apr-16  JONATHAN NELSON X CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OMNICOM DIGITAL 2,500
31-Mar-16 SF FORWARD (ID# 891575) 2,500
16-Apr-16  JOHN CLAWSON DEVELOPER/CONSULTANT, EQUITY COMMUNITY BUILDERS 1,500
28-Apr-16 SAN FRANCISCO POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION 1,000
9-May-16 ARCHITECTURAL RESOURCES GROUP, INC. 750
9-May-16 ARG CONSERVATION SERVICES 750
4-Apr-16  HELEN RAISER X CHAIR RAISER ORGANIZATION 750
11-Apr-16  DEBORAH ROBBINS 100
15-Apr-16 HELEN RAISER X CHAIR RAISER ORGANIZATION -500
Total 391,840

OOOPS! ERROR IN THE VOTER PAMPHLET
In related news, the Controller’s Office made an error in its statement in the Voter Pamphlet. It says that the spending would be overseen by the Board of Supervisors. It won’t. Here are the details (from the No On B campaign):

specman-mdMany of us have been concerned about the Controller’s Statement in his letter in the Ballot Pamphlet, in which the next to the last paragraph reads:

“The proposed amendment requires Recreation and Parks to set goals and measures, develop a five year strategic plan and set operational and capital spending plans. The plans must be approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors.”

However, the legislation actually states:

  1. 7  lines 21-25  “Following Commission approval of the Strategic Plan [also Capital Plan], the Department shall submit the Strategic Plan to the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. The Boards of Supervisors shall consider and by resolution express its approval or disapproval of the Plan, but may not modify the Plan. If the Board expresses its disapproval of the Plan or makes recommendations regarding the Plan to the Department, the Department may modify and resubmit the Plan.”

After being contacted about this error, the Controller issued a correction (attached):

” Upon further review of the proposed amendment, I would like to clarify the approvals required for the five-year strategic plan and annual capital expenditure and operational plans as outlined in my March 11, 2016 letter. The Recreation and Parks Commission must approve these plans prior to submitting them to the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors for review and comment. The Board of Supervisors can approve or disapprove the five-year strategic and annual capital expenditure plans, but may not amend the plan. If the Board disapproves, the Recreation and Parks Department can modify the plans. ”

“This clarification does not impact my earlier assessment of the proposed amendment’s cost to government, as outlined in my March 11, 2016 letter. ”

As we all know, “can” is not the same as “shall” and so under Prop B Rec and Park has the freedom to create and modify their plans, without BOS authority to modify those plans.

 

My Hummingbird Adventure, by Laurel Rose

This article is reposted with permission from CoyoteYipps, a blog about San Francisco’s urban coyotes. We republish it here as an interesting story – and a lesson in how difficult it is to see a bird’s nest even if you are looking for it. (Emphasis added; all pictures copyright Laurel Rose)

We urge all city departments and homeowners to trim or remove trees only in the safe Fall months: September to December

 

MY HUMMINGBIRD ADVENTURE by LAUREL ROSE

I learned a valuable lesson this weekend: Do Not Prune or Remove Trees in Spring!

Over the past couple years, I’ve been removing a row of unattractive honeysuckle trees along the fence line to let more light into our shady yard and plant some ferns & other foliage. The trees all had long skinny bare trunks with foliage starting at about 15- 20 feet up so all I could see was fallen leaves on top of compacted dirt and 8 pencil-thin tree trunks.

skinny trees (copyright Laurel Rose)

This weekend 7 and 8 were scheduled for removal. After getting 7 out of the ground, root and all, my friend and & I were getting ready to start breaking the trunk & branches down to 4 foot size segments required by the city for the green waste bins. I had a hand saw and my friend was using my mini electric chain saw for the job. I kept a safe distance in a far corner of the yard and we got to work. 2 branches into it, the chainsaw turns off and I hear “Oh Noooo! Oh my god! Nooo!” then, “chirp, chirp chirp”!

Tiny hummingbird nest on a twig

This is how I found the nest (copyright Laurel Rose)

The tree had a hummingbird nest camouflaged and expertly woven very securely onto a few twig size branches. Both my friend and I love & respect nature so we were a little frantic and horrified at the thought of nearly chainsawing through this little womb-like nest cradling 2 chicks. I found a little box and cushioned it with soft material scraps and toilet paper and placed the nest inside very carefully. It took a good hour for us to calm down and stop focusing on how thoughtless we had been to choose April to remove a tree. Even ugly trees with sparse foliage provide habitat and serve a s food source. My friend, a somewhat burly guy named Terry but whose friends call him “Bubba” was on the verge of tears telling me, “I searched for a nest before sawing off each branch. . .” . Even if one of us has noticed it, it did not resemble a typical storybook nest.
I called every organization and person I could think of for help on that Saturday evening: Golden Gate Audubon Society, Wild Care, and Janet. I was able to listen to a recorded instructions for caring for a injured chick. I kept them inside for the night in a warm dark spot away from my curious little dog who likes to be a part of everything I do whenever possible. As soon as it was light outside, I placed the box up high in the area where the tree had been. Within 20 minutes, mom showed up and fed her hungry babies and I watched as she gathered nectar from the flowers overhead on tree number 8 (which will stay in my yard).

Baby hummingbird (copyright Laurel Rose)

DAY 1: a few hours after discovery

We estimated the age to be between 2 & 3 weeks and were told that hummingbird chicks leave the nest at 23 days old. A couple days before this happens, a stronger chick pushes the weaker out of the nest and it dies because mom will not feed it on the ground. The reason this happens is because the nest is very small and is needed as a “launching pad”. Once the other chick takes flight, mom will continue to feed her baby for several days, teaching how and where to find all the best nectar & bugs before she chases it away to find its own territory. Since they are in a box, neither one will be pushed out of the nest and mom will continue to feed them both. I’m not sure if this may have any negative or unforeseen consequences but I like that idea!

Two hummingbird chicks in the nest

Two hummingbird chicks on the first day

Two Hummingbird chicks

Second Day – Hummingbird chicks

Box put up to rescue hummingbird nest

A safe space for a hummingbird nest

Day 2: I secured a new box in the other Honeysuckle tree because we were having some very windy days.

 

Box fastened into tree to rescue a hummingbird nest

Box fastened well against the wind

Day 3: I wasn’t sure if Mama was feeding her chicks with the new placement of the box with a different type of access, but I caught her in the act (see video below)

 

Mama hummingbird entering box to feed chicks in rescued nest

Mama hummingbird entering to feed the chicks – click for video (copyright Laurel Rose)

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Day 4: They changed so much from one day to the next

Two hummingbird fledglings

Two hummingbird fledglings

Day 5: Just before I left late Thursday morning, I went to check on the chicks and snapped this photo. They looked like they were ready to spread their wings. I might have made them a little nervous putting the camera up so close but wondered if they were contemplating their first flight.

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

When I came home in the early evening, the first thing I did was check the box and it was empty. I stood there for several minutes wondering how such a tiny creature with only 23 days of life can survive on their own. That’s when I heard chirping above and looked up- there was mama with 1 chick shoulder to shoulder on a branch.

hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

Hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

hummingbird-in-wire-2I looked around for the other chick and had noticed what I thought was a leaf caught in one of the links on the fence, but a closer look told me otherwise.

Maybe the little guy didn’t feel quite ready, or maybe he wanted to say goodbye. He let me get real close and looked at me with that one little eye as I said some encouraging words and slowly reached in my back pocket for my camera. I snapped one photo and he flew to the branch up above where his family was.

Today would be Day 8. I’ve been seeing what I believe to be this same little chick hanging out in the honeysuckle tree where the box was. A few hours ago, I observed the mama arrive and feed the chick patiently waiting on a little branch.

If you would like to invite hummingbirds to your yard I would not recommend those feeders with sugar water because they must be cleaned every 3- 4 days or they can make the hummingbirds very sick. It’s much better and healthier to provide their natural food sources and plant things like honeysuckle, sage, fuchsia, Aloe vera and other long tubular flowers that provide both nectar as well as habitat for insects that serve as protein. Hummingbirds also need a place to perch during the day & sleep at night that offers some protection from wind & rain- usually trees. You can also hang a perch up high in a tree near the flowers and you can encourage nesting by providing materials by hanging a “Hummer Helper” you can purchase and fill with store bought material or even dog and cat hair — the “Hummer Helper” is actually just a “suet feeder” which you can buy for a lot less. The best time to start is May. The Hummingbird Society has a lot more tips and information on their website.

*One last note about trimming trees- the safest time is in the Fall during the months of September- December

What’s Wrong With Proposition B? (San Francisco Rec & Parks Slush Fund)

sack of gold[Edited to Add on 26th April 2016: The website of opponents to Prop B keeps a running tally of groups opposing the Proposition. HERE is the link:  http://www.sfvotenopropositionb.info/  ]

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes Proposition B.  Initially, Proposition B, Supervisor Mark Farrell’s Charter Amendment, looked like a good idea.  The thinking was that it would guarantee funding to San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department (SFRPD) for improved maintenance, and focus on under-served parks. There’s a big push on right now to sell this idea to potential voters. But (and it’s a very big but) the way it’s written essentially hands the money to SFRPD with no meaningful restrictions on how the money will be spent.

The text of the amendment, as a PDF,  is HERE: Prop B text PDF

The short description of the measure from the ballot simplification committee is HERE: PropB-OpenSpaceFund-Digest PDF

30 YEARS WITHOUT SUPERVISORS OVERSIGHT

Natural Areas Program pesticide noticeProposition B would set aside money from the General Fund for the Parks Department. It doesn’t raise extra money, it just makes it compulsory to set aside part of the city’s budget and give it to the SFRPD to spend how they will. What the money is actually used for would be entirely at the discretion of the General Manager of SFRPD, who is selected by the Mayor. SFRPD is nominally overseen by the Recreation and Parks Commission, but the Commission, also appointed by the Mayor, nearly always supports the General Manager. The result is a Department Manager and a Commission that align with each other and the Office of the Mayor.

Proposition B removes the Board of Supervisors from the Parks’ budget process. During the budget process, the public gets to weigh in at hearings and with their Supervisor on their parks and what is needed. (At present, the Board can influence SFRPD because the Board decides how much funding the Department gets from the General Fund each year.) Proposition B mandates that funding go to SFRPD,  so it removes that control of public money from the public and from our elected Supervisors and gives it to political appointees and bureaucrats.

Though Proposition B is being promoted as favoring maintenance and social justice, there’s no mechanism in the Amendment by which to enforce either of those goals. The BOS is allowed to comment on SFRPD plans and goals, but it will have no authority to change them.

There is no specificity in Proposition B as to how this money will be spent. If some future General Manager decided what he really needed to do was to increase middle management to privatize parks and clubhouses, boost managerial salaries to compete with Silicon Valley, hire contractors to douse the parks in herbicides, or make our parks into elaborate and expensive showpieces that end up excluding the neighborhood residents – as happened with the Mission Playground – there would be nothing outside of the Department to stop him. The Mayor could select a different General Manager, but again, all of the power is exclusively in the hands of the Office of the Mayor.

It’s for 30 years. Mayor Ed Lee and SFRPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg will be in charge for only a small portion of the amendment’s life. The people who will be running things at the end of this period are probably in kindergarten right now.

GUARANTEES FUNDING FOR NAP

Prop B guarantees funding for the Natural Areas Program.  Here’s the language:

“The annual budget for allocation of the Fund that is adopted by the Commission and submitted by the Mayor to the Board of Supervisors shall  include: 1. Allocations for after-school recreation programs, urban forestry, community gardens, volunteer programs, and a significant natural areas management program in the amounts allocated for each of those programs from the Park and Open Space Fund in the Department’s fiscal year 2015-2016 budget, to the extent that such programs are not so funded in the Department’s operating budget or in the budget of another City department.”

felled-trees-lake mercedThis means that when they decide to fell 18,500 trees, when they want to close 9 miles of trail and many dog-play areas, when they decide to use toxic chemicals to eradicate non-native plants they dislike – they’ll have the money and can go right ahead. Neighbors who object will have to fight them park by park, action by action.

(The actual Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) is on hold because the Environmental Impact Report has not even been published and  approved yet. That’s because the Draft received so many negative comments they needed years to respond. Though SFRPD appears to be implementing much of what’s in that Plan already.)

WHO LOSES OUT?

If SFRPD gets more money from the General Fund, someone else gets less. Proposition B would impact funding for other City departments. By mandating money for SFRPD, it reduces the amount of money available for other uses. The Board of Supervisors  wouldn’t be able to use the money to meet emergency needs for the City and for other City enterprise departments – not even agencies that provide social services and other public benefits. They will have to scramble for allocations from the remaining discretionary General Fund . Soon every department will need set-asides, and our elected officials will have a declining say in how public money is spent.

BILLIONS OF DOLLARS

It’s also going to be a lot of money – as much as $4.56 billion (yes, billion with a B) over the thirty years. According to an analysis provided to us, here’s how it works:

1. The baseline is the current expenditure of $64 million. It will increase by $3 million each year for the next 10 years, and the new amount will become the new baseline each year. So $67 million in 2016, $70 million in 2017, and so on for 10 years, by which time it would be $94 million.

2. Starting 2026, the $3 million stops. Instead, the addition to the baseline will depend on the city’s revenue growth. It will grow the baseline by the same percentage as the increase or decrease in city revenues. So if the revenues grow 2%, so will the baseline.

3. In addition, there’s the Open Space Fund. It’s 2.5% of property taxes, and Prop B extends it for another 15 years. Theoretically, this is used to acquire land for open space. In fact, it’s also used for other purposes. This adds a minimum of $48 million a year that is reserved to SFPRD for its own purposes. As  property taxes rise, so will the Open Space Fund.

Over 30 years, this would total an estimated $4.56 billion.  (You can see the calculations – provided to us by an analyst opposed to Prop B – HERE: RPD Funding 2016 Charter Amendment – with GF 2 percent +totals now )

SFRPD also gets income from its fees, leases, and permits. That funding would continue on top of all of the funding guaranteed by Proposition B.

Opposing Proposition B will not deprive SFRPD of any funding. They can still make a case for their needs during the budget process on an equal footing with every other department to the people and to the Supervisors.

So – in brief: What’s wrong with Prop B is that it sets aside a sizeable, untouchable slush fund with no real accountability and no control from outside of SFPRD – and it’s one that will operate long after the professional life-times of those who are setting it up.

[Edited to Add: Some minor edits were made after publication to remove typos and clarify language.]

If You’re a Sierra Club Member…Important 2016 Election

mg_ecowatch_3536 east bay expressIf you’re a Sierra Club member, you’ve probably received a message asking you to vote for the Board of the Sierra Club in the 2016 elections before April 27th 2016.  There are 8 candidates for 5 positions: see them HERE. There are some questions that the Club asked the candidates at the same site, none of which speak to our concerns.  But a Sierra Club member wrote to the candidates asking the important questions. So far, 5 replies have come in. The questions:

  • What is your opinion of destroying non-native trees?
  • What is your opinion of pesticide use in public parks and open spaces?

The San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for trees and habitat, and against pesticide use in parks. We also believe in access, and in sensible priorities and transparency in use of public funds. The Sierra Club, horrifyingly, supports projects in the San Francisco Bay Area that would cut down hundreds of thousands of trees, and use tons of pesticides on high ground. Here’s our subjective assessment (the actual candidate statement is given below) on a scale of 1-5 (Bad to Good).

  • Susana Reyes: On trees 4; On Pesticides 5; Total 9 – Recommend
  • Judy Hatcher: Trees 3; Pesticides 5; Total 8 – Recommend
  • Robin Mann: Trees 2; Pesticides 2
  • Mike Brien: Trees 1; Pesticide 3
  • Luther Dale: Trees 1; Pesticide 1 (Since his response takes no position, we can only assume he would not oppose the appalling East Bay projects.)

You can see their detailed responses below, and decide for yourself.

There’s been no response so far from Chuck Frank (an incumbent up for re-election), Joseph Manning, or David Scott.

We have joined a petition to ask the Sierra Club not to support this egregious project. If you have not signed the petition, it’s HERE: Sierra Club must STOP advocating for deforestation and pesticide use in San Francisco Bay Area. Please sign if you haven’t already. It’s got over 2,500 signatures! (In comments, please mention if you are a Sierra Club member, present or past.)

THE CANDIDATES

Susana Reyes (currently Secretary of the Board)
“Just the mere thought of cutting a tree upsets me greatly. I can’t offer a position about destroying non-native trees without considering the different factors that may come into play – like climate conditions, types of landscape, threats to biodiversity, invasive or not, fire threats – just to name a few. It also depends on the land management practices in the areas where non-native trees exist. There ought to be other options to destroying non-native trees. I would think very carefully about destroying non-native trees especially if only a fraction display traits that harm or displace native species and disrupts the ecological landscape”.

“I strongly oppose pesticide use in our parks and open spaces. I am all too familiar with herbicide “Roundup” for example and its use to stop unwanted plants. Another one is rodenticide which is used to kill rats in parks/open spaces. In Los Angeles, our beloved mountain lion, P22, who calls Griffith Park home, was sickened last year with mange as this poison worked its way up the food chain. Many of the chem Research has shown links to certain types of cancer, developmental disorders, and physical disabilities. Pesticides end up in our drinking water, watersheds, and rivers/lakes. The use of toxic pesticides to manage pest problems has become a common practice around the world. Pesticides are used almost everywhere and therefore, can be found in our food, air, and water.”

Judy Hatcher:
“As you probably noticed from my candidate profile, I’m the Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network, so I’m not in favor of pesticides–especially highly hazardous ones–in public spaces or anywhere else. I think the issue of non-native trees is specific to particular contexts and environments. But it’s unfortunate that the damage non-native plants and animals cause lead communities to demand increased use of pesticides and herbicides, which have negative consequences for human health as well as for the natural environment. PAN focuses on industrial agriculture, so we don’t do a lot around non-native plants except for how they impact farming (hello, RoundUp!).”

Robin Mann (currently Vice President)
“Let me just note that I am running for reelection to the Board because I believe I can contribute to the Club’s progress towards its major goals for the environment and for ensuring a strong and effective organization into the future.

Being a strong and effective organization, in the case of the Sierra Club, requires among other things ensuring a broad and engaged grassroots presence everywhere. And we know that strong grassroots engagement necessarily means people coming together to resolve local issues that often have competing considerations. Our policies and our approach generally allow some latitude to ensure the local context is being taken into account. I wouldn’t want to try to dictate the solution for all situations.

My understanding from my work with the Club’s efforts to strengthen resiliency in the face of mounting climate change impacts is that restoring native vegetation is desirable, and can contribute to restoring greater ecological balance. And my understanding from my work on the ground with organizations doing habitat restoration is that sometimes HERBICIDES are needed as a last resort to enable newly planted natives to become established.

If you are speaking of herbicides being used in public parks and open spaces, my view is they generally should not be used for maintenance purposes as non-toxic alternatives are available. For habitat and vegetation reestablishment I would defer to those designing the project with the expectation that herbicides would be minimized, used responsibly, and any exposure to park users avoided.

If you are speaking of pesticide use for insects or other “nuisance” species, I expect that in most instances a non-toxic management alternative is available, and so the burden should be on the public entity to justify use of a pesticide for maintenance purposes.”

Mike O’Brien:
“I have strong concerns about invasive species crowding out and changing native ecosystems in detrimental ways. That said, we have already made significant and irreversible impacts to many ecosystems. I don’t believe a policy of eliminating all non-native trees simply because they are non-native makes sense at this point. Rather, it should be taken on a case by case basis where we consider what the impacts are of the non-native species and any work should typically be done in conjunction with a plan to restore native trees and habitat.”

“Strong preference to zero use of pesticides. There have been occasions where serious threats from invasive species have proved practically impossible to overcome without targeted use of pesticides, but this should be a rare exception as opposed normal operating procedure.”

Luther Dale:
“I have to say I do not know the context of these issues nor knowledge sufficient to give you a good answer. There are so many environmental issues and I accept that I can’t be knowledgable about them all. I do know a lot about some issues and know how to listen and learn about issues new to me. Thanks for your passion about these and other environmental problems and for your work to care for the earth.”

You can also email them at:
Susana Reyes, susanareyes1218@gmail.com
Judy Hatcher Judyh08@gmail.com
Robin Mann, robinlmann@gmail.com
Mike O’Brien, mjosierraclub@gmail.com
Luther Dale, lutherdale@hotmail.com
Joseph Manning, josephmanning92@gmail.com
David Scott, david.scott@sierraclub.org

ABOUT SF FOREST ALLIANCE

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is a 501(c)4 not-for-profit organization that works to preserve public parks for the public. Our mission:

  • Halt destruction of city park trees and wildlife habitat
  • Reverse plans that deny public access to trails and natural areas
  • Eliminate unwarranted toxic pesticide hazards to children, wildlife and the public
  • Stop misuse of tax revenue and funding within city natural areas.

Though our focus is San Francisco, we support organizations and individuals elsewhere with missions similar to our own. It’s all one world.

Three Myths About the Monarch Butterfly

The beautiful Monarch butterfly – possibly America’s best-known butterfly – is being considered for “endangered”status under the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, we’re cutting down the trees these creatures depend on. Nativist myths are partly responsible.

There are two migrations of these butterflies: East of the Rockies, these butterflies migrate between Mexico and the northern part of America. On the Western side, they migrate between the interior and the coast. These are the butterflies we see in California.

The Eastern migration is threatened mainly by a lack of milkweed, their nursery plant, as farmers efficiently exterminate the “weed.” But the Western migration is threatened by something different – a steady reduction in wintering sites as the war on eucalyptus trees continues. On Treasure Island, where Monarchs have been known to over-winter in some years, hundreds if not thousands of trees are being cut down.

We think the article  below is an important one. It’s  republished with permission from “Death of a Million Trees.” Recognizing the truth will help us save these beautiful creatures.

MONARCH MYTHS REVISITED by Million Trees

Debunking the myths of nativism—especially those that justify the eradication of non-native trees—is the task we have assigned ourselves, which requires us to revisit a few of the misconceptions about monarch butterflies in California.

Monarch Butterfly. Creative Commons

Monarch Butterfly. Creative Commons

When application for endangered status for monarchs was filed in August 2014, a few new monarch myths emerged and have since been faithfully repeated by native plant advocates who are demanding the eradication of our urban forests.  The monarch migration in California is using predominantly non-native trees, which should afford those trees some protection.  Unfortunately, it has only produced more convoluted theories that deny the value of non-native plants and trees to monarchs.

Myth #1:  The California migration of monarch butterflies prefers native trees for their winter roost. 

Monarch butterflies roosting in eucalyptus tree.

Monarch butterflies roosting in eucalyptus tree.

A study of the trees used by monarch butterflies for their winter roost in over 300 different sites in California reported that the vast majority of monarchs are using eucalyptus:

“Three types of trees were used most frequently by roosting monarchs:  eucalyptus (75% of the habitats primarily Eucalyptus globulus), pine (20% of the habitats; primarily Pinus radiata), and cypress (16% of the Cupressus macrocarpa).  Twelve other tree species were identified…with a combined prevalence of only 10%.” (1)

Unfortunately, this fact has been obscured by a small study of a few selected sites used by monarchs during their migration.  Griffiths and Villanova (2) observed the monarch migration in a few sites in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.  They report that the monarchs moved around among three tree species including eucalyptus, suggesting to them that Monterey pine and cypress are equally important to the monarchs.  While we don’t doubt that this may be true, we don’t think we can generalize from this study because it was conducted in the small native range of Monterey pine and cypress.

The California migration of monarchs spends the winter months roosting in tall trees in 17 counties along the coast of California, from Mendocino County in the north to San Diego County in the south. (1) Most of that expanse is outside the native range of Monterey pine and cypress.  Griffiths and Villanova do not acknowledge that both Monterey pine and cypress are being eradicated outside their native range for the same reason that eucalyptus is being eradicated, i.e., they are considered “alien invaders” where they have been planted outside their native range.  Here in the San Francisco Bay area, for example, 500 Monterey pines were destroyed on the Marin headlands a few years ago and an untold number of Monterey pines will be destroyed by the FEMA projects in addition to those that have already been destroyed here.

If, in fact, monarchs do have a preference for Monterey pines and cypress for their winter roost, they do not have that option outside of the small native range of those trees in Monterey County. 

For the record, we should tell you that we are just as opposed to the pointless destruction of Monterey pine and cypress outside their small native range as we are opposed to the destruction of eucalyptus.

There is paleontological evidence (fossil cones) that Monterey pines lived in the San Francisco Bay Area several times in the distant past.  That finding was reported (4) in Fremontia, the journal of the California Native Plant Society.  The author asked that Monterey pines be allowed to remain where they lived in the past because the species is threatened in its small native range.  Unfortunately, her advice has been ignored by native plant advocates, who continue to demand that all Monterey pines be destroyed where they have been planted outside their present native range.  This extreme viewpoint is one of the reasons why native plant advocates have earned their reputation as fanatics.

Myth #2:  The California migration of monarch butterflies used exclusively native trees before eucalyptus was planted in California.

Those who wish to discount the value of eucalyptus to overwintering monarchs often assume the California monarch migration predates the planting of eucalyptus in California in mid-19th century.  That assumption supports their claim that all of our eucalyptus can be destroyed without having a negative impact on monarch butterflies.   In fact, there is no historical record of the monarch migration until the mid-19th century.  The historical record of the monarch migration was reported by Vane-Wright (3), who tells us the California monarch migration is probably a 19th century expansion of the range of the eastern monarch migration, from east of the Rocky Mountains to Mexico.  Recent molecular analysis of the monarch migration confirms that the eastern and western migration of monarchs in North America are genetically identical, suggesting that the populations might be dispersing east and west from their Mexican winter roost. (5)

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Tilden Botanical Garden

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Tilden Botanical Garden

Monarch butterflies are not usually eaten by birds because their host plant contains a toxin that makes birds sick and the monarch’s warning colors broadcast that fact.  The warning colors of butterflies that are toxic to birds are often mimicked by other species of butterflies to confer that protection.  There is a monarch mimic, the Viceroy, in the eastern US, which occurs in California only in a tiny bit of riparian habitat in southeast California.  “The lack of mimics suggests the [monarch] may not have been here long enough for any to evolve.” (6)

Myth #3: Non-native species of milkweed is harmful to monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed and their larvae, the caterpillar, feeds exclusively on milkweed.  Many native plant advocates believe that the monarch requires a native species of milkweed.  They are mistaken in that assumption.  Wikipedia lists over 35 species of milkweed (genus Asclepias) all over the world and many are known to be used by the widely dispersed populations of monarchs.

The dispersal of monarchs from their original range in North America is approximately 200 years old, according to molecular analysis of populations across the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Australia) and across the Atlantic (Spain, Portugal, Morocco).  These dispersals are assumed to have been aided by human transportation of both milkweeds and monarchs and extreme weather events.  “For example, monarchs were recorded in Australia in 1870 and were most probably carried there on cyclonic winds from a source population in New Caledonia.” (7)  These populations do not migrate and are therefore genetically distinct from the ancestral population of North American monarchs as a result of genetic drift.

In many of the homes of new populations of monarch butterflies there was no native species of milkweed before being introduced simultaneously with the monarch populations.  Although there are numerous members of the milkweed family native to Australia, monarchs do not appear to utilize the native species, preferring the introduced species of milkweed.

Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) Creative Commons

Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) Creative Commons

In California, a tropical species of milkweed is popular with gardeners (Asclepias curassavica).  Unlike the native species of milkweed, tropical milkweed does not die back in winter.  Gardeners therefore tend to prefer the tropical milkweed because it makes a colorful contribution to their gardens year around.

Of course, native plant advocates prefer native species of milkweed and they justify their preference by claiming that tropical milkweed is harmful to monarchs.  They claim that the monarch parasite (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) can accumulate on tropical milkweed because it doesn’t die back during the winter.  Tropical milkweed is the only milkweed available in winter.  The parasite disrupts some winter breeding of monarchs, but that breeding would not occur in the absence of tropical milkweed.  If more monarchs are the goal, tropical milkweed is making a contribution to the monarch population.

New scientific research bebunks the myth that tropical milkweed is harmful to monarchs.  Leiling Tao et.al. (8) studied monarch lifespans when they fed on a variety of milkweed species.  They looked at both resistance to monarch parasite (O. elktroscirrha) infection and tolerance once infected.  They found a complex interaction between species of milkweed the monarchs fed on and the amount of mycorrhizal fungi on the roots of the milkweed.  But one result was clear:  monarchs raised on tropical milkweed (A. curassavica) lived as long, or longer than, monarchs raised on other species of milkweed.  They were less likely to be infected, and once infected, tolerated the infection well.  In short, there is nothing about tropical milkweed as a host that is detrimental to monarch survival in the presence of parasites.

Native plant advocates also speculate that tropical milkweed can disrupt the migratory patterns of monarchs because it is available when native milkweed is not available.  Given that monarchs have persisted for 200 years all over the world, using exclusively non-native milkweed and without migrating, this seems an unnecessarily pessimistic concern.  Neither native milkweed species, nor migration are essential to the survival of monarchs as a species.

Peek under the cover story

As we often do on Million Trees, we have taken a peek under the cover story being used by native plant advocates to justify the eradication of non-native plants and trees.  Once again, we find a lot of pessimistic speculation, but little evidence that eradicating non-native plants will benefit wildlife, or conversely that wildlife can only survive in native habitat.  Yes, it was a tedious journey to that conclusion and we thank you for your patience if you have persevered to our optimistic conclusion that wildlife is far more resourceful and resilient than nativism wishes to believe.

Monarch butterfly in San Francisco. Copyright Janet Kessler

Monarch butterfly in San Francisco. Copyright Janet Kessler


(1) Dennis Frey and Andrew Schaffner, “Spatial and Temporal Pattern of Monarch Overwintering Abundance in Western North America,” in The Monarch Butterfly Biology and Conservation, Cornell University Press, 2004.

(2) Jessica Griffiths and Francis Villablanca, “Managing monarch butterfly overwintering groves:  Making room among the eucalyptus,” California Fish and Game 101(1): 40-50; 2015

(3) Richard Vane-Wright, “The Columbus Hypothesis:  An Explanation for the Dramatic 19th Century Range Expansion of the Monarch Butterfly,” in Biology and Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly,Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1993.

(4) Constance Millar, “Reconsidering the Conservation of Monterey Pine,” Fremontia, Vol. 26, No. 3, July 1998

(5) Justine I. Lyons, et. al., “Lack of genetic differentiation between monarch butterflies with divergent migration destinations,” Molecular Ecology, (2012) 21, 3433-3444

(6) Art Shapiro, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, California Natural History Guides, UC Press, 2007.

(7) Amanda Pierce, et. al., “Serial founder effects and genetic differentiation during worldwide range expansion of monarch butterflies,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Britain, 281: 2014.2230.

(8) LeilingTao, et. al., “Disease ecology across soil boundaries:  effects of below-ground fungi on above-ground host—parasite interactions,” Proceedings of Royal Society of Britain, 282: 2015.1993.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 639 other followers