Dead trees: the life of the forest

Throughout the city and the whole San Francisco Bay area, urban and suburban forests are being destroyed. The Natural Resource Area Management Plan targets 18,000 trees in San Francisco and Pacifica. In the East Bay, more than 50,000 trees may be felled – some estimates go to half a million.

In many cases, the relevant authority argues they are really removing trees that “dead or dying.” We question whether the so-called “dying” trees are actually dying, or merely in a defensive mode against four dry years, from which they would have recovered after this wet winter had they been given the chance.

And importantly, the dead trees have enormous value in the forest. We republish this article by Jack Gescheidt, first published at Treespirit.com with permission and minor changes. (The article and all the images are copyright to Jack Gescheidt.)

DEAD, DYING AND DECAYING TREES PLAY AN ESSENTIAL ROLE IN INCREASING FOREST LIFE

Even tree lovers may not know the myriad ways trees some label “dying” or “sick” or “infected” or “infested” (with beetles or other insects) are in fact beneficial to a forest. Perhaps you’ve figured this out already, or know it intuitively, but forests do just fine without us humans interfering. Especially when our “helping” is driven by financial gain.

But fans of forest beware: timber companies hellbent on extracting more wood from U.S. and world forests have concocted yet another way of saying down is up, wrong is right, and denuding forests does a forest good. Their newest sell-off-the-forest pitch is to “remove” only “dead” or “dying” trees, to “clean up” or “manage” forests more “responsibly” implying this does no harm. Don’t believe it. All the quotations are used to indicate these terms are euphemisms which don’t convey the reality of how damage is done in “responsibly” “managing” a forest. This would actually entail leaving it alone, and certainly not bringing in heavy machinery.

Extracting “dead” or “down” or “dying” trees is only the latest insidious way of doing additional harm while ignoring the reality of our current situation: global warming is threatening humanity, which is caused in large part by decades of massive, and ongoing deforestation, nationally and globally. What we humans should instead be doing is leaving existing forests be, especially old-growth forests, not inflicting more damage or extractions of any kind. And planting more trees than we cut down — I mean, “harvest.” Important note: planting a sapling is NOT an equivalent replacement for cutting down a mature tree. Leave mature trees stand AND plant more trees. This would benefit us humans — as well as animals and plants and planet, because we’re actually all in this together. Deforestation for short term profit equals environmental and societal catastrophe in the long term.

The timber industry’s latest assaults begin ideologically. If they win over your mind, and public opinion, they will destroy our forests, and harm all of us in the end. In the public relations assault you’ll hear and read this lie: that forests benefit from industrial removal of “dead” or “dying” trees; that doing so has little or no impact on a forest’s health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Standing dead trees, and trees that have fallen over, and trees in any and every state of decay, are essential to the life cycles of decay and regeneration of a forest. And thus our health depends upon these, since we depend upon forests for carbon sequestration, oxygen production, soil creation, water filtration, wildlife habitat, and so much more.

Chad Hanson, Director of the John Muir Project, UC Davis researcher, and Sierra Club board member, says this about dead trees and forests:

We are trapped by an outdated cultural idea that a healthy forest is one with nothing but green trees. An ecologically healthy forest has dead trees, broken tops, and down logs. Such forests may not look tidy from the perception of a forester, but it (a forest with lots of dead trees) is the most biologically diverse and healthy, from a forest ecosystem perspective….Pound for pound, ton for ton, there is probably no more important habitat element in western conifer forests than large snags and large down logs.

The old practice of killing trees — what modern industry euphemistically calls “harvesting” — to make too many products that are either unnecessary or readily replaced with non-tree sources, has now become a suicidal practice. By killing trees and destroying forests everywhere, we are also killing ourselves, slowly, surely, and increasingly not so slowly.
Beware, too, other misleading, non-scientific labels like “invasive” and “non-native” which are also now commonly used to justify killing trees, plants, and animals, sometimes even by well-intentioned but tragically misled environmentalists. All have drunk the industrial agricultural public relations Kool-Aid. Meaning they kill wild plants and animals, imagining they are doing good, even justifying toxic herbicide use to do so.

READ MORE: http://www.TreeSpiritProject.com/Invasion Biology

Beware, too, other misleading, non-scientific labels like “invasive” and “non-native” which are also now commonly used to justify killing trees, plants, and animals, sometimes even by well-intentioned but tragically misled environmentalists. All have drunk the industrial agricultural public relations Kool-Aid. Meaning they kill wild plants and animals, imagining they are doing good, even justifying toxic herbicide use to do so. READ MORE: http://www.TreeSpiritProject.com/Invasion Biology

Dead and decaying trees are precious to a forest. Here’s a short list of services they perform:

DEAD TREES are wildlife habitat — homes! — for many species of insects, birds and mammals including beetles, bees, wasps, ants, mice, squirrels, salamanders, shrews, bats, rats, and wildcats (lynx, bobcat), raccoons, martens, and even cover for larger mammals including mountain lions and bears.

Forest cafeteria…

DEAD TREES feed numerous fungi like mushrooms which in turn feed myriad animals, including rodents like voles.
DEAD TREES provide crucial habitat (nesting, roosting and food storage) for many species of woodpeckers that rely solely upon them. Woodpeckers require dead wood that’s easier to penetrate than living wood. So woodpecker habitat is destroyed when timber companies extract dead trees, and forest health suffers as woodpecker services are diminished.
DEAD TREES are food for insects which in turn feed larger animals including birds and mammals, all essential to forest health.
DEAD TREES create new soil, a critical component from which all life springs
DEAD TREES retain critical moisture in a forest as decomposing woody material

We must protect all remaining un-logged, or old-growth (over 200 years old) forests and leave intact any and all forests for their critical ecological service in our era of anthropogenic global warming. These include carbon sequestration (CO2 storage) as double duty; keeping the carbon in a living tree in its wood and out of the atmosphere, as well as allowing living trees to continue extracting additional CO2 from the atmosphere every day it is alive.

In addition to these obvious, rational-minded functions, now is also an ideal time for us planetary citizens to become more aware of the equally valuable emotional and spiritual tonic trees provide us. Notice and appreciate each individual tree growing near you, regardless of its species or its country of origin.

There are no “invasive” trees! You may have your favorites kinds of trees, but all provide critical ecological service. Maintain trees, care for them, plant more of them, and feel how they can reconnect us to the natural world we have for too long abandoned. If more of us do this more often, we just might be able to save our own species from dying too.

– Jack Gescheidt

decaying-log-moss-by-Jack-Gescheidt-TreeSpirit-Project-0884-900p-WEB.jpg
*
*
*
*
*
THE END

Advertisements

Sutro Forest Tree Destruction Started

In 2017, UCSF introduced a Plan that reduces the UCSF forest area by one-third, removes around 6,000 trees (new estimate!) and all the understory/ midstory shrubs. This  has started. The article below is republished with permission and minor changes from SaveSutro.com, the website to publicize and resist the destruction of the forest.

A short time ago, UCSF sent out a circular saying it was going to start the tree-felling in Sutro Forest. [ETA: The circular from UCSF used a header surprisingly like SFForest’s current logo above. We would like to clarify: We absolutely oppose the destruction of Sutro Forest and the felling of thousands of its trees.]

We were surprised, because they’re supposed to avoid doing this in the winter when the ground is unstable with rain, and in the spring and summer when it’s the bird-nesting season. Tree-felling season was supposed to be in the Fall. But no, it’s happening now and they intend to finish by March. Thousands of trees will be gone, and the forest as we know it will be severely depleted.

Well, it’s started. Recently, a forest-supporter sent us these pictures:

The email that accompanied the pictures was unhappy. “Not much of a canopy anymore. This sucks.”

“In that location there were also trees marked with red paint, presumably for future removal?” they said in a follow-up email regarding tree-cutting near Clarendon Avenue. “Feel free to use my photos on your site. It wasn’t very long ago when running or walking these trails transported you into a different almost magical world. Increasingly as more and more trees are cut down, the surrounding city intrudes. Thank you very much for your advocacy.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Tree cutting has started in the East Ridge area (above the UCSF student housing at Aldea), Clarendon area (parallel to Christopher Drive), the Woodland Canyon Area (below Medical Center Way), the Farnsworth area (between Edgewood Avenue and the UCSF campus).

These are, coincidentally, the areas of the forest that as long ago as 2009, UCSF had targeted for tree destruction. (This was back when they were seeking a FEMA grant to pay for it – which they withdrew when FEMA wanted evidence.) The language of the memo presents this as removal of dead and dying trees, though we have concerns both about the definition of ‘dead and dying’ and about the habitat impact of so much tree removal. (And dead trees, are, in fact, a habitat treasure for wildlife.)

The memo says they plan to bring in goats to eat the understory in February 2019, but a subsequent memo says it’s happening earlier.

Anyway, what we can expect in Sutro Forest this year is a lot less forest – thousands of trees removed, missing canopy, and bare open patches where the understory is also gone.

We hope you have made memories of the beautiful forest as it used to be. This site has been fighting the battle since 2009; others started in 1999. Sadly, the Sutro Stewards, who partner with UCSF in working in this forest, support this felling of trees and destruction of the understory.

This 130-year-old forest is no longer going to be a forest.

 

 

 

Native Plants are Flammable Too

Three of the most flammable plants in California landscapes are bay laurels, coyote brush, and chamise – all native. An evenhanded presentation of fire hazard ratings for all plants that does not downplay the danger of native plants or exaggerate the danger of non-native plants would better serve people working to address fire hazards. So we wrote this letter to the California Native Plant Society, which is updating its Fire Recovery Guide. (You can see it here as a 64-page PDF document: cnps-fire-recovery-guide-lr-040618 )

 

To: Daniel Gluesenkamp, Executive Director of the California Native Plant Society

Dear Mr. Gluesenkamp,

We have read the CNPS Fire Recovery Guide. Property owners will undoubtedly find it useful advice to prevent post-fire erosion and unnecessary destruction of trees and plants that are likely to survive in the long term. The specific advice about creating defensible space also seems helpful.

We understand that your organization is working on an update of this Guide. We are therefore writing to make a few suggestions for improving its accuracy and therefore its credibility.

If the Guide is going to suggest that home owners avoid planting specific plants within their defensible space, we would suggest a more neutral approach that would focus more on fire hazard and less on nativity. The Guide cites eucalyptus and non-native pines as presenting severe fire hazard. See pages 5, 30 and 52. However, the evidence from the recent fires does not implicate non-native trees. The documents cited in your guide (pages 44-45) show that the acreage of non-native tree species that burned in the recent fires was insignificant compared to the overwhelmingly native vegetation that burned. Two papers are cited to support the claim that non-native trees are more hazardous than native trees, Lambert and Landis. Neither paper presents and analyzes data to support the claim. Each paper contains a table of non-native plants considered to be fire hazards, but no information is presented to support them. There is a large quote about the fire hazard of eucalyptus on page 30, but with no indication who made the statement.

There are many available lists of flammable plants that should be avoided within defensible space. Marin Fire Safe lists both native and non-native plants on its list of flammable plants: http://www.firesafemarin.org/plants/fire-prone

The Oakland Firesafe Council also provides a link to that list on their website. Three of the most flammable plants in California landscapes are are bay laurels, coyote brush, and chamise. An evenhanded presentation of fire hazard ratings for all plants that does not downplay the danger of native plants or exaggerate the danger of non-native plants would better serve people working to address fire hazards.

Page 56 of the Guide dismisses the role SOD may have played in the fires. The Big Basin fires are discussed in support of this, but there is no analysis of the Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino fires. Matteo Garbelotto, the scientist at UC Berkeley who conducts the annual survey of SOD infections reports that “A dramatic increase this year in the number of oaks, manzanita and native plants infected by the tree-killing disease known as sudden oak death likely helped spread the massive fires that raged through the North Bay…
http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/SanFranciscoChronicle/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=HSFC%2F2017%2F10%2F20&entity=Ar00101&sk=FE15FEB2&mode=text
It seems likely the vegetation killed by SOD did play a role in fires. Why downplay the possibility?
SOD is a terrible thing. We should not ignore its consequences.

When recommending that property owners plant oaks on their land (page 21), it might be wise to steer them toward other tree choices if the SOD pathogen is known to exist at their location. A detailed map of where SOD infections have been found is available here:
https://nature.berkeley.edu/matteolab/?page_id=4262

There is some confusion in the guide between plants that are flammable versus fire intolerant. BayLaurels are flammable, but fire tolerant. See page 56.

We hope you will take our comments into account,

San Francisco Forest Alliance

 

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
THE END

Season’s Greetings and a Hopeful New Year in 2019


We hope that the year ahead will bring a more positive attitude in the world to the environment, to preserving trees and growing more of them, and getting rid of toxic pesticides in our parks and watersheds. It’s a long battle, but we are hopeful.

Season’s greetings to all our readers and supporters! And thank you for your continuing support and voice!

|
*
*
*
|
|
*
*
*
|
|
|
|
*
*
*
|
|

<END>

Vote NO on San Francisco’s Prop B

The San Francisco Forest Alliance recommends that you vote no on Proposition B in November 2018.
https://voterguide.sfelections.org/en/city-privacy-guidelines

The proposition, City Privacy Guidelines, would set guidelines for future privacy laws, regulations, policies, and practices for the City. All parts of City government would be authorized to implement any, all or none of these principles. The measure would require that the City Administrator, by May 31, 2019, propose an ordinance establishing the actual criteria and rules for the City. Proposition B is not actually necessary, as it only contains guidelines that may or may not be incorporated into the actual ordinance to be proposed by the City Administrator.

However, the proposition would codify one very important and dangerous thing. Subsection (i) says:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of the Charter, the Board of Supervisors is authorized by ordinance to amend voter-approved ordinances regarding privacy, open meetings, or public records, provided that any such amendment is not inconsistent with the purpose or intent of the voter-approved ordinance.”

In other words, the Board of Supervisors is granting themselves the authority to re-interpret and change Chapter 67 of the San Francisco Administrative Code. This Sunshine Ordinance, is intended to “to ensure that deliberations of commissions, boards, councils and other agencies of the City and County are conducted before the people and that City operations are open to the people’s review.” (You can see the Sunshine Ordinance HERE.)

The Sunshine Ordinance is vital to the rights of individuals to know clearly what their government is doing, and to our free press to fulfill its duty to help the public uphold a fully informed democracy.

City Hall already has too much power to resist transparency and scrutiny. Prop B would unacceptably give our decision makers even more power to further marginalize public accountability and community participation.

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
THE END

 

Vote NO on Measure FF!!

San Francisco Forest Alliance supported The Forest Action Brigade in opposing Measure FF. This article, republished here with permission from Death of a Million Trees (a website/ blog opposing unnecessary tree destruction and pesticide use) , outlines why it’s important to vote NO on Measure FF. These are our reasons for opposing this Measure. We believe its impact on parklands will be negative and environmentally destructive,  with more toxic herbicides – like glyphosate (Roundup) – and the loss of thousands of trees.

 

A vote against Measure FF on the ballot for the November 6, 2018 election is a vote against pesticide use in the East Bay.  If Measure FF passes, it will renew a parcel tax for 20 years.  For the past 15 years, the parcel tax has funded the destruction of thousands of trees on thousands of acres of public parks in the East Bay.  The renewal of the parcel tax will increase the percentage of available funds for tree removals and associated pesticide use from 30% to 40% of funds raised by the parcel tax.

Tree removals increase pesticide use because herbicides are required to prevent the trees from resprouting.  Also, when the shade of trees is eliminated, the unshaded ground is soon colonized by weeds that are then sprayed with herbicide.  The destruction of trees has put public land managers on the pesticide treadmill.

The public tried hard to convince the East Bay Regional Park District to stop destroying healthy trees and quit using pesticides in our parks.  We attended public hearings and wrote letters to Park District leadership and its governing board.  We made many suggestions for useful park improvements that would be constructive, rather than destructive.  Our requests and suggestions were ignored.

After making every effort to avoid opposition to Measure FF, we reluctantly take a stand against it.  The parks are important to us and we would much prefer to support park improvements.  Unfortunately, Measure FF will not improve the parks.  Rather, it will continue down the destructive path the Park District has been on for the past 15 years. In fact, Measure FF would escalate the destruction and poisoning of our public lands.

On Friday, August 31st, the Forest Action Brigade participated in a press conference rally at Bayer headquarters in Berkeley. Bayer is the new owner of Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate. The rally was sponsored by a labor organization that is concerned about exposing workers to glyphosate, which is probably a carcinogen.  The President of the Forest Action Brigade, Marg Hall, spoke at the rally.

The Voter Information Guides in Contra Costa and Alameda counties have published the following argument against Measure FF that was submitted by the Forest Action Brigade.  We hope you will read it and take this important opportunity to protect our public parks from being needlessly damaged.

Million Trees

Argument Against Measure FF

“We love public parks, and we support taxation which benefits the common good. Nevertheless, We urge a NO vote. East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) has previously used this measure to destroy, unnecessarily, thousands of healthy trees under pretexts such as “hazardous tree” designations and “protection against wildfires”. But fire experts point out that tree shade retains moisture, thereby reducing fire danger. The measure has also funded so-called “restoration”—destruction of “non-native” plants, in a futile attempt to transform the landscape back to some idealized previous “native” era.

EBRPD’s restoration and tree-cutting projects often utilize pesticides, including glyphosate (Roundup), triclopyr, and imazapyr. We agree with the groundswell of public sentiment opposing the spending of tax dollars on pesticides applied to public lands. Not only do pesticides destroy the soil microbiome; they also migrate into air, water arid soil, severely harming plants, animals, and humans. Because EPA pesticide regulation, especially under the current administration, is inadequate, it is imperative that local jurisdictions exercise greater oversight. While EBRPD utilizes “Integrated Pest Management” which limits pesticide use, we strongly advocate a no pesticide policy, with a concomitant commitment of resources.

Given the terrifying pace of climate change, it is indefensible to target certain species of trees for eradication. All trees—not just “natives” —are the planet’s “lungs,” breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. When a tree is destroyed, its air-cleansing function is forever eliminated, and its stored carbon is released into the atmosphere, thus worsening climate change.

Throughout history, plants, animals, and humans have migrated when their given habitats became unlivable. Adaptation to new environments is at the heart of evolutionary resilience. To claim that some species “belong here” and others do not strikes us as unscientific xenophobia.

Until EBRPD modifies its approach, we urge a NO vote.”

Forest Action Brigade

Do not be misled

The arguments in favor of Measure FF are misleading.  East Bay Regional Parks District attempts to portray a destructive agenda as a constructive agenda.  Please look beneath these pretty-sounding euphemisms for the destructive projects of Measure FF:

·       EBRPD claims Measure FF will “protect against wildfires.”  Destroying harmless trees miles away from any residential structures and replacing the shaded, moist forest with dry grassland that easily ignites will NOT “protect against wildfires.”

·       EBRPD claims Measure FF will “enhance public safety” and “preserve water quality.”  Spraying thousands of acres of open space in our water shed with pesticides will endanger the public and contaminate our water supply.

·       EBRPD claims Measure FF will “protect redwoods and parklands in a changing climate.”  Destroying hundreds of thousands of healthy trees, storing millions of tons of carbon, will exacerbate climate change.  Our redwood forest in the East Bay was confined to less than 5 square miles prior to settlement because of the restrictive horticultural requirements of this treasured native tree.  Because redwoods require more water than most of our urban forest, it is a fantasy that they can be expanded beyond their native footprint.  Where they have been planted outside of that range, many are already dead.

·       EBRPD claims Measure FF will “restore natural areas.”  Our pre-settlement landscape in the East Bay was predominantly grassland in which fire hazards are greatest.  A landscape that has been sprayed with pesticide cannot be accurately described as “natural.”  Previous attempts to convert non-native annual grassland to native grassland have consistently failed, partly because the soil has been poisoned with herbicide.

You can help

The Forest Action Brigade is offering yard signs in opposition to Measure FF (shown below).  You can get a yard sign and/or help to place them in your neighborhood medians by sending an email to mildredtrees@gmail.com.  Please state how many signs you would like and the neighborhood where you plan to place them.  These are the East Bay cities in which Measure FF will be on the ballot:  Oakland, Alameda, Piedmont, Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, Richmond, San Pablo, El Cerrito.  These cities are the top priority for yard sign placement.

Million Trees

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
THE END

The Very Long Life of Eucalyptus Trees

This article is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, a website that fights unnecessary tree killing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

 

PUTTING ANOTHER MYTH TO REST: LIFESPAN OF BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS

When the native plant movement began in earnest, about 25 years ago, its proponents weren’t expecting blowback from those who value the existing landscape.  As far as they were concerned, the trees had to be destroyed solely because they “don’t belong here.”

When they started destroying our predominantly non-native urban forest, they learned that it wasn’t going to be as easy as they thought.  They began to defend their destructive projects with cover stories to convince the public who didn’t share their devotion to native plants that it is necessary to destroy non-native trees because they are a threat to public safety and to wildlife.

One by one, we have debunked the myths that were used to justify the destruction of our urban forest:

Great horned owl in eucalyptus. Courtesy urbanwildness.org

  • About 20 years ago, one of the first myths was that eucalyptus trees kill birds. It is an absurd claim that is completely unsupported by reality.  With a lot of careful research, we were eventually successful in convincing the public that birds are not harmed by eucalyptus.  In fact, many bird species are dependent upon the trees for safe nesting and winter nectar.   That myth is dead.
  • The claim that eucalyptus and other non-native trees are more flammable than native trees was a powerful narrative that was more difficult to kill. As wildfires have increased in frequency and intensity in California, that claim is no longer credible because every wildfire occurs in native vegetation.  Again, this myth was eventually disproved by reality.
  • More recently, we have finally put to rest the claim that “nothing grows under eucalyptus.” This myth was based on a theory that eucalyptus emits allelopathic chemicals that prevent the growth of plants in the eucalyptus forest.  Thanks to a recent, rigorous study done at Cal Poly, we know with confidence that the allelopathy story is another myth.

It was not surprising that the nativists, having run out of bogus justifications, created a new narrative.  In parks that the East Bay Regional Parks District had been planning to thin, we began to see clear cuts.  When we inquired about why it was necessary to destroy ALL of the trees, we were told they were hazardous.  Then, in the minutes of a meeting of East Bay Regional Park District Park Advisory Committee , we saw the claim that eucalyptus lives only 50-60 years.  Simultaneously, this claim was made in San Francisco by proponents of destroying all eucalyptus trees there.

We eventually tracked down the source of that lifespan estimate to a website called SelecTree, which originally said that the longevity of blue gums is only 50-150 years.  We knew that isn’t an accurate estimate because of how long blue gums live in Australia and how long they have already lived in California.  We provided that information to the authors of SelecTree and were able to get the estimate corrected to “greater than 150 years.”  That’s not nearly long enough, but it is the longest lifespan estimate available on that website and it corresponds with many other trees, including native Coast Live Oak.

In the process of researching the lifespan of eucalyptus, we learned several interesting stories about blue gums that have lived in California for 150 years and are still going strong.  We would like to share some of this information with our readers today.

BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS IN AUSTRALIA LIVES 200-400 YEARS

Blue gum eucalyptus and all other species of eucalyptus are native to Australia.  They were brought to California shortly after the Gold Rush of 1849.  Since they haven’t been in California 200 years, we don’t know how long they will live here.  But how long they live in Australia is obviously relevant to answer that question because longevity is specific to tree species.  We can expect some variation by climate, but not much, and the climate of Australia is similar to the climate in California with wet, mild winters and hot, dry summers.

We know that blue gums live in Australia about 200-400 years because Australian scientists tell us that:

Growth Habits of the Eucalypts by M.R. Jacobs, (Institute of Foresters of Australia, 1955, 1986): Blue Gum eucalyptus lives in Australia from 200-400 years, depending upon the climate.” In milder climates, such as San Francisco, the Blue Gum lives toward the longer end of this range.

That reference was corroborated by John Helms, Professor Emeritus of Forestry at UC Berkeley and an Australian who said in response to our question about blue gums in California, “Blue gums would commonly live for 200 – 400 years, although I presume that some might live longer.”

We also asked the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  They said, “It’s possible that the average lifespan of a native species growing in the wild in Australia would differ to the average lifespan of the same species introduced in northern California, since introduced plants can often “escape” their natural predators when such introductions occur.”

In other words, since eucalyptus trees have more predators in Australia than they do in California, we should expect them to live longer here.  This is called the “predator release” hypothesis.  Ironically, that hypothesis is used by nativists to support their claim that eucalyptus is invasive in California.  (California Invasive Plant Council rates the “invasiveness” of blue gum as “limited.)  It’s only logical to apply that hypothesis to the question of how long blue gums will live in California.

MANY HEALTHY BLUE GUMS IN CALIFORNIA ARE 150 YEARS OLD

However, using actual experience in Australia to predict the future of blue gums in California requires some speculation.  Therefore, we turned to the question of how long they have lived in California for guidance.  We found several interesting local stories about blue gums that were planted in California 150 years ago and remain healthy and vigorous today.

There are many examples of blue gums being planted as street trees in California about 150 years ago.  One of the most well-known examples is the city of Burlingame on the San Francisco peninsula. When the City was founded in the 1870s, John McLaren was hired to plant trees to provide a much needed windbreak because the City was nearly treeless, as was the entire San Francisco peninsula.  McLaren planted over 500 eucalyptus (blue gum and manna) along the main highway through Burlingame, along with a row of English elms.  John McLaren was subsequently hired by the city of San Francisco, where he planted many more eucalypts while serving as superintendent of the parks department for 53 years.

The eucalypts in Burlingame are still thriving, but the elms have been dead for about 60 years.  SelecTree says the longevity of English elms is “greater than 150 years,” the longest category of longevity published by SelecTree and completely open-ended.

El Camino Real bordered by Eucalyptus trees. Burlingame, SF Bay area, California, USA

The people of Burlingame greatly value their eucalypts and designated them as “heritage trees” in 1975 under a local ordinance.  That local legal status did not protect them from several attempts by Caltrans to destroy the trees.  The people of Burlingame came to the defense of the trees and were eventually successful in getting permanent legal status to protect 2.2 miles of the trees.  That section of El Camino Real in Burlingame lined with eucalyptus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Caltrans is now working cooperatively with the people of Burlingame to address safety concerns while “also keeping an eye to the prized grove of eucalyptus trees along the street.”  A task force was formed in 2018 to discuss these issues.  The City of Burlingame remains committed to the preservation of these trees, which suggests that they have a future there. (1)

The life span of street trees is generally much shorter than trees planted as forests because they are subjected to more wind and polluted air of heavily traveled roads, such as El Camino Real.  Although blue gums have passed the test of those challenging conditions with flying colors, they have not been planted as street trees for decades.  Their out-sized scale makes them unsuitable for that purpose.  If blue gums can survive as street trees on heavily traveled roads, they can surely survive longer in the protection of their neighbors in forests.

BLUE GUMS AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY

The blue gums on the campus of Stanford University are another example of 150 year-old blue gums that are very much alive.  Although blue gums were included in the campus landscape design of Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s, many of the blue gums actually predate his design:  “Several hundred mighty giants on the campus date back prior to 1870 when Leland Stanford acquired several farm properties, one of which already had avenues of gum trees.  They are mostly Tasmanian blue gums and red gums with a sprinkling of manna trees.”

Eucalyptus on Stanford campus

That description of the old blue gums was written in 1971.  The trees are still alive and well.  I worked on the Stanford campus for 10 years and walked among those trees at every opportunity.

AN EVEN OLDER OLMSTED DESIGN IN OAKLAND

Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1860s.  Like most of the East Bay, the site was treeless.  Olmsted’s design was an eclectic collection of mostly non-native trees, including blue gums.  The cemetery is on steep, windward facing hills, where the windbreak provided by blue gums is particularly valued.

Eucalyptus in Mountain View Cemetery, planted on an unirrigated windward facing hill. 2017

Olmsted designed a straight avenue through the cemetery lined with magnolia trees.  Many of the magnolia trees have died and those that remain are in poor condition.  SelecTree claims that the life span of Southern magnolia is “greater than 150 years,” which is contradicted by our local experience.

The current owner of the cemetery destroyed many of the blue gums about 5 years ago, in the middle of the extreme drought.  He replaced many of the blue gums with redwoods.  The redwoods are irrigated and are still surviving.  I did not object to the removal of the blue gums because they are on private property.  I confine my advocacy to healthy trees on public land.

LONG LIVE THE BLUE GUMS!

SelecTree has revised its listing of blue gum longevity based on the information we provided.  The myth that our blue gums are dying of old age will not die as easily.  We will have to repeat this information many times and in many different venues, just as we did for every other myth.  If and when that particular myth dies, we can be sure there will be another waiting in the wings.  Ideologies stubbornly persist, despite contradictory evidence.  And yet, we just as stubbornly persist in defense of our urban forest.


(1) Here is the public record, on which my report about the trees in Burlingame is based:

https://burlingameproperties.com/articles/1607-burlingame-s-heritage-trees

https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/future-plotted-for-burlingame-s-el-camino-real/article_a27c43c4-1dd1-11e8-8a5d-b31dfaa94144.html

http://www.burlingamevoice.com/2012/03/nationally-historic-100-years-of-protection-rewarded.html

https://tclf.org/landscapes/howard-ralston-eucalyptus-rows

http://articles.latimes.com/2003/aug/10/local/me-sbriefs10.1