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.

Season’s Greetings with Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly in San Francisco - copyright Janet KesslerIt’s a lovely coincidence that here in California, the holiday season is Monarch butterfly season. We bring you this post (partially based on a post from SutroForest.com, used with permission) to celebrate the season with butterflies.

We wish all our readers and supporters a wonderful holiday season, and a happy and fruitful year in 2016.

THE WESTERN MIGRATION OF THE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

Unlike the Monarchs east of the Rockies (which migrate from Canada to Mexico and back), the butterflies in the West migrate between the interior and the coast. The butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains go south to Mexico in winter. The butterflies on the Western side come to the California coast in search of warmer, milder weather than the inland winters.

From November to February, monarch butterflies gather in thousands in tall trees by the coast.

fallmigrationmap usfws

One of the wonderful things eucalyptus trees do is provide wildlife habitat. In particular, they are crucial to supporting the Western Migration of the the Monarch butterflies, by providing a roost for the butterflies to spend the winter. A study by Dennis Frey and Andrew Schaffner of 300 over-wintering sites showed that three-quarters of them were in eucalyptus trees. In fact, there’s some evidence that the butterflies’ Western migration exists because of the eucalyptus trees.

Most winters, you can see the butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park, about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. Some years they’re even found right in San Francisco, in places like the Presidio and Treasure Island. This is one of those years: The Monarch butterflies came to San Francisco and also to Oakland’s Aquatic Park.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES IN SAN FRANCISCO IN 2015

Janet Kessler visited the Presidio and took these lovely pictures of Monarchs on the eucalyptus trees there. They’re published here with permission.

monarch and shadow on eucalyptus copyright Janet Kessler

monarch butterfly in a San Francisco eucalyptus tree - copyright Janet Kessler

Monarch butterfly on eucalyptus leaf - copyright Janet Kessler

CHILDREN DRAW MONARCHS

Also in celebration, we’re proud to publish these pictures from Girl Scout Troop #61902, sent in by Alma Sorenson, Troop Leader:

Grace-'Untitled' sm

Monarch Butterfly – by Grace M.

Addy-'The Monarch in Golden Gate Park' sm

The Monarch in Golden Gate Park – by Addy

Emma-'Take Flight' smm

Take Flight – by Emma

Angelina-'One Monarch in a San Francisco Eucalyptus Tree' sm

One Monarch in a San Francisco Eucalyptus Tree – by Angelina S.

Lindsey-Monarch Butterflies Love Eucalyptus Trees' sm

Monarch Butterflies Love Eucalyptus Trees – by Lindsey D.

 

Troop 61902 Sign sm

Girl Scouts: Building girls with courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place

From Ms. Sorenson:

“We are a troop of twelve 4th and 5th grade Juniors from five different San Francisco schools focused on learning and earning Girl Scout badges, and on serving our community.

“We have our donated time and our cookie money to My New Red Shoes, the SFSPCA, and Project Open Hand. This year we will continue our theme of helping kids in need and on the environment.

 

Expert Panel on East Bay Hills Deforestation – Nov 19, 2015

There’s an interesting panel discussion on the East Bay Hills project on Thursday, November 19th, 2015. We are providing the details (with permission) from the website of the Tree Spirit Project. Its founder, Jack Gescheidt, is the moderator for the panel. Please pass on the word to anyone who might be interested.

450000-tree-PANEL-TALK-Nov-19-2015-800p-WEB

Expert Panel Presentation on East Bay hills 450,000-tree deforestation,

with AUDIENCE Q&A

7-10pm Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015
Oakland Center for Spiritual Living,

5000 Clarewood Drive, Oakland, CA 94618

A panel of experts with decades of experience and in-depth knowledge of the plan to cut down 450,000 trees in the Oakland and Berkeley hills, then use thousands of gallons of herbicides (Dow Garlon™ & Monsanto Roundup™) on the stumps for years following, will detail its history, evolution and details, and then answer your questions.

READ CLEARCUT PLAN DETAILS.

1-HOUR AUDIENCE Q&A – Ample time will be provided to get your questions answered about this BIG PLAN most citizens know so little about.

PANELISTS include:
1) Dave Maloney, former Chief of Fire Prevention at Oakland Army Base;
2) Dan Grassetti, founder of The Hills Conservation Network;
3) Peter Gray Scott, 1991 Oakland hills fire survivor who instigated The Grand Jury investigation of that fire

MODERATOR: Jack Gescheidt, TreeSpirit Project founder

Free parking onsite, and lots of it.
$10 at the door supports ongoing educational and community outreach like this event.

Oakland-Center-for-Spiritual-Living-LOGO-narrow-WEBWHEN & WHERE: 7-10pm, Thurs. Nov. 19, 2015 @ The Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, 5000 Clarewood Drive, Oakland, CA 94618.
The Center is available for community service events with a range of views and opinions. Not all views and opinions expressed at events reflect the Center’s.

• LEARN MORE about the 450,000-tree deforestation plan: CLICK HERE
• DOWNLOAD & PRINT EVENT FLYER: CLICK HERE

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