Lawsuit to Block Funding for East Bay Deforestation

lake-chabot cropped Photo credit MillionTrees dot meThe new Plan to cut down hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay hills of the San Francisco Bay Area  is as bad as the previous one. (See: East Bay Trees to be Destroyed.) Trees fight climate change, and removing these trees will negative environmental impacts. It will also increase fire hazard.

Now, the Hills Conservation Network is suing to stop the funding for this destruction of the trees. The article below is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, which fights unnecessary tree-destruction.

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HILLS CONSERVATION NETWORK FILES SUIT TO STOP FEMA GRANTS IN EAST BAY HILLS

Ten years after UC Berkeley, City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District applied for FEMA grants to fund the destruction of hundreds of thousands of non-native trees on 1,000 acres of public open space, FEMA announced its final decision on Thursday, March 5, 2015.

FEMA’s announcement of that final decision, which was sent to those who commented on the draft plans, implied that the projects had been revised to be less destructive. In fact, those who take the time to read the final version of the plans will learn that the original plans are fundamentally unchanged in the final version. East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) will destroy about 90% of the trees in its project area, as originally planned. “Thinning” is not an accurate description of EBRPD’s project. UC Berkeley (UCB) and City of Oakland will destroy 100% of all non-native trees on their project properties.

On a small portion of UCB and Oakland property (29 of 460 acres), tree removals will be phased over the 10-year project period. In other words, the final version of these projects will destroy as many trees as originally proposed by the grant applicants. However, FEMA has refused to fund tree removals on Frowning Ridge (185 acres) because UC Berkeley removed hundreds of trees there before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete, in violation of FEMA policy.

UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.

UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.

The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) filed suit to prevent the funding and implementation of these projects on March 6, 2015. Below is the press release announcing HCN’s suit. Please contact the Hills Conservation Network if you wish to contribute to the cost of this suit: http://www.hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Blog/Blog.html or email inquiries@hillsconservationnetwork.org


Hills Conservation Network

Preserving the East Bay Hills

March 6, 2015

For Immediate Release

HCN announces lawsuit against FEMA EIS

Today the Hills Conservation Network, an Oakland, CA based environmental non-­‐profit, filed suit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also naming the Regents of the University of California, the City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District in the suit.

The suit was filed in opposition to the Record of Decision released March 5, 2015 finalizing FEMA’s decision to award approximately $7.5 million in fire risk mitigation grants. The suit contends that the Environmental Impact Study used as part of the grant process was significantly flawed, and as such cannot be used to justify awarding these funds.

The lawsuit argues that FEMA did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives and reached unsupportable conclusions in deciding to allow the three agencies named in the suit to remove large numbers of healthy trees, with the goal of eradicating certain species of non-­‐native trees (acacia, Monterey pine, eucalyptus) by the end of ten years. HCN proposed a more nuanced approach that would have resulted in higher levels of fire risk mitigation at a much lower cost and with far less environmental damage than the current plan that calls for the removal of well in excess of 100,000 healthy trees that provide shade canopy (preventing the growth of highly flammable weeds) as well as storing tons of carbon that contribute to the greenhouse gases warming our planet.

This step marks the latest chapter in this process that began in 2005. During the Draft EIS review in 2013 approximately 13,000 comment letters were received by FEMA, 90% of them opposed to the proposed projects. In response to this public outcry FEMA reworked the EIS, and while the Final EIS is somewhat less destructive than the Draft EIS, it essentially calls for the same level of environmental damage, but over a longer time period.

The Hills Conservation Network is an Oakland, California based 501c3 comprised of residents of the Oakland hills that were directly affected by the 1991 fire. Several members of the group lost their homes in this conflagration and have committed themselves to driving change in Oakland to ensure that similar events never happen again. Members of HCN have been involved in the Grand Jury investigation of the ’91 fire and in developing enhanced emergency response capabilities in Oakland. Please direct inquiries to Dan Grassetti at 510-­‐849-­‐2601.

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East Bay Trees to be Destroyed – How You Can Help

Our readers may recall that an extremely destructive project is planned for Berkeley and the East Bay Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s going to fell nearly half a million trees. The land managers sought Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for this project, and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published. We wrote about this project HERE.

The good news is that people responded: There were around 13,000 comments on the draft EIS. The bad news is that the Final EIS, released recently, is not a significant improvement. It will still destroy hundreds of thousands of trees, increase fire hazard, destabilize slopes, and use huge amounts of herbicide.

The fight to save the trees and environment is not over. We ask you to support the Hills Conservation Network, which is spearheading the effort.

The article below is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, which fights unnecessary tree-destruction.

FINAL EIS FOR FEMA PROJECTS IN THE EAST BAY IS NOT AN IMPROVEMENT!

On December 1, 2014, FEMA published the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the projects in the East Bay Hills which propose to destroy hundreds of thousands of non-native trees. FEMA’s email announcement of the publication of the EIS implied that the projects had been revised. Two of the agencies applying for FEMA grants—UC Berkeley and City of Oakland—had originally proposed to destroy all non-native trees on their properties. The third agency –East Bay Regional Parks District—had proposed to thin non-native trees in most areas and destroy all in a few areas. FEMA’s email announcement of the final EIS implied that both UC Berkeley and City of Oakland would be required to use the same “thinning” strategy as East Bay Regional Parks District.

After reading the final EIS, the Hills Conservation Network (HCN) is reporting that FEMA’s email announcement was rather misleading. In fact, both UC Berkeley and City of Oakland will be allowed to destroy all non-native trees on their properties. In a small sub-section (28.5 acres) of their total project acres (406.2 acres), UC Berkeley and City of Oakland are being asked by FEMA to destroy the trees more slowly than originally planned. However, they will all be destroyed by the end of the 10 year project period.

HCN has analyzed the EIS and consulted legal counsel. The following is HCN’s assessment of the EIS and their plans to respond to FEMA. We publish HCN’s assessment with their permission. Note that HCN is asking the public to send comments to FEMA and they are raising funds to prepare for a potential legal suit.

HCN LETTER

“After having reviewed the Final EIS in depth and having consulted with various stakeholders, HCN has concluded that the Final EIS, in spite of FEMA’s efforts to improve it from the Draft version, remains unacceptable.

“While FEMA has made some modifications to portions of the EIS in response to the enormous number of comments submitted last year [more than 13,000], the fact remains that if implemented in their current form, these projects would remove essentially all of the eucalyptus, pines, and acacias from the subject area. While for portions of the area FEMA is now proposing that there be a phased removal of these species, the fact remains that the objective is ultimately to convert the current moist and verdant ecosystem into one dominated by grasses, shrubs, and some smaller trees. This will forever alter the character of these hills that so many of us have grown up with, know and love.

“But worse than that, these projects would actually increase fire risk, destabilize hillsides, cause immense loss of habitat, release significant amounts of sequestered greenhouse gases, and require the use of extraordinary amounts of herbicides over a large area for at least a decade.

“Additionally, by preemptively clearcutting 7 acres of Frowning Ridge in August of this year, UC not only made a clear violation of FEMA rules but also essentially negated the accuracy and relevance of the EIS. While FEMA acknowledges this in the EIS, they still want to move forward with a document that may no longer accurately reflect the reality of the current environment, the cumulative impacts of these projects, and any of the other factors that underpin the EIS process.

“For these reasons, HCN will be submitting a comment letter to FEMA asking that the EIS be pulled back, reworked, and recirculated….at a minimum. Additionally, we are currently exploring legal options should the EIS be finally released on January 5, 2015 in its current form. One way or another, we are committed to ensuring that the will of a small number of influential people doesn’t result in the loss of a treasured resource to the vast majority of us (both human and other).

We ask your support in sending additional comment letters to FEMA [ebh-eis@fema.dhs.gov] and most importantly that you consider making a tax-deductible contribution to HCN. While we wish we did not have to do this, the fact is that the only way we can have a shot at preventing this irreparable harm from happening is by hiring lawyers, and that is what we will do. This takes money, so please do what you can either by sending a check to HCN at P.O. Box 5426, Berkeley, CA 94705 or by making a donation through our website at http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Support_HCN.html.

“Thanks again for all your support,

“Hills Conservation Network”

FEMA Rule Change Could Make Tree-felling Easier

Very often, land managers seeking funding for a project look to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for funds. FEMA provides money for fire hazard reduction, and if the project can be presented in those terms, the land managers can apply for a grant.

Until now, if a project seeking FEMA funding was large enough, FEMA asked the project sponsors for an Environmental Impact Report. This made a lot of sense: Fire hazard reduction projects have massive impacts on the landscape and habitat, much of it negative.

BUT THERE’S A NEW PLAN

Now,  FEMA plans a “programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) to evaluate the potential beneficial and adverse impacts from eligible wildfire mitigation activities funded under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Program.” What this amounts to is that fire hazard reduction projects would be “pre-cleared” from an environmental standpoint. FEMA is planning to make this a nationwide measure.

It would apply to  three types of wildfire mitigation projects to protect buildings and structures on the Wildland-Urban Interface (i.e. where structures are within 2 miles of a wildland):

  • “Defensible space—The creation of perimeters around residential and non-residential buildings and structures through the removal or reduction of flammable vegetation;
  • “Structural Protection through Ignition-Resistant Construction—The application of non-combustible building envelope assemblies, the use of ignition-resistant materials, and the use of proper retrofit techniques in new and existing structures; and
  • “Hazardous Fuels Reduction—Vegetation management to decrease the amount of hazardous fuels; vegetation thinning; and reduction of flammable materials to protect life and property beyond defensible space perimeters but proximate to at-risk structures.”

The first two measures are not controversial, and can reduce hazard with a relatively minor environmental impact. However, the third one – Hazardous Fuels Reduction – is much more problematic for the environment.

WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?

Tree removal – for whatever reason – is one of the costliest activities for a land manager. This makes any potential source of outside funding attractive.  FEMA is one such source. So if any tree-felling project can be presented as hazard reduction, it has a chance of obtaining such funds. Not having to do an environmental impact report would make the money more easily accessible.

However, removing  trees also has a significant environmental impact, which can be greater or lesser depending on the size of the project, the topography of the site, and the ecological system that would be affected. Some of the impacts:

  • Hydrology: Removing trees affects water flow and can lead to problems with erosion
  • Slope stabilization issues: The root systems of trees – especially older, mature trees that may have intergrafted roots – stabilize slopes. Removing trees can contribute to slope failures years – even decades – later.
  • Carbon sequestration: Trees capture and store carbon, fighting global warming. Felling trees stops them from collecting the carbon, and  returns it to the atmosphere.
  • Toxic herbicides: In many of these projects, managers plan to use large amounts of herbicides to prevent tree regrowth. This can end up in the soil and water, and also affect people, pets and wildlife using the lands.
  • Pollution: Trees and vegetation help fight pollution, particularly particulate pollution, by trapping particles on their leaves until they’re washed to the ground by rain.

And of course, removing trees affects the beauty and recreational value of these areas. It’s only by evaluating the environmental impact of individual projects that FEMA can determine if the negative environmental impact would be worth the hazard reduction – if any. Ironically, many of these projects would actually increase fire hazard, because removing the trees encourages growth of scrub and grass that ignite more easily and support fast-moving fires.

We’ve been concerned because we think that Native Plant “restoration” projects are often presented as hazard reduction projects. In 2008, FEMA received such an application for tree-felling in Sutro Forest. More recently, FEMA was asked to fund the removal of hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay.

HOW AND WHERE TO COMMENT

FEMA is accepting comments until August 18th, 2014 – this coming Monday. The comments have to be submitted at their website (not by email). Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov
  2.  In the Search space that comes up, input FEMA-2014-0021
  3.  Then click on Open Docket folder at the right.
 (Or try this link: HERE )

They’re not interested in comments that look like a mass mail campaign, so to have an impact, you would have to write a the comment individually.

Great horned owlets in eucalyptus. San Francisco. Janet Kessler

Audio Talk (YouTube) Against the Needless Destruction of Urban Forests

You are invited to hear comments by Ariane Eroy, a supporter of Sutro Forest, trees, and the environment, on KPFA radio (broadcast date: 1/2/2014).

Ariane speaks in support of the effort to save the Sutro Forest and challenges East Bay residents to get UC Berkeley to scale back its destructive project tree-removal in East Bay hills, part of a huge program that threatens half a million trees.  This 2 minute, 30 second audio broadcast includes pictures of the Mt Sutro forest.

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While you are on YouTube, why not keep up with our latest videos by the San Francisco Forest Alliance.

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