Another Attack on Trees in The East Bay

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

sign for East Bay MUD TreesAlso, if you would like to comment, EBMUD is accepting comments until September 16 2, 2016. [Edited to Add: The comment period has been extended to Sept 16.] This massive destruction of trees across our Bay Area affects us all. Trees fight climate change by sequestering carbon, provide habitat for native birds and animals, as well as for forage for bees and other insects, and provide shade and beauty. This is not just an East Bay issue.

 

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

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

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

EBMUD is revising its Master Plan. The draft Master Plan makes a new commitment to destroying all eucalyptus and Monterey pines in favor of native vegetation. The draft Master Plan is available HERE. EBMUD is accepting written public comments on the draft Master Plan until September 2nd. [NOTE: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO SEPT 16, 2016]

Comments should be sent to watershedmasterplan@ebmud.com or by mail to Doug Wallace, EBMUD, 375 11th St, Oakland, CA 94607.

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

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

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

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

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

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


saveeastbayhills

August 15, 2016

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

Dear Mr. Wallace,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very truly yours,
Save the East Bay Hills

PETITION: Sierra Club, Please Stop Advocating Against Trees and For Pesticides

The San Francisco Forest Alliance is joining a petition to ask the Sierra Club to stop advocating for the destruction of trees and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may be shocked to learn that the local chapter of the  Sierra Club is supporting – not opposing! – the destruction of 450,000 trees in the East Bay and is in fact suing to force FEMA to destroy all the trees, not just most of them. There is a petition to Sierra Club to withdraw its support for this environmental disaster.

Cutting these trees down will  stop them from fighting climate change and reducing pollution. The project would release thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides into the environment. It would increase fire risk by encouraging the replacement of damp and cool tree stands with shrubs and grasses that burn rapidly when dry. The post below is reproduced with permission from Death of a Million Trees, which fights the unnecessary destruction of our urban forest.

Please sign the Petition HERE.

sign petition to sierra club

Please also note the planned demonstration on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, at 4 pm, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Suite I, Berkeley, CA – the headquarters of the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter.

Monarch butterflies over-winter in California's eucalyptus groves

Monarch butterflies over-winter in California’s eucalyptus groves

Million Trees is sponsoring a petition to the national leadership of the Sierra Club in collaboration with San Francisco Forest Alliance. The petition asks the Sierra Club to quit advocating for the destruction of the urban forest and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. It also asks the Sierra Club to withdraw its suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees (eucalyptus, Monterey pine, acacia). This is an on-line petition which can be signed HERE. If you are signing this petition and you are a present or former member of the Sierra Club, please mention it in your comments.

There will be a demonstration by supporters of this petition at the headquarters of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, at 4 pm, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Suite I, Berkeley, CA. Please join us if you can.

If you are a regular reader of Million Trees, you probably understand why we are making this request of the Sierra Club. For the benefit of newer readers, we recap the long history of trying to convince the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club that its support for the destruction of our urban forest, as well as the pesticides used to prevent its return, contradicts the mission of the Sierra Club as a protector of the environment.

  • This “open letter” was sent to the leadership of the local chapter of the Sierra Club. It informs the Sierra Club of many misstatements of fact in the chapter’s newsletter about the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District.
  • This article is about the Sierra Club’s public comment on the “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District. The Sierra Club instructs EBRPD to put the “restoration of native plant communities” on an equal footing with fire hazard reduction. It also specifically endorses the use of pesticides for this project. In other words, native plants are more important than public safety in the opinion of the Sierra Club.
  • This “open letter” is about misstatements of fact in the chapter newsletter about San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program. We wrote that “open letter” because the newsletter refused to publish our letter to the editor.
  • This article is about misstatements of fact in the chapter newsletter about the FEMA projects in the East Bay Hills. This incident occurred during the brief period of time when the on-line version of the newsletter was accepting on-line comments. That opportunity to communicate with the chapter enabled a correction of inaccurate statements in the newsletter.

Sierra Club’s suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees in the East Bay Hills was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Chronic annoyance at the club’s endorsement of destructive and poisonous projects was suddenly elevated to outrage. HERE is the Club’s description of its suit, which is available in its on-line newsletter. Attempts to communicate our outrage to the Club by posting comments on that article failed. That is, the Club is no longer publishing comments it doesn’t like, thereby cutting off any means of communicating with them. Our petition is the only means of communication left to us. The text of the petition follows and it can be signed HERE. Please distribute this petition to your friends and neighbors who share our concern about the destruction and poisoning of our public lands in the San Francisco Bay Area.


 

Title: Sierra Club must STOP advocating for deforestation and pesticide use in San Francisco Bay Area

Petition by: Million Trees and San Francisco Forest Alliance

To be delivered to:
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club, michaelbrune@sierraclub.org
Aaron Mair, President, Board of Directors, Sierra Club, aaronmair@gmail.com

We are environmentalists who ask the Sierra Club to quit advocating for the destruction of the urban forest and the use of pesticides in the San Francisco Bay Area. We also ask that the Sierra Club withdraw its suit against FEMA, which demands the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees (eucalyptus, Monterey pine, acacia). If you are signing this petition and you are a present or former member of the Sierra Club, please mention it in your comments.

Over the past 15 years, tens of thousands of trees have been destroyed on public lands in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay are in jeopardy of being destroyed by a FEMA grant to three public land managers. The Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club has actively supported all of these projects and now it has sued FEMA to demand the destruction of 100% of all “non-native” trees.

These projects have already used hundreds of gallons of herbicide to prevent the trees from resprouting and to kill the weeds that grow when the shade of the canopy is destroyed. Now, the FEMA project intends to use thousands of gallons of herbicide for the same purpose. These herbicides (glyphosate, triclopyr, imazapyr) are known to be harmful to wildlife, pets, and humans.

This environmental disaster will release tons of carbon into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to climate change. It will destroy valuable habitat for wildlife, introduce poisons into our watershed, cause erosion, and eliminate our windbreak. We call on the national leadership of the Sierra Club to prevent the active participation of the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club in this environmental disaster.

Petition background:

The San Francisco Bay Area was virtually treeless prior to the arrival of Europeans. The landscape was predominantly grassland, scrub, and chaparral. Trees grew only in ravines where they were sheltered from the wind and water was funneled to them. The trees that were brought from other areas of California and from other countries were chosen because they are the species that are best adapted to our local conditions. John Muir, the Founder of the Sierra Club, also planted these tree species around his home in Martinez and was as fond of those trees as many of us are still today.

The Sierra Club has now turned its back on this cosmopolitan view of nature in favor of returning our landscape to the pre-settlement landscape of grassland, scrub, and chaparral. This approach has led to the destruction of tens of thousands of trees and the use of herbicides to prevent them from resprouting.

In the East Bay, native plant advocates have also falsely claimed that “non-native” trees are more flammable than native plants. Although fire hazard reduction was the stated purpose of the FEMA grants, fire hazards will be increased by the clear-cuts of our urban forest for the following reasons:

  • Tons of dead, dry wood chips will be scattered on the ground to a depth of 24 inches.
  • The fog drip which is condensed by the tall trees moistens the ground and will be lost when the canopy is destroyed. The ground vegetation will therefore be drier and more likely to ignite.
  • The tall trees provide a windbreak which has been demonstrated repeatedly to be capable of stopping a wind-driven fire, which is typical of California wildfires.
  • The project does not intend to plant any replacement plants or trees. Therefore, the most likely colonizers of the bare ground are annual grasses which ignite easily during the dry season and in which most fires in California start and spread.
Hummingbird in eucalyptus flower. Courtesy Melanie Hoffman

Hummingbird in eucalyptus flower. Courtesy Melanie Hoffman

Many empirical studies document the rich biodiversity of our urban forest today. Bees, hummingbirds, and monarch butterflies require eucalyptus trees during the winter months when there are few other sources of nectar. Raptors nest in our tall “non-native” trees and an empirical study finds that their nesting success is greater in those trees than in native trees.

In short, the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club is promoting an environmental disaster that is adamantly opposed by tens of thousands of people. FEMA received over 13,000 public comments on its draft Environmental Impact Statement, over 90% in opposition to this project, according to FEMA’s own estimate. The signers of this petition are also opposed to this project as presently described by FEMA grant applications and its Environmental Impact Statement.

Environmentalists in the San Francisco Bay Area have been denied due process by the local chapter of the Sierra Club. The Bay Area Chapter has blocked every effort to communicate with them: they ignore our emails, block our comments on their blog, refuse our letters to the editor of their newsletter, and do not answer our phone calls. We believe that the national leadership has an obligation to consider our complaint because the actions of the local chapter are inconsistent with the mission of the Sierra Club. The local chapter is actively contributing to climate change and endorsing the use of toxic pesticides in our environment.