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.

Public Opposition to Pesticide Use in our Public Parks

This article has been republished with permission from ‘Death of a Million Trees,’ a blog that fights unnecessary tree felling in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you wish to sign the petition opposing the use of Roundup (glyphosate) in our parks, please sign here:

SIgn to Oppose Toxic Herbicides

PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO PESTICIDE USE IN OUR PUBLIC PARKS

On November 19, 2015, a visitor to Mount Davidson park in San Francisco video recorded a pesticide application that is available here:

glyphosate spraying on Mt Davidson - nov 19, 2015

One of the people who saw that video reported several concerns regarding that pesticide application to the city employees who are responsible for the regulation of pesticide use in San Francisco. Here is the email he sent to Kevin Woolen in the Recreation and Park Department and Chris Geiger in the Department of the Environment:

To: Kevin Woolen kevin.woolen@sfgov.org

Dear Mr. Woolen,

I understand that you are responsible for the records of pesticide applications on properties managed by San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department. I have heard you speak at public meetings, so I am aware that you have some expertise in that area. Therefore, I am writing to you about a pesticide application on Mt. Davidson on November 19, 2015. That pesticide application was recorded by this video: https://www.facebook.com/ForestAlliance/videos/934479473312166/?fref=nf

I have several concerns about this pesticide application:

  • One of the herbicides that was sprayed was Stalker with the active ingredient imazapyr. I notice that most of the spraying was done around a tree, which was not a target of the application according to the posted Pesticide Application Notice. As you may know, imazapyr is not supposed to be sprayed under and around non-target trees according to the manufacturer’s label: http://www.cdms.net/ldat/ld01R013.pdf: “Injury or loss of desirable trees or other plants may result if Stalker is applied on or near desirable trees or other plants, on areas where their roots extend, or in locations where the treated soil may be washed or moved into contact with their roots”

Here is a newspaper article about unintentional damage done to trees by spraying an imazapyr herbicide beneath them: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/09/no_quick_fix_for_herbicide_dam.html

  • The Pesticide Application Notice says that the application method will be “spot treatment/daub cut stem.” This does not seem to be an accurate description of the application method on November 19th. It seems that “backpack sprayer” would be a more accurate description of this particular pesticide application.
  • The Pesticide Application Notice says that Himalayan blackberries were one of the targets of this Pesticide Application. As you know, birds and other wildlife cannot read the signs that are posted to warn the public about these applications. Can you assure me that the Himalayan blackberries were no longer fruiting? Does the Recreation and Park Department have a policy against spraying vegetation when there are fruits eaten by birds and other wildlife? If not, would the Recreation and Park Department consider adopting such a policy?
  • Although Garlon was not used in this particular pesticide application, it is often used in San Francisco’s so-called “natural areas.” Therefore, it is worth mentioning that Garlon is also known to be mobile in the soil and there are documented incidents of it damaging non-target trees when it has been sprayed on the stumps of nearby trees after they were destroyed.

Thank you for your consideration. I hope you will share my concerns with the staff and contractors who are engaged in these pesticide applications.

Cc: Chris Geiger chris.geiger@sfgov.org

This is not an isolated incident. Park visitors in San Francisco have been complaining for years about pesticide use in parks that were designated as “natural areas” over 15 years ago. Ironically, those areas were never sprayed with pesticides before being designated as “natural areas.” In fact, they really were natural areas prior to being officially designated as such. Plants and animals lived in peace in those places before being “managed” by people who are committed to eradicating all non-native plants in many of San Francisco’s parks.

What can you do about it?

If you are opposed to pesticide use in San Francisco, or you object to the pointless destruction of harmless plants that are useful to wildlife, here are a few things you can do to express your opinion and influence the public policy that allows pesticide use in the public parks of San Francisco:

  • You can join over 11,000 people who have signed a petition to prohibit the use of pesticides in public parks. The petition is HERE. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on pesticide use in San Francisco’s parks and the petition against that use. (Available HERE)
  • You can sign up HERE to be notified of the annual meeting in which pesticide policy in San Francisco is discussed for subsequent approval by the Environment Commission. That meeting has been scheduled in December in past years. Update: The annual meeting has been announced. “Annual Public Hearing on Pest Management Activities on City Properties and San Francisco’s Draft 2016 Reduced-Risk Pesticide List 4:30-7:00 pm
    Wednesday, December 16, 2015 Downstairs Conference Room, 1455 Market St. (near 11th St.; Van Ness MUNI stop)” The meeting agenda is available HERE.
  • You can apply for one of the two vacant seats on the Environment Commission. These seats have been vacant for nearly a year. In the past, the Environment Commission has actively promoted pesticide use in San Francisco’s “natural areas.” Qualifications and duties of commissioners are available HERE.
  • Appointments to the Environment Commission are made by Mayor Ed Lee. If you don’t want to serve on the Environment Commission, you can write to Mayor Lee (mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org) and ask him to appoint people to the Commission who do not support the use of pesticides in San Francisco’s public parks.

The parks of San Francisco belong to the people of San Francisco. They have paid to acquire those properties for public use and they are paying the salaries of those who are “managing” the parks. If you don’t like how parks are being managed, you have the right to express your opinion. Our democracy works best when we participate in the public policy decisions that affect us.

What does this have to do with the East Bay?

Our readers in the East Bay might wonder what this incident has to do with you. Parks in the East Bay are also being sprayed with herbicides for the same reasons. HERE are reports of pesticide use by the East Bay Regional Park District.

Many of the pesticide applications on the properties of EBRPD are done by the same company that sprayed herbicides on Mount Davidson on November 19, 2015. That company is Shelterbelt Builders. You can see their trucks in the above video. Pesticide use reports of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department often report that pesticide applications were done by Shelterbelt.

Shelterbelt began the eradication of non-natve vegetation in Glen Canyon in November 2011

Shelterbelt began the eradication of non-natve vegetation in Glen Canyon in November 2011

Shelterbelt Builders is based in the East Bay. One of its owners is Bill McClung who is a member of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy and a former officer of that organization. The Claremont Canyon Conservancy is the organization that is demanding the eradication of all non-native trees on public land in the East Bay Hills. Here is a description of Mr. McClung’s responsibilities on Shelterbelt’s website:

“Bill McClung joined Shelterbelt in 1997 to help refocus Shelterbelt on native plant restoration and open land management/fire safety. After his house burnt down in the 1991 Oakland Fire, this former book publisher became interested in how wildland and fire are managed in the East Bay Hills. He became a member of the Berkeley Fire Commission in 1994 and has a strong interest in the vegetation prescriptions of the Fire Hazard Program & Fuel Reduction Management Plan for the East Bay Hills issued in 1995 by the East Bay Hills Vegetation Management Consortium and the East Bay Regional Park District Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan Environmental Impact Report of 2009/10. He has managed many properties in the East Bay where wildfire safety and native habitat preservation are twin goals, and continues to work on interesting and biologically rich lands in the Oakland Hills.”

Claremont Canyon Conservancy

The Claremont Canyon Conservancy held their annual meeting on November 15, 2015. Oakland’s Mayor, Libby Schaaf, was one of the speakers. Although she took questions at the end of her presentation, one of the officers of the Conservancy called on the questioners. There were many people in the audience who are opposed to the FEMA projects that will destroy over 400,000 trees in the East Bay Hills and many of us tried to ask questions. With one exception, the person controlling the questions only called on known, strong supporters of the FEMA project. Therefore, those who wished to express their opposition to the FEMA projects to the Mayor were denied that opportunity. Fortunately, there were many demonstrators outside the meeting who could not be denied that opportunity.

Demonstration at meeting of Claremont Canyon Conservancy, November 15, 2015

Demonstration at meeting of Claremont Canyon Conservancy, November 15, 2015

Norman LaForce was the other main speaker at the meeting. He is an elected officer of the Sierra Club and he identified himself as one of the primary authors of the project to destroy all non-native trees in the East Bay Hills. (An audio recording of his complete presentation is available here: https://milliontrees.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/norman-laforce-sierra-club-11-15-15.m4a ) This is the paraphrased portion of his presentation specifically about the herbicides that will be used by the FEMA project:

“Part of the FEMA program will be to use herbicides in a concentrated, careful program of painting or spraying herbicides to prevent the trees from resprouting. It may need to be done more than once but ultimately the suckers give up. There is no other way to do that cost effectively.

People are saying that glyphosate causes cancer. Radiation causes cancer but when people get cancer they are often treated with radiation. Nobody tells them they can’t have radiation because it causes cancer.

There are a lot of people of a certain age in this room who are probably taking Coumadin as a blood thinner for a heart condition. Coumadin is rat poison. Nobody tells them they can’t take Coumadin.*

You must take dosage and exposure into consideration in evaluating the risks of pesticides.

Nature Conservancy used glyphosate on the Jepson Prairie.

State Parks used Garlon on Angel Island when they removed eucalyptus.

The European Union says that glyphosate does not cause cancer, so I don’t know if it does. I’m not going to take a position on that.

Now they are saying that red meat causes cancer.

We need to put aside the question of pesticides. They will be used properly. We must proceed in a scientific manner.”

We leave it to our readers to interpret Mr. LaForce’s justification for pesticide use. He seems to be suggesting that pesticides are good for our health. There are instances in which pesticides do more good than harm, but using them to kill harmless plants in public parks isn’t one of them, in our opinion. Since many chemicals accumulate in our bodies throughout our lives, it is in our interests to avoid exposure when we can. If we must take Coumadin for our health, that’s all the more reason why we should avoid unnecessary exposure to rat poison when we can.

Connecting the dots

We have tried to connect the dots for our readers. Here are the implications of what we are reporting today:

  • Pesticide applications in San Francisco are probably damaging the trees that are not the target of those applications. The food of wildlife may be poisoned by those pesticide applications.
  • You can influence the public policy that is permitting pesticide use in San Francisco.
  • The same company that is spraying pesticides in San Francisco is also doing so in the East Bay.
  • That company is also actively engaged in the attempt to transform the landscape in the San Francisco Bay Area to native plants. They have an economic interest in native plant “restorations.”
  • The Sierra Club is actively promoting the use of pesticides on our public lands.

*Coumadin is prescribed for people who are at risk of heart attack or stroke caused by blood clots. Coumadin thins the blood and suppresses blood coagulation. Rat poison kills animals by bleeding them to death. There is a fine line between preventing blood clots and bleeding to death. Therefore, people who take Coumadin have frequent blood tests to check that the dosage is at the optimal level. Rat poisons are killing many animals that are not the target of the poison. Animals such as owls, hawks, vultures are often killed by eating dead rodents that have been poisoned. We should not conclude that rat poison is harmless because humans are using it in carefully controlled doses. Herbicides being sprayed in our public lands are not being closely monitored as Coumadin use is.

 

Sierra Club Denies the Facts

Environmentalists are battling a horrible project that will destroy hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay Hills. Most people would expect the Sierra Club to fight this project as well. Instead, it has a law-suit to force FEMA to cut down even more trees! We supported a petition asking the Sierra Club to withdraw this suit and its support for the projects, which will not only kill trees but also dump thousands of gallons of herbicides (including ones now considered “probably carcinogenic) over the land. (You can sign that HERE if you haven’t already done so. It already has over 2,650 signatures!)

The Sierra Club’s response? A public relations effort denying the very facts contained in their law-suit! The article below details what they’re saying and why it’s not true. (It has a list of references at the end.)

This article from Death of a Million Trees (a website fighting unnecessary tree destruction) is republished with permission.

——————————————————

SIERRA CLUB CANNOT HIDE BEHIND ITS SMOKE SCREEN
(from Death of a Million Trees)

On August 25, 2015, opponents of the projects in the East Bay Hills which will destroy hundreds of thousands of trees staged a protest at the headquarters of the Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club and delivered a petition. The petition (available HERE) asks the Sierra Club to quit advocating for deforestation and pesticide use in the San Francisco Bay Area and to drop its lawsuit which demands eradication of 100% of all non-native trees on 2,059 acres of public land in the East Bay. The protest was successful as measured by the size of the crowd and the even-handed media coverage of the protest.

Sierra Club protest, August 25, 2015. About 80 people attended the peaceful protest.

Sierra Club protest, August 25, 2015. About 80 people attended the peaceful protest.

However, although the protest has produced a flurry of defensive propaganda from the Sierra Club, it has not created new opportunities for dialogue with them. We tried to get the issue on the agenda of the Conservation Committee following the protest and once again our request was denied. We were also denied the opportunity to publish a rebuttal to articles in their newsletter about the projects. It is still not possible to post comments on the on-line version of the Yodeler, although each article dishonestly invites readers to “leave a comment.”

And so, open letters to the Sierra Club are the only means of communication available to us. Here are our replies to the latest round of propaganda published in the Yodeler on September 16, 2015 (available HERE). Excerpts from the Sierra Club article are in italics and our replies follow.


 

“The preferred strategy for vegetation management in the East Bay hills entails removing the most highly flammable, ember-generating trees like eucalyptus in phases — only in select areas considered most at risk for fire along the urban-wild interface.”

Preferred by whom? Neither fire experts nor the public think this project is a good idea, let alone the Sierra Club’s more extreme version of the project demanded by its suit. Over 13,000 public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement were sent to FEMA, of which 90% were opposed to this project according to FEMA. More recently, a petition in opposition to this project has over 65,000 signatures on it. This project is NOT the “preferred strategy for vegetation management in the East Bay hills.”

Eucalyptus is not more flammable than many other trees, including native trees:

  • A study by scientists in Tasmania found that the leaves of blue gum eucalyptus were more resistant to ignition than other species of Tasmanian vegetation tested. The study credits the “hard cuticle” of the leaf for its ability to resist ignition. (1)
  • The National Park Service, which has destroyed tens of thousands of eucalyptus and other non-native trees, states that eucalyptus leaves did not ignite during a major fire on Mount Tam. (2)
  • The leaves of native bay laurel trees contain twice as much oil as eucalyptus leaves and the fuel ladder to their crowns is much lower than eucalyptus, increasing the risk of crown fires. The “Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan” of the East Bay Regional Park District states explicitly that bay laurel is very flammable and recommends selective removal.
  • Eucalyptus contributed more fuel to the 1991 fire in Oakland because a deep and prolonged freeze the winter before the fire caused eucalyptus and other exotic vegetation to die back. The dead leaf litter was not cleaned up, which contributed to the fire hazard. Such deep freezes are rare in the Bay Area. There has not been such a freeze for 25 years and another is unlikely in the warming climate.

    Eucalyptus logs line the roads where UC Berkeley has destroyed trees. Do they look less flammable than living trees?

    Eucalyptus logs line the roads where UC Berkeley has destroyed trees. Do they look less flammable than living trees?

  • Ordinarily, eucalyptus does not contribute more fuel to the forest floor than native oak-bay woodland. This is confirmed by the National Park Service, which includes logs in the calculation of fuel loads. (2) Logs are extremely difficult to ignite. The so-called “fire hazard mitigation projects” are leaving all the eucalyptus logs on the ground when the trees are destroyed, suggesting that they aren’t considered a fire hazard. The National Park Service also separates the fuel loads of oaks and bays, which when combined are equal to the fuel load of eucalyptus. Since our native woodland in the East Bay is a mixture of oaks and bays, it is appropriate to combine them when comparing their fuel loads to eucalyptus.
  • Eucalyptus are sometimes blamed for casting more embers than native trees because they are taller than the oak-bay woodland. However, redwoods are as tall, if not taller, and they were also observed burning in the 1991 fire: On Vicente Road, “Two redwoods up the street caught fire like matchsticks.” (3) Yet, the Sierra Club is not suggesting that redwoods be destroyed to eliminate the risk of casting embers.

The Sierra Club now says the trees will be removed “in phases,” yet in its suit against the FEMA grants it objects to the phasing of tree removals. The main focus of their suit is opposition to the “unified methodology” which proposes to remove trees over the 10 year period of the grant on only 29 acres of the total project acreage of 2,059. To those who objected to this project, that small concession is little consolation, but for the Sierra Club it was a deal-breaker. Their suit demands that all non-native trees be removed immediately on all project acres.

If the Sierra Club withdraws its suit against the FEMA projects, it is free to tell another story, as it attempts to do in its Yodeler article. As long as that suit remains in play, the Sierra Club is stuck with that version of reality.

“Once the flammable non-native trees are removed, less flammable native species can reclaim those areas and provide for a rebound of biodiversity. This model of fire prevention can summarized as the the [sic] “Three R’s”:

REMOVE the most flammable non-native trees in select areas most at risk for fire;

RESTORE those areas with more naturally fire-resistant native trees and plants; and

RE-ESTABLISH greater biodiversity of flora and fauna, including endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake.”

This is a stunning display of ignorance of the project as well as the natural history of the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • The FEMA projects do not provide for any planting or funding for planting after the trees are removed. FEMA’s mission is fire hazard mitigation, not landscape transformation. The scientists who evaluated the FEMA projects said that a native landscape is not the likely result of the project: “However, we question the assumption that the types of vegetation recolonizing the area would be native. Based on conditions observed during site visits in April 2009, current understory species such as English ivy, acacia, vinca sp., French broom, and Himalayan blackberry would likely be the first to recover and recolonize newly disturbed areas once the eucalyptus removal is complete. These understory species are aggressive exotics, and in the absence of proactive removal there is no evidence to suggest that they would cease to thrive in the area, especially the French broom which would be the only understory plant capable of surviving inundation by a 2-foot-deep layer of eucalyptus chips.” (4)
  • The US Forest Service evaluation of the FEMA projects stated that the resulting landscape would be more flammable than the existing landscape: “Removal of the eucalyptus overstory would reduce the amount of shading on surface fuels, increase the wind speeds to the forest floor, reduce the relative humidity at the forest floor, increase the fuel temperature, and reduce fuel moisture. These factors may increase the probability of ignition over current conditions.” (5)
  • The US Forest Service evaluation predicts that the resulting landscape will be “a combination of native and non-native herbaceous and chaparral communities.” Despite the overwhelming evidence that wildfires in California start and spread rapidly in herbaceous vegetation such as dry grass, the myth persists that all non-native trees must be destroyed to reduce fire hazards. An analyst at CAL FIRE has explained to the Center for Investigative Reporting that the reason why wildfires were so extreme this summer is because of the heavy rains in December 2014, which grew a huge crop of grass: “The moisture did little to hydrate trees and shrubs. But it did prompt widespread growth of wild grasses, which quickly dry out without rain. ‘They set seed, they turn yellow and they are done,’ said Tim Chavez, a battalion chief and fire behavior analyst with CAL FIRE. ‘All that does is provide kindling for the bigger fuels.’” (6) We know that more dry grass starts more wildfires, yet the Sierra Club demands that we destroy the tree canopy that shades the forest floor and produces leaf litter, which together suppress the growth of the grasses in which fires ignite.
  • The claim that native plants are “naturally fire resistant” is ridiculous. Native vegetation in California—like all Mediterranean climates—is fire adapted and fire dependent. The wildfires all over the west this summer occurred in native vegetation. There are over 200 species of native plants in California that will not germinate in the absence of fire and persist for only 3-5 years after a fire. (7) Although all native vegetation is not equally flammable, many species are considered very flammable, such as coyote brush, bay laurel, and chamise. To say otherwise is to display an appalling ignorance of our natural history.

    When did "environmentalism" devolve into demonizing trees?

    When did “environmentalism” devolve into demonizing trees?

  • There is no evidence that the destruction of our urban forest will result in greater “biodiversity.” There are many empirical, scientific studies that find equal biodiversity in eucalyptus forest compared to native forests. There are no studies that say otherwise, yet the Sierra Club and their nativist friends continue to make this claim without citing any authority other than their own opinions. (8, 9, 10) 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.

The Sierra Club’s 3Rs can best be summarized as “repeat, repeat, repeat.” Their 3Rs are based on 3 Myths: (1) eucalyptus trees are the most serious fire hazard; (2) “native” vegetation is categorically less flammable than “non-native” vegetation, and (3) native vegetation will magically return to the hills when trees are clearcut and the hills are poisoned with herbicide. All available evidence informs us that these are fictions that exist only in the minds of the Sierra Club leadership and their nativist friends.

“The Sierra Club’s approach does NOT call for clearcutting. Under “Remove, Restore, Re-establish” thousands of acres of eucalyptus and other non-natives will remain in the East Bay hills. Our proposal only covers areas near homes and businesses where a fire would be most costly to lives and property. In fact, removing monoculture eucalyptus groves and providing for the return of native ecosystems will create a much richer landscape than the alternative — thinning — which requires regularly scraping away the forest floor to remove flammable debris.”

The Sierra Club’s suit against FEMA demands that all eucalyptus and Monterey pine be removed from 2,059 acres of public property. While it is true that the project acres are not 100% of all land in the East Bay, with respect to the project acres, it is accurate to describe the Sierra Club’s suit as a demand for an immediate clearcut of all non-native trees.

FEMA Project Areas

FEMA Project Areas

Most of the project acres are nowhere near homes and buildings. They are in parks and open spaces with few structures of any kind. CAL FIRE defines “defensible space” required around buildings to reduce property loss in wildfires. CAL FIRE requires property owners to clear flammable vegetation and fuel within 100 feet of structures. Using that legal standard, the FEMA project should not require the removal of all trees from project acres.

As we said earlier, Sierra Club’s description of the landscape that will result from the removal of the tree canopy is contradicted by scientists who evaluated the FEMA project. And their prediction that “thinning” would “require regularly scraping away the forest floor to remove flammable debris” is not consistent with the predictions of those scientists who have advised that the loss of shade and moisture resulting from the complete loss of the tree canopy will encourage the growth of flammable vegetation and require more maintenance than the existing landscape.

“Our preferred approach does NOT focus on eucalyptus merely because they are non-natives. Rather, it is because they pose a far higher fire risk than native landscapes. Eucalyptus shed ten to fifty times more debris per acre than grasslands, native live oak groves, or bay forests — and that debris, in the form of branches, leaves, and long strips of bark, ends up draped in piles that are a near-optimal mixture of oxygen and fuel for fire. Eucalyptus trees ignite easily and have a tendency to dramatically explode when on fire. Also, eucalyptus embers stay lit longer than embers from other vegetation; coming off trees that can grow above 120 feet tall, those embers can stay lit as the wind carries them for miles.”

The Sierra Club’s suit demands the eradication of Monterey pine as well as eucalyptus. The scientists who evaluated the FEMA projects stated that there is no evidence that Monterey pine is particularly flammable and they questioned why they were targeted for eradication: “The UC inaccurately characterizes the fire hazard risk posed by the two species however…Monterey pine and acacia trees in the treatment area only pose a substantial fire danger when growing within an eucalyptus forest [where they provide fire ladders to the eucalyptus canopy]. In the absence of the eucalyptus overstory, they do not pose a substantial fire hazard.” (4) It is not credible that the Sierra Club’s demand that these tree species be entirely eradicated has nothing to do with the fact that they are not native to the Bay Area. If flammability were truly their only criterion, they would demand the eradication of native bay laurel trees. If fear of lofting embers from tall trees were their only concern, they would demand the eradication of redwoods.

As we said earlier, redwoods looked as though they were exploding when they ignited in the 1991 fire. And we are seeing wildfires all over the west this fire season in which native trees look as though they are exploding when they ignite. That’s what a crown fire looks like, regardless of the species.

It defies reason to think that an ember is capable of traveling miles and still be in flames on arrival. In fact, Sierra Club’s suit says “non-native trees can cast off burning embers capable of being carried up to 2,000 feet in distance.” That’s a fraction of the distance the Sierra Club now claims in its hyperbolic description of the issues in the Yodeler. Surely we can all use a little common sense to consider how unlikely it is that a fragment of a tree small enough to be carried in the wind could travel miles while remaining on fire. Likewise, we must ask why fragments of eucalyptus trees are likely to burn longer than any other ember of equal size. We are not provided with any reference in support of these fanciful claims other than the opinions of the authors.

“Any herbicide use to prevent the regrowth of eucalyptus once they’ve been cut down (they quickly sprout suckers otherwise) would be hand applied in minimal amounts under strict controls. Any herbicide application must undergo a full environmental review to prevent impacts on humans, wildlife, and habitat. There are also methods other than herbicide that can be used to prevent regrowth, and the Sierra Club encourages the agencies that manage the land where fire mitigation occurs to explore these alternatives to find the most sustainable, responsible option.”

Once again, the Sierra Club is stuck with the public record which describes the FEMA projects:

  • East Bay Regional Park District has stated in the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA project that it intends to use 2,250 gallons of herbicide to prevent the regrowth of eucalyptus. (11) This estimate does not include the herbicides that will be used by UC Berkeley or the City of Oakland. Nor does it include the herbicides that will be needed to kill flammable non-native vegetation such as fennel, hemlock, broom, radish, mustard, etc. Surely, we can all agree that thousands of gallons of herbicide cannot be accurately described as “minimal.”
  • The Sierra Club now seems to be suggesting that further environmental review will be required for herbicide use by this project. They are mistaken in that belief. The Environmental Impact Statement for this project is completed and it admits that the project will have “unavoidable adverse impacts” on “human health and safety” and that there will be “potential adverse health effects of herbicides on vegetation management workers, nearby residents, and users of parks and open space.” The Sierra Club’s smoke screen cannot hide that conclusion.
  • The FEMA grants have been awarded to the three public land owners and they explicitly provide for the use of herbicides to prevent eucalyptus and acacia from re-sprouting. There is nothing in the Environmental Impact Statement that indicates that “methods other than herbicide can be used to prevent regrowth,” as the Sierra Club now belatedly opines in its latest propaganda. If the Sierra Club wants other methods to be considered, we could reasonably expect they would make such a demand in their suit against FEMA, along with all their other demands. They do not make such a demand in their suit. Therefore, claims that other methods are being explored are not credible.
  • Sierra Club’s claim that herbicides will be applied “with strict controls” is not credible because there is no oversight of pesticide application or enforcement of the minimal regulations that exist in the United States. After 25 years of working for the EPA, E.G. Valliantatos wrote in 2014 of his experience with pesticide regulation in Poison Spring: “…the EPA offered me the documentary evidence to show the dangerous disregard for human health and the environment in the United States’ government and in the industries it is sworn to oversee…powerful economic interests have worked tirelessly to handcuff government oversight.”

The Sierra Club has also explicitly endorsed the use of herbicides in the public comments they have submitted on these projects and in other articles in the Yodeler:

  • Sierra Club’s written public comment on Scoping for the FEMA EIS: “We are not currently opposed to the careful use of Garlon as a stump treatment on eucalyptus or even broom when applied by a licensed applicator that will prevent spread into adjacent soils or waters.” Norman La Force (on Sierra Club letterhead), September 12, 2010
  • “There is no practical way to eliminate eucalyptus re-sprouting without careful use of herbicides.” Yodeler, May 25, 2013

Obfuscation and insincere backpedaling

The latest Yodeler article about the FEMA projects is a lot of hot air. It makes claims about the issues for which it provides no evidence and for which considerable contradictory evidence exists. It contradicts previous statements the Sierra Club has made. Most importantly, as long as Sierra Club’s suit remains in play, the demands the Sierra Club makes in that public document cannot be denied. If the Sierra Club wishes to back away from its previous positions, it must start by withdrawing its suit, which demands that 100% of all non-native trees in the FEMA project areas be destroyed immediately. Withdrawal of the suit would be a most welcome start on the long healing process that is required to mend the damage the Sierra Club has done to its reputation as an environmental organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, the Sierra Club will not be able to reclaim its status as an environmental organization without renouncing all pesticide use on our public lands.

The Sierra Club has isolated itself from reality. Its leadership refuses to speak with anyone with whom they disagree. They have become the victims of incestuous amplification. They apparently do not read the documents they use to support their opinions. For example, the Sierra Club suit claims the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) has classified blue gum eucalyptus as “moderately” invasive. In fact, Cal-IPC’s rating of blue gum eucalyptus is “limited.” This reflects the fact that a study of aerial photographs of Bay Area parks and open spaces, taken over a 60 year period find that eucalyptus and Monterey Pine forests were smaller in the 1990s than they were in the 1930s. (12)

We will send our petition soon to the national leadership of the Sierra Club. If you have not yet signed our petition, we hope you will consider doing so now.


 

  1. Dickinson, K.J.M. and Kirkpatrick, J.B., “The flammability and energy content of some important plant species and fuel components in the forests of southeastern Tasmania,” Journal of Biogeography, 1985, 12: 121-134.
  2. “The live foliage proved fire resistant, so a potentially catastrophic crown fire was avoided.” http://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/upload/firemanagement_fireeducation_newsletter_eucalyptus.pdf
  3. Margaret Sullivan, Firestorm: the study of the 1991 East Bay fire in Berkeley, 1993
  4. URS evaluation of UCB and Oakland FEMA projects
  5. FEMA DEIS – evaluation of US Forest Service
  6. https://www.revealnews.org/article/rampant-california-wildfires-can-be-blamed-on-last-decembers-rain/?utm_source=Reveal%20Newsletters&utm_campaign=2d4c52ebf5-The_Weekly_Reveal_09_24_159_23_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c38de7c444-2d4c52ebf5-229876797
  7. Jon Keeley, Fire in Mediterranean Ecosystems, Cambridge University Press, 2012
  8. http://milliontrees.me/2011/02/04/biodiversity-another-myth-busted-2/
  9. http://milliontrees.me/2013/04/09/biodiversity-of-the-eucalyptus-forest/
  10. http://milliontrees.me/2013/11/22/invertebrates-such-as-insects-are-plentiful-in-the-eucalyptus-forest/
  11. See Table 2.1 in Appendix F: http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861356241-0d76d1d9da1fa83521e82acf903ec866/Final%20EIS%20Appendices%20A-F_508.pdf
  12. William Russell and Joe McBride, “Vegetation Change and Fire Hazard in the San Francisco Bay Area Open Spaces,” Landscape and Urban Planning, 2003

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.