Dead trees: the life of the forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest cafeteria…

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

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

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

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

– Jack Gescheidt

decaying-log-moss-by-Jack-Gescheidt-TreeSpirit-Project-0884-900p-WEB.jpg
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Another Beloved Tree Gone – Buena Vista Park, San Francisco

We recently received a message about yet another tree that had been destroyed to the dismay of neighbors. This time it’s at Buena Vista Park (BVP).

The message is from neighbor Deborah Rodgers, who would love for more people to read the tragedy of this tree and its friend who fought back for its untimely demise:

Our beautiful canopy tree was butchered this morning at BVP – 7/11/18

This is the 5th healthy established tree that has been senselessly butchered by Park & Rec at BVP recently. This tree provided a lovely canopy shade on hot days. The directional pruning done the day before was adequate. It was really horrible to watch one of our most established beautiful shade trees get butchered this morning.

There was NEVER a notice put on this tree. It was damaged, according to Ms Sionkowski [Carol Sionkowski, Park Services Manager, SF Recreation and Parks], from splitting done to it by their Rec & Park tree department crew. Further, the canopy pine showed no sign of erosion or splitting from any of its branches. It was a healthy tree that provided much-needed shade for residents traversing the public pathway along BVP. It shaded cars which get so overheated on days like these past few that they are an oven upon entering. It was an established tree of at least a decade old.

It was a beautiful circular ball shaped tree that grew laterally with a very solid foundation on the right. Many circular ball-shaped trees when pruned back properly can last for years without eroding from the soil. This one did for over a decade. Why butcher it?

Our BVP exterior periphery is becoming an ugly graveyard of stumps where there once were beautiful shade trees.

Ms Rodgers was angry and contacted the SF Rec & Park Point Mgr on July 11, 2018, following the destruction of the tree at 8 a.m in the morning at BVP by SF Rec & Park dept. She was unable to stop the tree from being cut down.

 

We’ve talked before of San Francisco’s casual, even hostile, attitude to its trees. Little effort is made to preserve mature trees, and our urban tree canopy – already one of the smallest among big cities – is shrinking just at a time when trees are being recognized as a way to fight global warming via carbon sequestration.

 

Graph showing urban tree canopy cover in major US cities

San Francisco Has the Least Canopy Cover of any Major US City

Planting new trees is excellent, but it’s no substitute for preserving the mature ones. It takes a decade or more for saplings to provide the same benefits, whether carbon sequestration, or pollution reduction, or habitat. San Francisco must start caring for its trees, not chopping them down.

 

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The Very Long Life of Eucalyptus Trees

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

 

 

PUTTING ANOTHER MYTH TO REST: LIFESPAN OF BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS

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

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

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

Great horned owl in eucalyptus. Courtesy urbanwildness.org

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

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

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

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

BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS IN AUSTRALIA LIVES 200-400 YEARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

MANY HEALTHY BLUE GUMS IN CALIFORNIA ARE 150 YEARS OLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLUE GUMS AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY

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

Eucalyptus on Stanford campus

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

AN EVEN OLDER OLMSTED DESIGN IN OAKLAND

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

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

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

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

LONG LIVE THE BLUE GUMS!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Oppose Prop 68 (June 2018 Election)

Proposition 68 is on ballot in the upcoming elections. It would authorize the State in California to sell $4.1 billion in bonds for “park and water” improvements. Unfortunately, roughly a third of the money will be allocated for “protection of natural habitats.”

 

MONEY TO FELL TREES AND SPRAY TOXIC HERBICIDES

Over time, we’ve learned what that means, and it’s not protection of anything. In public agencies’ vocabulary “protection of natural habitats,” “native restorations,” “protection of endangered species” usually mean attempts to convert “non-native ” vegetation to “native” by killing trees and using high hazard herbicides.  The actual actions are: (1) Cutting down trees, often thousands of trees (2) Spraying toxic herbicides – including probable carcinogens – in an attempt to prevent the “non-native” plants from growing. When money becomes available, the pace and extent of these activities increases. See: Oyster Bay: Firehose of Funds Means a Firehose of Pesticides

We oppose the felling of trees especially in this time of climate change. Trees sequester carbon, clean the air, stabilize the ground, and provide habitat.

We also oppose the use of toxic herbicides in so-called “Natural” habitats and in these destructive “restorations.” Over time, we’ve understood that herbicides are often more toxic and more persistent than the manufacturers originally claimed. Using them in this way contaminates soil and water, creating unknown dangers for the future.

 

We expect that San Francisco will obtain some of this money to finance implementation of Natural Resource Management Plan.

How many trees can be killed, and how much toxic herbicide can be poured into the Earth for $1.35 BILLION dollars? We recommend a “NO” vote on proposition 68.

FISCAL IMPACTS

We cannot see any pressing fiscal need either.

From the League of Women Voters website: “During the past 17 years voters approved almost $27 billion in general obligation bonds for various natural resources projects, of which the State still has almost $9 billion available. Repaying the bonds is expected to cost an estimated $200 million each year for 40 years, resulting in a total cost of $7.8 billion. There may be savings to local governments in tens of millions of dollars because the bond money available will relieve the local governments from paying for all of a project. There are unknown costs and savings associated with the actual operation and impacts of the projects produced.”

Mt Davidson: Tree Destruction Imminent?

There’s a lot of activity at the Juanita entrance of Mt Davidson, and neighbors fear the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is rushing through its tree-felling program. At a time when we need trees more than ever to fight climate change, and mudslides in Southern California illustrate the devastating effects of destroyed trees and vegetation, this would be egregious.

Here’s a note from a forest-lover:

What I’ve seen so far as of last week is preparation and road, trail widening with landing areas for equipment, but no big cuttings or equipment in the interior yet. Just the one big landmark, living tree marked with dots, and all the prior destruction.”

Huge eucalyptus tree on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, marked with 3 green dots

Do these dots mark this iconic tree for killing?

TRAILS BEING WIDENED FOR HEAVY EQUIPMENT?


What equipment will go up here? Maybe a “Brontosaurus”?

TREES DESTROYED EARLIER

Tree have been destroyed on Mount Davidson some years ago, and this prior destruction gives some idea of what the desired end-condition is for the next round. The so-called “boneyard” has stumps of dead trees.

 

This tall mature tree was “girdled.” That’s a process of destroying cutting a deep ring around the tree, so that food and water cannot be transported and the tree starves to death.

A beautiful green and flourishing tree that provided food and habitat for birds, and brought joy to forest lovers, is a dead skeleton.

THE BEAUTIFUL FOREST WE ARE LOSING

The lovely forest we are losing is beautiful and historic, and provides habitat for a huge number of birds. But it’s not just beauty and habitat. These trees provide important eco-system services.  Some examples:

  • They stabilize the mountain, with their intergrafted roots forming a living geo-textile. The horrible mudslides in Southern California illustrate how important this is.
  • They fight pollution, especially pollution from particulate matter, by trapping the particles on their leaves until rain or fog drips them to the forest floor where they are not in the atmosphere – or our lungs.
  • They form a wind-break in what would be one of the windiest areas of the city, with the wind blowing in straight off the sea.
  • They regulate water flows, so that when it rains hard, the forest acts as a sponge, absorbing the water and letting it flow out gradually.
  • They catch moisture from the fog during summer, making the mountain damp and reducing fire hazard.

Please let City Hall and SFRPD know that you want this forest protected and saved, not gutted. The plan is to remove 1600 trees!

[Update 1/19/18:  We spoke with the contractor on site. Seven trees have been cut down, and that completes this contract. Hopefully we will have more public notice and explanation if other tree removals are planned.]

Register for Town Hall Meeting about Montara’s Chainsawed Trees

We posted a few days ago about the planned meeting regarding the chainsawed trees of Rancho Corral de Tierra at Montara. Here are the details of the public notice, and a link to RSVP.

 

“Rancho Corral de Tierra Public Meeting | November 12, 2017

“Please join National Park Service staff and Congresswoman Jackie Speier for a public meeting to discuss Rancho Corral de Tierra. Park staff will discuss grassland restoration efforts, current management, and future park planning efforts. Grassland restoration efforts include removing invasive vegetation, such as grasses and trees, and revegetating with native plant communities.

Meeting Details
Sunday, November 12, 2017
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Farallone View Elementary School,
1100 Le Conte Ave., Montara, CA
RSVP requested: Please register HERE.

 

Montara Chainsawed Trees: Town Hall on Nov 12, 2017

We reported recently that some people interested in going on the walk at Rancho Corral de Tierra in Montara were unable to get in. Now a Town Hall has been scheduled on Nov 12, 2017.

In response to public interest, GGNRA will be hosting a second public meeting on Sunday, November 12th from 2-3:30 pm at Farralone View Elementary School. A meeting invite with details will be sent to everyone on our email distribution list.  To stay informed about the November 12th public meeting and other park related matters in San Mateo County, please sign up for our [i.e, GGNRA’s]  “San Mateo County” mailing list here.