The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has finally completed its long-awaited environmental review of grant applications for over $5.5 million from the City of Oakland, UC Berkeley, and the East Bay Regional Park District to fund vegetation management in the East Bay Hills. While the Sierra Club supports the vegetation-management approach proposed by Oakland and UC Berkeley, in the case of the Park District, we do not support thinning eucalyptus groves rather than removing the flammable trees altogether—an approach FEMA seems ready to fund in the case of the Park District. The Sierra Club believes that that approach could lead to another 1991 firestorm.
The Sierra Club, Claremont Conservancy, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, SPRAWLDEF, and the California Native Plant Society have all advocated for a land-management approach that over time removes all of the flammable eucalyptus and pine trees so that less-flammable native habitat can reclaim those areas. The approach has other benefits as well: management of native habitat is more cost effective, and restoration of native habitat would provide an opportunity for the return of endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake.
Both the University of California and the City of Oakland proposed fire-management plans that received the support of the environmental community because they met the goals noted above. The East Bay Regional Park District plan, on the other hand, would prevent the restoration of native vegetation like oaks, bay, and laurel, and would be so high-maintenance as to be financially unsustainable. The end result of the Park District’s plan would be thousands of acres of flammable eucalyptus that would pose a significant fire risk.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion calls for the restoration of whipsnake habitat through the removal of the eucalyptus and restoration of native habitat. FEMA, however, appears to be endorsing work that would not be consistent with that opinion. Opponents of the vegetation-management approach endorsed by UC Berkeley, the City of Oakland, the Sierra Club, and many other local environmental groups try to scare people with false claims that this constitutes “clear cutting” and would involve large-scale “spraying” of herbicides. This is just not true.
The Sierra Club and other groups will be monitoring FEMA’s final decision on the grant requests and will make recommendations as to what further actions we should take on this issue. We believe we can have vegetation that is fire safe, promotes restoration of native habitat, and encourages the return of endangered species.
— Norman La Force