Since the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, public agencies with large open-space areas (about 20,000 acres) along the Richmond-Berkeley-Oakland hills have been studying how to prevent future fires. In 1995 the East Bay Regional Park District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, University of California, and Oakland began a planning process, and the Sierra Club, along with the California Native Plant Society and Golden Gate Audubon, began meeting with them.
Environmentalists have three major concerns:
- preventing fire;
- restoring native vegetation and habitat types–both for their environmental value and because they are much more fire-resistant;
- finance: the plans must be cost-effective and provide for long-term maintenance.
We want to avoid past mistakes, when agencies simply stripped off vegetation and then walked away, leaving the land clear for exotic and even more-flammable vegetation.
The Club helped the East Bay Regional Park District to get funding for fire management through the passage of Measure CC in 2004, and to put together its vegetation management program (see “Park District plan could deal well with both vegetation and fire“, October-November-December 2009 Yodeler, page 7). The Park District is now implementing that program, and we are monitoring the progress.
In the meantime, the various agencies applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding to assist in their vegetation management work. FEMA has released for public comment an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on these plans. The preferred alternative focuses on removal of fire-dangerous trees (particularly eucalyptus and other non-natives) and other vegetation and their replacement with native habitat.
Long-term fire safety and native restoration both require cutting of all eucalyptus in these areas. The preferred alternative involves application of the herbicide glyphosate (trade name Roundup) to the stumps to prevent re-sprouting. There is no practical way to eliminate eucalyptus infestations without herbicide, and glyphosate is relatively low in toxicity. The EIS finds that the plan will not have significant adverse environmental impact on flora or fauna. Another key aspect of the plan is that removal of the trees will be staggered over many years and closely integrated with the replanting of native species. The agencies must closely monitor to make sure their actions are working.
The Draft EIS is very comprehensive, and as a result the Club is able to support the plan.
Norman La Force, chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee