December 6, 2016

East Bay Parks settlement means less native habitat

The Sierra Club has mixed feelings about the settlement agreed to on Aug. 9 by the East Bay Regional Park District in a lawsuit over the District’s plan for the management of vegetation in the wildland-urban interface along the hills from Richmond to San Leandro.

The Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and California Native Plant Society participated actively in the 20 years of public process leading to the plan, and supported its approach to removing fire-dangerous vegetation and restoring native habitat. The restoration reduces fire danger because native vegetation is mostly more fire-resistant than exotics like eucalytus.

Eight people calling themselves the Hills Conservation Network (HCN) sued the Park District over the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the plan. They did not want the eucalyptus or other exotics removed. They attacked the Sierra Club, Audubon, and Native Plant Society for advocating for the restoration of native habitat, calling such work ill-advised and irresponsible. They denied the danger of eucalytus for generating and accelerating wildland fires.

The Sierra Club filed an amicus brief in court in support of the District’s plan and EIR. The District, however, reached a settlement agreement with the HCN. The Bay Chapter reviewed the settlement and took “no position” on it. We sympathize with the District’s desire to bring closure and its belief that the settlement required compromise on only a few points. On the other hand, we regret that the Park District felt the need to give in to a very small set of people who really oppose restoration of native habitat at all costs, even at the cost of creating a more fire-dangerous environment.

The settlement constrains the Park District to maintaining highly flammable non-native pines and eucalyptus in certain areas. The acreage is small, but it increases fire hazards and blocks restoration of native vegetation. We fear that the settlement could set a precedent for the Park District and other land agencies in managing similar vegetation in other parts of the East Bay hills.

The best approach to protecting the urban East Bay from devastating fires like that of 1991 is to restore native habitat. This is also the most cost-effective approach for long-term maintenance.

The Sierra Club urges the Park District to hire specialists in removing exotics and in restoring native habitat, and to create an open and public decision-making process for managing each area under the wildfire plan. The Club is committed to protecting our urban communities from another massive and deadly conflagration while restoring native habitat that is fast disappearing from our Bay Area.


Write to the Board of the East Bay Regional Park District at:
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, CA 94605-0381.
Urge the District to work with the Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, and Golden Gate Audubon Society to craft area-by-area implementation plans under its Vegetation Management Plan that reduce fire hazard and restore native habitat.

Norman La Force, chair, Sierra Club Bay Chapter East Bay Public Lands Committee


  1. The Sierra Club displays a lack of knowledge of the natural history and fire ecology of the Bay Area in this article. Fire is historically frequent in native habitat. There is no evidence to support the contention that native plants are less flammable than non-native plants, including eucalypts.

    Any statement made about eucalypts is equally true of native species. The native bay tree contains as much oil as the eucalypts. In fact, most of the oil in bay leaves is the same oil (eucalyptol) as that found in eucalypts. The redwood tree is as tall as the eucalypt and observers of the 1991 fire reported that they exploded like “matchsticks” just as other observers reported of eucalypts. Many native trees and shrubs (e.g., Madrone, manzanita) have “shreddy bark,” like the eucalypts.

    The fact is, most fires in California are wind-driven, as was the fire in 1991. Both the composition of the fuel and its quantity is irrelevant in a wind-driven fire, in which everything will burn, including native and non-native species and all structures in its path.

    I doubt that the Park District “gave in” to the Hills Conservation Network. They were more likely worried about losing the lawsuit because destroying about one million trees will release millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, violating California law regarding greenhouse gases (AB32). Plans for this destruction offered no mitigation for this environmental damage.

    The Sierra Club needs to reorder its priorities. Greenhouse gases and the resulting climate change have done far more damage to the environment than any non-native plant or tree has or will in the future. Adding to that damage, toxic herbicides are being sprayed in the East Bay Regional Parks to eradicate non-native plants and trees. In connection with their eradication efforts, they also conduct prescribed burns which pollute our air and endanger our homes.

    The Sierra Club’s commitment to native plant “restorations” is damaging our environment and jeopardizing the Club’s mission.

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