October 25, 2014

Club supports East Bay plan for fire management and native restoration

Update (June 19, 2013): some corrections have been made in paragraphs 6 – 8. We thank the commenters for pointing out errors.

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 either glyphosate (trade name Roundup) or triclopyr (trade name Garlon), the preferred material to prevent re-sprouting. Garlon is applied by licensed applicators directly to the cambium layer of the stump as quickly as possible after the tree is cut. There is no practical way to eliminate eucalyptus re-sprouting without careful use of herbicides. 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 the removal of the eucalyptus will be in already-thinned eucalyptus stands and in areas where eucalyptus were removed after the 1972 freeze, so that oaks, bay, and other native vegetation is already present under taller eucalyptus suckers. Natives will thrive once they get sunlight and space to grow.

The agencies must closely monitor their projects 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

Comments

  1. David Johnson says:

    I strongly agree with your support of FEMA’s IES regarding fire management in the East Bay Hills. I hope the Sierra Club will make its support more widely known. It will help to offset the vigorous (to put it politely) but misguided efforts of a few zealots to stall this life-saving plan.

  2. WOW! What a stunningly inaccurate description of this project. Here are two FACTS that easily can be verified by reading even the short Executive Summary of this 3,000 page document (which the author has obviously NOT read).

    The project will not plant anything in the project areas. All non-native trees (eucalypts, Monterey pines and cypress, and acacia, etc) will be destroyed on 400 acres of UCB and Oakland property and 90% thinned on 600 acres of East Bay Regional Park property. That’s right: NOTHING WILL BE PLANTED!!!

    The stumps of eucalypts and acacia will be sprayed with GARLON, not ROUNDUP!! Garlon is sigificantly more toxic than Roundup. Each stump will require 1 to 2 ounces of Garlon and 5% of the trees will require retreatment. That’s WRITTEN in the plan! Do the math. There are 128 ounces in a gallon, so every 64 to 128 trees will require a gallon of Garlon. Tens of thousands of trees will be destroyed, therefore thousands of gallons of Garlon will be used. Roundup will be used to foliar spray the non-native shrubs that will be destroyed.

    The least you folks could do is read the plan before deciding to support it. Misinforming your members about this plan is irresponsible.

  3. Linda Giannoni says:

    This article is shockingly inaccurate.

    The proposed plan would increase the risk of wildfire by removing moisture-holding trees which also act as wind-breaks, and by putting 24 inches of dry wood chips and dry cut branches and trunks onto the clearcut ground. There’s excellent documentation at http://www.eastbaypesticidealert.org/wildfire.html , and the links to Death of a Million Trees, Hills Conservation Network, and FEMA’s report.

    At http://sutroforest.com/2009/08/08/no-tree -hazard/ there’s a post by David Maloney, member of the Task Force investigating the 1991 fire, who confirms that trees were not the primary problem, not even eucalyptus trees. “The Task Force Report concluded that the spread of the fire was mostly due to the radiant heat generated by burning houses.” “Because of our conclusions, new fire prevention codes relative to housing construction were promulgated…”—not codes relative to species of trees. Native trees are not inherently more fire resistant.

    Regarding the herbicides, Dow AgroSciences’ MSDS sheets for Garlon 4 Ultra and Garlon 3A show that the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act lists both as “immediate (acute) health hazard” and “delayed (chronic) health hazard”.

    Garlon 4 Ultra: “…highly toxic to aquatic organisms…; “Prevent from entering soil…waterways and/or groundwater”; “decomposition products can include…: hydrogen chloride, nitrogen oxide, phosgene.” (All toxic)

    And Roundup is now widely known to be seriously toxic.

    How are these poisons not going to harm anyone when applied for at least ten years in woodlands, parks and watersheds? Many animals will be killed outright, others will lose habitat and die slowly. As for humans, we also will have more cancers, auto-immune diseases, endocrine disruption, respiratory diseases, and lifelong chronic illness. The FEMA report itself lists risk of exposure to: visitors and campers in parks and recreation areas, neighborhood residents, students at the university, a high school, three elementary schools, a preschool and several hospitals—all close to project areas–and the workers, of course.

    Please read the FEMA DEIS report, and read the herbicide MSDS information.

  4. Bev Von Dohre says:

    So easy to dismiss us as “zealots” for trying to prevent the destruction of our beautiful East Bay hills wilderness parks, which stretch from Richmond to Castro Valley. Meanwhile, those who promote this travesty of a plan seem not to know anything about the local ecology of our mixed native and introduced forest with its incredibly rich plant and animal diversity.

    To find out the actual facts, please see these websites:

    http://milliontrees.me/fire-the-cover-story/

    http://www.eastbaypesticidealert.org/wildfire.html

    http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Blog/Blog.html

    http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/About_us.html

    http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Blog/Entries/2013/5/25_Our_tax_dollars_at_work.html

    Please see what people said at the last meeting with FEMA:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT4Zczx_bik

    Please sign this petition
    http://signon.org/sign/stop-the-deforestation-3?source=s.fwd&r_by=2464736

    and write to FEMA (we have only until June 17) at:
    EBH-EIS-FEMA-RIX@fema.dhs.gov.

    1. This FEMA project would cause MORE fires, not less. Fires typically begin in grasslands, which is where the 1991 firestorm started. This project will greatly increase non-native, highly flammable grasslands and non-native poison hemlock, thistles, broom, etc. in the East Bay hills, instead of beautiful trees. Entire sections of our parks will become dry, barren wastelands. And the planned “control burns” will pollute the air with smoke, as well as risk more fire and make the herbicides airborne.

    2. After the trees are gone, the erosion and resulting landslides will be catastrophic. It is shameful to use desperately needed tax money for a project which is not needed and will result in ecological disaster. At that point, FEMA money really WILL be needed.

    3. Re-planting is NOT part of the project.

    4. Many native trees are extremely flammable, but eucalyptus are NOT a particular fire hazard, and have been demonstrated to help forests prevent and contain fires. Eucalyptus were seen to actually stop the spread of fire to houses, creating windbreaks during the 1991 firestorm, while redwoods burned. (Of course when a fire is hot enough, everything burns, but the answer to that is clearly not to kill all the trees.) Eucalyptus and our other tall non-natives precipitate inches of water from the fog each year, moistening the earth, filling creeks and adding water to reservoirs, supporting green and fire resistant shrubs.

    5. Sudden Oak Death is killing our native trees. Most are infected. We should be grateful for having our fire-resistant, disease-resistant, healthy, beautiful, exotic trees who are well-adapted to our semi-arid climate — especially with climate changing and impending drought — and treasure them instead of killing them. We have no idea how quickly and extensively our native trees will die. We may end up with only non-native forest, so we need more tree diversity, not less. Many of our best parks have almost all non-native trees (which most people don’t realize.) What reasonable person would prefer dry, empty, barren grasslands with no shade or wildlife diversity?

    6. Why would anyone kill hundreds of thousands of huge trees, some over a hundred years old, when we desperately need them for cleaner air and to prevent climate change? Those supporting this ill-planned project make no mention of the harm done to the environment from eliminating so many oxygen-producing trees. The killed trees chipped on site will add to air pollution as well as greatly increase fire risk. Significant amounts of sequestered C02 will be released, adding not only to global warming, but also to local climate changes: more wind, more dry air, less fog, more air pollution. Big trees are needed to store carbon. No other type of vegetation stores as much carbon as tall hardwood trees. Ongoing carbon sequestration capabilities will be reduced from what they are now, and will never recover.

    7. This project is actually about greed and getting 7 million dollars from FEMA for Monsanto, UC, local cities, and EBRP — money that is desperately needed elsewhere. There has been no significant fire in the East Bay since 1991. There is now better prevention and quicker response time (the main fire cause is arson or carelessness.) Nothing is needed to be done to make the hills safer, but this project WOULD greatly increase fire risk.

    8. WHY is something that will affect the quality of life in our East Bay cities forever not being put to a vote, and is being snuck in with almost no one knowing about it? Most of the people affected have no idea they will be losing their beloved parks. The propaganda campaign of myths and half-truths does not lead to trust. Some of who are participating in promoting this destructive plan while spreading misinformation will likely be benefiting.

    9. Where is the concern for the millions of native animals who will be killed, including some who are endangered?

    Once the trees are destroyed, the already-burdened wildlife will die from hunger and loss of habitat. Others will be directly killed by the devastating bulldozing, chainsawing and poisoning. Without predators like raptors, rodents and other small animals will over-populate.

    Learn from our native animals which trees they prefer. Bay Nature magazine online has a beautiful photo of the Bald Eagles nesting in a eucalyptus at Lake Chabot — that tree, like much of the parkland overlooking Lake Chabot will be killed. Our native raptors — eagles, hawks, owls, etc. — PREFER eucalyptus for nesting because they are the tallest trees and have an open canopy, which is good for spotting predators and for the largest birds to be able to safely fly in and out of. (A young Peregrine Falcon died recently because he landed badly when learning to fly.) The largest raptors ignore oaks, bays, etc., because the forest is too dense to safely fly in.

    Hummingbirds rely on eucalyptus flower nectar. Monarch butterflies prefer eucalyptus to rest in in the millions during migration. The brilliant website Death of a Million Trees says that a survey of 173 ornithologists reported that 47% of birds eat from non-native plants

    Eucalyptus are now an essential part of our eco-system, as are the beautiful Monterey pines, Monterey cypress, acacias, etc. The Monterey pine forests have far more bird diversity than native forest. Yet every pine is slated for killing. WHY? Yet another myth is that they have short life spans. They live up to 120 years, and every part of their life cycle nurtures our wildlife and plants. Raptors, woodpeckers, and other birds use the dead trees for their survival to hunt from or to store acorns. Insectivorous birds prey on small animals on the trunks. Many animals live on the nutritious pine nuts and those animals feed many native predators. The young pines grow up from the base of their dead mothers, keeping the hills green with new trees, completing the cycle. These trees need no thinning, pruning, cutting. Monterey pine also greatly enriches the soil, creating thick humus helping our native clay earth nurture oak, bay, etc. seedlings, as well as wildflowers, mushrooms, etc. MONTERY PINES ARE AN NOW ESSENTIAL PART OF OUR HEALTHY FOREST/PARKS ECOSYSTEM.

    10. The effects of a planned decade or more of highly toxic herbicide spraying is also being ignored. (Monsanto, DOW, etc. must be thrilled at this project.) How many cases of birth defects, cancer, neurological, auto-immune and other illnesses will result from the use of these poisons?

    Most people living in the East Bay would object to the plan to continuously apply herbicide to the stumps of the butchered trees for TEN years, if they knew the details.

    Appling herbicides across the hills will result in incalculable deaths of native animals, including endangered species, as well as the toxic sediments ending up in our creeks, reservoirs, lakes, and bay. When the winds come, which will increase because the tree windbreaks will be gone, the dust full of herbicide will be windborne, damaging the health of everyone in the East Bay. Some of the poison will evaporate into the air, adding to our air pollution problem.

    No herbicide or the other petrochemicals added to it is safe. Every banned pesticide was once declared safe from studies funded by the pesticide industry and which the FDA approved. The experts who once assured us that DDT, Dieldrin, Chlordane, etc. were safe are saying newer poisons are safe. But the cancer rate continues to rise, as do birth defects, neuological illness, and auto-immune illness, etc. all associated with herbicide use. Meanwhile, how many animals are dying? We’ve seen California Newts dying horrible deaths after crawling through roadside areas sprayed with “safe” herbicides.

    Knowing how toxic chemicals work, we also can’t believe that the herbicides will not make the poisoned plants more flammable.

    We also believe this plan simply won’t work, knowing the amazing regenerative capabilities of these magnificent trees. So the use of poison will be far more continuous than planned. Eucalyptus will take thousands of gallons to stop its attempts to stay alive and resprout. And what about the acacias? You cut one down, and dozens sprout along the ground, yards away from the original tree. They continue to try to live years after their mother tree was killed. (These are not realities that should frighten people, but be reassuring that if our native forests die, we will still have magnificent parks full of beautiful shade trees with all the native animals we love.)

    11. Every part of this plan makes no environmental sense. Honeybees are dying, so we need our native bee populations more than ever, but the planned 24 inches of chipped mulch will prevent native bees from reaching the soil where they nest.

    12. Again, people who live in the East Bay have not been given the opportunity to vote on even the short-term aspects of the project and will be subjected, against our wills, to years of constant noise from chainsaws, bulldozing, woodchipping, road closures, and the ugliness and heartache of seeing favorite parks left treeless, with poisoned stumps. (There are a few places where this travesty was done several years ago which are still ugly wastelands.)

    13. We ask, why the selective logging? Those few people who demand that the park trees be killed are wanting tax-payer FEMA money after they chose to buy houses near the very trees they now want dead. And they want to eliminate the rest of the East Bay residents from access to those beautiful trees that we support with our taxes. We suggest they trade houses and they live instead in the tree-denuded wasteland that is much of the East Bay urban area.

    For those who want our parks and UC Berkeley lands clear-cut, we suggest they start with the multi-million dollar ornamental non-natives that are the majority trees at the UC Botanical Gardens and campus, the landscaping of businesses and federal, state, county, and city buildings, people’s private gardens and yards – which, like the hills, would leave almost no vegetation since most of the green we see are from non-natives. (Hypocrite UC even has a book about their many exotic trees on campus.) Why the inconsistency – why are the non native plants in the cities being spared while the wild animals’ homes and food will be destroyed?

    At the East Bay Regional Park headquarters in the hills where the meeting with FEMA was held,, and where tree-killing is planned, there were many non-native ornamentals. Those Olive trees, Liquidamber, Arbutus Unedo, etc, aren’t going to be eliminated, so why destroy the trees on trails that many of us know personally and love?

    We ask every human who is against the beautiful exotic trees, what do you have in your own garden? If you don’t want to be a hypocrite, first cut down your olives, roses, magnolias, wisteria, jasmine, apples, peaches, plums, etc. before you deprive wild animals of their homes and food. Most people don’t even know which trees are native and which are not. But 99% of the plants in people’s yards and gardens are not native.

    Actually, there is a reason that the vast majority of city plantings are done with non-natives. They contribute variety and beauty, and fthey feed and house an incredible diversity of birds, butterflies, etc. (The only truly problematical invasive is Hedera Canariensis, which completely covers trees and kills them. It can be seem from Highway 13 in Oakland and in many other public places, where it has been growing for decades and can be seen completely covering redwoods. We have called those responsible for decades and have been told that they don’t see it or don’t have the time. That is another reason why it makes no sense to kill healthy trees, while letting healthy natives be killed by ivy.)

    Of course we are not actually suggesting that people kill their non-native plant or cut down street trees and other landscaping, but we object to the double standard of where the wild animals are to be deprived of their homes and food while humans keep their non-native plants. Why should only the native animals suffer? No non-native human should be giving a death sentence to the native animals who will die as a result of this planned environmental devastation.

    There will be many persuasive arguments for committing this irreparable environmental devastation, but please don’t believe them. We’ve seen terrible harm already done in the name of environmentalism in the Bay Area. A few hours of well-intentioned work can result in permanent ecological damage.

    For those who insist on eliminating non-natives, we suggest we start with the humans, and then the introduced non-native animals who kill millions of native animals each year. And why not kill all the honeybees as well since they’re from Europe?

    The animals, as well as the trees, are not just “things” in humans’ territory. They are planning the killing of living, feeling beings. When people are often depressed from the dark and rain in winter, the gorgeous acacias bloom brilliant golden for two months. The broom with their yellow, exquisitely fragrant blossoms bloom for months during winter and spring.

    Please learn who this project will actually benefit. Find out the details before it’s too late.

    Please know that if this “project” begins, it will be far more destructive than they have told anyone. Expect the worst.

    Once our beautiful forests are gone, we will be left with bare, ugly hillsides with poisoned stumps, impending erosion and landslides, [olluted waterways, the wildlife left homeless, with many animals dead, many native plants also destroyed, the topsoil ruined, and the beauty gone forever. Few urban areas have such amazing wilderness. What a tragedy to mindlessly destroy it. We should all be grateful for what we have here. No non-native human should disparage non-native plants.

    The FEMA money is desperately needed elsewhere. Please do not waste this money by making a few people rich at the expense of the people, animals, environment, beauty of our parks. Please don’t create a new environmental disaster under the guise of preventing one.

    Bev Von Dohre

    Slakewings@aol.com

  5. Ann Krooth says:

    Dear Sierra Club,

    PLEASE READ THE FACTS AND RE-THINK YOUR POSITION. YOU ARE GENERALLY A VERY HIGHLY RESPECTED ORGANIZATION AND PEOPLE RELY ON YOU FOR THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR ENVIRONMENT.

    IT IS HONORABLE TO WITHDRAW YOUR SUPPORT AND GIVE A CLEAR EXPLANATION FOR THAT DECISION IF YOU HAVE MADE A MISTAKE. WHEN YOU LOOK MORE CLOSELY AT THE FACTS, I THINK YOU WILL WANT TO. PLEASE.

    ANN KROOTH

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