January 20, 2017

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

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