East Bay hills tree removal debate catches fire

by on May 23, 2013

These eucalyptus were removed in a collaborative project between the East Bay Regional Park District and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy. Photo by Dan Rademacher.


On the Map


Last week, a post on the news website BeyondChron.org lit up our corner of the internet: it popped up in emails, on Facebook, and on Twitter with a scathing review of a proposal to remove nonnative trees from hundreds of acres scattered across the East Bay Hills.

For many local residents, especially those who arrived after the 1991 East Bay firestorm, the proposal seemed to come out of nowhere. Most people who lived through that fire or who live in the hills know this particular proposal has been a decade and more in the making, and the debate over fuels reduction in the hills goes back at least 20 years.

The image of clear-cut hillsides and hundreds of gallons of herbicides raining down on the “currently pristine hills” brought people out in droves. A public meeting at Claremont Middle School attracted a standing-room only crowd, and most speakers were critical of the plan.

Whatever one thinks of the current plans, it’s important to remember that the East Bay hills are anything but pristine: Native grasslands were almost entirely replaced by invasive grasses centuries ago. Eucalyptus plantations took over open oak woodlands. We built golf courses and houses and roads and planted all kinds of exotic trees and ivy and blackberry.

And, every so often, the warm, dry Diablo Winds blow from the east and a lot of that stuff burns.

Eucalyptus north of Claremont Ave

These eucalyptus north of Claremont Avenue are mostly thin and densely packed because they grew back as stump sprouts after a major freeze in 1972. These trees would be removed by UC Berkeley under a proposed plan being considered by FEMA. Photo by Dan Rademacher.

Now, the Federal Emergency Management Authority is in the final stages of reviewing a fire management plan that covers a thousand acres in a patchwork stretching from Richmond to San Leandro.

That’s a lot of land, but much of the debate has focused on Claremont Canyon, and to a lesser degree Strawberry Canyon, where all the public entities involved — UC Berkeley, the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), and the City of Oakland — own land. These canyons are also nearest where the 1991 fire started.

“We are smaller scope in terms of fire management,” says Tom Klatt, who manages the work for UC Berkeley, “But we are in one of the most critical areas. We have the two undeveloped canyons that run east to west and are most vulnerable in Diablo wind conditions.”

Those are winds that blow from east to west, bringing hot, dry air with them, producing conditions where any wildfire is likely to spread like, well, wildfire.

A key premise is that habitats with more native plants — oak-bay woodlands, chaparral, and grasslands (all of which co-evolved with fire) — are more fire-safe than are fairly dense forests of eucalyptus and pine. A second premise is that the way to bring those habitats back is to aggressively remove nonnative trees across large areas, and then follow up for ten years with treatments (including herbicides) to kill any returning invasives.

As I tried to get a handle on this, I realized that there simply is no short version of this story.

So I decided to talk not just to Tom Klatt, but also to four other people with unique perspectives on the place and the plan. So we hear from a biologist, a neighbor and gardener, a historian and retired park manger, a skeptic, and Klatt, a key project manager.

The Biologist

Lech Naumovich helping out at Garber Park, Photo by Mary Millman

Lech Naumovich helping out at Garber Park, Photo by Mary Millman

Lech Naumovich, who runs the Golden Hour Restoration Institute, was the conservation analyst for the East Bay chapter of the California Native Plant Society and now he does consulting work for various agencies and nonprofits, including EBRPD and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy.

“There’s a lot of assumptions in these documents about how fires start, how they develop, how they become really extreme crown fires,” says Naumovich, referring to the 3,500-page Environmental Impact Statement.

Naumovich worries that when large sums of money are spent on massive removal projects, the grassroots education component gets neglected, and it’s during grassroots projects that many people learn about how defensible space around their own homes can effectively keep neighborhoods from burning.

“The number one thing is for people to take care of their own backyards,” he says. “People are out in the parks weeding and then they start talking about things they’ve done in their own yards. These bigger projects that are done by contractors, they are impersonal, and you lose a lot of that educational component. That’s why I value the grassroots: people interact and have conversations.”

He particularly singled out the work at Oakland’s Garber Park (which we covered in 2011) and restoration around Stonewall Road in Berkeley.

“The nice thing about the sequential project over there by Stonewall is that people are involved in helping maintain it,” he explains. “It’s not a one and done, [like another site up the canyon]: It was a one and done and you’re left with six feet of mulch on the ground.”

The Gardener

Marilyn Goldhaber in Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, photo by Dan Rademacher

Marilyn Goldhaber, who lives on Stonewall Road near the west end of Claremont Canyon. She has worked to promote natives and keep thistle and broom at bay in Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, behind her house.

Sticky monkeyflower, photo by Marilyn Goldhaber

The hillside behind Marilyn Golhaber’s home is full of sticky monkeyflower and other native plants.

At the top of Stonewall Road, just about every day, you can find Marilyn Goldhaber tending the hillside above her house, pulling out thistle and broom to make way for natives, including the large swathes of sticky monkeyflower that were in bloom when I visited.

Full disclosure: Goldhaber and her husband, Nat, are donors to Bay Nature Institute. She’s also been quite active with the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, which strongly supports the FEMA grants and the large-scale removal of eucalyptus.

One of the worries about such tree removal is that other weeds like broom and thistle might invade and take over.

That’s not happening on Goldhaber’s watch in this one area, anyway. The park district removed eucalyptus here a number of years ago, and then Goldhaber has worked out agreements that allow her to do her work here on parts of Claremont Canyon Regional Park.

“There’s an element of trust, but once you build that trust, they’re happy to have the help,” she said.

Naumovich was hired by the Claremont Canyon Conservancy to assess vegetations management activities at two locations in the canyon, and he singled out the hillside behind Goldhaber’s home as a pattern to follow.

“We were inspired by the richness and diversity of this managed coastal scrub,” he wrote in his final report. “This area should serve as a model.”

But that means a commitment to ongoing work by park neighbors.

“It’s minutes at a time, so it’s not huge,” she says. “But it is every day.”

As we walked, she pulled a few broom seedlings and told me how after the district cleared and burned brush here, she meticulously pulled 100 broom seedlings at a time, five days a week. “I figured I personally pulled 10,000 broom seedlings.”

The Historian

Restored area south of Claremont

South of Claremont Avenue, eucalyptus have been removed in patched between 2001 and 2007. Some redwoods were planted, but oaks, bays, and other trees and shrubs have also grown back on their own. Advocates of tree removal point to this area as a success.

When I asked retired EBRPD manager, East Bay historian, and Claremont Canyon Conservancy board member Jerry Kent for his take on the situation, he was happy to talk. But he also made sure to send me an article in progress called “The Blue Gum Quandary,” in which, among other things, he chronicled all the major known plantings of eucalyptus in the region, starting in 1853.

And he reminded me that one of the key areas for removal, the forest on the north side of Claremont Avenue beyond Garber Park, was not exactly the product of those original plantings. Instead, a long, hard freeze in 1972 killed thousands of those original trees. The standing dead stems were removed, but eucalyptus are notoriously persistent in stump sprouting, so new trees grew up from the stumps of the old. These new trees are thinner, denser, and often not so structurally sound.

On the south side of Claremont Avenue, the post-freeze eucalyptus have been removed, and other trees and shrubs have moved in. But the eucalyptus on the north side remain.

“The Claremont Canyon Conservancy has worked with the university for about 10 years removing eucalyptus suckers, and the end result is a nice bay-oak woodland with some redwoods that were planted there,” Kent says. “You can see a before and after there. The after is on the south side of the road as you are driving up, and the current is on the north side.”

To Kent, the FEMA environmental documents represent the state of the art for fire and fuels management.

“The hills have been probably the most studied area in California since the ’91 fire. No other area in California has had that kind of intense study. The [EIS] recommends a move toward native vegetation that’s less flammable and less costly.”

The Skeptic

California bay laurel, creative commons photo by Gregory Jordan

Grassetti questions whether natives like this California bay laurel are actually less fire-prone then eucalyptus. Creative commons photo by Gregory Jordan

Dan Grassetti, who leads the Hills Conservation Network and lives in the canyon, has his own view of whether native vegetation is less flammable.

“It’s a bad idea to mix the native and nonnative discussion with fire risk,” he says. “Some folks seem to have decided that because something is native, the fire risk must be acceptable. But this is about fire risk, not about native plant restoration. FEMA intended these funds for fire-risk mitigation.”

He’d like to see the forests cleared of understory vegetation and debris that can serve as ladder fuels, which then can ignite the crowns of the trees and turn a small fire into an unstoppable inferno.

“We have an unnatural situation here,” he says. “There should be small fires burning through the understory on a regular basis, but because we won’t let that happen, we have this massive buildup of ground fuel.”

To him then, the height and mass of eucalyptus is an advantage: if ladder fuels are removed and trees are “limbed up,” then it’s much less likely that a fire will jump from the ground into the crown. He even goes so far as to say that native bay trees, which don’t grow nearly as tall as eucalyptus, might be more fire-prone, because more of their small, flammable leaves and branches are close to the ground.

“The crown on a eucalyptus is very high. And what percentage of a bay tree is fine fuels? What percentage is at or near ground level?” he asks. “If you choose to vilify bay trees, you could do that too.”

Grassetti says he sees a “personal philosophy” at work in the proposed projects that simply favors native vegetation, and he disagrees with that philosophy. “Native is great, but there’s nothing to say that native are an acceptable fire risk and nonnative isn’t.”

The Project Manager

Tom Klatt leading a hike, photo by Marilyn Goldhaber

Tom Klatt (right) leading a hike of Claremont Canyon Conservancy members. Photo by Marilyn Goldhaber.

Tom Klatt has been in charge of eucalyptus removal and fuels management for UC Berkeley for more than a decade, and he doesn’t see himself particularly as a native plant advocate.

“We’re not really in the native stewardship business,” he says. “I started this as a disaster planner. It’s primarily focused on fire safety. But to get a project approved, you have to have consultations with many, many regulatory agencies, and they’ll each have their concerns. The removal of eucalyptus is probably the most beneficial from U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s perspective. It’s removal is seen as a 100 percent net benefit.”

[Editor's note: The following paragraph has been edited (as of May 28, 2013) to include more detail on eucalyptus as habitat.] I asked Klatt about habitat for raptors, but he doesn’t buy claims that eucalyptus can provide habitat for raptors, beyond an occasional perch: “Owls tend to gravitate toward snags, and the eucalyptus doesn’t rot in that way, and because the trees are so tall, you have a lot of sway in the top branches. As the trees come down, we inspect them for nests, and it’s not something we’ve seen. They do perch in them, but we just don’t see the nests in them.” I couldn’t find a survey of nesting in eucalyptus for Claremont Canyon, but Dan Suddjian did one for Monterey in 2004 and we mentioned that in our 2006 story on the good and bad of eucalyptus. Suddjian also notes that eucs aren’t ideal for cavity nesters, but he did find 59 species of birds nesting in eucalyptus, and 90 species that use the trees regularly for perching, roosting, and feeding. That’s a lot of birds. On the other hand, he found that bird species that favor oak woodlands and riparian areas lose out in the presence of densely planted eucalyptus. It’s hard to know how that plays one way or the other: some creatures will lose out, and some will benefit. But clearly removing eucs isn’t a 100 percent gain in habitat broadly considered.

Since Klatt started the work in 2001, he’s analyzed past failed efforts at eucalyptus removal and found that herbicide must be directly applied, “dribbled on” in his words, a thin ring around the stump (the cambium) within 180 seconds of a tree’s being cut down to prevent the regrowth of suckers.

“The intention is that in any area we touch, the eucalyptus, [Monterey] pine, and acacia will be extirpated,” he says. “In our most recent efforts, we’ve gradually come to the herbicide application design that’s been shown to be 95 percent effective in killing the trees the first time. If you do it right, it takes one or two ounces per tree for mortality.”

He also doesn’t have much patience for other approaches or claims that the projects don’t include enough follow-up.

“This thinning suggestion is frankly not a viable alternative. To get 20 to 30 foot space, you’d have to remove 80 to 90 percent of the trees, and the remainder would serve as a seedstock. We’d end up back where we started. The suggestion that we go in every year and rake up debris is not a viable alternative unless you’re some place like a parkland campground with flat terrain,” he says. “We’ve learned this lesson over and over again. You want to do your heavy removal one time. But that doesn’t mean you finished your action. Then you’re dealing with coppicing or resprouting of trees, and that goes on two or three times a year for a decade or as long as necessary.”

That’s where volunteers come in.

“You have to be in the area. We developed trail systems so volunteers can help us. The Claremont Canyon Conservancy has 600 households and they are actively working to help with monthly stewardship days. It’s really a partnership and it does take a while. Without that infusion of volunteer labor, it would be vastly more difficult and expensive. They are a major source of labor and eyes on the ground.”

What’s next?

Student volunteers with a weed wrench, Photo by Marilyn Goldhaber

Two UC Berkeley students use weed wrenches to remove French broom. Photo by Marilyn Goldhaber.

FEMA is accepting public comment until June 17. Here are instructions on how to comment.

According to the timeline posted on the project website, a final EIS will be prepared this summer, followed by a final 30-day comment period and a record of decision, all by “summer 2013.”

And we’ll give Lech Naumovich the last word:

“If anything, I really applaud that there are some good discussions going on about our role in the landscape and stewardship. There are always fringe ideas out there, but there’s also a lot of good that comes of these conversations.”

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Maxine Davis on May 23rd, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Agree, euks should be removed for fire safety. I have two gigantic euks on my property and only wish I had this information to remove while they were smaller. Kudos to the residents of the Berkeley Hills for preventing wildfires, saving lives and property. Euks are more like weeds than trees. Nothing can grow under them because they tarnish the soil beneath them and they are ugly.

Cat Taylor on May 24th, 2013 at 7:35 am

Thanks, Dan, for a nicely balanced article which pulls in a lot of perspectives and great information!

Tony Holiday on May 24th, 2013 at 9:40 am

I cannot believe the arrogance and ugliness of certain “native plant nuts” who are apparently overjoyed at the very thought of beautiful, healthy trees cut down and dangerous poisons slathered all over our hillsides. There are more environmentally safe ways to trim back plants so that fire danger is minimized. The proponents of this idiocy are way out of line and I can’t believe their misguided ignorance in these days of global warming, other idiots wanting to be allowed to “hunt” in certain national parks, and would-be destroyers of our endangered ecosystem. I say let them know in no uncertain terms that they’re way off base here and we’re not going to let them destroy our beautiful forests; this is going way too far and we should not let them brainwash us with their harmful propaganda.

Janet Gawthrop on May 24th, 2013 at 10:03 am

If anyone needs more information on the relative flammability of Eucalyptus, I recommend checking Internet postings from Australia. For starters, wherever D. Grasetti got his hearsay about “limbing up” fire prevention of Eucalyptus, it directly contradicted by the far more comprehensive and scientific information available from Parks & Wildlife Service-Tasmania at http://www.parks.tas.gov.au. Especially interesting to me was the map and summary of all the prescribed burns going on this month in Tasmania public lands. It is in no way anti-Eucalyptus or anti-Austrayen to say fire is an unavoidable aspect of Eucalyptus.

Marilyn Goldhaber on May 24th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Bay Nature is the best! Always accurate, never unkind.

Bob Strayer on May 24th, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Gee Tony, you sure have a way of winning people over.
I never realize I was an idiot for supporting native habitat, or believing the evidence for global warming.
Sure glad you cleared that all up for me.

Lech Naumovich on May 24th, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Thanks for the great work Dan. I know there are layers and layers of research here which are difficult to represent. Reducing fire risk does have a cost. It also has some great benefits, beyond the increased safety. Most of all, I’m scared about the implementation of this project as that is where the greatest damage and benefit can occur.

I’m excited to hear conversation about other alternatives and pathways to fire safety, but I have yet to hear a different, reasonable opinion on how we improve upon the current situation other than removing some of critical fuel load.

Delia on May 24th, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Driving along Grizzly Peak, on the way to the steam trains, one can see the results of Eucalyptus removal done a few years ago. There are large Eucalyptus logs laid flat, holding back the soil, and oaks, bays, and coyote bush growing nicely. I am glad that the best scientifically determined methods are being used to remove the hazardous trees and efforts are made to allow the native vegetation to return.

Keith McAllister on May 25th, 2013 at 8:43 am

It’s a good thing that you have publicized these projects. But a more balanced presentation would not have included three spokespeople for the Claremont Canyon Conservancy and only one skeptic.

As you point out, the key assumption behind these projects is that native vegetation is less flammable than non-native vegetation. This is simply prejudice, and not supported by evidence. For example, eucalyptus forest existed on Angel Island for 100 years without ever burning. In 1996 most of the eucs were clearcut. In 2008 a spectacular fire roared through the native vegetation that now occupied the cleared island. The fire stopped on its own at the edge of the remnant euc forest.

You also identify another key assumption of the projects: that native vegetation will return to the areas after they are cleared, without any replanting. But the account of the gardener in your story, and the years of work by Klatt in Claremont Canyon, show that is a very questionable assumption. Continual gardening will be required (but not likely happen), or the same old non-natives like broom will re-colonize the areas.

Mary McAllister on May 25th, 2013 at 8:43 am

Pretty well balance despite interviewing supporters at a 4 to 1 ratio to critics. Here are the topics that aren’t adequately covered: Klatt and the EIS admit that 1 – 2 ounces of herbicide will be required to kill the roots of the trees after they are destroyed and 5% of them require retreatment. Do the math! The grant applications announce the intention to destroy 60,000 trees on UC property and about 25,000 trees on Oakland property (using the same tree density/acre to estimate). That will require between 700 and 1,400 gallons of herbicide.

They intend to use Garlon for that purpose. It is far more toxic than Roundup which will be used to destroy vegetation. It is very toxic to aquatic life so they intend to use Garlon 3A near water sources. Garlon 3A is rated as “flammable” by the EPA. Is that consistent with claims of reduced fire hazard?

Both UC and Oakland say they will chip most of the wood and distribute it 2 feet thick on 20% of the land and leave the bigger pieces of wood lying around on the rest of the project. Anyone who thinks dead wood is less flammable than any living tree is kidding themselves.

Dan Rademacher on May 25th, 2013 at 9:02 am

Thanks, Keith, for your comments. I am contacting some experts on fire ecology to see if there’s scientific data on the flammability of these various habitat types — eucalyptus forests, oak-bay woodlands, and chaparral — and not just likelihood of fire but severity of fire should it occur. I tried Jon Keeley of USGS, who said, “I don’t think I know of much good data comparing these fuels. In large part they are structurally very different and so I am sure their risk is tied to fire behavior characteristics, ie eucalyptus fuels are likely to be more dangerous under high wind conditions since their canopies are held aloft.” He also pointed me to another expert out of Riverside, whom I hope to reach next week.

As for volunteer involvement, if one assumes that fire danger needs to be reduced, then it’s probably a question of what those hours should be spent doing vs. whether they’ll be needed. If we keep and thin the euc forests while removing ladder fuels, that’s also a lot of work that has to be done by someone. Whether that’s more or less work over the long haul, I don’t have the expertise to say.

Dan Rademacher on May 25th, 2013 at 9:08 am

Thanks, Mary, for the further information on herbicide use. I am trying to find some science experts who can speak to this. I am not sure whether an herbicide’s being flammable at the point of application would mean greater fire danger if the removal is being done at low fire-risk times. Many products (paints, wood finishes, etc.) are flammable when applied but not a few hours later. My understanding is that the Garlon is absorbed into the stump quickly. That doesn’t mean using it is a good idea, but I’m not sure fire danger at that point would be an issue.

Some folks have also asked about risks to amphibians. I am trying to find out more about that.

Bev Von Dohre on May 25th, 2013 at 1:11 pm

There are so many worries with this project. Many animals, including endangered animals will be killed. We have no idea how many, but it’s inevitable. The Alameda Whipsnake is just one vulnerable species who is already rarely seen. Native animals, like raptors, have adapted to and prefer tall non-native trees. I regularly hike in mixed native and exotic forest and see the eucalyptus being the trees where the Great Horned Owls and Red-Shouldered Hawks nest, while they ignore the oaks and bays.

It’s being mostly ignored that the project will destroy the Monterey pines. I(No one is mentioning the magnificent Monterey Cypress, but I’m assuming they will all be destroyed too.) If you go to some of the most beautiful East Bay parks, it’s the pines that are providing shade and beauty. Look at Inspiration Point in Berkeley. Then look east to the burnt, dry hills covered in dead grass to see the difference. Oak and bay, etc. do not easily re-seed and spread in that non-native dry, hard soil that is compressed and damaged by years of non-native cattle grazing. (And no, the EBRP propaganda that cattle increase plant and wildflower diversity is the opposite of the truth if anyone really looks.) The grass under mixed native/non-native tall trees is still green and moist from precipitating inches of water out of fog.

The introduced Monterey pines create an incredible habitat for a variety of animals, again with far more native species than in the oak/bay forest. More species of plants, including mushrooms, grow in the mixed pine and native forest because they allow more sunlight through that in oak/bay forest only. If you want to look for hawks, kestrels, kites, woodpeckers, owls, etc., go where there are Monterey pines. They are beautiful trees that, contrary to myth, can live 120 years. Every part of their entire life cycle provides an enormous variety of habitat. The young trees are growing while adults stand with many bird and other species using them, while the dead snags are perfect for lookouts for raptors and granaries for acorn woodpeckers.

We are lucky to have these trees creating habitat and species diversity, especially when we have no idea how long our native forests might live with Sudden Oak Death spreading.

Recently, I went to Miller-Knox EBRP and saw that except for a handful of tiny native trees, every beautiful tree there, that people were huddling under to get shade, were introduced non-natives. And when I asked if they knew those trees, they had no idea. Will that park be emptied of trees? I don’t think Pt. Pinole is on the list yet it’s covered in eucalyptus, as is Albany Hill. I’m wondering about the double standards, not to mention that almost every yard and bit of landscaping in the East Bay is non-native, from street trees to gardens. EBRP alone has olives, liquid ambers, etc.

Why should the already besieged native animals lose their homes, food, and lives, when the non-native humans keep their own non-native plants?

It’s horrifying to think that the one thing that makes the East Bay special and beautiful is the extent of forest which might be destroyed — and without people even knowing or voting.

People forget that these trees are living, feeling beings.

Bev Von Dohre on May 25th, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Sorry to go on, but there are so many aspects to this.

I’m concerned that once this project has begun, there will be increased herbicide use, which is already happening throughout the Bay Area. I’m concerned too about the bias of “experts.” Audubon sought out the advice for the Burrowing Owl project at Cesar Chavez park in Berkeley, but it was the opposite of what the owls needed and wanted, which they could have found out if they’d instead asked the people who had been watching and loving the owls for years instead of the “experts.” At Pt. Reyes, “expert” advice let to putting a boardwalk in the middle of the area where we used to see endangered Clapper Rail, who we no longer see. They also completely destroyed a beautiful little lake where egrets nested, and where there were kingfishers, black phoebe, muskrats, a variety of waterbirds, and which provided water for many native animals. That exquisite habitat is gone forever and must have cost a fortune to destroy.

The experts who once assured us that DDT, Dieldrin, Chlordane, etc. were safe and saying newer poisons are safe. But the cancer rate continues to rise, as does birth defects, neuological illness, and auto-immune illness, etc. all associated with herbicide use. Meanwhile, how many animals are dying? Once the herbiciding begins, we don’t really know what will happen. I’ve seen how vulnerable areas of the EBRP have been destroyed because someone made a mistake with clearing all vegetation to the ground in an area with rare plants.

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

The herbiciding is already a disaster with killing animals and we have no idea how many are affected. Along roads, it affects the little streams that form, killing more animals than those who just walk through it. After seeing a California Newt dying a horrible death from crossing an herbicided area along Pinehurst Road, I tried contacting those in charge since there was no reason to herbicide there. When the plants die back after the rains stop, they are the same size as those which are killed with herbicide, yet they continue spraying and so much wildlife is exposed to the poison. Those involved did not want the herbiciding to stop since it was their careers.

NO amount of herbicide is ever safe. But Monsanto’s experts disagree of course.

There are so many problems and contradictions with this and other projects. I see notices for organized broom removal, yet broom doesn’t directly harm the environment, unlike Hedera Canariensis/Algerian ivy, which can be seen along HWY 13, 580 and elsewhere, completely covering plums, redwoods, and other trees. Those dead trees will make serious fire risk, yet I’ve been pleading with those responsible to cut the ivy, which is easy and quick to do, and they say they don’t see it or are too busy. In many parks, ivy is destroying everything, including the attempts to restore Sausal Creek. As the bird eat the fruit and spread the seeds, ivy will continue to spread into the parks, eventually killing everything. Why does this project not focus on removing the ivy?

The planned chipping and mulching will also not only make more fire danger, but will destroy the native bees, who need clear soil for nesting. As honeybees die, we may need the little non-native bees. That is another example of how the proposed project is flawed.

Again, we are lucky to have such a diverse forest and parks, with trees who are even more drought tolerant than native trees, which is relevant with climate change. (Not to mention, how can anyone consider killing trees so desperately needed for shade, moisture, and oxygen?) Acacias are another beautiful, disease-resistant tree, yet they want to kill them? Why? No significant fire has occurred on 22 years, and none has occurred under our mixed forests. Why kill the trees and animals, destroy the environment, cause landslides, poison the earth and air, damage the earth with machinery, and destroy our beautiful parks?

Another aspect is that the Monterey Pine greatly enriches the soil, creating thick humus which does nurture oak, bay, etc. seedlings. But under the drier areas with eucalyptus and oak/bay forest, the soil is less conducive to encouraging new growth, which leaves dry, barren hills where the trees have been killed.

Madeline Hovland on May 25th, 2013 at 11:06 pm

There is no scientific basis to the idea that native vegetation is more resistant to fire than non-native. As someone who lived through the 1991 fire, I saw that all the vegetation burned, both native and non-native; coast live oaks and even redwoods burned right down to their roots. Native chaparral brush (such as coyote bush, chamise, and scrub oaks) are extremely flammable with flame lengths much higher than eucalyptus. Chaparral forms dense impenetrable thickets with lots of deadwood underneath the branches with small, green, oily leaves. (An excellent introduction to this subject is Introduction to Fire in California by David Carle (UC Press).) Tall trees such as eucalyptus provide habitat for many animals, as well as shade canopy that inhibits the growth of flammable weeds, brush and grass. Tall trees also absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store carbon in their trunks. If the trees are cut down, and chipped, the C02 will go back into the air, adding to the greenhouse emissions that are warming our planet. The proposals described in the EIS, especially the UC projects, will create an environmental disaster that will affect many more people than those who live in the hills.

tina juarez on May 26th, 2013 at 8:49 am

What about the skunks and racoons and deer and little birds.. are they going to want to come down hill and live with the humans? Bees depend on eucalyptus for nectar and pollen year ’round, and they are already plenty stressed. Buck eye poisons bees. I am stressed with a $100 monthly assessment on my water bill to pay for repair & rescue of hills’ peoples landslides and the prospect of more instability to come as a result of this plan.

David Rodriguez on May 26th, 2013 at 10:14 am

All plant growth is fuel. Yes, some trees (eucalyptus, bay) have more volatile oils and burn faster or hotter, but getting rid of the eucalyptus does not mean that there wont be fire in the Oakland hills after the they are gone. In other areas of California there are proposals to mulch entire ecosystems to reduce the fire load near housing. My guess is that if FEMA has their way they would mulch the entire Oakland ridge and be done with it. Rule number one, Follow The Money.

Luckily we environmentalist keep raising our voices so that some consideration is given to the plants and animals we share this world with. Its my view that this is a half baked plan and they are trading the environmental future of our East Bay hills for a quick, low cost solution. I really don’t have a huge problem removing the non-native trees and shrubs, but what are they leaving behind.

Eucalyptus leaves are extremely allelopathic which means they deter plant growth, plus they take a long time to decompose. Do they plan to mulch the eucalyptus leaves with the wood, or are they just chipping the wood and removing the leaves? My guess is that they will be mulching it all together which is a mistake. The leaves should be removed from the area.

A 3-4 inch layer of any wood chip would be enough to deter “weed” growth for quite some time, if that were a goal. But why would anyone want to deter weed growth, plants are our friends. Perhaps they consider a “weed” anything smaller than an established redwood because dumping 24 inches of eucalyptus wood chips and leaves will deter almost all plant life, even seedling oaks and bays, for many years.

Is this a cost cutting measure because they don’t want to separate the eucalyptus leaves or haul out the excessive amount of chips and use them on trails or other areas where appropriate?

The other problem I see is that there isn’t a plan to reintroduce native plant / tree species in these areas nor (as far as I know) a plan to monitor the native plant ecosystem. Personally I don’t see that many seedling oaks but maybe they are there. But even so, they are but a small part of a complex community of plants that support native insects and mammals. If you are aware of the challenges the European honey bees are facing then please take a moment to consider our native bees and realize that their habitat is being eradicated more quickly than you can imagine. There are a number of native plant nurserys here in the bay area that could benefit from a little business.

Why not have a complete plan rather than the cut, dump and run scenario proposed. This is our backyard and If we cant get this done right here, in the bay area, where are people to look for an example with vision.

David R.

p.s. If you believe that controlled burns are good for our environment or help reduce large fires, then think again, they may not be.

California Chaparral Institute: Fire and Science

Chaparral Fire Science Debate Continues

Linda Giannoni on May 26th, 2013 at 10:21 am

First, I want to thank Bay Nature for your beautiful and educational magazine. However, I do not agree with the bias shown in this particular article.

I agree with the excellent well-informed responses that detail what’s wrong with the proposed project and that present sound alternatives. In addition to grounding ourselves in pertinent knowledge about all aspects of this issue, it’s also important to keep in mind that—contrary to the slant of Dan’s article and the accompanying photos—this proposed project would not be carefully carried out by nice people with hand tools whose motives are completely sincere. We’re talking bulldozers, chain saws, clear-cutting and toxic poisoning. We’re talking people in power with mixed motives at best and financial self-interest at worst.

I encourage anyone who, like me, wasn’t at the May 18th meeting for public commentary to FEMA, to watch the video of the meeting (see link below). There’s a special vivid immediacy to seeing and hearing the variety and depth of different people’s knowledge, perspectives, and personal experiences—something that’s difficult to convey on the printed page. I was very moved, and I learned a lot even though I’d already read a great deal.


The following is what I wrote in my comment to FEMA. I wanted to keep it short, so I didn’t comment on possible alternatives.

As a longtime resident of Oakland (since 1973), I oppose this project. It would have devastating long-lasting environmental consequences. It would greatly increase the risk of fire: by removing the shade and fog drip of thousands of trees and thus increasing dry heat; by placing tons of dead wood onto bare ground; by leaving space for non-native grasses and brush to fill in and become a true fire hazard; by destroying wind breaks; and by doing prescribed burns that could easily get out of control. Most fires start in dry grass and brush, not under moist tree canopy where captured fog often drips down even in summer. Even the maligned eucalyptus trees have been documented as resisting raging brush fires.

As if increased fire hazard is not bad enough, the toxic herbicides used in this project would poison the woodlands and surrounding areas—earth, air, creeks and ultimately the Bay—damaging the health of exposed humans and animals for many years to come.

Killing thousands of trees would destroy vast areas of bird and animal habitat. It would also release the carbon sequestered in those trees into the atmosphere. Not to mention the destruction and pollution inflicted by the machinery used to kill the trees.

This project would be a shameful use of tax money, resulting in the opposite of its stated purpose and causing only enormous harm.

Madeline Hovland on May 26th, 2013 at 10:54 am

I made a comment on this article yesterday, and I do not see it here. Did you decide that you were getting too many comments against the FEMA EIS projects? Your article is certainly unbalanced, so perhaps you want your comments to also be one-sided, in favor of the projects? At any rate, I repeat what I wrote yesterday, that these projects, especially the UC one, as proposed to FEMA in the EIS, would be an environmental disaster, and that they affect everyone, not just the people who happen to be fortunate enough to live in our beautiful hills–which will be not so beautiful if the EIS projects go forward. Then they will eventually be covered with masses of impenetrable thickets of highly flammable chaparral–which is much more flammable than eucalyptus trees. I also mentioned yesterday the value of tall eucalyptus trees in absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in their trunks and branches. When these trees are cut down and chipped, the carbon they have sequestered will be discharged into the air, adding to the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet. I witnessed the 1991 fire up close, and I can tell you that all of the vegetation in the path of the wind and the flames burned, native and non-native. I saw oaks and redwoods, along with chaparral brush burn down to their roots. To say that native vegetation resists fire displays the ignorance of those who make that claim.

Dan Rademacher on May 26th, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Madeline, apologies for the delay in approving your comment. We certainly have no intention of being biased, and certainly not in our comment moderation. We’re simply a small outfit and it had been a little while since I had checked the comment queue.

Paul Belz on May 26th, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Dan, good balanced article. There are a few more issues. First, what type of herbicide will be used, and what Impacts will it have on native species? There’s also the question of whether clear cutting of eucalyptus is a wise idea… . Yes, eucalyptus has a destructive impact on native ecosystems. but clear cutting would lead to erosion. Granted, soil is degraded by the acids in eucalyptus leaves, but erosion will add to the loss of soil. Also, these naturalists discussed how many native species have adapted to the presence of eucalyptus; for example, red tailed hawks nest in them. Gradual removal of eucalyptus along with a plan where land managers remove seedlings could be another way to go.

Dan Rademacher on May 26th, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Far as I know, garlon is used on the stumps, then glyphosate later on encroaching broom and stump-sprouting eucs.

I hope to revisit the habitat question. Tom Klatt said they just don’t find nests in the trees, and they check every one, he says.

But I know owls nest in eucs in McLaren Park and I’ve certainly heard many times about red-tails and other raptors using them a lot for roosts and nests.

And the there’s overwintering monarchs, though that might be concentrated enough that ebrpd cools plan around it.

Gradual removal seems reasonable to me too, but I’ve never tried it of course, and Klatt would disagree. Is that greater knowledge or stubbornness? You’ll have to judge that for yourself.

I hiked from Orinda to Oakland via Claremont Canyon today and you can pretty much have your pick of conditions: big eucs with little understory, little eucs full of fuel, nice oak woodlands, impenetrable broom thickets, ugly mulched areas, etc. I don’t think there are easy answers here.

Bev Von Dohre on May 26th, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I’m sorry, but the answers are very easy. Some of us who have lived in the East Bay for decades simply do not believe that the beautiful exotic forest is any danger at all. We see the grass still green underneath were it’s brown and like tinder on the open hills. Just leave it all alone, with not one tree life or animal life destroyed. I’m still surprised at the lack of consideration about the resulting birth defects, cancer, and auto-immune illnesses which will be caused by the extensive poisoning.

Let the native animals tell us what they think. I hike in a mixed forest that is extensive native with a bit of eucalyptus and I see where the raptors are nesting: Great Horned Owls and Red-shouldered Hawks are in the few eucalyptus.

Let Bay Nature tell us, with the lovely article about the returning Bald Eagles nesting at Lake Chabot. Bay Nature has a video and photos. Guess where the eagle chicks are born and raised? Eucalyptus. It’s shown in the photos and article. 200 acres of Eucalyptus are scheduled for clear-cutting. Has anyone commented on the eagles? If they are nesting if the project has begun, will their tree be cut down, killing rare baby Bald Eagles? Or will they just kill their home when they are gone, so they have no place to nest and raise chicks?

Why would anyone in their right mind destroy habitat for Bald Eagles?

Bev Von Dohre on May 26th, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Bald eagles have returned to nest at Anthony Chabot

May 08, 2013 by Alison Hawkes

Bald eagles have returned to nest for a second year in a restricted section of the park.

Mary McAllister on May 27th, 2013 at 9:16 am

Dan, Are you aware that your email to Jake Sigg is visible on his latest Nature News on the internet, where anyone can see it? I’m not surprised that you admit that you don’t have time to read the DEIS, given that the controversial issues aren’t mentioned in your article. Yes, it’s a long document, but there is a short Executive Summary that you could have read before you wrote this article. If you had read even that much of the DEIS you would know that critics of these destructive projects are not exaggerating. Since you haven’t read it, your article qualifies as advocacy, not journalism.

Dan Rademacher on May 27th, 2013 at 11:44 am

Mary, I am aware that Jake included my email in his newsletter, but let me clarify: I did read the executive summary of the DEIS, twice, and then did five interviews for the story. I did not read the full document, I admit. I suspect there are few involved in this who have read the entire document. If reading the full EIS documents were the prerequisite for covering this issue, I don’t think we’d see much coverage anywhere.

In my article, I have Lech Naumovich saying he is concerned that the plan will be implemented poorly, as a “one and done” without sufficient volunteer involvement and follow-through, which could lead to more weeds rather than less. I have Dan Grassetti questioning the whole premise that native oak/bay woodlands and chaparrals are less flammable than nonnatives.

Then, yes, I have Jerry Kent and Tom Klatt supporting the plan based on their views that the euc forests are too dense and that wholesale removal is the only viable option. Marilyn Goldhaber may be part of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy, but her quotes here simply state the fact that she’s out every day pulling broom, which could be used either as evidence of successful post-removal stewardship or the huge maintenance requirements of removal.

I am not trying to advocate for or against this plan. I am trying to approach it based on the assumption that both sides have good intentions about reducing fire risk while protecting habitats, but that there are very different views on what that can and should look like. I’m sorry that this has come across as advocacy. I plan to do a follow-up this week that focuses on the herbicide use and the habitat values of existing euc forests, getting at two of the key objections to the plan.

Even then, of course, my reporting will be far from comprehensive.

Paul McGee on May 27th, 2013 at 4:47 pm

The opposition to the FEMA wildfire risk reduction plan have a colonialist outlook, based on the Northern and Western European predilection for tall trees at the expense of all other vegetation types, and even other trees, such as coast live oaks and buckeyes. Incidentally, coast live oaks are not “scrub oaks,” shrub-sized oaks which are not found in the East Bay Hills. They call for massive reduction of the “understory” which includes the native bunch grasses, shrubs, and wild flowers (forbs), all in the service of protecting the eucalypts which are the worst offenders in Diablo wind driven fires. Before European settlement, the East Bay Hills were a mosaic of different plant types, not a monoculture. The fire characteristics of eucalypts are, by far, the worst of any tree or plant in the East Bay, due to their height, producing a tall column of flame, the amount of fuel per tree, the high oil content, the shreddy bark, the low hanging branches, the unusual amount of debris they drop, and the long “throw” of their embers as a result of their sickle-shaped leaves. They also out-gas in high heat conditions which can cause the canopy to explode into flame. The idea that all the low hanging limbs and debris could ever be cleaned up is a pipe dream. As for wildlife, raptors did fine without eucalypts until the 1850s. I have seen more owls in live oaks and in large willows and elderberries than in eucalypts. The Alameda whipsnake needs both grassland and shrubland to live. It isn’t found in eucalypt forest. The Australian experience is instructive. They have had many disastrous fires, all starting in eucalypt forests. Eucalypts are the most common trees in Australia, followed by acacias.

Bev Von Dohre on May 27th, 2013 at 5:50 pm

But it’s not the 1850′s. The raptors were almost wiped out by pesticided and we are lucky they have returned. They need support — not to be subjected to their nest trees being clear-cut and herbicide spread, contaminating the only water sources and the devastation of chainsaws and bulldozers, etc. Raptors are under siege and it is significant that they choose eucalyptus because of the height and openness of the branches. I believe they know what they are doing, and the last thing they need is for their nesting trees to be killed.

The project is not about preventing fires, but about getting money for UC and the cities and EBRP, and it will mean environmental devastation that people who have not been notified or given the right to vote will be paying for — in tax dollars but also in the loss the magnificent parks we have. Look at what has already been done:


This is way more than being about eucalyptus. It’s about losing all the magnificent Monterey pines, which support both plant and animal diversity, Monterey cypress, acacias, etc. We have no idea if we will lose all our oaks. Tree species diversitiy is essential, and it is what the native animals have adapted to.

Jett Psaris on May 28th, 2013 at 6:01 pm

#1 Eucalyptus trees have been here for over 100 years. They are, by now, as native as any of us who have come from elsewhere. The relevance of this fact is that our native animals have learned to live with and in these trees, to rely on them in fact. Many of you know that the honey bee is in big trouble: honey bees are relying on the eucalyptus in the hills. If we remove these trees we threaten the lives of all the pollinators and animals who make them their home and have created a new eco-system that includes these trees.

#2 The proposed removal of the eucalyptus includes drenching the stumps with 14,000 gallons of herbicide that will run off the stumps and into the our soil and water table further polluting the land and the bay (these herbicides kill native insects including indispensable pollinators and animal and bird life). Besides that, herbicides are highly flammable. Drenching the land and our waterways with poison is not a sustainable answer.
#3 Trees are our greatest carbon offset. Remove these trees and the impact will be great.
#4 This project is more likely to increase the risk of wildfires, not reduce that risk
#5 This project will damage the environment
#6 This project will create erosion issues

Please take a moment now to participate in this important decision-making process by:

A. Signing the Hills Conservation Network petition to oppose these projects:

B. Comments must be submitted by June 17, 2013. You may submit written comments in several ways:
Via the project website: http://ebheis.cdmims.com
By email: EBH-EIS-FEMA-RIX@fema.dhs.gov
By mail: P.O. Box 72379, Oakland, CA 94612-8579
By fax: 510-627-7147

sam on May 29th, 2013 at 9:18 am

Inoculate the stumps with decomposing mycelium! placed into the cambium layer just like they want to do with the herbicide application would help create a mycelial network moving water to the young natives. Adding herbicides is never a good idea for the ecology. Leaving some taller trees would be paramount for nesting of egrets, herons, raptors and others.

Jonathan on May 29th, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Clearing the Eucalyptus is a great idea. Finding a way to avoid using herbicides to kill the stumps would be better.

All the rhetoric about “historic Claremont canyon” is bosh. Check some old pictures, and you’ll see how the Ohlone kept the hills almost clear of trees of ANY kind.

As a child, I spent a lot of time roaming through mixed oak woodland. Can’t do that with Euc’s – they’re nasty in large numbers, harboring little else but alien invasives and poison oak, not to mention rats. I doubt the people yelling “save the trees at any cost” have ever tried to walk through a Eucalyptus forest. It’s not pleasant. Try going off trail in Chabot Park, and you’ll see what I mean.

I would add only that, in my lucky travels around the world, I have seen Eucalyptus taking over whole forests everywhere. They are a menace to biodiversity – no one here trying to save them seems to realize that.

Jonathan on May 29th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

PS: The area cleared of Euc’s at the top of Claremont Canyon Rd looks terrific!

Bev Von Dohre on May 29th, 2013 at 9:14 pm

“Old pictures” showing how the Ohlone kept the hills without trees? Does someone have a time machine? We have no idea how the Ohlone cared for the land. We only have propaganda supporting the incredibly destructive cattle grazing (which visibly terraces/ruins the hills forever)
that the Spanish introduced and which the EBRP continue. Many of us do not believe the stories about grasslands burned to keep free of trees. And even if that was the case, we need every tree we can now have, for the oxygen, to prevent global warming, and simply to have shade and parks.

Of course we know what eucalyptus are and walk through them. But it’s common nature knowledge that it’s not good to go off-trail in any park because it damages the eco-system as well as being a good way to pick up Ixodes Pacificus and Lyme.

The eucalyptus that I’ve been watching for decades hasn’t spread at all. A few tall trees creating habitat for nesting raptors and migrating Monarchs, surrounded by oak/bay woodland, or beautiful pine forest is how the eucalyptus merges with other trees.

Once the shainsaws start, those nesting trees will be gone. And the important Monterey pines are being ignored in all this, except that they are also targeted for extermination. Find a more perfect habitat for diverse plant and animal species than that provided by Monterey pines.

Again, the plan is a travesty and will lead to more fires and ugly wasteland. Areas where eucalyptus have been killed are beyond depressing. Look east past our forests and see the brown, burnt hillsides with non-native grasses and no animals other than cattle.

Monsanto is a big part of this plan, so if anyone thinks that thousands of gallons of herbicides won’t be bought and applied, permanently poisoning our parks and waterways, they are deluded.

Again, how many birth defects and new cancer and auto-immune illness cases will be the cost of this project, along with the deaths of countless animals and beautiful trees? How can that, and the resulting increased wildfires ever be justified? But it’s all about money….

Valeria Vincent Sancisi on May 30th, 2013 at 5:38 am

The California Chaparral Institute has been battling The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for their oversimplification of burning/ clear cutting policies for months now and have learned wholesale clearcutting and the frequency of controlled burns are not the best way to manage wildlands…http://www.californiachaparral.com/

Bob Strayer on May 30th, 2013 at 6:32 pm

I live in the Claremont canyon. I took these pictures today of what the ground looks like under the eucalyptus grove near my neighborhood. I also took pictures of the native Bay/Oak stand next to it. http://www.flickr.com/photos/96720564@N02/

There is also a petition online supporting the removal project.

Lech on May 30th, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Dan et al.,
I’m very interested in the active participation in this discussion. It seems that there are many people opposed to Eucalyptus removal for the purpose of reducing catastrophic fire events. The question I get from informed is residents is what then is your sustainable solution? There are people who are truly scared by the fire danger. Looking at the history of Oakland, it’s due to burn sometime soon. What do people who care to do nothing about Eucs tell those folks?

One might be tempted to argue that fuels need to managed regularly but what tends to happen is the budgets run thin and this task is often completed in an unsatisfactory manner causing environmental impact to federally endangered plants (such as with the Oakland WPAD). Leaving the situation alone really doesn’t improve it or mitigate fire risk. How do we move forward in a way that is environmentally and fiscally tractable?

Bev Von Dohre on May 31st, 2013 at 1:31 pm

There has been no significant fire for 22 year because fire prevention has improved. Of course there are always risks but there is more fire danger if the trees are removed. Fire starts in grasslands, which is what we will be left with. Look at how much more damp the earth is under the tall trees. Eucalyptus and other tall trees also act as windbreaks, preventing and limiting fires. It’s simply a myth that destroying the best of the East Bay — our parks — will prevent fires. It is also unfair that people who chose to live near the parks and trees, now want millions of tax dollars spent that are desperately needed elsewhere, in order to kill those trees. Seriously, those of us forced to live where there are few trees will happily trade with them.

Bev Von Dohre on May 31st, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Do those who support the destruction of our parks ever go to these parks and really look at what is there? Skyline Gate is a very popular hub with several trailheads. It is beautiful, shaded, with massive exquisite trees — with only about 1% native. Those handsome pines, which create the atmosphere of being in high mountains are not native. Neither are the Monterey cypress. There are even Sequoiadendron Giganteum there. Are they to be killed also? Do people realize that these much-loved parks will go from being shaded and beautiful to dry, burnt wasteland?

Hummingbirds and many animals depend on eucalyptus, but we are also going to have other species killed, which will effectively destroy our parks. Just look east at the bare hills to see what we will be left with.

It is so unfair that people will not be able to vote about this, and that most do not know. But how many who want this horror even know the extent or which trees are to be killed?

If you look at the plan on the EBRP map, you will see that Lake Chabot will basically have no trees left. And we are really to believe that the massive planned herbiciding won’t wash into the reservoir? An EBRP spokesperson told me they are safe. If they believe that, they certainly will not be careful.

NONE of this has to happen. It’s simply not needed. Even worse, there will be more fires, plus erosion, destruction of the creeks, etc.

Again, how many animals will die? How many new cases of cancer and birth defects and neurological and auto-immune illness will be cause by the use of Monsanto’s toxic products?

Jonathan on June 2nd, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I would say that Bob Strayers photographs are and excellent argument for removing as many Eucalyptus as possible.

I admire Bev’s appreciation of her surrounding trees, but I know, as one who has indeed enjoyed our parks on a near daily basis for many years, that her assertion that Eucalyptus support a wide variety of life is flawed. Native habitats support a much wider diversity, and with appropriate stewardship, native plant and animal communities will thrive after wholesale Eucalyptus removal.
I have been a landscape gardener for many years. I appreciate the value of trees generally, but have to repeat this: Eucalyptus in large groves, as they exist in the East Bay, basically comprise a monoculture that is spreading all over the planet. Removing 90% of the Euc’s in the East Bay would make me cheer.

If removing Eucalyptus would “destroy our parks”, as Bev’s rhetoric suggests, Bob Strayer’s pictures show, what? a moonscape???

Look at the pictures.

I admire Bev’s compassion for living things during the disruptions that will occur, but have every confidence that Eucalyptus removal will result in mid- and long term benefits. Oak woodland and grassland regenerate quickly.

I don’t support the use of Monsanto products, generally, and would prefer that no poisons were used. However, if sensitivity is so high that localized applications to stumps create hysteria like I see here, what do people do when the wind blows off-shore, bringing airborne pollutants from the Central Valley? Exposure from the poisoning of a 100,000 tree stumps probably pales in comparison to what we are exposed to while handling commercial vegetables bare handed in a Safeway.

Jonathan on June 2nd, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Also look at the area at the top of Claremont Canyon, where Euc’s were removed a few years ago. One can do it with the time machine called “google maps street view”, to see a sunny Spring day in the not too distant past. Looks pretty good, I think you would agree.

Jonathan on June 2nd, 2013 at 9:46 pm

PS: Also, it’s ironic to consider the comparison of the outrage caused by the poison to be used in this tree removal project, with Caltrans’ use of HOW many thousands of gallons of herbicides on the freeways every year?

Hillson on June 3rd, 2013 at 4:59 pm

What’s the carbon storage impact of removing so many large trees? I favor natives over eucalyptus, and read an EPA report that in the early stages of growth, trees store carbon rapidly; consequently, as tree growth slows, so does carbon sequestration. But does it actually pencil out to remove big trees that have stored decades worth of carbon and replace with younger natives in early stage of growth?

Dan Rademacher on June 4th, 2013 at 11:00 am

Good question, Hillson. In just a little looking around, I haven’t been able to find easy data on that. Not surprisingly, much of the most easily-found research on forest/tree carbon sequestration is done on commercially important species, like Douglas-fir. Not sure if anyone’s done studies on carbon uptake by either mature eucalyptus forests or native oak/bay woodlands. Maybe one of our other commenters will have a tip!

Bev Von Dohre on June 5th, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I’ve also been a gardener for many years… about forty now. I still do not see the large raptors nesting in oaks the way that they do eucalyptus. After finding out about the fledgling Peregrine Falcon (who was being monitored in the San Jose are) who died because he landed badly while learning to fly, it became clearer to me why the large raptors like eucalyptus. Besides being able to see predators approaching, the wide, open canapy will make it easier for the young ones to start flying and safely return to their nests. Oak/bay forest is much denser and darker.

But I’m even more concerned with the plan to destroy the Monterey pines (and what about the Monterey cypress, Sequioadendrons, and other non-native species? The pines create such a diverse plant and animal habitat. Why would anyone want to kill them?

The fact that all of our native oaks and bay might be dying should be taken seriously. We should be grateful to have such healthy, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant tree diversity when Sudden Oak Death might wipe out our native forests.

Bev Von Dohre on June 5th, 2013 at 10:19 pm

It doesn’t make sense to comment on the poisons being sprayed already as if we haven’t been objecting to that for years. There is never any reason to add to poisoning the earth and water, and increasing cases of cancer, auto-immune and neurological illnesses, etc. It’s not “hysteria” to say no more, and stop funding Monsanto and Dow.

There really is no reason to kill any of the trees, knowing that besides losing our parks, animals will die. A LOT of animals will die, including endangered species. And why? So a few people who chose to buy houses near the parks will feel safer by cutting down the trees they wanted to be near? Seven million taxpayer dollars to give them peace of mind at cost to all of us?

Again, the plan will cause more fires, not less.

Bev Von Dohre on June 5th, 2013 at 10:24 pm

We don’t really need to do more research when the deaths of all these trees is being threatened. We simply need every tree we can get, for our air, to stop global warming, for our parks to not be dry, hot wastelands, and for our peace of mind.

Has anyone gone to our local parks and seen what is there? Even if you hate eucalyptus, what about the other non-natives? Skyline Gate is very popular, but if you look, 99% of the trees at the trailheads are not native. Most people have no idea, and will find out too late. Look east over the hills and see the barren dry grasslands, which are very different than the shady forests we now have.

It should be proof enough that this plan is being snuck in with no vote, to know what it’s really about, which is money.

beachmama on June 7th, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Thank you for this fabulous piece with lots of perspective on this important issue.

My husband is a Certified Arborist and has been doing tree service work for over 35 years. Eucalyptus are not only invasive but are a tremendous fire hazard. They are full of sap that acts like an explosive in a wild fire. I’d like to see them all removed but with a plan for the least amount of disruption to wildlife and erosion.

Eucalyptus were originally planted here along the coast to block the wind. These trees are fast growing and prolific spreaders sending up weaker suckers at an astounding rate. People often have their Eucalyptus trees topped because it’s easier and cheaper than proper trimming and thinning. Topping produces weak second growth that if allowed to grow and put on weight will eventually rip from the tree further weakening the tree and causing damage to people and structures.

It’s unfortunate that these trees have been allowed to take over much of our native hills and grasslands. Removing them in a responsible way is the right thing to do. I fully support the important work of The California Native Plant Society. Further education about our beautiful native trees and what works best in our climate are of peak importance.

ken osborn on June 7th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

When I first moved to the East Bay some 30+ years ago, a heavy stand of Scotch Broom covered a large portion of my 1+ acre lot. It was pretty and acoustically interesting when hot days prompted bursts of seeds exploding out like popcorn. Working in a laboratory, I collected some cuttings in October together with Bay, Oak, and Redwood to conduct a moisture determination. The trees all had moisture content of 55-60 % while the Broom had a moisture content of 15%. The significance is that one ton of the tree wood contained 1000 pounds of water while one ton of broom had 300 pounds: broom is highly flammable with a fuel to water ratio of 7:1. I then spent several months pulling out 10,000 Scotch Broom plants. Since the seeds remain viable over several years, I spend some time each year removing a few hundred seedlings.

Bev Von Dohre on June 10th, 2013 at 4:40 pm

It is simply not fair for non-native humans to insist that non-native trees be taken from the native animals who prefer them. I’ve been a gardener in the East Bay for forty years, and I agree with those who say that eucalyptus are no more of a fire risk than native trees, and probably less of a risk than bay trees.


Again, fire starts in grasslands, which is what we will be left with if our beautiful East Bay forests are cut down. Herbicides on dry dead plants will add to flammability.

Raptors, like eagles, hawks, and owls prefer eucalyptus for nesting, but so do many other animals, including herons, egrets, squirrels, etc., (which I have seen personally and also in photographs), while hummingbirds drink their flower nectar. Monarch butterflies also use eucalyptus.


As our native trees are dying from Sudden Oak Death, we need every trees we have.

PermieWriter on June 11th, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I’m so glad to see this excellent plan for replanting the Berkeley/Oakland hills in native vegetation. For many years I’ve been concerned about the dense eucalyptus growth, particularly given the history of wildfire in the area.

While the project will doubtless be difficult on neighbors (both humans and other animals) in the short-term, in the long-term this is the best choice for balancing human and natural needs. As sentimental as we may feel about the existing trees, it is clear that when these trees burn, they burn hot and fast. Wildlife cannot escape and it burns from canopy to forest floor, destroying soil and habitat.

While most California ecologies are fire ecologies (that is, the plants must burn periodically in order to be healthy), we have suppressed fires for so long that natural burns are impossible. Unfortunately, that means a lot of hard work thinning and replacing vegetation by hand and with chemicals.

More benefits to the plan:
Native trees support many more mushrooms than eucalyptus
Euc and acacia pollen are seriously allergenic – think of the relief to thousands of allergy sufferers downwind of those trees!

Wes Tabler on June 12th, 2013 at 9:30 am

By the time the we get done arguing on what should be done we’ll have our next fire and you can rebuild from scratch. Control the fire zone. There’s not much ‘native’ left anyway. Wes

Bev Von Dohre on June 19th, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Where does the myth come from that the FEMA project involves replanting with a single native plant? It doesn’t. Read the information. When they are done killing the trees and leaving over 2 feet of highly flammable chips, nothing will be able to grow. And with the inches of moisture each year produced by the tall trees from the fog gone, the parks will be a dry barren wasteland.

This project benefits no one but Monsanto, UC, EBRP, and whoever will get money from the deal.

Native trees are dying from Sudden Oak Death. And the natives support nowhere near the variety of mushrooms plus other plant and animal species as the mixed pine forest.

Learn from the native animals who love the exotic trees and be grateful we have them. They may be all we have left in our parks in a few years.

Bob Strayer on July 30th, 2013 at 12:31 pm

@Bev Von Dohre – I invite you to view my photo albums that document how the riparian woodland thrives once it is liberated from the oppressive, aggressive, water hungry, invasive weeds.

I have linked them on my blog post about what a traditional California clearcut looks like.


Bob Strayer on July 30th, 2013 at 12:54 pm

@ bev Von Dohre – I noticed that you are assuming that only the tall trees produce fog drip. That is not true. The native Coast Live Oak, is as efficient as the taller eucalyptus trees. The coast Redwoods are incomparable when it comes to fog drip. They even extract the moisture from the air and into the trunk through reverse transpiration.

BTW – Eucalypti fog drip is toxic to the understory.

Ringtail Cats on October 31st, 2013 at 12:20 pm

It is impossible to eradicate eucalyptus (or monterey pines) since their seeds already coat the east bay hills, reaching down deep into the soil.

The efforts required to even temporarily decimate their population, what with clear-cutting vast groves, injecting herbicides into the stumps, severe soil disturbance, erosion suffocating streams, etc., will wreak havoc on the local ecosystems, viciously slaughtering the innumerable birds, butterflies, and furry creatures that live in the eucalyptus forests.

Besides, fires can still burn in the “native” forests. True, eucalyptus trees have more flammable bark and fallen wood/leaves, but these traits were actually adapted in Australia to survive regular, low intensity fires.

Virtually all forests in California, and indeed the USA, were regularly burned by Indians for ten thousand years. Our recent prohibition of this regular burning is the main cause of the severe, uncontrollable fires we have seen in the last century, not “invasive” eucalyptus trees.

Was not every species, including us, “invasive” at some point?

It’s hard to find a eucalyptus leaf not full of holes left by little herbivores. Like it or not, the eucalyptus is here to stay, and we should learn to love it as the other animals clearly are.

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[…] of eucalyptus in these fire-prone canyons has become a huge controversy, in the usual way of a handful of “skeptics” fighting the parks district, native-plant biologists, UC Berkeley forest management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife […]

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