Relentless War on Eucalyptus – The Example of Glen Canyon

This article is reproduced from MillionTrees.me – the website of Death of a Million Trees with permission and minor formatting changes.

A new front has opened in the relentless war on eucalyptus in California. The drought has given native plant advocates an opportunity to develop a new narrative to justify their demands for eradication of eucalyptus. The opening gambit in this new strategy is an item in Jake Sigg’s “Nature News” of May 16, 2014:

“The prolonged drought of the last 2-3 years seems to be taking its toll. The Tasmanian blue gums in Glen Canyon along O’Shaughnessy Boulevard strongly show drought stress. The stress is more evident from the high cliffs above O’Shaughnessy than it is at ground level. Thinning crowns and discolored foliage was striking. And that was before the recent heat wave. Barring substantial rains–unlikely, but not impossible–the trees are in serious trouble. The City could have an emergency situation and no money to address it.”

RECAP OF THE WAR ON EUCALYPTUS

When public land managers began the war on eucalyptus in the 1980s it did not occur to them that the public would object. So deep was their prejudice against eucalyptus, that they assumed the public shared their opinion. The first two massive projects in the 1980s on National Park Service and State Park properties were greeted with angry public protests. Land managers quickly learned that it was not going to be as easy to eradicate eucalyptus as they had thought. They developed a series of story-lines to justify their projects, which were designed to convince the public that the eradication of eucalyptus is both necessary and beneficial. This is a summary of some of their cover stories with links to articles that debunk them:

Based on our experience, we were immediately suspicious of the new claim that San Francisco’s eucalyptus forest is dying of drought. We know that our predominant species of eucalyptus—Tasmanian blue gum—grows successfully throughout California, all the way to the Mexican border in climates that are much hotter and drier than the Bay Area. We also know that the central and north coast of California is foggy during the dry summer months, which doubles the amount of annual precipitation in the eucalyptus forest. All reliable sources of horticultural information describe blue gum eucalyptus as drought tolerant. Frankly, we couldn’t see how our eucalyptus could be dying of drought.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR EUCALYPTUS FOREST IN GLEN CANYON?

The picture became clearer when Jake Sigg posted the following on his “Nature News” on June 12, 2014:

“The June 10 newsletter [see below*] included an editorial on an evolving catastrophe, mostly involving our numerous plantations of Tasmanian blue gums. The editorial focused primarily on the plantations on O’Shaughnessy Blvd in Glen Canyon and on Mt Sutro, and included a photo of a grove of Mt Sutro dying trees. Here is a photo of the Glen Canyon plantation, taken from above the high cliffs on O’Shaughnessy. The damage is most visible from high, looking down. The discoloration of leaves was very dramatic, but the foliage color and condition is not fully conveyed in the photograph. Some trees defoliated entirely in the prolonged winter dry spell. Look very closely at the juvenile blue leaves of the coppice shoots; anything that appears faintly bluish are new coppice shoots which grew in response to the late rains we had in February and March. Once you see coppice shoots on old trees you know the trees are in trouble. These trees are in double jeopardy, as they invested energy in new shoots, but were betrayed by another dry spell which, under normal circumstances, will last until autumn. Note that you can now see the grassland through the trees; that slope was not previously visible. Even a casual inspection of these groves reveals dead, dying, and stressed trees, and under normal circumstances we will have four or five months of dry. The fire situation is serious right now and is likely to become worse.”

 

View of west side of Glen Canyon Park from Marietta Drive, June 2014

View of west side of Glen Canyon Park from Marietta Drive, June 2014

With more specific information in hand about what Jake Sigg is looking at, we went to see for ourselves. We could see what he was describing from a vantage point on Marietta Drive, west of Glen Canyon Park. We could see lighter colored leaves, but they were more localized than Jake Sigg’s description implied. We didn’t feel qualified to speculate about why the leaves were lighter colored so we recruited an arborist to help us figure out what is happening there. We were fortunate to enlist the help of a certified arborist who has been responsible for urban forests on public lands in the Bay Area for several decades. This is what we learned.

EPICORMIC SPROUTS

Looking through binoculars from our vantage point on Marietta Drive, the arborist said immediately, “Those are epicormic sprouts.” The leaves of epicormic sprouts are distinctively lighter colored than the darker green of mature eucalyptus leaves. They are also a more rounded shape than the long, pointed mature leaves of eucalyptus. This is how Wikipedia describes epicormic sprouts: “Epicormic buds lie dormant beneath the bark, their growth suppressed by hormones from active shoots higher up the plant. Under certain conditions, they develop into active shoots, such as when damage occurs to higher parts of the plant. Or light levels are increased following removal of nearby plants.”

Epicormic sprouts on trees in Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

Epicormic sprouts on trees in Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

The remaining question was why some of the eucalypts, were producing these epicormic sprouts, when most were not. We went down to O’Shaughnessy Blvd to get a closer look, hoping to answer that question. This is what we learned:

  • The understory of non-native shrubs between O’Shaughnessy Boulevard and the trees with epicormic sprouts has been cleared in the past year. We could see the dead brush piled up next to the trees. We had to wonder how people who claim to be concerned about fire hazard could think such huge piles of dead brush were nothing to be concerned about.

 

Remains of dead non-native brush destroyed along O'Shaughnessy Boulevard, June 2014

Remains of dead non-native brush destroyed along O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, June 2014

  • We could see the stumps of some of the dead brush and we wondered if the stumps had been sprayed with herbicides after they were cut. Pesticide use reports for Glen Canyon indicate that O’Shaughnessy was sprayed several times in the past year, twice with products containing imazapyr. Imazapyr is known to be harmful to trees if sprayed in proximity to their roots. The trees with epicormic sprouts were downhill from the understory shrubs that were destroyed, in the probable direction of water and herbicide flow.
  • We found several trees that had been girdled in the past and are now dead.
Girdled tree in Glen Canyon Park, now dead, June 2014

Girdled tree in Glen Canyon Park, now dead, June 2014

THE TREES IN GLEN CANYON PARK

Then we walked into Glen Canyon Park from its southern end. It’s not a pretty sight. Many huge, old eucalypts have been destroyed. When they were destroyed, their stumps were immediately sprayed with herbicide to prevent them from resprouting. The stumps are simultaneously painted with dye so that workers can tell which trees have been sprayed. The dye is no longer visible, but regular visitors took photos of the painted stumps before the dye faded. The spraying of the stumps do not appear on the pesticide use reports of the Recreation and Park Department. We assume that’s because the spraying was done by the sub-contractors who destroyed the trees.

Poisoned and dyed eucalyptus stump, Glen Canyon Park, 2013.  Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

Poisoned and dyed eucalyptus stump, Glen Canyon Park, 2013. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

The arborist who walked in the forest with us said, “The painting of stumps with RoundUp or Garlon in proximity to trees that are being preserved can kill the neighboring preserved tree. Stumps near living, residual (preserved) trees should not be painted with RoundUp or Garlon if the stumps are within 40’ of mature, blue gums that are slated for preservation.” If the remaining trees are damaged by herbicides, their mature leaves fall and epicormic sprouts will then emerge as the tree recovers.

Some of the stumps of the trees that were destroyed in Glen Canyon Park in 2013.  Taken June 2014

Some of the stumps of the trees that were destroyed in Glen Canyon Park in 2013. Taken June 2014

While the trees were being destroyed in 2013, the Natural Areas Program was eradicating non-native vegetation in the Canyon. They sprayed ivy, blackberry, and valerian with Milestone, which is another herbicide that is known to damage trees if sprayed near their roots. In addition to these official applications of herbicide in this park, there is a long history of unauthorized, illegal herbicide applications by “volunteers,” more appropriately called vandals. We saw a lot of epicormic growth in the Canyon, sprouting from stumps that must be cut back and resprayed with herbicides. It usually takes several retreatments to successfully kill the roots of eucalypts that are destroyed. We also saw epicormic growth from eucalypts that had been severely pruned and were also exposed to a great deal more light because they had lost the shelter of their neighboring trees.

Epicormic growht, Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

Epicormic growth, Glen Canyon Park, June 2014

WRAPPING UP

The trees in Glen Canyon are reacting to the traumas to which they have been subjected: the loss of their neighbors that were either girdled or cut down thereby exposing them to more light and wind, the loss of the shelter of their understory, the application of herbicides known to be harmful to trees. The good news is that there are still plenty of trees in Glen Canyon that have not yet been destroyed and they are in great shape. Here is the view of the tree canopy in Glen Canyon taken from the east side of the park near Turquoise Way. The first picture was taken in December 2012 (before the current round of tree destruction in Glen Canyon Park) and the second picture was taken in May 2014.

Eucalyptus canopy on east side of Glen Canyon Park, taken from Turquoise Way December 2012, before tree destruction began.  Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

Eucalyptus canopy on east side of Glen Canyon Park, taken from Turquoise Way December 2012, before tree destruction began. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

Same perspective of Glen Canyon tree canopy, taken May 2014.  Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance.

Same perspective of Glen Canyon tree canopy, taken May 2014. Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance.

These trees are doing just fine because the Natural Areas Program has not yet gone that deeply into the park. But NAP intends to destroy many more trees in Glen Canyon (and elsewhere) when the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for their management plan (SNRAMP) is finally approved. Then we will see more consequences of the destructive practices of the Natural Areas Program and we will probably hear more bogus explanations for that damage. We expect the EIR to finally be considered for approval at the end of 2014. We will do whatever we can to convince San Francisco’s policy makers that they should approve the “Maintenance Alternative” which would enable NAP to continue to care for the native plant gardens they have created in the past 15 years, but prevent them from expanding further. We hope that our readers will help to accomplish this important task.


*Jake Sigg’s Nature News of June 10, 2014, introduced the theories of Craig Dawson about the health of the Sutro Forest. Mr. Dawson’s speculations are different from Mr. Sigg’s and we will not address them in those post.

Fighting The NAP Nativist Agenda

Once in a while, we want to affirm the values that San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for. We’re a grass-roots organization of people who love nature and the environment, pay taxes responsibly, and want access to our parks and wild places – with our families.

Citizens care about their city Parks, and want to keep healthy trees and to open access to natural areas. Citizens expect city management to act responsibly and in the public trust, for FAIR allocation of 2008 Clean & Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond funds.

SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) and particularly the Natural Areas Program (NAP), obsessed with Native Plants, is cutting down trees, restricting access, using more toxic herbicides than any other section of SFRPD (excluding Harding Park Golf Course), and using financial resources that could better be used for things our city’s residents really want.

OUR VIDEO

Watch our video on Youtube, (where you can also sign up for the SF Forest Alliance Youtube channel):

OUR MESSAGE TO SAN FRANCISCO AND SFRPD

What we stand for can be summarized in four key areas: Trees, Access, Toxins, Taxes.

 

The Natural Areas Program and Pesticide Use

Pesticide Application Notice - Mt Davidson (Nov 14 and 15th, 2013)

Pesticide Application Notice – Mt Davidson (Nov 14 and 15th, 2013)

We recently received a response from Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) , to our concerns regarding the “Natural Areas Program”  (NAP). We thank him for the detailed response, but we still have a number of points of disagreement.

One of them is herbicide use. His letter states, “As a percentage of our overall total, herbicide usage in the Natural Areas comprises only 4%.”

As readers of this website know, that’s very different from our own analysis. We find that NAP uses nearly as much of the ‘Most Hazardous’ and ‘More Hazardous’ herbicide as the rest of SFRPD (ex Harding Golf Course).

And the discrepancy is the more surprising since the source documents are the same – the Monthly Pesticide Use Reports each section submits.

The graph below compares NAP and other SFRPD (ex Harding Golf Course). Not only is NAP clearly using much more than 4%, it also is the largest user of the Most Hazardous (Tier I) chemicals. (The San Francisco Department of the Environment – SFDoE – produces a  “Reduced Risk Pesticide” list each year. This lists pesticides that may be used on city-owned lands, and gives them Tier ratings.)

NAP vs SFRPD Other 2013 by Active Ingredient

WHY THE DISCREPANCY?

Since we don’t know how Mr Ginsburg’s percentage is derived, we can only speculate. Some possible reasons:

1)  Our numbers leave out Harding Golf Course, but they include it.

Here’s why we exclude it: Harding Park Golf Course is under contract to be maintained to tournament-ready standards. This means it uses a lot of pesticides; but it really is outside SFRPD control if San Francisco is to have a PGA-standard golf course. (The city’s other golf courses, where SFRPD actually can determine pesticide use, actually use very little.  Sharp Park, for instance, has used none since August 2010.)

2)  Our numbers are for the most recent year, 2013.

Though the phrasing of the sentence suggests that are considering current usage, they may actually have used historic numbers.  It’s possible that other sections of SFRPD reduced their herbicide usage, even while NAP’s herbicide usage went up. NAP herbicide use rose annually from 2009 through 2013.

B&W Herbicide Use - Natural Areas Program

3) We have only considered the chemicals that are most concerning – the “more hazardous” and “most hazardous” herbicides (those the San Francisco Department of the Environment classifies as Tier II and Tier I) and omitted the “least hazardous” ones (Tier III).   Possibly SFRPD has included Tier III herbicides. We think this would distort the comparison; it would be like comparing pineapples and hand-grenades.

4)  If it’s based on the SF DoE’s new database, it may have data-entry errors, especially for data since 2010 when the new database was instituted. We compiled the Monthly Pesticide Usage reports ourselves, and re-checked them.

HOW WE GOT OUR NUMBERS

For anyone who wants to replicate our calculations, here’s how we made them:

  • We obtained Monthly Pesticide Usage reports from SFRPD under the Sunshine Act. If any of them were unclear, we got clarifications.
  • We compiled this data into a spreadsheet. Then we calculated Tier I and Tier II herbicide usage separately for NAP and for all other SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course), using SF DoE’s ratings.
  • We show “Greenmatch” separately – it’s rated Tier II, but it’s an organic herbicide that is less harmful than most Tier II products. Until 2013, it was rated Tier III, least hazardous.
  • [ETA:  We calculated the "Active Ingredient" quantity by using conversion factors provided by the manufacturer of each chemical. (These are available online.)]

In the first two months of 2014, NAP was still the major user of Tier I herbicides, using 8 times as much as all the rest of SFRPD ex Harding.

 

 

 

Improvements to the Glen Canyon Park Playground?

Last month we reported on the status of the Glen Canyon Park Playground Improvements.
We mentioned the new playground and that it will not be the same as it was:-  a steep staircase to the slide and bushes that were at the top – now gone. The kids loved that slide … they played games of imagination and adventure there. Instead of a quirky playground that used the advantages of the site, there’s a standard-issue place that could have been built anywhere. And the wonderful climbing tree the children loved, which was behind the Rec Center – it is now gone.

In honor of the Glen Canyon Park Playground re-opening on March 15th, we are re-issuing a relevant YouTube video

Help us save the urban forests in our San Francisco Parks

How Children Draw ‘Save the Eucalyptus Trees’

Someone sent us these amazing ‘Save the Eucalyptus’ posters, produced by the children in political artist and printmaker Doug Minkler’s art class. They’re used with permission. [Edited to add the artists' names.]

(If your kids are drawing pictures of San Francisco’s wild lands or its birds and animals and trees that you’d like displayed, we’d be happy to use them on this site. Please attach them to an email to SFForestNews at gmail.com and be sure to give permission for us to put them up.)

Save-the-Eucalyptus sm

Save the Eucalyptus by Desiree Minkler

the-morning-before-the-loggers-came sm

The Morning Before the Loggers Came – Desiree Minkler

Whoos-For-Us

Whoos For Us? – Tacy Prins Woodlief

no-more-homeless-owls sm

No More Homeless Owls – Blake Bogert

poisoned-water

Poisoned Water – Ayumi Beeler

SFRPD Herbicide Use – A Correction

We recently reprinted an analysis of herbicide use by Natural Areas Program (NAP) compared with the rest of SFRPD. The conclusion, that NAP’s pesticide use increased in 2013, and it exceeded Other SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course) was not quite right. Use did increase in 2013, but Other SFRPD actually used more herbicides than shown in the initial calculation. Details below.

Recently, we published our analysis of the San Francisco Natural Areas Program (NAP)’s use of pesticide, and compared it with the rest of SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) . We said that NAP’s pesticide use had risen in 2013, and it had used more herbicide than the the rest of SFRPD put together (excluding Harding Park Golf Course).

That’s not quite true. They actually used only 84% as much by volume, and 78% as much by Active Ingredient, with one-quarter of the total area.

Here’s the corrected graph. This one is by volume of herbicide used.

NAP vs SFRPD Other by vol corrected

Here’s the graph we showed earlier:

NAP vs Other SFRPD 2013What’s the difference? In a word, Greenmatch.

WHAT’S GREENMATCH?

Greenmatch is a herbicide based on lemongrass oil, or what is called a “botanical.” It’s actually considered acceptable for organic gardening. We’d known SF Department of the Environment (SF DoE) had rated it Tier III, least hazardous. We’d therefore omitted it from our calculations since we’re concerned with Tier I and Tier II (more hazardous and most hazardous) herbicides.

We hadn’t realized that in 2013, SF DoE had downgraded Greenmatch to Tier II. Thus, to be consistent, we needed to include it. The SFRPD used quite a lot of it – around 280 fl oz, because it is a good option compared to some of the synthetic herbicides. NAP didn’t use any Greenmatch in 2013.

ACTIVE INGREDIENT

Our earlier calculation also looked at simple volumes. We do this calculation because some of the “inert” substances that make up maybe half of the products applied are not necessarily innocuous, and so the total volume matters.

However, we also looked at the “active ingredient” – the amount of actual pesticide. Here’s that graph.

NAP vs SFRPD Other 2013 by Active IngredientAgain, it’s Greenmatch that makes the difference.

NAP USES MORE TIER I HERBICIDES

NAP was by far the largest user of Tier I herbicide -mainly Garlon 4 Ultra. (Other SFRPD used a small amount of Garlon, and one application of Cleary’s fungicide in the Golden Gate nursery, inside a greenhouse.)

Since NAP does not use Greenmatch, we haven’t changed our other assessment – that NAP’s overall herbicide use rose again in 2013. This graph shows volume of herbicide applied.

Volume of pesticide use by NAP 2008-2013This one shows amounts by Active Ingredient. [Edited to Add 6 Feb 2014: The earlier graph has been replaced with this one with corrected 2010 data. ]

B&W Herbicide Use - Natural Areas Program

OUR METHODOLOGY

For those who want to dig into how we got our numbers:

1. Under the Sunshine Act, we obtained the ‘usage reports’ – the monthly reports submitted by each department. This lists how much of each pesticide they used, where, for what purpose, how applied, under what conditions and by whom. NAP usually submits two, separately for pesticides it applies, and the pesticides used by their contractor Shelterbelt. These are what we used for 2011-2013. (For 2010, for NAP we had a mix of monthly reports and compiled data supplied by SF DoE, and for 2009 and 2008, it was compiled data from SF DoE.)

2. If any data were illegible, we requested -and got – clarifications. We entered these data into a spreadsheet. In 2013 we kept a record not only of NAP pesticide use, but also other SFRPD Departments’ herbicide use.

3. We calculated total herbicide use, by product, for NAP and SFRPD Other.

4. We excluded Harding Golf Course. It used a substantial amount of pesticides because it’s required to maintain the course in tournament-ready condition. There’s a contract that’s really outside SFRPD’s control, and so would distort the picture. But we do include the other city-owned golf courses -which are under SFRPD control and actually use little Tier II or Tier I pesticide.

5. We calculate four measures of usage for NAP:

  • Number of applications. This measures the number of opportunities for exposure.
  • Volume of applications. This takes into account that the other ingredients in a pesticide formulation could be chemically active, though not pesticides themselves.
  • Volume by active ingredient. This is the most common measure and the one SF DoE prefers to use; and
  • Volume by acid equivalent. This is largely significant when two or more products with the same active ingredient are being used.

To get the last two measures, we use a factor derived from the Materials Safety Data Sheets for each product.

6. To compare SFRPD Other (excluding Harding) we looked at volume, as well as active ingredient. Those are the graphs shown above. (We couldn’t do an acid equivalent because it doesn’t apply to lemongrass oil in Greenmatch EX.)

We try to be rigorous in our analysis, and offer reproducible results. If we discover errors, we will acknowledge and correct them here.

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