East Bay Trees to be Destroyed – How You Can Help

Our readers may recall that an extremely destructive project is planned for Berkeley and the East Bay Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s going to fell nearly half a million trees. The land managers sought Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for this project, and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published. We wrote about this project HERE.

The good news is that people responded: There were around 13,000 comments on the draft EIS. The bad news is that the Final EIS, released recently, is not a significant improvement. It will still destroy hundreds of thousands of trees, increase fire hazard, destabilize slopes, and use huge amounts of herbicide.

The fight to save the trees and environment is not over. We ask you to support the Hills Conservation Network, which is spearheading the effort.

The article below is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, which fights unnecessary tree-destruction.

FINAL EIS FOR FEMA PROJECTS IN THE EAST BAY IS NOT AN IMPROVEMENT!

On December 1, 2014, FEMA published the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the projects in the East Bay Hills which propose to destroy hundreds of thousands of non-native trees. FEMA’s email announcement of the publication of the EIS implied that the projects had been revised. Two of the agencies applying for FEMA grants—UC Berkeley and City of Oakland—had originally proposed to destroy all non-native trees on their properties. The third agency –East Bay Regional Parks District—had proposed to thin non-native trees in most areas and destroy all in a few areas. FEMA’s email announcement of the final EIS implied that both UC Berkeley and City of Oakland would be required to use the same “thinning” strategy as East Bay Regional Parks District.

After reading the final EIS, the Hills Conservation Network (HCN) is reporting that FEMA’s email announcement was rather misleading. In fact, both UC Berkeley and City of Oakland will be allowed to destroy all non-native trees on their properties. In a small sub-section (28.5 acres) of their total project acres (406.2 acres), UC Berkeley and City of Oakland are being asked by FEMA to destroy the trees more slowly than originally planned. However, they will all be destroyed by the end of the 10 year project period.

HCN has analyzed the EIS and consulted legal counsel. The following is HCN’s assessment of the EIS and their plans to respond to FEMA. We publish HCN’s assessment with their permission. Note that HCN is asking the public to send comments to FEMA and they are raising funds to prepare for a potential legal suit.

HCN LETTER

“After having reviewed the Final EIS in depth and having consulted with various stakeholders, HCN has concluded that the Final EIS, in spite of FEMA’s efforts to improve it from the Draft version, remains unacceptable.

“While FEMA has made some modifications to portions of the EIS in response to the enormous number of comments submitted last year [more than 13,000], the fact remains that if implemented in their current form, these projects would remove essentially all of the eucalyptus, pines, and acacias from the subject area. While for portions of the area FEMA is now proposing that there be a phased removal of these species, the fact remains that the objective is ultimately to convert the current moist and verdant ecosystem into one dominated by grasses, shrubs, and some smaller trees. This will forever alter the character of these hills that so many of us have grown up with, know and love.

“But worse than that, these projects would actually increase fire risk, destabilize hillsides, cause immense loss of habitat, release significant amounts of sequestered greenhouse gases, and require the use of extraordinary amounts of herbicides over a large area for at least a decade.

“Additionally, by preemptively clearcutting 7 acres of Frowning Ridge in August of this year, UC not only made a clear violation of FEMA rules but also essentially negated the accuracy and relevance of the EIS. While FEMA acknowledges this in the EIS, they still want to move forward with a document that may no longer accurately reflect the reality of the current environment, the cumulative impacts of these projects, and any of the other factors that underpin the EIS process.

“For these reasons, HCN will be submitting a comment letter to FEMA asking that the EIS be pulled back, reworked, and recirculated….at a minimum. Additionally, we are currently exploring legal options should the EIS be finally released on January 5, 2015 in its current form. One way or another, we are committed to ensuring that the will of a small number of influential people doesn’t result in the loss of a treasured resource to the vast majority of us (both human and other).

We ask your support in sending additional comment letters to FEMA [ebh-eis@fema.dhs.gov] and most importantly that you consider making a tax-deductible contribution to HCN. While we wish we did not have to do this, the fact is that the only way we can have a shot at preventing this irreparable harm from happening is by hiring lawyers, and that is what we will do. This takes money, so please do what you can either by sending a check to HCN at P.O. Box 5426, Berkeley, CA 94705 or by making a donation through our website at http://hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Support_HCN.html.

“Thanks again for all your support,

“Hills Conservation Network”

We Stand With the African American Community

black lives matterThis website normally focuses on issues relating to the environment, and more specifically to the damage being done by “nativist” thinking that destroys trees and habitat to favor “native” plants. But this topic is too important for us to ignore.

With a growing sense of outrage and concern, we’ve watched what has happened to African American adults and children – that they cannot assume they will get the same rights and consideration that others do in this country. We’re dismayed that parents need to talk to their young children, particularly their sons, about the special submissive behaviors they must adopt to avoid getting killed.

The San Francisco Forest Alliance cannot be silent on this. We stand with many other environmental organizations in our support of the movement for change. (Here’s a picture from The Pesticide Action Network )

We stand against prejudice and embedded bias, and stand with communities of color in their struggle.

Black Lives Matter.

Vandal Destroys Castro Street Tree

Someone sent us this video yesterday. (It was made on Thursday, Dec 11, 2014.) We cannot understand why anyone would destroy a tree like that.

“At 5:34am yesterday (as the big storm was starting), someone broke off the top of the young tree that was planted on the sidewalk outside 489 Noe St in the Castro. Here is a video (less than 1min long):

[Webmaster: In case that doesn’t come up, here’s the URL:

“I’m sending this to you on the off chance it might help with efforts to find people doing things like this. I checked a few news articles about similar vandalism in parks in the city and saw your organization mentioned. This attack seemed similar to the systematic ones I read about in the parks.”

The sender has filed an online police report. We hope the culprit is caught before more trees are destroyed. We hope this helps.

New “Restoration” Goals Make Even Less Sense

This important article describes how the goals of “restoration” have shifted to an even less realistic objective than before. New data shows that Nature isn’t static. Instead of a “balance of nature”, ecologists recognize “a dynamic, often chaotic nature buffeted by constant disturbances.”  The old goal – attempting to re-create an idealized pre-European ecosystem – is therefore pointless. (In San Francisco, the ‘target date’ of nativists is 1769 or 1776.)

But the new goal edges into the realm of science fiction: It imagines an alternate reality in which the ecosystem evolved without humans, and seeks to “restore” to that trajectory.

This article is re-reprinted with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, an effort to stop unnecessary destruction of trees in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

WHAT IS THE GOAL OF ECOLOGICAL “RESTORATIONS”?

In the not-so-distant past, the goal of ecological “restoration” was usually described as the re-creation of an historical landscape that was believed to have been undamaged by humans, presumed to be “in balance” and therefore sustainable after “restoration” without further human management. In North America, the pre-European landscape is usually selected as the ideal landscape to be replicated, based on the assumption it had not been radically altered by Native Americans. New knowledge has overturned this model:

Native Americans setting grass fire, painting by Frederic Remington, 1908

Native Americans setting grass fire, painting by Frederic Remington, 1908

Oddly, many invasion biologists accept these new understandings of ecological science without changing their deep commitment to eradicating all non-native plants and animals. Daniel Simberloff published an article about the current status of the concept of “balance of nature” simultaneously with the publication of his defense of invasion biology. He described the current thinking about this concept: “…a widespread rejection of the idea of balance of nature by academic ecologists, who focus rather on a dynamic, often chaotic nature buffeted by constant disturbances.”

Invasion biologists have therefore revised their goal for ecological “restorations” to accommodate their new understanding of the dynamic nature of ecosystems.

THE REVISED GOAL OF ECOLOGICAL “RESTORATIONS”

If the return to an equilibrium state is no longer the goal of ecological “restorations,” what is the new goal? This is how invasion biologists writing in defense of their discipline described their goal: “…we should seek to reestablish – or emulate, insofar as possible – the historical trajectory of ecosystems, before they were deflected by human activity, and to allow the restored system to continue responding to various environmental changes…” (1)

In this post we will deconstruct this new definition of the goal of ecological “restorations.” Our first problem with this new definition is that we don’t know the “historical trajectory” of a landscape because it is fundamentally unknowable. We would have to reconstruct all the events and changes in the environment in the Bay Area in the past 250 years in the imagined absence of any Europeans. Even if we knew what would have happened without our presence, we cannot then ensure the continuation of that imagined environment because, the fact is, WE ARE HERE AND WE AREN’T GOING AWAY!

Because we cannot reconstruct an imagined environment that has not been “deflected by human activity,” restorationists—who are the practitioners of invasion biology–focus on the one element in the environment of which there is sufficient historical knowledge, i.e., plants. Most local restoration projects eradicate all non-native plants and trees, usually using herbicides to accomplish that task. They rarely plant anything after this eradication attempt because they don’t have the resources to do so. Those few projects that re-plant after non-natives are eradicated usually irrigate the new landscape for several years. Here is an incomplete list of everything these projects do not do to replicate an historical landscape:

  • Soils are not restored for many reasons:
    • We have no way of knowing the composition of soil 250 years ago.
    • Soils have been altered by the plants that have been growing in them and by the herbicides used to kill those plants.
    • Urban soils have high nitrogen levels resulting from exposure to fossil fuel exhaust.
  • The atmosphere is not restored:
    • There are much higher levels of ozone and carbon dioxide than there were 250 years ago.
  • The climate is not restored:
    • The temperature is higher than it was 250 years ago.
    • The timing of seasons has therefore changed.
    • Precipitation and fog have changed in known and unknown ways.
  • The disturbance events that sustained historical landscapes or set them on another evolutionary course are not restored:
    • We cannot set fire to urban landscapes annually without polluting our air and endangering our lives.
    • We cannot allow our creeks and rivers to overflow in urban areas without damaging our properties.
  • Most occupants of the historical landscape are not reintroduced:
    • The grazing animals that helped to sustain grassland are gone and cannot be returned to urban landscapes.
    • The top predators such as bears and wolves that kept grazing and other animals in balance with available resources cannot be returned without threatening our safety in an urban setting.
    • Many insects that lived in these historical landscapes are unknown to us and some are extinct.
The El Cerrito Plaza with the Albany Hill in the background, centuries ago.  Oil painting by Laura Cunningham, with permission

Bears roamed the grasslands in the Bay Area, preventing over-population of grazing animals. The El Cerrito Plaza with the Albany Hill in the background, centuries ago. Oil painting by Laura Cunningham, with permission

In other words, destroying plants will not “restore” an historical landscape. Nor will it return that landscape to its “historical trajectory” even if that trajectory were known or knowable. Plants live in complex communities in which they are interacting with everything in the environment. Local “restoration” projects do not “restore” an historical landscape because they do not and cannot change anything other than the plants that occupy the space. Because most environmental variables have not been altered by these projects, the landscape will quickly return to its unrestored state unless it is intensively gardened. In that case, the landscape will be continuously “deflected by human activity,” which violates the original goal of invasion biologists.

MISANTHROPIC PREMISE OF INVASION BIOLOGY

The revised goal of invasion biology is unattainable because the absence of humans is a prerequisite for its attainment. We cannot know and we cannot replicate a theoretical historical trajectory for ecosystems in which humans were not present. And when we modify ecosystems in an attempt to do so, human activities will determine their future trajectory. The premise of invasion biology is that success of ecological “restorations” depends upon the absence of humans. Therefore, invasion biology has no practical application in the real world.


  1. Carolina Murcia, James Aronson, Gustavo Kattan, David Moreno-Mateos, Kingsley Dixon, Daniel Simberloff, “A critique of the ‘novel ecosystem’ concept,”Trends in Ecology and Evolution, October 2014, Vol. 29, No. 10

Why Urban Trees Are Important to Us All

Recently, we wrote about the importance of setting a tree canopy cover goal for San Francisco, a city that should be a green leader. We’d like to see such a goal incorporated into the Urban Forest Master Plan, which unfortunately watered down its goals from the first public draft. San Francisco has an tree canopy cover percentage of only 13.7% – as against an ideal of 25%. (We’re writing to the Planning Commission at commissions.secretary@sfgov.org  – and if you would like to add your voice, please do the same. Tell them the Urban Forest Master Plan needs a canopy cover goal!)

Mt D 6-17-2013

Urban trees are a public asset. They benefit us all in many ways: Green infrastructure; fighting climate change; improved public health; reducing crime; improving economic values.  Recently, we found an excellent note from Alliance for Community Trees (ACTrees) that compiled all these benefits – and documented the scientific data. We’re summarizing and including the PDF with permission.

You can read it here as a PDF:  benefits_of_trees – Actrees  There’s 19 pages of  information in bullet  points.

TWENTY REASONS TREES BENEFIT US

This is based on the note from ACTrees, using excerpts and summaries to bring out key points.

  • GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE BENEFITS
  1. Economic benefits:  The 3.8 billion trees in the US have a structural asset value of around $2.4 trillion.
  2. Reducing storm water runoff and maintenance costs: Urban forest can reduce storm water runoff by 2-7%, and a mature tree can store 50-100 gallons of water during storms. Portland is planting 4,000 trees to implement a gray-green storm water management solution – and saving $64 million.
  3. Improving air quality: Trees clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and trapping particulates.
  4. Improving water and soil quality: Trees divert captured rainwater into the soil, where micro-organisms filter out impurities. Trees can also help remediate contaminated soil, absorbing many contaminants.
  • PUBLIC HEALTH BENEFITS
  1. Improving attention: Kids with Attention Deficit Disorder function better in green settings – as do college students in dorms with a green outlook.
  2. Decreasing asthma and obesity: Columbia University researchers found that asthma rates fell by 25% for every extra 340 trees per square kilometer [247 acres]. Kids in greener neighborhoods have a lower Body Mass Index.
  3. Improving physical and mental health: Visual exposure to settings with trees helps recovery from stress within 5 minutes. And in one study, workers without nature views from their desks claimed 23% more sick days.
  4. Reducing hospital days: Patients in post-op recovery had shorter hospital stays and needed less pain medicine if they had green views, compared with rooms facing a brick wall.
  5. Protection from Ultra-violet rays: A person takes 20 minutes to burn in full sun, but 50 minutes in part shade, and 100 minutes in full shade.
  6. Noise reduction: Trees absorb noise. A belt of trees 98 feet wide and 49 feet tall can reduce highway sound by 6-10 decibels.
  • ROAD AND TRAFFIC BENEFITS
  1. Traffic calming and accident reduction: Trees improve driving safety. One study found a 46% decrease in crash rates after landscape improvements were installed. Drivers reduce speeds by an average of 3 miles per hour in the presence of trees. Trees can also reduce road rage by reducing stress.
  2. Reducing road maintenance costs: Trees prolong pavement life. Shaded roads can save up to 60% of paving costs.
  • BUSINESS BENEFITS
  1. Business districts – Increased sales, desirability, and rents: Shoppers prefer districts with high-quality trees, and spend more time there. They are willing to pay 7-10% higher prices. Commercial offices with trees have a 7% higher rent.
  2. Jobs: In 2002, distributing, planting, and maintaining trees added about 2 million jobs. [Now – it can only be higher.]
  • PROPERTY VALUE BENEFITS
  1. Increasing property values: Studies have found up to 37% increase in residential values.
  • CLIMATE CHANGE AND CARBON BENEFITS
  1. Storing carbon and reduction of carbon emissions: Urban trees in the US store 700 million tons of carbon, and sequester 22.8 million tons of carbon per year. Urban trees sequester more carbon than wild forests because they grow faster. In California, if 50 million trees were planted, they would sequester 4.5 million tons of CO2 annually, and could reduce air-conditioning energy use equivalent to 1.4 million ton of CO2 in addition. That would be like retrofitting every household with energy-efficient devices.
  2. Carbon mitigation programs: In Los Angeles, the ‘Million Trees LA” campaign plans to plant one million trees, aiming to reduce carbon equivalent to taking 7,000 cars off the street each year.
  3. Reducing the heat island effect: Trees reduce the heat island effect. Shaded surfaces may be 20-45 degrees F cooler than unshaded ones. Trees cool city heat islands by10-20 degrees, reducing ozone levels and helping cities meet air quality standards.
  • ENERGY USE BENEFITS
  1. Trees reduce energy consumption: Trees can reduce both cooling and heating costs by providing shade and acting as windbreaks. A 25-foot tree can reduce annual heating and cooling costs of a typical residence by 8-12%.
  • COMMUNITY BENEFITS
  1. Less violence and crime: Public housing with nearby trees and nature reported 25% fewer acts of violence. Apartment buildings with high levels of greenery had 52% fewer crimes than those without any trees.
  2. Improves community: In buildings with trees, people report significantly better relations with their neighbors. People report a stronger feeling of unity and cohesion with their neighbors.
  3. Wildlife and biodiversity: Urban forests help create and enhance animal and bird habitat.

HOW MUCH TREE CANOPY COVER DO WE NEED?

How much tree cover a city needs depends on local climate. Eastern cities ideally need 40% and western cities need 25% canopy cover.

[San Francisco has 13.7%, a city estimate updated from USDA’s 2007 estimate of 11.9% using a different methodology. We will summarize the excellent USDA report on San Francisco’s Urban trees another time, but you can read the whole report here: SF Urban Forest fs fed US]

felled trees 015

Mt Davidson Ethereal in the Fog

This is one of our “park visitor” series – first person accounts of our parks, published with permission.

Last month, I walked up mysterious and beautiful Mt Davidson on a foggy day with a friend.

pics45 081We entered through this gate, just to the left of the bus stop on Myra Way. I wondered why the gate had so many different locks on it.

six locksWe continued up the path and into the lovely  forest.

Mt Davidson forest Aug 2014In other parts of California – and even on the other side of this very mountain – the plants are dry and brown. The forest was damp and green and lush.

Brilliant nasturtiums in fog-filled Mt Davidson forestThe nasturtiums bloomed in bright orange highlights in the misty forest.

wild strawberries on Mt DavidsonWild strawberries provided little pops of red.

Mt Davidson Misty ForestEven though I know this forest, it felt like walking into a fairy-tale.

Fairytale forest on Mt DavidsonIt was easy to understand how people in ages past thought forests might have enchanted deer or birds or other beings living in them.

enchanted animals or birds could live hereAs we climbed up, I could see Mount Davidson’s Cross among the trees.

climbing up toward the cross

We passed the vista point, where the Murdered Tree fell over last year. But the view was only of Karl the Fog, denser now.

Murdered tree point with no vista

The little plateau of the Cross was completely misty.

Mt Davidson Cross in the fogSomeone was conducting a memorial ceremony of his own there, at the foot of the cross.  A few people wandered around. For some reason, this picture reminds me of an Ingmar Bergman film.

Mt Davidson Cross in the fog - aug 2014

Appropriately, forget-me-nots bloomed a light blue nearby.

forget-me-nots near Mt Davidson Cross Aug 2014As we made out way down from the cross, we found this little cave, where someone had erected tiny cairns of stones. It was half hidden by the Pacific Reed grass, the moisture-loving grass that grows like green hair over the rocks above the trail.

tiny cairns in a little cave - mt DavidsonHere’s another picture to show the scale of the cave.

cairn cave handWe wandered back down the trail, looking at the moss in the trees of the mist forest…

moss and fern in Mt Davidson tree

… and the epiphytes, like these ferns.

ferns on tree in Mt Davidson Forest

It was time to leave. In the words of Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep.”

But as long as  this forest and I are around in San Francisco, I’ll be back.

stone steps in Mt D forest

 

Urban Forest Master Plan—Where Art Thou? – by Dee Seligman

This article is reprinted with permission from the West Portal Monthly (with minor changes and added emphasis).

We think it’s important that San Francisco save its trees and forests, and expand – not just maintain – its tree canopy cover.  The Urban Forestry Master Plan needs tree canopy goals.

(Nearly all San Francisco’s trees are non-native, which is why native plant enthusiasts want to cut them down.)

mt-davidson-forest 1

IN SEARCH OF AN URBAN FOREST MASTER PLAN by Dee Seligman

Non-native trees threatened by revised citywide canopy goals

Only 13.7% of San Francisco is covered by trees–a canopy smaller than most major cities, including those of Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Jose. In the last two years, tree planting in San Francisco decreased by 21.4% while tree removal increased by 107% among city agencies responsible for the city’s trees reporting their data. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a citywide goal to increase our canopy coverage?

The Planning Department’s Urban Forest Master Plan, if its current version gets approved by the Planning Commission, could eliminate a last protection for Mt. Davidson and provide another rationale for converting its forest to native shrubs and grasslands.Instead of a citywide canopy goal, the Planning Department has backed off. It made a strategic change in its Urban Forest Master Plan between its first draft, made public January 2014 and its final draft of May 2014. This Phase 1 of the Planwill guide street tree policies, with Phase 2 and Phase 3 following at an undetermined future time to guide park and private tree policies.

This Urban ForestMaster Plan will soon come before the Planning Commission, the Land Use Committee and the Board of Supervisors for approval, but it’s not yet a done deal. You can halt this elaborate dance going on behind the scenes by contacting the Planning Commission right away.

Why did the Planning Dept. change from its original goal in the January draft of increasing the city’s canopy of all trees by 25% over twenty years to the goal of doubling only the “street tree” canopy by 50% in the next twenty years in the final May version? That sounds innocuous, but it allows for planting more native shrubs to count as “urban forest canopy.”

One influential public comment argued that Planning should “replace the citywide canopy goal with a goal for street trees. Citywide canopy goal is not the most effective strategy. Open spaces and parks have more complicated and competing objectives such as biodiversity that should not be compromised for arbitrary citywide canopy targets.”

But why does the Planning Department believe “biodiversity” is not satisfied by a mixture of native and non-native trees?Furthermore, the Department changed the very definition of an urban forest, carefully adding the phrase “and other vegetation” after the word “trees” throughout the document.

This apparently minor change allows for native plants, not just trees, to be counted as “urban forest.” A few thousand extra native shrubs instead of adding full-sized trees shouldn’t matter, right?

Another public comment made between the first and final version of the Plan asked, “Are the naturally occurring trees and other vegetation included in the definition?” Why should native trees and other vegetation even need to be spelled out unless there is a hidden agenda?Clearly Planning’s process from original to final draft should consider public comment, but are trees not the essence of an “Urban Forest” master plan?

In backing off from establishing a citywide canopy goal, the Planning Department later explained that “community input, ecological analysis and an inventory of allowable planting areas” would be necessary first. However, they did not believe that when they first proposed a citywide canopy goal in the original January draft.

Why is such input and analysis not needed for a street tree canopy goal but is needed for a citywide canopy goal? Perhaps the real answer lies in the Department’s rationale for their change that “trees may not be appropriate in all locations and other forms of vegetation may be more suited to support other policy priorities such as habitat creation, neighborhood character and recreational needs.”

Obviously trees must be planted in appropriate locations, but the issue of habitat creation is a red herring. All trees provide habitat. The concept of creating additional habitat is a not-very-subtle nod to pressures from those in inner circles who insist the only good habitat is native vegetation and native trees.

It’s simple: San Francisco needs more trees. Every tree counts. To protect Mt. Davidson and enlarge our existing tree canopy we need citywide canopy goals.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Please contact the Planning Commissioners immediately, at commissions.secretary@sfgov.org or (415) 558-6309. With the Urban Forest Master Plan being considered  in the next few weeks,  ask that a citywide canopy goal be included before any endorsement of the Urban Forest Master Plan.

San Francisco in 1877

Treeless San Francisco in 1877

 

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