Drought-Adapted Eucalyptus NOT Dying by the Thousand

This is a recent post from SutroForest.com, republished with permission and minor edits. We think it is important because the allegation that tens of thousands of eucalyptus trees are dying can be used as an excuse for forest destruction.

Jake Sigg, retired San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) gardener who is considered the doyen of the Native Plant movement in San Francisco, has a widely circulated email newsletter. In it, he has been pushing the argument that thousands of eucalyptus trees in San Francisco are dying of drought, as evidenced by epicormic growth on these trees: “2015 is the year of decision, forced upon us by 20,000 to 30,000 dead trees.” He is suggesting they will be a fire hazard and that SFRPD act, presumably by cutting down the trees. In a recent post, he published a picture of a tree covered in young blue-green leaves, and predicted it would be dead within a year.

But he’s mistaken.

Eucalyptus trees are drought-adapted, and the shedding of mature leaves followed by sprouting of juvenile leaves (epicormic sprouting) is one of their defense mechanisms. These trees survive in areas far drier than San Francisco, where fog-drip provides an important source of summer moisture.

2015-05-27 ab eucalyptus with epicormic growth wordEUCALYPTUS RESPONSE TO DROUGHT

Eucalyptus trees are adapted to drought. They shed mature leaves and twigs so they don’t lose water through transpiration (the tree version of breathing, which takes place mainly in the leaves.) Later, they can replace the lost branches and leaves through “epicormic sprouting.”

Blue gum eucalyptus trees have buds buried deep under their bark. When the tree is stressed, they may shed adult leaves and later sprout new leaves along their branches. When you see a eucalyptus tree that seems to have shaggy light bluish-green new leaves along its branches or trunk – that’s epicormic sprouting.

Here’s what Jake Sigg said in a recent newsletter: “According to arborists, the trees produce these abnormal shoots from epicormic buds when their lives are seriously threatened. In this case, the tree is expected to be dead by the end of 2015. On Bayview Hill, barring heavy unseasonal rain, hundreds of the trees will be dead this year. Yet the City continues to not see a problem.”

We asked UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Joe McBride and California’s leading expert on eucalyptus for his opinion. He’s observed this condition in trees along the edge of the Presidio forest and explains, “This response is common in blue gum as a mechanism to reduce transpiration rates in order to survive drought years.”

He continues: “I am not convinced that the trees will die in large numbers.

bayview-hill-2010 smTwo girdled trees

THE GIRDLED TREES OF BAYVIEW HILL

As an aside, we find it ironic that Mr Sigg should be so concerned with dead trees on Bayview Hill, given that’s where nativists girdled hundreds of healthy eucalyptus trees to kill them.

(This is done by cutting around the tree, thus starving it of nutrients that are carried only in the outer layers of the tree-trunk.) It’s clearly visible in the two photographs here, both taken on Bayview Hill.

EUCALYPTUS ADAPTS

Eucalyptus globulus thrives in Southern California, Spain, Portugal, India – all places hotter and drier than San Francisco. In fact, one of the reasons eucalyptus is so widely planted – including in climates both hotter and drier than in San Francisco – is that it adapts to a wide range of conditions. Here’s a quote from R.G. Florence’s textbook, Ecology and Silviculture of Eucalyptus Forests:

florence quote

From p.121 of the same book: “… they regulate their water usage in hot dry summers by closing their stomata [breathing pores in the leaves] during the day and lowering their rates of gaseous exchange. They adapt by their elastic cell structure to water stress.”

EPICORMIC SPROUTING IS IMPORTANT IN EUCALYPTUS

Mr Sigg describes “how to identify a dying blue gum” as follows: “Look for trees with thinning foliage and copious juvenile leaves (called coppice shoots) hugging the main stems. These coppice shoots are easy to see because of their blue color and tight clustering, as opposed to the adult leaves, which are 6-8 inches-long, dull-olive-colored and sickle-shaped and which hang from the ends of long branches. These coppice shoots are the give-away that the tree is in trouble and is destined to die soon…” (He later corrected “coppice shoots” to epicormic growth.)

But again, this is not actually true.

In fact, epicormic sprouting allows eucalyptus to survive not only drought, as described above, but even fire. The epicormic sprouting grows into new branches to replace the ones that have been damaged in the fire. This is from Wikipedia: “As one of their responses to frequent bushfires which would destroy most other plants, many Eucalypt trees found widely throughout Australia have extensive epicormic buds which sprout following a fire, allowing the vegetative regeneration of branches from their trunks.[4][5] These epicormic buds are highly protected, set deeper beneath the thick bark than in other tree species, allowing both the buds and vascular cambium to be insulated from the intense heat.[4]”

(The references are: [4] “Effects of fire on plants and animals: individual level”. Fire ecology and management in northern Australia. Tropical Savannas CRC & Bushfire CRC. 2010. Retrieved 27 December 2010. [5] “Learn about eucalypts”. EUCLID – Eucalypts of Australia. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. Retrieved 27 December 2010.)

And sometimes, dead branches and leaves and epicormic growth don’t even indicate stress – it’s part of the normal growth cycle. R.G. Florence’s book on eucalyptus says: the “mature crown of a eucalypt maintains itself by the continual production of new crown units, which die in turn. There will always be some dead branches in a healthy mature crown.” He goes on to say an “undue proportion of dead branches is an unhealthy sign” but a “reasonable proportion of death of crown units should be accepted as normal.” He also discusses the “epicormic shoots from dormant buds on the top and sides of the branch develop into leaf-bearing units of the mature crown.” (p.13) Eucalypts go through stages of development that include extensive self-thinning, particularly in younger trees. (p. 194)

Another reason for epicormic sprouts on eucalyptus is increased light. From Wikipedia, with references: “Epicormic buds lie 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 plant. Epicormic buds and shoots occur in many woody species, but are absent from many others, such as most conifers.” [The Wikipedia article references the Encyclopedia Britannica.]

We have seen these epicormic sprouts in eucalyptus trees around the clubhouse in Glen Canyon after many trees were removed.

epicormic sprouts on eucalyptus when nearby trees removed

We also saw them on Mount Sutro near where 1,200 trees were removed for “fire safety.”

MISTAKING DEFENSES FOR DEATH THROES

In summary, then, epicormic sprouting does not indicate that the tree is near death. It may indicate that the tree is responding to drought (or even to other stresses like pesticide use or damage to its root systems) with defensive measures. It’s like declaring that everyone who has a fever is bound to die of it. The trees below are the same ones featured in the picture at the start of this article – one year later, they’re surviving, not dying.

Epicormic sprouting on eucapyptus 2014In some cases, epicormic sprouting may indicate nothing at all, except that the tree is going through a normal growth phase, or changed light conditions following removal of nearby trees.

LIVING WITH A FEW DEAD TREES

We asked Dr McBride if it made sense to cut down these trees. “I do not think the city would be justified in cutting trees down as a fire prevention action,” he says. “Cutting down drought-stressed trees at this point would be much more costly, sprouting would be difficult to control without herbicides, and the litter on the ground would have to be removed to decrease the fire hazard.”

“The problem as I see it is the accumulation of leaves, bark, and small branches on the ground. This material presents a serious fuel problem when it dries out sufficiently.” However, he points out that “In many eucalyptus stands in San Francisco the eucalyptus ground fuel (leaves, bark, and small branches) seldom dries to a point that it can be ignited because of summer fog and fog drip.” In dry areas, the best course is to “launch a program of ground fuel reduction by removing the litter from beneath eucalyptus stands.”

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet Kessler

Eucalyptus-tree nest hole of red-shafted flicker – San Francisco. Copyright Janet Kessler

A few trees may indeed die, with the drought or without it. If you think of a forest as a normal population, you expect to find some trees that are in thriving and some that are hanging on, and some that are dying – just like in any population. And dead and dying trees are very valuable to wildlife: They’re more likely to have cavities that are suitable for nesting (and are easier to excavate for woodpeckers and other cavity-building species). They also have bugs that come to feast on the decaying wood, and that’s bird-food.

War on Nature in the SF Bay Area

Our readers are aware of the horrible plan to destroy up to 450,000 trees in the East Bay Hills, and use powerful pesticides in huge quantities to prevent regrowth. There’s an effort on to get the word out with this poster.

mini poster War on Nature -1This poster is available here and can be printed out (8.5 x 11) as a PDF file here: 450k trees in danger-e-print Please help spread the word!

[Edited to Add: Here’s the same poster without the trim marks: 450k trees in danger-e-1 – you can print out either one.]

Fighting the East Bay Clear-Cutting of 450,000 Trees

Nearly half a million trees are likely to be felled in Berkeley and the East Bay Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. There’s an extremely destructive project planned. 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, still plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of trees, increase fire hazard, destabilize slopes, and use huge amounts of herbicide. It will be a disaster for the environment and for wildlife habitat.

People are fighting back to save the trees and the environment. As TreeSpirit says on their website, “Can you even imagine 450,000 trees being cut down?”

THREE WAYS TO FIGHT BACK

We are aware of three separate initiatives, and we urge you to give them your support.

HCN Save the East Bay Hills Trees sm1) The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) is raising funds to take legal action. They are a registered charity, a 501(c)3 organization, and have been fighting this battle from the start. They have a GoFundMe page where you can help by contributing toward the legal fund. Here’s the link: http://www.gofundme.com/SaveEastBayTrees

2) SaveEastBayHills has a website about this project saveeastbayhills.org where you can go to the ‘Take Action’ page to which details about what you can do to write to the decision makers to protest this project.  SaveEastBayHills is led by Nathan Winograd, who also cares about animals and has been a force in working for no-kill shelters.

Treespirit fundraiser to save east bay trees sm3) TreeSpirit Project is working to get the word out, because most people still don’t know what’s about to happen. An informed public is going to be crucial to stopping this horrible project. They’re raising funds for publicity. Here’s a link to the page describing what’s happening, and a planned photo shoot. http://treespiritproject.com/sfbayclearcut/

They also have a GoFundMe fundraiser going on: http://www.gofundme.com/SFBayClearcut

TreeSpirit Project is the work of photographer Jack Gescheidt, who creates beautiful pictures of unclothed people (all volunteers) in forests to draw attention to the vulnerability of trees. (HERE’s an example from Sutro Forest.)

TreeSpirit Project has the support of Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange, who wrote on his Facebook page: “If people knew the huge numbers of trees to be killed, they’d not stand for it, and so the numbers are not revealed, nor discussed. Several citizens groups, including my friend Jack Gescheidt’s TreeSpirit Project, have uncovered and now disseminate these mind-boggling numbers. We kindly urge you to, also!”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

There isn’t much time to save these trees; felling is planned to start this fall. It’s a disaster in the making, and all based on an unreasonable prejudice against eucalyptus and a large number of myths that have been propagated.  Please do what you can:
1) Make a contribution as you can to the HCN legal fund and the TreeSpirit Project publicity fund;
2) Write to the decision-makers listed HERE, protesting the project: http://www.saveeastbayhills.org/take-action.html
Thank you to all our readers for their involvement. Without your help, thousands of trees would already be felled.
[Webmaster: This article has been updated to correct some information.]

Owl Drama Up High In The Forest (and Some of it Low in the Forest)

[Photos and story by Janet Kessler]

front row seat by the wise guy who didn't try to fly the coop today - copyright Janet Kessler

Front row seat by the wise guy who didn’t try to fly the coop today

Today two of three Great Horned Owlets attempted fledging from their Eucalyptus tree nest. It was time. The third has not left the nest. Owl eggs are laid asynchronously, so the youngsters actually mature at different rates and this one was not ready. So he had a front row seat for the drama that followed!

second fledgeling lands on the ground (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

Second fledgeling lands on the ground (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

Animal Care and Control comes to the rescue! (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

Animal Care and Control comes to the rescue! (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

The first fledgeling successfully departed, swooping over to a flimsy pine tree close by.  A second one, with high hopes of succeeding like his sibling, also took off, but immediately fell straight to the ground below his tree where it remained sitting under a bush.

Animal Rescue came and tried tossing the grounded bird back up its tree, but after two attempts and after the chick flew across a field, the parents called to it and it clambered up a hill which was not accessible to people or dogs. It would be safe here where its parents would encourage it to a tree branch without danger of a dog going after it.

Mom and Dad work to save the grounded fella after Animal Control’s attempts didn’t work

The first fledgeling made it to a flimsy limb close by

The first fledgeling made it to a flimsy limb close by

The first fledgling who had made it to a tree close by, discovered that its perch was mighty flimsy and precarious. So it attempted to move. It bent its neck — owls can’t swivel their eyes so their entire head must move when they focus on something — looking carefully at the piece of Eucalyptus bark close by which probably looked sturdier than the limb he was on. The Eucalyptus bark was a familiar item since he had spent all his time until now in a Eucalyptus tree filled with pieces of bark like this. He grabbed the bark ever so carefully with his talons. Oh, no!

Carefully watching where to put his feet for the move

Carefully watching where to put his feet for the move

He slipped! As he strained to gain a footing, we could see that he was held up by only a feather on his wing. It was touch and go for a minute, but the fellow successfully and skillfully extricated himself from that possible dangerous situation. Now he is sitting on that branch without moving. By the evening he’ll probably have the strength to move to a safer spot. Mom and Dad will keep an eye on him and they will continue to feed him, even on that flimsy limb. With all this drama, the littlest owlet probably felt safe remaining in its nest in the fork of the Eucalyptus, where it will remain a few more days until it is ready to fledge.

Oh, no! He lost his footing!

Oh, no! He lost his footing!

2015-05-05 (8)

Footing is regained! Whew! It was probably more dramatic for the spectators than the young owlet

Footing is regained! Whew! It was probably more dramatic for the spectators than the young owlet

 

Finally, Good News for the Glen Canyon Owls

The last two years weren’t good to the famous Glen Canyon Great Horned Owls. All the  work that was going on, the removal of trees near the nesting tree, the changes to the canyon – they disturbed the owls enough that there were no babies. Even though there’d been other successful nests in San Francisco.

That’s changed this year. The owls are back with a trio of baby owls. Here are some shots taken by wildlife photographer Janet Kessler. [This post was edited, as promised, to add in more owl pictures.]

[Edited to add: We normally would wait on publishing this until the owlets were fledged and flown, to avoid disclosing where the youngsters are. In this case, the story had already been published in the local online newsletter, so we decided to share the news with our readers.]

glen canyon owlet 2015 copyright janet kessler

Three baby owls!

Three baby owls!

Mama owl standing guard

Mama owl standing guard

Two baby owls together

Two baby owls together

Mama sitting proudly in back of two of her chicks

Mama sitting proudly in back of two of her chicks

Mama grooms her youngsters after feeding them

Mama grooms her youngsters after feeding them

Meanwhile, here’s another Glen Canyon bird – a Steller’s jay. This picture is also courtesy Janet Kessler.

steller jay glen canyon - copyright Janet Kessler

Lawsuit to Block Funding for East Bay Deforestation

lake-chabot cropped Photo credit MillionTrees dot meThe new Plan to cut down hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay hills of the San Francisco Bay Area  is as bad as the previous one. (See: East Bay Trees to be Destroyed.) Trees fight climate change, and removing these trees will negative environmental impacts. It will also increase fire hazard.

Now, the Hills Conservation Network is suing to stop the funding for this destruction of the trees. The article below is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, which fights unnecessary tree-destruction.

———————

HILLS CONSERVATION NETWORK FILES SUIT TO STOP FEMA GRANTS IN EAST BAY HILLS

Ten years after UC Berkeley, City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District applied for FEMA grants to fund the destruction of hundreds of thousands of non-native trees on 1,000 acres of public open space, FEMA announced its final decision on Thursday, March 5, 2015.

FEMA’s announcement of that final decision, which was sent to those who commented on the draft plans, implied that the projects had been revised to be less destructive. In fact, those who take the time to read the final version of the plans will learn that the original plans are fundamentally unchanged in the final version. East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) will destroy about 90% of the trees in its project area, as originally planned. “Thinning” is not an accurate description of EBRPD’s project. UC Berkeley (UCB) and City of Oakland will destroy 100% of all non-native trees on their project properties.

On a small portion of UCB and Oakland property (29 of 460 acres), tree removals will be phased over the 10-year project period. In other words, the final version of these projects will destroy as many trees as originally proposed by the grant applicants. However, FEMA has refused to fund tree removals on Frowning Ridge (185 acres) because UC Berkeley removed hundreds of trees there before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete, in violation of FEMA policy.

UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.

UC Berkeley destroyed hundreds of trees on Frowning Ridge in August 2014, before the Environmental Impact Statement was complete.

The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) filed suit to prevent the funding and implementation of these projects on March 6, 2015. Below is the press release announcing HCN’s suit. Please contact the Hills Conservation Network if you wish to contribute to the cost of this suit: http://www.hillsconservationnetwork.org/HillsConservation3/Blog/Blog.html or email inquiries@hillsconservationnetwork.org


Hills Conservation Network

Preserving the East Bay Hills

March 6, 2015

For Immediate Release

HCN announces lawsuit against FEMA EIS

Today the Hills Conservation Network, an Oakland, CA based environmental non-­‐profit, filed suit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also naming the Regents of the University of California, the City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Park District in the suit.

The suit was filed in opposition to the Record of Decision released March 5, 2015 finalizing FEMA’s decision to award approximately $7.5 million in fire risk mitigation grants. The suit contends that the Environmental Impact Study used as part of the grant process was significantly flawed, and as such cannot be used to justify awarding these funds.

The lawsuit argues that FEMA did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives and reached unsupportable conclusions in deciding to allow the three agencies named in the suit to remove large numbers of healthy trees, with the goal of eradicating certain species of non-­‐native trees (acacia, Monterey pine, eucalyptus) by the end of ten years. HCN proposed a more nuanced approach that would have resulted in higher levels of fire risk mitigation at a much lower cost and with far less environmental damage than the current plan that calls for the removal of well in excess of 100,000 healthy trees that provide shade canopy (preventing the growth of highly flammable weeds) as well as storing tons of carbon that contribute to the greenhouse gases warming our planet.

This step marks the latest chapter in this process that began in 2005. During the Draft EIS review in 2013 approximately 13,000 comment letters were received by FEMA, 90% of them opposed to the proposed projects. In response to this public outcry FEMA reworked the EIS, and while the Final EIS is somewhat less destructive than the Draft EIS, it essentially calls for the same level of environmental damage, but over a longer time period.

The Hills Conservation Network is an Oakland, California based 501c3 comprised of residents of the Oakland hills that were directly affected by the 1991 fire. Several members of the group lost their homes in this conflagration and have committed themselves to driving change in Oakland to ensure that similar events never happen again. Members of HCN have been involved in the Grand Jury investigation of the ’91 fire and in developing enhanced emergency response capabilities in Oakland. Please direct inquiries to Dan Grassetti at 510-­‐849-­‐2601.

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Wishing You All a Good 2015!

The year end 2014 marked the third full year for this site, which was started in December of 2011. Now we’re well into the beginning of 2015 and the continuing fight to save our forests and natural spaces for the sake of the environment and for families who visit these places.

We’d like to wish all our readers a great year ahead by reprising these children’s drawings that we first posted in January 2014.

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

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