Cal seeks funds to cut down 22,000 non-native trees

Photo 13

Eucalyptus trees in Claremont Canyon: Cal is seeking federal funds to cut down many such non-natives. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Federal funding to enable UC Berkeley to cut down 22,000 non-native trees in Strawberry Canyon and Claremont Canyon is proceeding through the late stages of an environmental impact review. A final public meeting on the project will be held by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Saturday, May 18, at Claremont Middle School in Oakland at 10 a.m.

The university’s project is a continuation of work it has been doing for the last decade on its land. Over 19,000 non-native trees — eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia — have already been eradicated on 185 acres of campus property. The 22,000 additional trees expand the program to Strawberry Canyon and the hills to the north of Claremont Avenue as it climbs to Grizzly Peak.

“It’s a cohesive strategy that started over a decade ago,” said Tom Klatt, the university’s environmental projects manager. “We target the most fire-prone, fuel-productive trees that we have on our land. Those areas will have less fire intensity as a result.” 

But opponents of the project argue that the scheme will have precisely the opposite effect, increasing the fire risk, purely for the goal of restoring native species.

Klatt said that the university’s project will, over time, allow native trees such as California bay laurel, oak and big-leaf maple to thrive. He said, however, that there will be a period of time when the cleared areas will be mostly scrub or grassland. The plan is to suppress regrowth of non-natives with herbicide and encourage the growth of native trees.

FEMA, which will provide up to $5.6 million in pre-disaster mitigation funding for the university’s plans, as well as those from Oakland and East Bay Regional Park District, concludes in its draft environmental impact statement that the schemes are important to reduce fire danger (there’s a 16-page executive summary of the full draft EIS).

“Fire risk may be lowered by creating a fire break and reducing the amount of flammable trees, shrubs, and debris that can act as fuel during a wildfire,” said a FEMA spokesperson. “The proposed vegetation management work would primarily focus on reducing highly flammable, non-native invasive species.

“Based on the wildfire hazard characteristics of the East Bay Hills and the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, FEMA has identified that a need exists to reduce hazardous fire risk to people and structures in these areas,” the spokesperson said.

The university plans to eliminate all the non-native trees in Strawberry Canyon and Claremont Canyon. Felled trees less than 24 inches in diameter would be chipped and the chips spread on up to 20% of each site to a maximum depth of 24 inches. Larger trees would be cut up and scattered on the sites, which would help control sediment and erosion or support wildlife habitat, according to the draft EIS. For 10 years after the felling, stumps would be treated with herbicide to prevent new sprouts.

The project is supported by a large resident’s organization, the Claremont Canyon Conservancy. It has encouraged its members to write to FEMA in support of the EIS, arguing, “We Claremont Canyon residents know only too well that, when ignited, the eucalyptus canopy will spread wildfire dramatically during our windy fire season. With removal of invasive trees and yearly follow-up to discourage regrowth and weeds, native vegetation will thrive.”

Photo 1

Eucalyptus and other trees are often sited cheek by jowl with homes in the Claremont and Strawberry canyon areas. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Dan Grassetti is a member of the Hills Conservation Network (HCN), a small group of local residents who have mobilized against the eucalyptus removal. “The core of our objection is that the methods that are being proposed are more geared to native plant restoration than fire risk reduction,” he said today.

HCN sued to spur the current FEMA environmental impact statement and, on its website, threatens to sue again to stop the plan. “What we are trying to get FEMA to do is rework the EIS to remove the native plant restoration portion and instead make it species neutral and focus on the alleged reason for this project is, which is fire risk reduction,” Grassetti said.

But Grassetti’s perspective that eucalypts are not a problem is a minority voice. Scott Stephens, associate professor of fire science at UC Berkeley as well as co-director of the U.C. Center for Fire Research and Outreach, told The New York Times in 2011: “All vegetation has the potential to burn in wildfires but some species are more flammable and hazardous than others. Eucalyptus, with it shedding bark, huge amounts of leaf litter, tall dense stands of trees, and fast growth is probably the most hazardous species in the East Bay Hills.”

A number of residents in the hills who experienced the devastating 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm echo Stephens’ concerns.

“The eucalyptus has an infamous ability to spread fire,” said Marge Gibson Haskell, who was an Oakland city councilmember in 1991, and whose house was destroyed in the fire. “Their leaves are aerodynamically shaped. The wind takes them, they go. I don’t like eucalyptus, I like natives. Why don’t we plant what was here before some idiot from Australia planted thousands of trees.”

The university’s Klatt says doubters about the new plans can see what will result by going up Claremont Avenue. To the south, the non-natives have already been removed. To the north, the non-natives exist in profusion.

“The native trees are shaded out by the 200-foot canopy of eucalyptus,” he said. “Once we remove the overstory, the natives thrive. It’s a long-term conversion. We’re staying with it for 10 years to make sure these trees don’t come back. We want this to be the last removal and we want this to be successful.”

A public meeting on the draft EIS will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 18, at Claremont Middle School, 5750 College Ave., Oakland. FEMA is also accepting written comments, which must be submitted or postmarked by midnight, June 17. Written comments may be submitted through the project website, via email to FEMA, or via mail to P.O. Box 72379, Oakland, CA 94612-8579.

Related:
Berkeley Fire Chief Debra Pryor: “It’s important not to forget” [10.14.11]
No warning: A sense of crisis outrunning the firestorm [10.10.11]
Richard Misrach: A focus on the after story [08.01.11]

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  • guest

    “Did you visit Angel Island after the fire?
    It didn’t touch the Eucalyptus trees”

    ….and the floods don’t bother the houses above the cresting line.

  • Harbinger

    What a wild assumption. That “deadly unearthly green” is not roundup residue. That’s a hydroseeding spray made up of grass seeds and cellulose. They use it to prevent erosion after fires, construction, and probably removal of Scotch Broom that had been formally securing the hillside (though badly, given that they really have one long taproot).

  • The_Sharkey

    We should see if we can push through some legislation in Sacramento for a eucalyptus amnesty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Lang/787204868 Simon Lang

    Still take down the building next door.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Lang/787204868 Simon Lang

    The Eucs were brought here for fire wood for trains, and as a timber tree,

  • guest

    Notes to “Myth 2.” The source of this
    information about “outgassing” is a book entitled The Tree by Colin
    Tudge. Mr. Tudge is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and the
    author of several natural history books.

    I also recommend A Natural History of California, by Schoenherr (UC
    Press 1992). This is a comprehensive natural history book, written by a
    respected academic. Here are a few tidbits from that book about the
    flammability of native vegetation:

    Shreddy bark and volatile oils are characteristics of many plants,
    both native and non-native. They are not characteristics exclusive to
    eucalypts: “The [chaparral] community has evolved over millions of
    years in association with fires, and in fact requires fire for proper
    health and vigor…Not only do chaparral plants feature adaptations that
    help them recover after a fire, but some characteristics of these
    plants, such as fibrous or ribbonlike shreds on the bark, seem to
    encourage fire. Other species contain volatile oils.” (page 341)

    Here is an example of a particularly flammable member of the native chaparral plant community from that book (page 344)

    “The relationship between fire and Chamise is illustrated by the
    plant’s tendency to ‘encourage’ burning. A thermometer was placed
    within a Chamise shrub as a fire approached, and the following changes
    were documented. At about 200⁰F the plant began to wilt as its
    temperature approached the boiling point of water. At about 400⁰F the
    plant began to emit combustible gases such as hydrogen, alcohol, and
    methane. At about 600⁰F the shrub smoldered and began to turn black.
    At about 800⁰F the plant burst into flames! This species must have
    evolved in association with frequent fires to have reached the point
    where it seems to encourage burning.”

  • guest

    >eucalyptus are firebombs waiting to explode!
    >no recorded fires, ever, while island is covered with eucalyptus

    >dry grassland fires occur quickly and repeatedly once eucalyptus cover is removed

    Just a coincidence! Nothing to see here folks!

  • Dano2

    Did you see where the fire occurred and the eucalypts were removed that the professionals were glad they weren’t there?

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    Please cite credible evidence that these hot-burning trees prevented past grass fires. None of us will hold our breath.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    I recommend any fire ecology text that discusses the flammability of non-native eucalypts.

    The issue is not about flammability of native vegetation.

    The issue is about how hot blue gum burns.

    The experts want the fire hazard removed, like they are doing elsewhere.

    No need to change the subject.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    I am the last person – sockpuppet – who is a useful idiot. I have a specialized degree in forestry and another in urban ecology.

    You and your sockpuppets who spread FUD about this issue are disinformers. There is zero empirical evidence in existence on this planet that finds that this forest prevented fires on the island or similar forests prevent similar fires elsewhere..

    The disinformers who cherry-pick quotes always seem to leave out the quotes from fire officials (that I’ve posted here twice already, pre-bunking your disinformation) who all were glad the eucalypts were not there for that human-caused fire.

    Your disinformation campaign won’t stop this risk-avoidance project. The people in charge of this project know your hokum is hokum and can be dismissed.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    Thank you for that combination red herring and strawman. Well done.

    Best,

    D

  • guest

    You have provided zero information proving that native species in this area are any less susceptible to wildfire than Eucs.

  • sky

    >fire hazard of native vegetation
    >not relevant to a discussion about fire hazards

    lel

  • guest

    >100+ years of history showing no fires when eucalyptus trees blanketed the island
    >not valid evidence

  • Dano2

    It is your claim. It is your responsibility to back it. It is the responsibility of the advocates to present this information, as it is their claim. Those have been the rules for 2500 years now. Quote mining and quote fabrication is not information, BTW.

    And what is dishonest is the purposeful avoidance of the severity of fire – heat, explosiveness, spread, speed, etc – in euc vs native regimes. That is what is most dishonest about the disinformation campaign. It could just be titanic ignorance, too. That could be.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    I asked for evidence, not description of a likely coincidence.

    Best,

    D

  • Mbfarrel

    Wow! Two sides of true believers giving not an inch.

    It seems to boil down to this
    1: Eucalyptus are devil trees and will burn you and yours if you turn your back.
    2: Trees are holy and you obviously hate God.
    2a: Baby animals

    I didn’t know life was so black and white.

    What I think, based on years of paying attention:

    Will Eucalyptus removal stop wildfire from occurring?

    Nope; but it will greatly reduce the chance of a fast moving, fully involved crown fire from generating a firestorm similar to 1991.
    What can you do in a firestorm? Run.

    What about grass and chaparral fires?

    More grass and chaparral fires where there more grass and chaparral. Duh
    You can fight these fires with sufficient resources.

    BUT you can defend against both types of fire in advance.

    Remove growth likely to create firestorms. Tall hot burning and fire prone trees with large fuel volumes and the ability to cast large burning embers down slope and downwind. Particularly if they occur in fairly dense groves.

    The ’91 firestorm crossed the Hwy, 13 freeway “like it wasn’t there.” That’s a direct quote from the BFD’s Fire Safety Officer who WAS there, and watched.

    Maintain adequate fire breaks at the wildland interface AND reduce fuel load within developed areas. Even in the Berkeley Flatland. The Claremont Hotel is a SIX STORY wood frame structure. Fire fighters focused on protecting the hotel as an engulfed Claremont could easily have
    started spot fires miles downwind.

    The City of Berkeley and many of its citizens are notoriously bad at this. A trip through the Berkeley Hills reveals extreme levels of civic and individual denial.

    Baby animals: I love baby animals. There will be more with a return to a more native landscape.

    Remove the Eucalyptus and make continuing fire protection efforts. This means the City and all of its citizens.

    Additionally we need not only to prevent outside forces from setting our town on fire but also to prevent ourselves from setting our neighbors on fire. A house fire or even an ill-considered barbeque on the wrong day could have devastating consequences.

  • Guest

    This document from FEMA website prepared by URS UC board of Regents:

    http://www.fema.gov/library/file;jsessionid=841F57C8AE46A09CBB711B59D8793917.WorkerPublic2?type=publishedFile&file=strawberrycanyon_dea_textandfigs.pdf&fileid=30077260-bfc1-11dc-8be8-001185636fb7

    Interesting to note that the Board of Regents chairman may have had Interests in URS at the time of the petitioning of FEMA for funding. Is the same Richard Blum responsible for selling the Berkeley post office also responsible for clear cutting the Berkeley hills?

  • guest

    You are advocating for the clear-cutting of groves of trees. The burden of proof is on you to prove that such action is necessary. You keep saying that they are a fire hazard. But you are ignoring evidence that groves of such trees have existed in the bay area for hundreds of years and resulted in no increase in wildfires. The evidence does not support your claims.

  • guest
  • Dano2

    You are advocating for the clear-cutting of groves of trees.

    False.

    You keep saying that they are a fire hazard. But you are ignoring evidence that
    groves of such trees have existed in the bay area for hundreds of years
    and resulted in no increase in wildfires. The evidence does not support
    your claims.

    False. Your wording is mendacious as well.

    Anyone with the slightest education in forestry, fire, fire ecology, range management, etc knows blue gum burns hotter than CA natives, and its explosive nature is unlike most large tree natives as well.

    No need to mischaracterize the situation. Small grass fires are not equivalent to crown fires in eucalypts. To assert so is ignorant or dishonest.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    This is a disinformation site, folks.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    Please cite evidence that the condition you describe is:

    o not coincidence

    a bonus:

    o Please cite evidence that grass fires are worse than a eucalypt grove burning.

    TIA

    Best,

    D

  • guest

    It is foolish to build houses in the hills the way that people have.

  • Dano2

    Here’s the other half of the standard Fear and Smear tactic. Or FUD tactic. Take your pick.

    Best,

    D

  • guest

    Please cite evidence that the eucalyptus trees are such a clear and present danger that they need to be chopped down, when most groves of them in the bay area have not had fires for hundreds of years.

  • peakfreak

    The most likely way that the herbicide will be used is by dabbing or painting it on the stumps. I suppose the resprouts will be sprayed,but they could be treated in the same manner as the stumps after being clipped off. This method uses significantly less herbicide, making it cheaper, no more time consuming and less harmful to the environment (as the chemical can age and deteriorate before reaching the soil). Not perfect, but much more reasonable solution to a problem.

  • Dano2

    Yes, exactly.

    Thank you for trying to change the subject because you cannot provide evidence, as requested above.

    This is why no one here is holding their breath waiting for you to cough up evidence – you can’t.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    No need to mischaracterize what I wrote: it is easy enough to scroll up to see if you were honest about my argument.

    That is: if you can’t grasp the simple fact that blue gum burns much hotter and explosively (and higher above the ground) than native, you shouldn’t speak to the issue. If you know this and are attempting to mislead, you shouldn’t speak to the issue.

    HTH.

    Best,

    D

  • eat2thrive

    Please read this article from a fire-fighter about eucalyptus trees and fire spreading

    http://www.contracostatimes.com/montclarion/ci_12946185

  • Gina

    The trees are torches so I understand the concern and the desire to have a plan of action. What I think problematic are 1) the types and manner of application of
    herbicides that will be used and how their application will be monitored over
    time to insure minimal use and minimal impact on the environment, and 2) how
    the animal ecosystems that have developed in and around the non native
    plants will be supported while the transition to native species takes
    place. You can’t just take out the top flora in a system and not impact
    all the other plant and animal life, sometimes irreparably.

  • twill monkey

    I have a couple of comments:
    1. I am also quite concerned about the use of herbicides. I was on the Jordan Trail about a month ago and there was a guy in a backhoe destroying the packed-earth trail, leaving a swath of dust. Then the grasses, etc., were killed in a way that suggests herbicide use. The thistles, foxtails, and other invasive junk was left standing. Really quite an ignorant approach of UCB…which is why I am concerned. Otherwise, I whole-heartedly support the project, which includes active habitat restoration, I hope.
    2. I agree with the idea that building up in the Oakland-Berkeley hills is a very bad idea and I live up here. The continual overt and unstated hostility toward the hill-dwellers from the flatland-dwellers is really wrong-headed. We don’t get lights, sidewalks (not wanted), police or fire protection, graffiti abatement, street sweeping and other city services, we pay the lion’s share of taxes. We are also not all rich, either, yet we pay the same level of property taxes as more affluent people. There are a lot of older people who bought because its location was cheap decades ago…and their heirs…and others who bought what they could afford a dump and fixed it up. It’s a mix up here of architecture and income.
    Some more creative and community-building ideas would be:
    –to join together and get the cities of Oakland and Berkeley to limit square footage of single-to-four units to no more than 2,500 sf per unit;
    –to join together to fight the unlimited expansion of the industrial and military research facilities. The light pollution alone destroys habitat and its animal residents’ abilities to reproduce, hunt, and otherwise exist. This doesn’t include the noise and the waterway pollution this unceasing building produces. The environment up here is a part of the environment in general.
    –to require more day-lighted government, with more advance notice (or notice at all) of all forms of construction.
    Black and white solutions to our problems are as divisive and limiting as they are just plain boring.

  • twill monkey

    I forgot to add that Oakland District One is where most of the lab complex is, not Berkeley District whatever. I also forgot to add to my possible solutions list, along with square footage limitations, is straight-out development prohibitions on most streets above Arlington-Colusa-Claremont, etc. In other words, above, say, 700 feet above sea level.

  • sky

    >so butthurt you keep replying to the same comments

  • Dano2

    How sad – you continue to mischaracterize what I write.

    Often when people do this, they do not have command of the facts. Or they
    are trying to hide the fact they are either wrong or spreading disinformation.
    Or they are sad they have no reply or do not have the wherewithal or ability to
    muster a coherent reply.

    Which is it for you? Do share why you use these low-quality tactics to hide
    the disinformation in this comment thread!

    Best,

    D

  • sky

    >reply to a comment twice

    >pretend your booty isn’t busted

    >pretend it didn’t happen when someone points it out

    I shiggity diggity!

  • http://www.facebook.com/arjuna.jennings Arjuna Jennings

    Yes I read that paper someone linked to and it does make sense. They thrive in forests that were once burned down. Gotcha.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arjuna.jennings Arjuna Jennings

    I think this is very vague satire. Maybe.

  • Dano2

    Many plants are adapted to fire. That’s how it is. The leaf litter of blue gum is highly flammable as well as allelopathic. Blue gum burns very hot. The fuel load of blue gum is much higher than CA natives. That is how it is. You can choose to believe it or not. It won’t change the facts.

    Best,

    D

  • Dano2

    Some plants and ecosystems are adapted to fire and have evolved to promote it. Blue gum is one of those plants. Welcome to basic botany.

    Best,

    D

  • guest

    Dano2, You know your stuff. Don’t let the Elmer “FUD”s silence you!

  • Guest

    Some plants and ecosystems are adapted to fire. Blue gum depends on fire. Botany 101.

    Best,

    D

  • do what works

    I grew up on the edge of a seventeen acre Eucalyptus grove. We have had some of the trees removed, the park district sprayed RoundUp on the stumps repeatedly. Does not work — you need to grind the stumps or send someone out periodically to cut the suckers that sprout from the stump. The tree will then eventually die.

  • guest

    Oh, bullshit. Roundup just isn’t that toxic. The only reason you think it is is because a bunch of activists have ginned up it level of toxicity because it was invented by Monstanto, who you hate. I am so fucking sick of this kind of bullshit from people that should know better. You can win based on the strength of your ideas, not based on crap you read on the internet. You know what is really, really toxic? Stupid pseudoscience spread by idiots who haven’t taken a science class since High School but think they are experts because they learned to Google.

  • guest
  • guest

    non native grasses?

  • Veneziano

    I recently heard from a very knowledgeable source that it was cultivated for the specific purpose as fuel, as it burns at 80% the capacity as coal.

  • http://www.woodlandstreeremoval.com/ The Woodlands Tree Removal

    I think the authority take perfect decision after thinking,

  • http://www.woodlandstreeremoval.com/ The Woodlands Tree Removal

    I think the authority take perfect decision after thinking,
    “HEN sued to spur the current FAME environmental impact statement and, on
    its website, threatens to sue again to stop the plan. “What we are
    trying to get FAME to do is rework the AS to remove the native plant
    restoration portion and instead make it species neutral and focus on the
    alleged reason for this project is, which is fire risk reduction,” Rossetti said.”