The New York Times blog yesterday linked to this website, via an article about FEMA and the East Bay. We’re flattered, though the opening sentence of the article, about “non-native, frowzy eucalyptus” didn’t promise unbiased reporting. (To be fair, this was the NYT blog, and blogs are usually about opinions. We just think it might be interesting to drill down a little…)
Here’s the story.
FEMA has decided to do an environmental review before sanctioning over $5 million in taxpayer funds to UC Berkeley and to East Bay Regional Park District to fell trees on their land, ostensibly to reduce fire-danger. This review will take around two years.
The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) supports this, because they believe that (a) Chopping down a lot of trees (even eucalyptus) has knock-on effects on habitat, ecosystems, microclimates, soil stability, pesticide use, and aesthetics, and (b) The proposed plan will not actually reduce fire-danger.
Claremont Canyon Conservancy (CCC), which was pushing for the project, is very angry about the delay. They think that somehow HCN is making FEMA ask for the environmental review. (This is a “significant misreading” says HCN in their December 2009 PDF newsletter with a front page story about the issue.)
The spokesperson for UC Berkeley’s Fire Research and Outreach center said the problem with managing the eucalyptus groves and removing the freeze-killed dead ones is that eucalyptus grows back, and “In under 10 years, the fire problem is back.” In a separate interview with the Oakland Tribune (linked from the NYT blog), he noted, ” When you look at an area that has already been treated versus what hasn’t, the risk is 10 percent greater.” (So it there’s a danger of fire every 50 years now, there would, post-project, be a danger of fire every 55 years? Or that if it destroyed 3500 homes then, it would destroy only 3180 after treatment? We also wish he’d quoted the research on which he based the estimate.)
We think FEMA has the right approach.
Once the old trees are gone, they are gone.
If there are Unintended Consequences – whether increased flammability because chapparal is even more flammable than trees, the massive use of toxic pesticides like Garlon, the destruction of habitats for birds and animals, changes in slope stability or in microclimates – they must be lived with.
Surely at a time when the whole country is dealing with a load of Unintended Consequences in multiple areas, a little extra caution is to be lauded?
There’s no need to rush in. Conduct the review. See if the plan actually will improve fire safety, rather than merely appearing to do so. Count the environmental cost. Then decide.
What’s the connection to Mount Sutro? In a word, FEMA.
HCN is seeing a pattern of Native Plant advocates applying for FEMA funds to chop down eucalyptus. HCN therefore supports our effort to save Sutro Forest from being gutted with a removal of up to 90% of the biomass on nearly a quarter of the forest.
Nativists are also advocates for the use of powerful and toxic herbicides such as Roundup and Garlon to prevent the regrowth of eucalyptus and a host of other non-native-and-therefore-undesirable trees and bushes. This is a concern for environmentalists in the East Bay and also here on Mount Sutro. But that’s an issue for a future post.