Yesterday’s Bay Area section of the New York Times carried an article on trees that was both sad and refreshing. Sad, because it talked of tree-destruction – which seems to have become a California Thing. Refreshing, because it actually appeared to care rather than to applaud. Somehow, our own Chronicle’s response to dead trees seems to vary from indifference to approval.
We especially noticed NYT’s coverage of trees felled in Palo Alto. “California Avenue in Palo Alto, once a leafy street of shops and restaurants, now has the shops without the leaves, giving it the ambience of a one-stoplight town,” said the story. “A city contractor chopped down 63 mature holly oaks in 36 hours in September, prompting weeks of fury.” [It did: Palo Alto Online covered it here.]
San Francisco Chronicle’s reporting, some months back, of a similar action in a Santa Cruz shopping area, said: “Gone are the overgrown trees that made the street dark by day and a druggy hangout at night.” (However, a Chronicle blogger did mention the “denuding” of the three blocks in Palo Alto, mentioning it “was part of a beautification plan” but also giving a signal-boost to a Youtube video made by a furious neighbor.)
Separately, the NY Times article talked about the mysterious destruction of trees in Oakland’s parks and city properties, eventually blamed on — the Oakland Zoo. The zoo apparently claimed it had “written and verbal permission to remove invasive tree species” and didn’t realize they also needed city permits.
How trees become “invasive” in city parks is a little baffling. What are they invading and how, even if they are a vigorous species (in this case, acacia) ? Is this knee-jerk nativism at work?
The Zoo is planning to plant 50 oak trees in restitution. Maybe they’ll slowly grow to replace the trees that are gone, if Sudden Oak Death doesn’t get them first.
[Edited to add: The San Francisco Chronicle covered this story on Jan 15, 2010. Predictably, it was dismissive both of the trees and the concerns of neighbors, who oppose the zoo’s cutting of over 300 tree. The Chron’s spin on it was that the black acacia was a non-native, invasive fire-hazard; and it quoted the Oakland Deputy fire-chief as saying, “The Oakland Fire Department has recommended the removal of all highly flammable trees in the hills…” We’re not sure how that’s relevant, as black acacia is considered only moderately flammable. We’re all in favor of elephant snacks – separate from the issue of elephants in captivity. But cutting down trees isn’t the only way to do this.]
There’s one item in the NYT article that perhaps both nativists and tree-lovers can agree on – the assassination of live oak trees in an El Cerrito nature reserve is deplorable. Someone apparently drilled holes in the trees and injected plugs of poison over a period of two years. Homeowners are suspected of destroying the trees to gain open vistas.
The word “invasive” is used by nativists to describe all non-natives, whether they are invasive or not. Of course, they don’t use that word to describe any natives, even ones that are invasive, such as coyote bush and poison oak.
It’s just one of their cover stories. It’s an alternative to saying that non-natives are flammable. And there’s double credit when they say that they are both flammable and invasive.
Fear is the powerful tool of nativism. The strategy is to convince us that non-natives are invasive, flammable, and they are KILLING NATIVE PLANTS!
Does this mantra remind you of similar claims made about immigrants? Their taking our jobs! Their costing us money! Their devastating the environment!
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