Letters for the Week of June 26, 2013 

Readers sound off on UC's tree-removal plan.

"Is UC's Tree-Removal Plan Necessary?," Eco Watch, 6/12

Not So Simple

I just read your article about the FEMA, EIS, and UC's plans. If you do another piece you may wish to talk to the Sierra Club and other environmental groups such as the California Native Plant Society. You would have learned that the issue is not as simplistic as [Dan] Grassetti [of the Hills Conservation Network] portrays it.

The Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, and the Golden Gate Audubon Society have supported the transformation of the hills from the very fire dangerous Eucalyptus plantations to the restoration of less fire-dangerous and more ecologically diverse native habitat that is less costly to maintain over the long run. The issue is complex.

A major issue is how to prevent a repeat of the 1991 fire. Continuous, routine maintenance is necessary. The eucs require much more costly maintenance if they are not removed to be fire safe. Native habitat does not. I have worked on this issue for 25 years as the Sierra Club's leader. My concerns have been to restore native habitat but also to make sure any fire protection measures were cost-effective so that the agencies could actually continue to do the required maintenance in perpetuity instead of abandoning the maintenance work after a few years when they could no longer afford the expense that is required to maintain eucs. You know, I am sure, that in California "deferred maintenance" is a major issue and problem with public agencies. In the past after a fire, agencies would simply remove vegetation and declare the area fire-safe and then leave and do nothing. A few years later, when the exotics had taken over, they were faced with a greater fire danger and a removal at a far greater cost, which they could not afford to do. Maintaining old large eucs is very, very costly. Mr. Grassetti's proposal would require far higher amounts of maintenance money to be spent every year and at some point, the agencies could not continue that level of expenditure and would no longer fund it. That is not fire smart or ecologically sound.

In point of fact, the East Bay Regional Park District is finding that its attempts to maintain eucs through the very method Grassetti has advocated cannot be sustained financially. The UC's approach is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound. Take a drive up Claremont Avenue from the hotel to its intersection with Grizzly Peak. On the Southside you will see the restored habitat from the past tree removal. On the Northside you will see the park district's method, which leaves the eucs.

UC is to be commended for doing the right thing both for fire safety and for the restoration of native habitat.

Since I have spent 25 years on the subject, I have given it the nickname "Vegematic," in part because of the HCN attacks on Sierra Club and CNPS for advocating native habitat restoration. Mr. Grassetti's organization has publicly stated that it opposes the restoration of native habitat, which was clear from the quotation you had from Mr. Grassetti. Unfortunately, he knows very little about which he pontificates.

Norman La Force

Chair, Sierra Club East Bay

Public Lands Committee

If It Ain't Broke

Kathleen Richards' reporting on UC's tree removal plans was well worth reading. It was good to see this topic being addressed locally. She covered many important aspects of the situation and gives good service to comparing UC's plans for forest management with those of the East Bay Regional Park District. The grotesquely deep mulching schema proposed by UC is especially of interest. I've seen piles of mulched trees several feet deep sitting for multiple seasons on City of Berkeley property, and guess what — they became covered with nonnative species! (A curious aside is that these mulch piles make wondrous mushroom gardens.) The issue of herbicide use (present in all the forest management plans for the East Bay hills being considered for funding by FEMA) was not so well treated though, and is a deal breaker for me. There are better alternatives than funding Monsanto.

The above aside, our local landscape has been managed for something like 10,000 years by various groups of people for their own purposes. Our current dense forest condition is relatively new. As little as two hundred years ago the area was described as large swaths of open space akin to a savannah. This was most probably due to periodic burning, maybe even anthropogenic burning. Certainly no fire departments existed then to suppress naturally ignited fires should such a rarity occur here. If the current dense shade canopy is the condition we collectively want, then we collectively need to figure out a way to maintain it so it doesn't become a liability as so many disastrous hill fires have demonstrated.

David "Malakai" McMullen, Berkeley

Offensive for Numerous Reasons

I found your article on UC's tree removal plan rather offensive for numerous reasons.

First, your article reeks of a strong disdain for native plants and those of us trying to restore them. Invasions of nonnatives are one of the leading causes of the current extinction crises. Nonnative plants cause massive harm when they replace native ones: They don't provide food for native animals, and replacement of native plants by nonnative ones is ecological harm by definition, because it eliminates native plants and lessens global biodiversity.

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