If you’ve heard about the big, controversial plan to cut down lots and lots of of trees in the Oakland and Berkeley hills because they’re hazardous, or fire hazards, and you’re not sure what to make of it, here’s an example of the phone conversations I’ve been having the past few months about it.
ME: Hi, ___________, have you heard that East Bay Parks District, The City of Oakland, and UC Berkeley are going to remove” — which is to say, cut down — lots of trees in the East Bay hills?
THEM: No, I haven’t heard anything about it.
ME: Guess how many trees.
THEM: I don’t know, Jack. But since you’re asking, I bet it’s a lot.
ME: Well guess.
THEM: I dunno...1000 trees?
ME: No, it’s more.
THEM: 2,000 trees?
ME: No. More.
THEM: Well, I said I don’t know, so you tell me.
ME: Humor me, I’m doing this to make a point, so you have to think about it and are more likely to remember this now annoying conversation…
THEM: Oh, c’mon, just tell me.
ME: No. I won’t. Please — humor me...
THEM: 4,000 trees.
ME: No. More.
THEM: 10,000 trees.
ME: No. It’s more.
THEM: Wow. Really? Why are they cutting them down? For development? Where is this gonna be exactly?
ME: Hold your horses, we’re not done with the numbers game. And yes, “really,” about the numbers. It’s over 2,000 acres of trees, including, for example, about 325 acres of trees in Tilden Park alone.
THEM: Oh c’mon, just tell me how many trees.
ME: Nope. Just 30 more seconds. Guess again. It’s more than your last guess of 10,000 trees.
THEM: (now exasperated and getting annoyed) Okay, 100,000 trees. (Believing this exponential jump will end their suffering).
ME: Nope. It’s more.
THEM: You’ve got to be kidding. What the heck?...
ME: C’mon, let’s finish this...guess again.
THEM: Okay, a-quarter of a million trees!!!
ME: Now, that’s more like it. Good guess! Way to go! But no. It’s more.
THEM: I thought you were my friend.
ME: I am, that’s why I’m doing this. One last guess.
THEM: A half-million trees!!
ME: Well done! You got it. It’s about 450,000 trees, give or take 50,000 trees. I tell people it’s “the largest SF Bay Area clearcut in 100 years.” Because it is.
THEM: But WHY?? It’s driven by money, right? Someone’s profiting big-time from this, right?
ME: Well, that IS the question. In MY OPINION, it’s being helped along by money, and politics, and also and momentum and bureaucracy. But really, what’s driving it is IDEOLOGY…
THEM: What do you mean?
ME: Because the trees they plan to cut down are acacia trees, Monterey Pine trees, and…wait for it...eucalyptus trees.
THEM: Oh, why didn’t you say so. Because they’re invasive non-natives, right? And I think they’re flammable too, aren’t they?
ME: Well that surely is the contention of those doing the cutting. But let me tell you something more: when they cut down the trees, they won’t remove the wood from the hillsides, but leave it on the ground. So they’ll turn living forest canopy into thousands of dead, drying-out logs and acres of wood chips in the hills.
THEM: That doesn’t make sense. Isn’t that flammable?
ME: Indeed. I‘d argue it’s MORE flammable than living trees of ANY species, including the dreaded, feared eucalyptus. And especially because the wood is now on the ground among grasses and shrubs — they’re what started the 1991 fire. This is what a professional firefighter told me firsthand while touring the East Bay hills. He said fire science, and the Fire Protection Handbook published by the National Fire Protection Association, doesn’t differentiate between species of trees. All living trees are considered fire-RESISTANT. Only dead materials on or dropped from trees are considered “fuels.”
THEM: But they’re going to replant native trees, right?
ME: Nope. There are no plans to replant anything at all, native or otherwise. What will grow in the logged areas will be opportunistic plants like poison oak, thistle and broom. All are more flammable than the felled trees.
THEM: This doesn’t make sense. If what you say is true, it doesn’t make sense. What’s going on here? Is it about money? Who’s profiting from this?
ME: Money certainly speeds it along. Monsanto profits from all tree cuts that require use of their Roundup (glyphosate) on the hundreds of thousands of stumps, like this plan does. But again, I really think it’s about ideology. That’s why good environmental groups like The Sierra Club back this plan too, support using Roundup, and even sued because they say the plan doesn’t cut down enough of the eucalyptus tree.
THEM: Wow. You’re kidding. And what do you mean by ideology?
ME: Thanks for asking. You see how long it took for us to get here, to a second, deeper question, under the top layer about fire danger? And it’s really both issues, fire and so-called invasives, working in concert. To sum up the ideology in two words, it’s Invasion Biology. I’ve just put up a webpage on my TreeSpirit Project website about it: TreeSpiritProject.com/InvasionBiology
But I’m guessing you’re, uh, burnt out by this conversation by now.
THEM: Yes, but tell me what you mean. Don’t you agree we need to kill, or at least stop, invasive non-natives from pushing out all the native trees which, after all, are better adapted for the Bay Area?
ME: In a nutshell, I’d say, try to keep an open mind here. I’ve read two intriguing new books on the subject, “Where Do Camels Belong; Why Invasive Species Aren’t All Bad” by Ken Thompson, and “The New Wild; Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation” by Fred Pearce. In short, in hundreds of pages of thorough research, the authors propose that: 1) not all non-natives are invasive; 2) not all invasives do harm; 3) not all that do harm can be eradicated without doing more harm than the invasives do; and 4) those few we choose to try to eradicate are not always the ones that end up doing the most harm. Oh, and one more thing, 5) they both challenge the definition of what a “native” species is because plants and animals are always migrating over and between continents, and have been doing so long before humans got involved, or even industrialized humans. You still on the line?...
THEM: Sort of.
ME: I know this is a lot to take in. This all challenges our existing beliefs, because we’ve heard a very different story for years. But I recommend either of these books if you’re a nature lover. They’re intriguing and easy, non-technical reads. Read these two books and call me in the morning. Or, if it’s easier, I’m giving a talk on all this in San Rafael on Sat. night, August 15th, in San Rafael at Open Secret Community Center & Bookstore.
10AM Saturday, July 18, 2015WHERE: Grinnell Natural Area EUCALYPTUS GROVE, near the UC Berkeley campus’ west entrance, near Oxford & Center St., Berkeley.
(Google Map: Starbucks @ #2128 Oxford St., Berkeley, CA 94704)
Jack Gescheidt is founder of The TreeSpirit Project, on the web at www.TreeSpiritProject.com
Details about his Sat. Aug.15, 2015 talk at 7:30pm are here: www.TreeSpiritProject.com/events
You can email Gescheidt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And he promises not to call you.