Before Europeans moved into the San Francisco Bay area, the region was mostly grasslands and scrub, with very few trees, except in sheltered valleys. Starting in the early 1800’s, non-native trees were brought in from other parts of California and from Australia and planted because of how well suited they were to the climate and conditions. The Sierra Club, an organization once known for its careful eco-stewardship, is now pushing for the destruction of some 450,000 non-native trees in the East Bay Hills area. The group claims in a lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that non-native trees are more flammable and pose a wildfire threat, but there has been a large public backlash. Now, a new petition is collecting signatures to urge the Sierra Club to drop the suit, and stop calling for the deforestation of thousands of acres of woodlands and the use of pesticides like glyphosate to eradicate non-native trees.
The heart of the issue is FEMA grant funding totaling $5.5 million, earmarked for “vegetation management” to reduce fire hazards. That’s a fancy way of saying that FEMA wants to come in to the East Bay Hills, from Richmond to San Leandro, and kill off non-native plant species such as eucalyptus and pines not indigenous to the area. FEMA claims that these plants hinder the growth of more fire-resistant native plants like bay, laurel, and oaks.
Fire hazard reduction may be FEMA’s intent, but opponents of the management plan argue that destroying non-native plants will have the exact opposite effect, increasing the risk of wildfires. Felling massive numbers of non-native trees would leave behind up a carpet of up to 24 inches of dry wood chips, which are very effective tinder. Further, removing the canopy would drastically reduce the amount of moisture trapped by the trees, which helps keep the ground from becoming too dry. Opponents of the FEMA plan also argue that San Francisco native “chapparal” (dry grasses) are much more flammable than the non-indigenous, centuries-old eucalyptus forest. It’s also logical to assume there would be an impact on local wildlife as well, especially since the FEMA plan doesn’t include planting any new trees. Effectively, the non-native plant removal would devastate the forest land, leaving all manner of insects and animals struggling for food and habitat.
In the Sierra Club’s lawsuit against FEMA, the group is calling for the destruction of 100 percent of all non-native trees in the area. The project has already used harmful herbicides like glyphosate, which has been linked to cancer and autism in humans. The herbicides have destroyed many of the smaller non-native plants growing in the canopy’s shade, and now the Sierra Club believes that even more drastic measures are required to remove upwards of 450,000 trees as well.
Advocates for the forested lands say what the Sierra Club is really calling for is an intentional and massive environmental disaster. The petition sponsors claim deforestation on this level would contribute to climate change, due to the amount of carbon emissions associated with killing so many trees. That, combined with the increased fire hazard, and the enormous threat posed to local wildlife, make for a compelling case to add your signature to this petition today – and let the Sierra Club and FEMA hear that trees need to be protected, not killed.