Eucalyptus, As Political Hot Potato

Eucalyptus has become the newest political hot potato.  While the opinions aren’t exactly this cut and dry, there are three main camps:  folks who want to save the trees; others who call for selective pruning; and still others who want to cut them down.

We wanted to pay a little homage first, and walked in the hills today.  The eucalyptus are everywhere, standing sentinel on many hillsides.  We noticed these trees, below, while ambling along the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  Within East Bay MUD territory, these specimens were quite tall and there were a couple tree stumps here and there.

The Hills Conservation Network (HCN), which aims to save trees, filed a suit against the East Bay Regional Park District last Tuesday.  The group is looking to prevent any tree removals, until there’s sufficient environmental study about the 20-year impact of removing half a million trees.  According to HCN’s press release:

Large scale removal of pine, eucalyptus and acacia trees is a radical plan to restore the landscape to the way it may have looked 200 years ago.  Removal of thousands of trees eliminates their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, a main culprit in global warming.  This is poor forest management and ineffective fire prevention — and it harms the environment.

Meanwhile, there are concerns about limiting the impact of the next firestorm.  The hills are part of the Wildfire Prevention District where, like clockwork, the Diablo Winds fuel fires every two decades or so.  Ever wiser since the 1991 firestorm, we’re all trying to mitigate the fire fuels – whether on public or private lands.

Homeowners know the drill each summer, as we’re required to maintain “defensible space” between the greenery and our homes.  Everyone keeps things under control or else gets fined, and must adhere to very tight regulations.

The eucalyptus have become a real point of contention, with different opinions about whether or how to clear them on public lands.   Other plant species may or may not grow successfully near them.  Various chemicals might be acceptable or not, when clearing eucalyptus and other growth.  And some selective de-limbing and chopping might be useful.

To shake this all out, it comes down to what is best for supporting the natural environment and for reducing potential fire damage.  There’s plenty of human sparks coming from scientists, arborists, environmentalists and fire marshals who are debating here – and we’re curious where you stand.

6 thoughts on “Eucalyptus, As Political Hot Potato

  1. Well, I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other, but the statement about absorbing carbon dioxide is wrong. Mature forests don’t absorb carbon dioxide or release it. Mature forests are neutral. Only growing forests actively absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

  2. If you want to learn more, google “Dan Grassetti eucalyptus.”

    Also see last year’s story by Carolyn Jones in the SF Chronicle:

    My opinion: we are all being held hostage in a fire pit by the “Hills Conservation Network.” We carefully trim our trees and comply with the Oakland Hills Fire Prevention rules, as those exploding matchsticks called eucalyptus, sheltered by “Hills Conservation Network” grow on.

  3. Of course any living forest is a growing forest, unless it is constrained by lack of water, nutrients or temperature. Therefore I agree with HCN that the eucalyptus are a growing carbon sink. They also may serve a purpose preventing erosion and other soil loss.

    The most critical concern in our Oakland Hills however, must be reducing the risk of wildfire. HCN and other concerned groups and individuals might do well to work together on a program of hazardous tree removal and native tree replacement. These eucalyptus are a century old introduction from Australia where they have adapted to fire by using it to disperse seeds and by regrowing quickly. As we cut the eucalyptus down we should replace them with varieties of redwood and native Oak. Both are fire resistant trees. Four redwoods I planted here two decades ago are now about eighty feet tall. I’ve planted four more. In between, as planned, I removed a huge old pine that was leaning in the direction of my house. On balance, I’ve settled that part of my carbon account.

    Getting rid of eucalyptus need not mean getting rid of trees. Replace the invaders with natives.

  4. For those who have a sincere interest in reducing fire hazard should visit the Million Trees blog to learn more about this controversy:

    Here’s a quote from one of the posts on the Million Trees blog:
    “There is overwhelming evidence that eucalyptus is not more flammable than native trees and has not played a role in the many wildfires in California. The myth that eucalypts are responsible for wildfires is propagated by native plant advocates who use the fear of fire to justify the destruction of eucalypts. Those who are willing to look closely at the evidence will see through this carefully constructed myth to the reality that destroying non-native trees will not reduce fire hazard.”

  5. During the last great wildfire in the Oakland Hills, I returned from Yosemite to find Highway 13 largely deserted and Kearney Avenue, where I live, under a siege of fluttering, smoldering, glowing eucalyptus tree leaves dropping from the sky. We got our albums and got out.

    It is appalling to me that people who clearly weren’t here and paying attention can quote “scientific authorities” on other blogs. There is no better instructor than personal observation.

    It is not difficult to plant a tree. It is a much easier thing to do than taking one out. While I regularly cut trees on my small property, rest assured there is more carbon sequestered here than when I arrived. I cannot fathom the objection to replacing a monoculture of invasive eucalyptus with diverse varieties of redwood, sequoia and oak.

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