Gardening organically since 1968
Photo © Pam Walatka
Here is a 30-second video I made about eucalyptus.
Photo © Pam Walatka
A lovely little grove of eucalyptus was cut down for this patch of thistles.
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The Invasiveness of Native Plant People
By Pam Walatka
San Francisco Bay Area, California
Rewritten June 9, 2018
See updates at bottom of article
People who favor native plants are invading our local, state, and national governments, spending taxpayer dollars on the destruction of our environment. Ecological nativism, the belief that ancient environments are superior to current environments, reminds me of McCarthyism: a bad idea embraced by well-meaning people and supported with tax money until recognized as being destructive. Nativism is taking hold because people who support it are the good guys. Restoration projects may do more harm than good. A terrible project, pushed forward by native-plant people, targets hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay Hills. The sad news in this update is that the project is actually happening. Trees are being killed. The thing is, the hate came before the danger.
Native-plant people tend to be intelligent, well-educated, environmentally conscientious, and civic minded. When they bring their ideas to the city councils, the council members listen because they already know these people from their civic volunteerism; or the nativists are already on the city council. They may be the good guys, but they have been captured by a bad concept. The nativists I know are nice people, with good intentions. I abhor their beliefs.
Native-plant people believe imported plants should be eradicated in favor of plants that grew here before European humans came. They hate eucalyptus trees. They cite the fire hazard of eucalyptus trees as a reason to eliminate them, without weighting the good that big trees do for the environment. Big trees contribute big amounts of oxygen to the environment, and sequester carbon. I look forward to scientific studies about the relative benefits of eucalyptus groves compared to the grasslands and thistle fields that replace destroyed eucalyptus.
A study by the prestigious National Academy of Scinces, in 2017, says,"Managing forest fuels is often invoked in policy discussions as a means of minimizing the growing threat of wildfire to ecosystems and WUI communities across the West. However, the effectiveness of this approach at broad scales is limited... The effectiveness of forest treatments lasts about 10–20 y (75), suggesting that most treatments have little influence on wildfire. Implementing fuels treatments is challenging and costly (7, 13, 76, 77); funding for US Forest Service hazardous fuels treatments totaled $3.2 billion over the 2006–2015 period (6). Furthermore, forests account for only 40% of the area burned since 1984, with the majority of burning in grasslands and shrublands. As a consequence of these factors, the prospects for forest fuels treatments to promote adaptive resilience to wildfire at broad scales, by regionally reducing trends in area burned or burn severity, are fairly limited." That is, the most respected scientists in the nation, after careful study, concluded that cutting down trees (fuel reduction) is the wrong way to combat wildfires.
The entire native plant concept is arguable. Why are the members of city councils, environmental groups, and government agencies not arguing it? Nativists have very little scientific support. An essay in the scientific journal Nature, Don't judge species on their origins, [June 09, 2011, pp 153-154] says "Conservationists should assess organisms on environmental impact rather than on whether they are natives." The native plant concept is unnatural. Nature moves forward, never backward. Nature designs plants to spread to new territories, as a survival mechanism. We humans are part of nature and we help nature survive in new places. The plan to deforest the East Bay Hills is unnatural, and certainly non-organic; the plan includes vast quantities of herbicide. Anyone who buys organic food should object to the plan.
Shouldn't they show us some before-and-after photographs of eucalyptus groves that have been destroyed and replaced by something better? I can point them to a former grove, cut down by city council mandate, now covered with thistles.
Eucalyptus are a fire hazard, but the number of deaths caused by wildfires is tiny compared to deaths caused by bad air (http://blogs.cdc.gov/nchs-data-visualization/2015/06/01/leading-causes-of-death/). Trees improve the quality of air. Are the nativists willing to impair the health of everyone with asthma?
The nativist agenda is put forward as though it were for our health. It is not. Native plant people are consumed with a mission to eradicate every type of plant that was not here long ago. If they want to do that in their own yards, fine. But when they want to spend our hard-earned money to advance their cockamamie idea, they should put it to a public vote. We do get to vote on whether or not to spend money on the environment (yes, please) but we do not get to vote on the specifics of the projects.
The hate came before the danger. I lived in California for four decades without ever hearing anything about the danger of eucalyptus. Not. One. Single. Word. Then the native-plant concept took hold, and eucs were an easy target for nativist hate. Nativism preaches hate and destruction. Everyone knows eucs are imported. The nativists of course hated eucs, and then people started talking about the dangers of eucs. The hatred came before the danger.
The deforestation plan, though favored by well-meaning people, is unscientific, unnatural, non-organic, expensive, and stupid. Can we stop this invasiveness?
Pam Portugal Walatka is a former technical author for the Advanced Supercomputing Division at NASA. For several years, she was NASA's #1 best-selling software documentation author.
Update 10/26/2016: The lawsuit brought by the Hills Conservation Network resulted in FEMA withdrawing their multi-million dollar funding of the East Bay deforestation project! The invasive people are still trying to go ahead with the deforestation, but a major battle has been won to stop them.
Update 1/1/2017: The terrible Ghost Ship fire, in a warehouse being used as artist living quarters, killed 36 people, in the fall of 2016. The City of Oakland had not inspected the building, despite complaints, because of a shortage of fire-prevention resources. The City should stop spending time and money cutting down trees, and concentrate instead on known fire hazards.
Update 6/23/2017: Media accidentally perpetuate the myth of eucalyptus danger. The Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline, "Reeling from its deadliest forest fire, Portugal finds a villain: eucalyptus trees." But the reporter offers only one fact, that Portugal has a lot of eucalyptus trees. She goes on to quote a native-tree advocate saying eucalyptus trees are dangerous, but she never offers one single fact from the actual fire that in any way implicates the eucalyptus trees.
Update 8/17/2017: A recent fire in the Oakland hills swept through the grassy areas. The eucalyptus did not catch fire.
From Hills Conservation Network: On the east side of Grizzly Peak where eucalypts are still standing, the fire ... did not ignite the trees. It did, however, burn grasses that grow in the absence of trees and it did burn the dead logs left behind after UC Berkeley cut them down in a nativist attack on our forests. In short, the experts were right: trees mitigate against fire; removing trees increases the spread of fire and increases fire behavior in undesirable ways.
Update 10/21/2017: In the Wine Country fires of fall, 2017, the tall trees were in many places the only things that did not burn.
Update 2/6/2018: Assembly Bill Number 1530 is now law in California. The law encourages the planting and preservation of all trees, both native and introduced. Let us hope the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland understand and follow the wisdom of this law.
Update 5/24/2018: For the first time in my life, I am voting against an environmental proposition, CA Prop 68. It funds too many unnatural and destructive projects. Vote NO on California Prop 68. If 68 passes, as it probably will, because many of us want to support environmentalism, the nativist will say we voted for restoration projects, but how many voters were aware of what restoration too often means these days?
Update 6/2/2018: Here is a scientific paper supporting the case against eucalyptus. The overwhelming majority of personal accounts support the fire danger of eucalyptus.