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
Updated February 6, 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. Science offers no support for their ideas. A terrible plan, pushed forward by native-plant people, is scheduled to kill hundreds of thousands of trees in the East Bay Hills, starting now. Why don't we get to vote on that?
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.
Native-plant people believe plants brought in by humans should be eradicated in favor of plants that grew here before European humans came. They hate eucalyptus trees. They claim that eucalyptus trees are a fire hazard, without offering any scientific evidence to support their claim. By scientific evidence, I mean research published in a respected peer-reviewed journal. Why do they not have to show us proof? Correlation is not causation. Eucalyptus trees are spectacular when on fire, but does that mean they caused the fire? Where is the evidence? The Oakland Hills fire of 1991 started in wild grass. Nativists envision replacing hundreds of thousands of trees with wild grass. Where is the evidence that the new landscape will be safer?
The entire native plant concept is arguable. Why are the members of city councils, environmental groups, and government agencies not arguing it? Nativists have no 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.
Even if eucalyptus were a fire hazard, the number of people who die from respiratory diseases exceeds the number of people killed by all accidents combined (http://blogs.cdc.gov/nchs-data-visualization/2015/06/01/leading-causes-of-death/). The accidents category includes many things; wildfires are a small component. The number of deaths caused by wildfires is tiny compared to deaths caused by bad air. Everyone knows that trees improve the quality of air. Are the nativists willing to impair the health of everyone with asthma?
Before they cut down hundreds of thousands of magnificent old trees, don't we get to vote on it? 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.
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 No. 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.