City of Oakland
It’s been over two years since The Hills Conservation Network successfully challenged, in court, a massive deforestation project in the East Bay hills. Had HCN not prevailed, literally thousands of healthy, shade-producing, CO2-sequestering trees would have been cut down by The City of Oakland, along with UC Berkeley and East Bay Regional Parks, exploiting the public's fear of wildfire. In addition, herbicides would have been used on public lands for years ongoing. This would have dramatically INCREASED fire danger in numerous ways, and been an environmental, wildlife, and human health disaster.
All this is relevant back story because now, in 2020, The City of Oakland, California, is continuing with plans to cut down healthy trees on public lands, along roadways, in parks. Again these Again these practices are being falsely touted as necessary to reduce wildfire danger. It is
tragically similar to UC Berkeley’s previous, discredited plans, because they are propelled by
the same underlying philosophy: trees and forests pose an existential threat to people, even
when accepted fire science demonstrates that vegetation and forest, "treatments" are minimally effective, if at all, beyond a distance of 100 feet from houses.
The City of Oakland’s current disastrous initiative is their “Draft Vegetation Management Plan,” or DVMP, will, tragically, ironically, INCREASE wildfire danger because it would destroy huge numbers of healthy trees that capture moisture, produce shade, cool the land, and convert Bay Area fog into groundwater. Then hundreds of gallons of poisons—herbicides made by companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical—would be routinely applied to "manage," — i.e., poison to death — the re-growth, all on public lands where people play—and wild animals live.
HCN is committed to protecting our community from wildfire and thus labeling misinformation and sophistry for what it is. In this era of anthropogenic climate change (in part due to deforestation), the East Bay hills' wildfire season is expanding from autumn back into summer. Local deforestation—which is what cutting down thousands of trees is, despite euphemisms employed to obscure this reality—produces the opposite result of sound fire danger mitigation strategies. No firefighting agency advocates deforestation as fire mitigation policy. READ recommended policies to minimize fire dangers.
Oakland's DVMP is a nativist plant eradication project masquerading as wildfire danger mitigation. HCN is committed to informing and educating our community about effective wildfire reduction methods, methods that are ineffective and, as is the case here, methods that are worse than ineffective because they INCREASE wildfire danger.
In the Bay Area, wildland fires are typically started by humans, usually in highly flammable dry grasses. Grasses and other low volume “fine fuels” like shrubs, grow close to the ground and spread fire rapidly. These in turn ignite houses and trees. Winds typically drive wildfires and make suppression difficult or even impossible—precisely how the tragic 1991 Oakland Hills fire began and rapidly spread beyond control. READ MORE about the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.
Cutting down trees and forests of any species INCREASES fire danger by increasing winds, and drying out a landscape. Making matters worse, and more fire prone, what grows in place of destroyed forests are smaller brushy plants — grasses and shrubs — which are fuel for more easily-ignited, faster-burning fires. These facts are established by fire science and venerable organizations like the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency), and the U.S. Forest Service. Common sense and observation of current wildfires in 2017 and 2018 in Sonoma, Lake and Yolo Counties substantiate this scenario.
Fire scientists do not advocate deforestation to reduce wildfire danger. Instead, preventive measures recommend that homeowners make their houses and structures ignition-resistant with many proven techniques. These include creating defensible space 50-100 feet around structures and keeping rooftops and gutters clear of leaves, needles and twigs which easily ignite in high heat and showers of embers from forest fires. Oakland’s DMVP prescribes 300 feet of defensible space around roads and structures, triple what established fire prevention policies advise, thus sentencing thousands of trees to unnecessary destruction. READ MORE about making your home ignition-resistant.
David Maloney is the former Chief of Fire Prevention for the U.S. Army at the Oakland Army Base, and a retired firefighter from the Oakland Fire Department. He holds a lifetime certification from the California State Fire Marshal’s Office as a Fire Investigator. He also has a lifetime certification from the U.S. Dept. of Defense as a Fire Inspector. In addition, he was a member of the 1991-92 Emergency Preparedness and Community Restoration Task Force, also known as The Oakland-Berkeley Mayors’ Firestorm Task Force, which investigated the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. Maloney writes that, "Fire Science has proven that every living tree—regardless of its species—due to its moisture content and canopy coverage of ground fuels, contributes to wildfire hazard mitigation." In short, trees pose less fire danger than shrubs and grasses.
Felling thousands of healthy trees across hundreds of acres would drastically reduce dense, shade-producing, cooling, moisture-trapping tree canopy. Heat, wind, and aridity would increase. The few trees left standing would be exposed to more sun and wind and become drier. All of these elements would INCREASE the likelihood of ignition, an uncontrollable wind-driven wildfire, thus heightening the threat to homes and other structures. Grassland and scrubland fires are exactly the kinds burning in California this summer of 2018 (and in the autumn of 2017); eucalyptus trees, or any other tree species, are not the cause of Golden State wildfires, but their victims, along with houses and other structures.
The harrowing effects of Oakland’s destructive DVMP is intentionally obscured by the plan's sheer volume (over 200 pages) with its bureaucratic language, and misleading euphemisms like “thinning” of trees to denote that the majority of trees in a forest could be cut down. Appropriately, even the plan's title contains a euphemism, “vegetation management,” used to describe deforestation, and a massive land transformation. Converting hundreds of acres of woodland into grasslands and shrubs is not “management.” We call this deforestation. It is not only unnecessary, it is environmentally devastating and poses a threat to public safety.
If you'd like to see/read the plan for yourself. You can view/download the 200+ page “City of Oakland, California Vegetation Management Plan (a PDF),” here: https://oaklandvegmanagement.org/vmp-draft-plan
FIRE DANGER INCREASED - thousands of trees felled, drier grasses & shrubs more fireproof
HERBICIDE - thousands of gallons, for years; poisoning plants, soil, water, wildlife, pets and people
PUBLIC OPINION IGNORED - majority of residents oppose felling trees and extensive herbicide use
DESTRUCTION IN THE DETAILS
In reality, Oakland's so-called Vegetation Management projects are massive tree and wild plants eradication programs masquerading as wildfire mitigation measures. Forests (regardless of tree species) perform several vital, wildfire-mitigating functions. These include reducing winds which drive fires, creating cooling shade, capturing fog, and retaining ground moisture — all decrease fire danger. READ MORE: How cutting down trees and forests increases wildfire danger.