OUR FORESTS AT RISK
Deforestation in an era of climate change?
Why are hundreds of trees being cut down when they're vital for climate change mitigation?
Why are toxic herbicides still being used on trees, soil, streams, lakes, wildlife (and us)?
For over a decade, literally thousands of healthy trees have been systematically cut down in our precious Berkeley and Oakland public lands, on hillsides across several jurisdictions including the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD), the City of Oakland and under UC (University of California) Berkeley stewardship.
In addition, thousands of gallons of carcinogenic herbicides like Dow's Garlon and Monsanto's Roundup are applied annually to "manage" (kill) vegetation. These toxic chemicals "migrate" into soil, non-targeted plants, streams, lakes, and where they enter the food chain, consumed by fish, insects, rodents, raptors and songbirds, and inevitably in small quantities these accumulate, into us humans and our pets.
So why are our public parks and open spaces being deforested and poisoned? The many reasons include:
1) institutional ignorance of sound fire mitigation strategies and land management policies;
2) exploitation of wildfire fears by "native" plant extremists determined to kill so-called "non-native" species, especially Monterey Pine, Monterey Cypress, acacia and eucalyptus trees, and;
3) as in the case of UC Berkeley, immensely profitable (campus) development becomes feasible once forests are cut down and off the negotiating table as an issue of community concern, or outrage.
The tragedy of these practices is manifold. For one, when forests are destroyed — called "removal" or even "restoration" by their advocates — wildfire danger actually increases.
Forest canopies shade and cool our hillsides, and generate fog drip rain to moisten drought-stricken lands. After a deforestation, typically called a "vegetation management" or "fuels reduction" project, the brush, grasses, chaparral and other, smaller vegetation that grows in place of the forest no longer produces shade or fog drip or landscape cooling. The result? A hotter, drier environment. In our summer and autumn wildfire season, these dried smaller plants become the "fine fuels" that ignite far more readily — by one car spark or tossed cigarette — than trees of any species.
READ MORE about vegetation types and wildfire risks.
Increased wildfire risk is reason enough to protect forests, but of course cutting down stands of trees means a loss of precious animal and bird habitat. And more landslides when winter rains come and the hundred-plus-year-old root systems of a forest no longer retain the stability of our countless steep hillsides.
Rachel Carson painstakingly documented the hazards of pesticides over 50
years ago in her seminal 1962 book, "Silent Spring," igniting the modern environmental movement. Disturbingly, applications of these poisons are still commonplace today — and in the East Bay. These applications are not always marked with signs, as required by law. And the applications are often repeated, for years, to felled trees stumps, to kill re-sprouts. And sprayed onto plants labeled "weeds" or "invasives." This despite countless regulatory agency and university studies in the U.S. and abroad demonstrating the harm herbicides do.
Manufacturers, of course, unrelentingly claim their products are safe, just as the tobacco industry for decades denied the collateral damage of its products' harm. Sadly, even some environmental groups now argue on behalf of chemical
companies, saying the poisons are a "necessary tool in the toolbox" against
so-called "invasive" plants and/or for "restoration" projects.
READ MORE ABOUT the TOXICITY and DANGER of HERBICIDES.