Greens Want Bay Area Eucalyptus Yanked

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Federal plans for wildfire protection in California’s East Bay Hills unwisely fail to deal with eucalyptus trees – explosively flammable, non-native hazards that should be replaced, the Sierra Club claims in court.
     The Sierra Club and SprawlDef, an environmental legal defense fund, claim the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s final environmental impact statement uses an undefined “unified methodology” that “fails entirely to describe and weigh ‘thinning’ the eucalyptus versus long-term restoration of native East Bay Hills shrubs and plant communities with more manageable fire behavior characteristics.”
     The methodology was not properly analyzed and does not fulfill the primary public disclosure purpose of an environmental impact statement, the groups say.
     Many people today consider eucalyptus trees a signature plant in California. But their introduction in the 1800s, from Australia, wreaked havoc upon the state. Entrepreneurs claimed that the fragrant wood provided excellent material for furniture, railroad ties, wind shields for crops, and a multiplicity of other uses. Backed by enthusiastic lawmakers, Californians planted more than 1 million eucalyptus trees. What happened next is described in Glenn Dumke’s 1944 book, “The Boom of the Eighties in Southern California.”
     The wood is useless for furniture or railroad ties, as it cracks even before harvest. It can provide wind shields, but it is a voracious sucker of water, and dried up many fields used for crops. Its large, heavy branches break and fall, injuring people. Dumke wrote that falling eucalyptus branches killed an average of three Californians a year.
     And the trees’ oily leaves and branches can literally explode in a wildfire. “Highly flammable eucalyptus tops are subject to torching” and “its constantly shed bark provides a ubiquitous fire tinder,” the groups say in the complaint.
     The Sierra Club and SprawlDef say FEMA should have dealt forthrightly with the trees, “not only to prevent long-term fire hazard and save public funds, but also to compensate for habitat impacts to several at-risk species by restoring their native environment.”
     By adopting thinning instead of native restoration, FEMA’s plan ignored the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s opinion that total removal of the eucalyptus and native species restoration is required, the environmental groups say.
     The 1,500 acres at issue are subject to “grave and unique fire threats,” and thousands of homes adjoin undeveloped natural areas that have “repeatedly and disastrously been engulfed in fires.”
     Eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees are key factors in the area’s fire susceptibility, the groups say – especially eucalyptus, whose invasive nature and height have allowed it to increase in density and choke out much of the native underlying vegetation.
     But FEMA refused to address the urgency and plain evidence that eucalyptus should be removed, and “never adequately described” its methods of analysis.
     Under FEMA’s plan, “the presence of flammable eucalyptus and overstory would be evaluated at five years, but no consideration is given for assuring that the overstory hasn’t returned at the end of the 10-year project period.”
     FEMA failed to describe and analyze alternative measures, failed to consider the full period and area affected by the project, and failed to identify inconsistencies with an executive order on invasive species, including eucalyptus, according to the lawsuit.
     Neither side could be reached for comment Wednesday.
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They are represented by Kelly Smith in Sacramento.

%d bloggers like this: