Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Economics of Eucalyptus Management

Recently, Jerry Kent, a former assistant general manager for the East Bay Regional Park District, analyzed the cost of trying to manage the eucalyptus groves on Park District land (PDF here)Norman La Force, chair, Sierra Club East Bay Public Lands Committee, wrote an article about it in The Sierra Club's Yodeler Magazine.

I took pictures of an unmanaged hillside with a eucalyptus grove and contrasted it with the surrounding native woodland. Both are unmanaged. I will let the reader decide which is less flammable and more aesthetically pleasing. 

Dan Grazzetti commented on Norman's article, but the comment was deleted from The Yodeler for violating the comment policy.  He has since cleaned it up. You can read his initial comment here.

Since the moderator at The Yodeler addressed the ad hominem fallacies of Mr. Grassetti's comment, I will address the other fallacies and falsehoods here.
The very first check I wrote when I was 16 was for my Sierra Club membership, but after almost 40 years of being a proud member of the Club I resigned as the direct result of what is now being proposed by the Club. It’s unfortunate that the Sierra Club is jeopardizing the considerable goodwill for this venerable institution to advance an agenda that seems at odds with the most basic principles of environmental stewardship. .
No evidence has been provided that supports the argument that eradicating the unmanaged eucalyptus groves in the East Bay Hills is at odds with the principles of environmental stewardship. In fact, the evidence supports the argument that eucalyptus groves in the East Bay Hills are detrimental to the natural environment.

Eucalyptus understory

The determination to eradicate 3 species of trees from the Bay Area, eucalyptus, monterey pines, and acacias is a huge mistake. The Club apparently believes that these 3 species just don’t belong here but turns a blind eye to loads of other species that arguably don’t belong here either. A reasonable person would see this as being a purely subjective assessment, not based on any science, but rather a belief system.
The Sierra Club is not determined to eradicate the trees from the Bay
Area. Dan's comment here is a hyperbolic overstatement, strawman fallacy and red herring diversion from the issue. The objective assessment is that these trees exclusively pose a risk for catastrophic fires in the East Bay Hills. That is the motivation to remove them. Dan is committing the logical fallacy of making a false equivalency with other species that do not pose a risk for catastrophic urban/wildland fires.
There have been all manner of justifications used to obtain public support and funding to implement this belief system, including the risk of fire and now economic factors. But these are just justifications for doing something that someone has already decided needed to be done….for other reasons.
This is an irrelevant point since the fire risk and economic factors are real issues, unrelated to other alleged motivations.
Here are some facts. The 1991 Oakland hills fire disaster had almost nothing to do with trees of any kind. Whether they be redwoods, pines, bays, eucs, or oaks, none of them had a significant impact in causing or propagating this fire. This is documented in both the Grand Jury report of this terrible event and the enormously detailed FEMA analysis. Even some of the key proponents of the “eradicate these three species” movement have publicly acknowledged that trees weren’t the problem.
Again, this is an irrelevant point. What role the trees played in the fire and how a big role it was, is an open question. That they did play a role, especially in spreading the fire across the 24 freeway, is not subject to debate. Either way, it is irrelevant to the fact that eucalypti produce prodigious amounts of ground, ladder, and canopy fuels.
Eucalypti produce prodigious amounts of ground fuels.
Second, independent expert wildlands wildfire managers, educated, trained, and experienced professionals, have gone on record repeatedly saying that indeed, tall trees of any species aren’t a big fire risk. It’s the ground fuels that are the real problem, whether they are native or not. One must remember that these species were intended in nature to burn frequently, and that’s just what they do.
Ground fuels are ignition sources, ladder fuels carry the fire to the crown, and crown fires are generally catastrophic in an urban/wildland interface. Eucalyptus trees create all three fuels at three times the rate of native trees.

Ground and ladder fuels

Vertical ladder fuels to the canopy

Fallen branches add to the ground and ladder fuels

Third, the attempts to scare or just deceive the public into making tens of millions of dollars available for fire risk mitigation projects that actually increase the risk of fire are shameful. If the “eradicate the 3 species” proponents were honest about this they would be forthright in making it clear that the public should support projects such as these because the public shares the view that these species “just don’t belong here.” But they know that the public will not support projects that are designed primarily to eradicate certain species and don’t serve any other public good.
The real threat of catastrophic fire is not; 'scaring the public in an attempt to deceive them.' That is another straw man fallacy. There is no evidence to support the premise that the proposed projects will increase the risk of catastrophic fire. Basic common sense tells us that eliminating or reducing the conditions under which catastrophic fires occur, will reduce the risk of catastrophic fires. The evidence, particularly the recent fire under the redwoods this past January suggests that removing the source of most ground and ladder fuels (eucalypti) greatly suppresses the speed at which a wildfire can travel.  That particular fire had about 30 minutes to get going and only burned the base of the redwoods, even during the driest year on record!
Fourth, there are significant negative environmental consequences associated with removing these trees. If the Club had its way, well in excess of a million mature trees in the East Bay hills would be killed. This would have a very significant effect on the local environment. It would result in the release of enormous amounts of sequestered CO2 and would forever diminish the ability that these large trees had to continue to sequester CO2. Additionally, tens of thousands of gallons of toxic herbicides would be applied to both the stumps of the dying trees and the infestation of broom, thistle, hemlock, and poison oak that take hold once the shade is gone.
The CO2 would not be released since the trees would be left to decompose. The younger native trees that are stunted under the oppressive eucalypti will more than make up for what is emitted over the next 25 years as the logs slowly decompose. The UC Berkeley test area is proof of concept that eradication and restoration works.
There would also be substantial reduction in slope stability, adding to the risk of mudslides and landslides. The tall trees that soften the impact of rain on the soil would be gone. Water that would have been absorbed and stored by these trees would simply run off. Most importantly, what was a moist and cool microclimate will be transformed into a dry and hot microclimate. Trees that formerly collected the fog and provided shade to hikers, runners, bicyclists, and all manner of creatures will be gone.
The stumps are left as pilings and the trunks are laid down in such a way as to prevent erosion and shore up the hillsides. The eucalyptus do not store water since they don't close their stomata during drought, they just keep evaporating every drop of water from the soil within 100 feet that their highly efficient roots can absorb. The amount of fog drip from eucalyptus is comparable to that of a coast live oak. There are no hikers, runners, or bicyclists under these unmanaged groves. Dan is simply throwing specious arguments here, hoping one will stick.
Significant amounts of habitat would be lost, most notably for raptors. Hawks and owls are among the most avid users of these tall trees, building nests particularly in eucs. There are constant sightings of red tails and hawks in these hills because this is their home. Make no mistake, if these trees are gone, the raptors will be history. If the raptors go, then what happens? As we witnessed in the aftermath of the ’91 fire, in the absence of raptors the rodent population exploded. It took many years for the raptors to re-establish themselves and the ecological balance to be restored.
The biological opinion of the US Fish and Wildlife Service concludes that the eradication and conversion of eucalyptus to native bay/oak and scrub woodland is self mitigating. I believe their opinion trumps Mr. Grassetti's.
Finally, real experts in the field, scientists and professional wild land fire managers have made it clear that removing 3 species of tall trees will not only cause all manner of environmental problems, including herbicides being carried down the hills in the rain into pristine creeks, but equally importantly, that this is the most expensive way to manage wild land fire risk. It is far cheaper to remove understory rules on a periodic basis than it is to embark on a large scale logging project.
"Real experts in the field"... Sounds like a climate science denier's opening remark when getting ready to quote a paid hack. The herbicides are painted onto the cambium layer with a non-drip brush, at least 50 feet from creeks. Besides, there are no pristine creeks left in the Bay Area, although the efforts of real environmentalists,  like Friends of Five Creeks, and the Oakland Wildland Stewards have gone a long way in restoring our local creeks to at least a semblance of what they once were. The understory under the eucalypti are native bay, oak, maple, and buckeye. Grassetti's management plan would remove the native understory in order to protect the eucalypti.

California Buckeye covered with eucalyptus bark

Most importably, if the objective is to reduce fire risk, experts agree, removing tall trees is the wrong thing to do. The most fire resistant environment we could have in these hills (short of paving the whole area) is one with well-spaced tall shade trees, with well managed understory fuels, and with no fire ladder. In fact there is a growing consensus among the local agencies who manage wild lands that this is in fact the best way to manage fire risk.
Actually, if you have the right trees, you don't need to manage the understory at all. Here is the unmanaged understory of the native trees. Dan is making a very strong argument here for eradication and restoration.

Native trees don't generate the ground and ladder fuels that lead to catastrophic fires.

So, what’s being proposed here is very expensive, very environmentally unfriendly, will significantly add to the greenhouse gas problem, and if anything, increases wildfire risk. Imagine, at a time when all the world is working to plant trees the Sierra Club is advocating removing trees. How can this be?
It is because the Sierra Club is not afflicted with confirmation bias that is powerful enough to override cognitive dissonance. As Jerry Kent's analysis (analysis not unsupported opinion there is a difference Dan.) shows that even without the 350 acres that would need to be purchased and $25 million dollar trust to manage them in perpetuity, in order to mitigate the projects, should the agencies pursue the HCN's so-called "alternative," managing these groves is prohibitively expensive.
The idea of removing 3 species of tall trees because you don’t think they should be here flies in the face of core environmental values, and it’s shocking to see an organization with an environmental pedigree as old and impressive as the Sierra Club promoting something like this.
Arguing against a strawman is like tilting at windmills. Since this is not what the Sierra Club is doing... Dan is addressing an argument of his own creation.

Dan Grazzetti's Censored Comments.

Here is the comment by Dan Grassetti that was removed for violating the comment policy of the  Sierra Club's Yodeler.

It's unfortunate that two individuals, Jerry Kent and Norm LaForce are attempting to use the considerable goodwill of the Sierra Club to advance a personal agenda that seems at odds with what the mainstream Sierra Club member believes is right.

These 2 gentlemen are determined to see 3 species of trees eradicated from the Bay Area, eucalyptus, monterey pines, and acacia. They believe that these 3 species don't belong here and have come up with all manner of justification for removing them, none of which have been successful so far.

First it was fire risk, but when that was shown to be an unfounded claim they then retreated to the idea that there is an economic argument for removing these 3 species. Who knows what's next?

Here are some facts. The 1991 Oakland hills fire disaster had almost nothing to do with trees of any sort. This is made clear in the Grand Jury report and the FEMA disaster analysis after the fire. In fact, even one of the proponents of removing these species acknowledged in public EIR comments that neither eucs or any other trees had much to do with the '91 fire.

Second, independent expert wildfire managers, educated, trained, and experienced professionals in this field have gone on record repeatedly saying that indeed, tall trees of any species aren't a significant fire risk. It's the ground fuels that are the real problem, whether  they are native or not.

Third. The attempts to scare or just deceive the public into making 10s of millions of dollars available for fire risk mitigation projects that actually increase the risk of fire are shameful. If the proponents of ridding the area of 3 species of trees they don't feel should be here were honest about this, they would ask the public to spend these 10s of millions of dollars on removing these species because they feel strongly they shouldn't be here. But they don't. Why? Because they know that the public wouldn't be willing to spend all this money for this purpose.

Fourth. There are huge environmental consequences associated with removing these trees. If Mr. Kent and Mr. La Force had their way well in excess of 1 million mature trees would be killed. This would have a very significant effect on the local environment. It would release enormous amounts of sequestered CO2, would forever diminish the ability to continue to sequester all the C02 that these trees are capable of, and would require 10s of thousands of gallons of herbicide to be applied to the stumps of these trees and to the resultant explosive growth of hemlock, thistle, broom, and poison oak that invariably take hold once the shade trees are removed.

Additionally, there would be a significant reduction in slope stability, water storage, and shade. The local microclimate would change from what is currently a moist, shaded, fog-drip environment to a predominately dry environment.

Significant habitat would be lost, most notably for raptors. Like it or not, hawks and owls use tall trees, generally eucalyptus as homes. There are constant sightings of nesting red tails and owls in this area. Make no mistake, if these trees are gone, so are the raptors. But then what happens? As was evident in the aftermath of the '91 fire, rodent populations soared once the raptors were gone. It has taken many years for the raptors to come back and the rodent populations to return to equilibrium levels.

Finally, real experts in the field (reports are available) have made it clear that removing 3 species of tall trees will not only cause all manner of environmental problems (including herbicide flowing down the hills into pristine creeks), but it is the most expensive way to manage wild land fire risk in this area. It is far cheaper to remove understory fuels on a periodic basis than it is to embark on a huge scale logging project. But most importantly, if the objective is to reduce fire risk, experts agree, removing tall trees simply does not work. The most fire resistant environment we could have here is one with tall shade trees, reasonably spaced, and with understory fuels managed. In fact there is a growing consensus among the local public agencies that this is the best way to manage the fire risk.

So, what Mr. LaForce and Mr. Kent propose is not cheap, it's not environmentally friendly, will significantly add to the greenhouse gas problem, and it doesn't address the fire risk issue. What it is is nothing more than an attempt to use the goodwill of the Sierra Club to advance a personal agenda that is extremely environmentally destructive.

I think it's high time that Yodeler readers know the truth about this and stop allowing these folks to attempt to use the Club for their own purposes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

HCN and False Narratives.

I have been banned from am being moderated on the NH open forum for getting into an argument with the sock puppet Remsen Belvedere. Since I cannot respond on the forum to a post by Jerry Baer, I will respond here.

Let me begin by correcting the numerous factual errors.
Upper Claremont Canyon, near the Grizzly Peak/Claremont intersection; on a warm, dry, windy Red Flag Day. 
It was warm and dry, but not windy. The wind speeds that day were on average 2mph. Nor was it a red flag day, the red flag warning was issued a week earlier on the 14th, and expired at 10am on the 15th.
wildland fire breaks out in an area that had not burned in a hundred years. 
There have been fires in the canyon over the last 100 years. This fire did not spontaneously break out, it was anthropogenic in origin.
This wasn't supposed to happen because the "problem" trees--those we we told are a fire hazard--had been removed six years ago. In vegetation management lingo, this area had been "treated."

This is what is known as a straw man fallacy. Removing the high risk vegetation was never intended to prevent fires, that is simply false. Removing the highly flammable tall trees reduces the risk of a fire being catastrophic. Which is exactly what happened. A fire was started on a hot dry day in a native riparian woodland. Before it could spread more than 50 feet, it was spotted, responded to, and extinguished. Had this fire occurred in an untreated area with plenty of ladder fuels and combustable canopies... this fire could very well have made national news. Because the fire occurred in the managed riparian woodland, it was a routine fire easily controlled.
But after the tall trees were chopped down, the forest canopy was gone, and the understory was no longer shaded.  Given the increased sunlight, growth was encouraged--but the growth was primarily small weedy plants that became fine fuel--"fine" meaning thin, small-diameter--the stuff that ignites quickly, burns hot, and spreads flames to larger vegetation.
This is nonsense, the fire occurred under a redwood grove. Redwood canopies are much denser than the eucalyptus canopies. Not only was the forest floor cooler than under a eucalyptus, it was also wetter, since redwoods are highly efficient at generating fog drip. Jerry is justifying his belief, not reporting reality.
Crews of well-meaning volunteers had been working through the area, pulling and chopping undesirable growth. Unfortunately, they failed to remove the cuttings, and those too were drying. 
This is an outright lie. There have been no crews of volunteers working in that area since the trails were completed.

Here is a picture of the area from June 2013.
The fire started to the left of the trail.

Here is the same angle after the fire.
Most of what burned was the laid down eucalyptus logs.

Here is another picture, just to the left of the first one.
Area just to the left of where the fire started.

Same angle after the fire.
Burned area from the January 21 fire.

The source of the ignition is not known, but it would not have taken much--just a spark from a chain saw or a cigarette. 
There were no chainsaws, but a cigarette could have started the fire. However, given that the ground beneath the redwoods was still moist from fog drip just two days prior, this is an unlikely scenario as well.

The fire primarily burned brush and slash, but it also ignited and scorched some redwoods in a nearby grove. Potentially, the blaze could have started a conflagration--it was, after all, a high fire danger day--but the firefighters jumped on it quickly and aggressively, and it was extinguished in less than an hour.

The fire primarily burned eucalyptus logs that had been lain down to decompose during the eradication process. There was not enough brush to generate a big enough fire to ignite the fire resistant redwood canopy. Had the eucalyptus trees still been there, with their high fat content and flammable nature, the fast response could have been for naught. The fire was centered under the redwoods but did not spread into the upper canopy. A testament to the fire resistance of redwood trees.
The fire's location is UC property, an area that has been subjected to repeated, ongoing vegetation management by UC and untrained volunteers. Their vegetation management included removal of "invasives," weeding, chipping, planting and trail maintenance, as well as cutting trees.  The site has been featured in local media; it was supposed to demonstrate what UCB claims is the correct method of fire hazard mitigation, a model for what it proposes FEMA should fund. Young native bays and oaks are flourishing in upper Claremont Canyon now that the tall trees have been removed--but what does this have to do with mitigation of fire risk? In 1991, oaks and bays burned just as ferociously as pines and acacias; they slowed the fire not one iota; they too became black skeletons.
The February 21 fire is proof of concept. A fire started but did not spread. That is the concept of fuels reduction, particularly tall flammable trees like eucalyptus that explode into flames and toss long burning embers of bark thousands of feet into the air.
But this fire demonstrated the opposite truth: all this vegetation manipulation does not reduce risk. 
There is no way to control human behavior. The idea that fuels reduction reduces the risk that humans might start a fire is so illogical that it is laughable.
An expert in wildland fire management reviewed UCB's proposals to FEMA and concluded that UCB's methods actually increase fire hazard, because the "treated" area is more prone to ignition.  

IE, a paid hack for the HCN concluded what the HCN paid him to conclude.

UC has argued that fire potential is reduced because, by cutting tall trees, fuel load is diminished.  

This is another straw man fallacy. UC is removing the eucalyptus, pine, and acacia to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire. IE, without the flammable canopies, fires are easily contained and extinguished. It is not the potential for a fire that is being mitigated, it is the potential for a catastrophic fire.

But what is left is a higher percentage of fine fuel, ground fuel, the stuff that dries out in drought and fire season, the stuff that fire behavior studies have shown to be the major determinant of a fire's intensity and spread. So this small wildland fire should teach important lessons:

It does teach us a lesson. It is proof of concept that removing the tall flammable trees reduces the risk of catastrophic fire.
1. Removal of mature tall trees is a mistake, because when canopy is destroyed, weedy undergrowth is encouraged and the understory dries out, increasing fire danger (to say nothing of the loss of habitat, carbon sequestration or aesthetic values).Reducing fuel load may be a viable idea, but the fuel that should be reduced is ground fuel and fine fuel, not healthy trees.
Eucalyptus trees do not close their stomata during drought and their roots are very efficient at high soil moisture tensions. Eucalyptus canopies are sparse, therefore they do a poor job of shading the understory, while their roots suck up all available moisture and their leaves evaporate it into the atmosphere. Removing the eucalyptus results in a moisture forest floor, not a drier one.
2. Vegetation management should not be left to untrained, or unsupervised volunteer workers, especially those whose scope of work does not include removal of the ignitable slash they create. On this site, UCB is responsible for allowing this to happen, and for the conditions thus created.
This is blatantly false, there are no untrained or unsupervised volunteers working in the Claremont Canyon preserve.
3. Quick and aggressive response of firefighters is essential; fire doubles in size every few minutes. In a brush and grass environment, the fire quickly becomes a fast-moving situation too dangerous to be fought on the ground.
Fire only grows if it has fuel and air. As this fire clearly demonstrated, the eradication and conversion to riparian woodland slows the speed at which a fire can travel.
It is not an exaggeration to say a disaster was averted by the excellent performance of the firefighters. In the final analysis that is what they are there for, and that is why we depend on them for our safety. But we should not make their jobs more difficult by creating ignition-prone wildland environments.
Nor is it an exaggeration to say that disaster was averted because all the eucalyptus trees were removed years ago, making a catastrophic fire unlikely.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fire in the Claremont Canyon Redwoods

There was a fire in the upper redwood grove, on the Summit Trail.

The fire department cut down a few smaller trees and cleared some brush when they established a defensible perimeter and cut a trail down from Claremont Avenue.

Fire hose leading up to Claremont Avenue

Newly cut trail to fight the fire

The HCN on their blog  interpreted this as "evidence of recent activity by volunteers removing undesirable vegetation." I am fairly certain the firefighters were not volunteers. 

But since their intention is to imply that the fire resulted from volunteer activity, the truth comes secondary to the agenda.

The HCN also makes the absurd argument that the fire was started because the eucalyptus were cut down. Had this fire been started across the street, the whole canyon would likely have gone up in flames, since eucalypti are far more flammable than redwoods.

Unless one of the HCN members or their minions started the fire out of spite... there is no connection between this fire being started and the existence or non-existence of eucalypti.

Here are a few before and after photos.

June 2013

January 2014

June 2013

January 2014