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May 18, 2013 / Steven Pousty

On invasives and knee jerk reactions

Just a little thought piece on some environmental news happening here in the Bay Area.

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So on the Nerd for Nature group that I am a part of, someone posted this article with the subject “wtf”

http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site/fema-plans-clear-cutting-85000-berkeley-and-oakland-trees

Besides that title being so incredibly alarmist, it is articles like this that give environmentalists a bad name. If the author had taken the time and done some research, they would have found this piece:

http://www.berkeleyside.com/2013/05/17/uc-berkeley-seeks-funds-to-cut-down-22000-non-native-trees/

This “clear cut” is actually a long term effort to get rid of some pretty nasty invasive plants. We, as humans, have done a pretty great job of screwing up ecosystems by introducing non-native species that can out-compete a lot of native species. For the plants I nominate English Ivy (in the picture above), and for the animals I nominate the Wild Boar, as my two poster children for the potential impact of invasives. English Ivy will grow at a phenomenal rate (killing trees and any herbaceous ground cover) and because of it’s underground runners, mowing it or trying to physical removal is an ongoing battle. Here, the Plant Conservation Alliance, talks about spraying Roundup and other herbicides as a means to control the plant.

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Wild Boar do a tremendous amount of damage. I am not even going to talk about the crop damage they do because I consider that our fault for introducing them. But for native species, their rooting behavior and creation of wallows severely damages native plants and wetlands. Their voracious appetites are actually a very legitimate threat to several endangered newts and salamanders in the Central Sierras here in California. And since we did a nice job removing most of the top predators in California, there is almost no predatory pressure on them.

To be clear, these species are not to blame, but unfortunately through OUR actions, we have created a situation where we need to hunt and kill certain animals and spray toxic chemicals to eradicate certain plant species. Without these actions, native species, which I believe an inherent right to exist  are at risk for extinction. I believe that having native plants and animals intact in an area is a public good and I am willing to pay (both time, money, and health wise) to ensure they are able to survive. I am not going to go to the edge case of mosquitoes and other native “nuisances” since I don’t think the world is an “either or” proposition.

Back to our situation here in the Bay.

I applaud Berkley for trying to get rid of their invasives. From personal experience, working on the IPANE project as the technical lead, I learned a lot about dealing with invasive plant species.

While I understand people’s concern about the Roundup and Woodchips application, it is probably the only effective way to prevent those trees from resprouting. They will NOT be broadly spraying the roundup but actually applying it directly to the tree stumps. This is a very targeted and much lower risk application. Spreading the woodchips will also probably do a great job of suppressing further growth of saplings and other invasives.

There are no half-way measures with invasives. Leaving “a few” around can have disastrous consequences, since these species are great at turning a few into many. You have to do as much as possible to eradicate it as you can. If you want an analogy, think about smallpox, getting only half of the cases eradicated doesn’t do much good – you either need to go all in or stay home.

In the Bay area, eucalypts are a huge problem. I cringe every time I see a grove of them and the same goes for acacia (I also dislike acacia because my middle offspring is allergic to it’s pollen). These plants out grow and out shade native tree saplings and ground cover. Like the second article says, they are a huge fire risk and very well adapted to grow back after the fire, thereby making it even harder to get native species back. If I had my way we would get rid of all the eucalyptus groves  and acacia in Cali. and plant native species instead.

The first article is one of those articles that make we want to give up on people [/snark]. Seriously, it is ill-informed, anti-environmental, alarmist when it is not needed, conspiracy seeking, and just plain wrong.  Figuring out the “right thing” in environmental issues is not always so simple as “save the trees” or “ban hunting”. To really understand these issues you have to spend more time thinking through all the implications and learning the science behind it.

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One Comment

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  1. Victoria Bogdan / May 19 2013 9:10 pm

    Thanks for posting. Perhaps a bit far with your personal bit of attack on the email writer (“Besides that title being so incredibly alarmist, it is articles like this that give environmentalists a bad name.”). There are some things about this plan that are alarming (“wtf’, if you will) even if they are sound public safety or ecological decisions.
    But! Helpful to have the research and not just knee-jerk, it is true….

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