We’ll begin with the opening of a stunning report from Randy Shaw at California Progress Report:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is moving to chop down 22,000 trees in Berkeley’s historic Strawberry and Claremont Canyons and over 60,000 more in Oakland. This destructive plan is rapidly moving forward with little publicity, and FEMA cleverly scheduled its three public meetings for mid and late May while UC Berkeley students were in finals or gone for the summer.
UC Berkeley has applied for the grant to destroy the bucolic Strawberry and Claremont Canyon areas, claiming that the trees pose a fire hazard. The school has no plans to replant, and instead will cover 20% of the area in wood chips two feet deep. And it will pour between 700 and 1400 gallons of herbicide to prevent re-sprouting, including the highly toxic herbicide, Roundup. People are mobilizing against this outrageous proposal, which UC Berkeley has done its best to keep secret.
The massive deforesting operation in one of the East Bay’s most scenic areas is part of a FEMA project officially entitled “East Bay Hills Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction.”
Targets of the chainsaws will be non-native trees, especially eucalyptus.
Details from the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement [posted here]:
UCB submitted two grant applications under the PDM [Pre-Disaster Mitigation — esnl] program: one for a 56.3-acre area designated Strawberry Canyon-PDM in this EIS and one for a 42.8-acre area designated Claremont-PDM. To reduce the potential for these areas to support and spread wildfires, UCB proposes to eliminate eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and other non-native trees that promote the spread of wildfire. Oak and bay trees and other native vegetation present under the larger non-native trees would be preserved and encouraged to expand.
The environmental review did consider alternatives, including a required “no action” version in which existing management practices would continue. Here’s the relevant portion for the UC Berkeley land:
UCB would continue annual removal of grass and light, flashy fuels (such as twigs, needles, and grasses that ignite and burn rapidly) from UCB roadsides, UCB turnouts, and within 100 feet of UCB structures and adjacent private residences. UCB would also work to maintain the strategic areas where fuel reduction projects have been completed during the past 10 years to ensure eradication of target species of vegetation that have already been removed. UCB would continue to pursue fuel reduction within 30 feet of private and public structures to create defensible space in accordance with its 2020 Hill Area Fire Fuel Management Program.
And some more details from the environmental statement focusing on the Berkeley part of the project:
The UCB grant application includes two project areas in which approximately 22,000 non-native trees would be cut down, including all eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia trees. The goal is to reduce the amount of fuel in the project areas by allowing the forest to convert from a eucalyptus-dominated, non-native forest to a native forest of California bay laurel, oak, big-leaf maple, California buckeye, California hazelnut, and other native tree and shrub species currently present beneath the eucalyptus and other non-native trees. The native species would provide less fuel to potential wildfires than the non-native species currently provide.
Felled trees up to approximately 24 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) would be cut up into chips 1 to 4 inches long and the chips would be spread on up to 20% of each site to a maximum depth of 24 inches. UCB expects the chips to largely decompose within 5 years.
Branches from trees greater than 24 inches DBH would be cut up and scattered on the site (lopped and scattered). The trunks of these trees would typically be cut into 20- to 30-foot lengths. Some tree trunks would be placed to help control sediment and erosion or support wildlife habitat. Some tree trunks may be moved to an adjacent portion of the hillside or shipped for use as fuel, a source of paper pulp, or horse bedding.
Three temporary access roads are anticipated to be required for the proposed Claremont-PDM project. The three roads would be 12 feet wide and total approximately 2,600 feet long.
Completion of the initial vegetation reduction work is expected to require up to 40 weeks spread over 2 to 3 years. Maintenance would continue for up to 10 years after initial tree cutting.
The last chance for spoken public comments will come tomorrow [Saturday] morning in Oakland, with a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon at the Claremont Middle School, 5750 College Avenue.
Written comments will be received until 17 June at the following places:
- At the project website.
- By email at EBH-EIS-FEMA-RIX@fema.dhs.gov
- By snail mail sent to P.O. Box 72379, Oakland, CA 94612-8579
- And by fax at 510-627-7147
Project opponents have created their own website here.