Eucalyptus trees in Berkeley Hills (photo: Anicam at Panoramio.com)
While Berkeley students are away, FEMA will play.
That’s the thought of some folks in the Bay Area who are livid over the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) plan to cut down 85,000 trees in the hills near Oakland and the University of California, Berkeley. The agency has scheduled three public hearings on the controversial proposal in May while students are studying for finals or going home for the summer.
The university applied for FEMA grant money to get rid of non-native plants, including eucalyptus trees, Monterey pine and acacia, in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons because of perceived fire hazards. The estimated cost of removing the trees is $5 million, considerably less, the university maintains, than the cost of fire burning through the canyons. The Daily Oregonian reported that there have been 15 major fires in the area between 1923 and 1991, burning 9,000 acres and destroying 3,500 homes.
Environmentalists and concerned residents fear that the clear-cutting will damage the local ecosystem and ruin the area for hikers, bikers and runners. They point out that much of the vegetation has been there for years. An herbicide—reportedly Monsanto’s highly-toxic Roundup—will be sprayed on trees stumps and other affected areas over a 10-year period to prevent their regrowth.
The draft environmental impact statement said that felled trees less than 24 inches in diameter would be turned into chips and spread over 20% of the site. Larger trees would be cut up and scattered around to help control sediment and erosion.
Environmental activists say the canyon eradication is only one project of many being considered in the area by FEMA and that a half-million trees are in danger of being removed.