UC Berkeley “Vegetation Management,” 2007

Guest Rant by Mary McAllister

When I retired, a daily walk in the park became the high point of every day.  Soon I began to notice that trees in my local park in the San Francisco Bay Area were “disappearing.”  For the first time in my adult life I also had the time to inform myself of what was happening around me.  And so began the long, bumpy ride to learn about the native plant movement.

As in much of coastal California, there were few trees in the San Francisco Bay Area before the arrival of Europeans in the late 18th century.  The landscape was barren, shifting sand dunes, grassland and dune scrub, with a few trees found only in sheltered ravines where they were protected from the wind off the ocean and water was funneled to them by the steep canyons.  (Source)

Virtually all the trees in the San Francisco Bay Area are therefore not native to California. That immigrant status has put a target on their backs.  For the past 25 years, the native plant movement has gained ground.  Thousands of trees have been destroyed and the written plans of public land managers at the city, regional, state and federal levels have all stated their commitment to destroy nonnative trees and vegetation.  (Source)

The loss of our trees is not the only thing at stake.  Pesticides are used to destroy nonnative vegetation and prevent nonnative trees from resprouting after they are cut down.  Because birds and other animals have long ago adapted to our nonnative landscape, they are deprived of their homes and food sources by the eradication of nonnative trees and vegetation.  (Source)

Native plants are usually planted where nonnatives have been destroyed, but because they aren’t well adapted to our changed climate, air quality, and soil conditions, they are fragile.  Fences and other restrictions on public access are required to protect the new plantings.  Even with such protections these projects are often unsuccessful unless they are intensively gardened and irrigated.  (Source)

Public employees engaged in these destructive activities are supplemented by a contingent of volunteers.  Here in the Bay Area, some of these volunteers have admitted cutting down trees on public property without authorization.  When they were caught, they started surreptitiously girdling trees, which kills them slowly.  In 2010 a California entomologist published a study which speculates that insects that are killing nonnative eucalyptus have been intentionally imported from Australia by native plant advocates.  The introduction of these pests was not legally authorized.  (Source)

Chicago has had a similar experience to ours in the Bay Area because it was also a treeless prairie prior to the arrival of Europeans.  Countless trees have been destroyed in the past 20 years, including many natives. Chicagoans are also subjected to prescribed burns which pollute the air and endanger people and property in order to maintain a treeless prairie.  The prairie was maintained by Native Americans by conducting annual burns which encouraged new growth, attracting the animals they hunted.  Without these annual burns, grassland and prairie succeed naturally to shrubs and slowly, over time to forest.  Ironically, native plant advocates depend upon the unnatural methods of pesticides and intentional fires to sustain the pre-European landscape of grassland.  (Source)

Nativism is particularly strong in Hawaii.  Their only frog, the nonnative coqui, is being eradicated though it has no native competitor.   A fruit-bearing tree, the Strawberry guava, is being eradicated.  Hawaii’s mangrove swamps have been poisoned and left in the water to rot.  According to a recently published study, the eradication of nonnative plants and trees has not resulted in the return of the native forest.  (Source)

In the State of Washington, nonnative marsh grass was poisoned with a pesticide about which little is known.  Two pesticides are being combined and no testing has been done on the toxicity of that combination in the environment.  The effort to eradicate nonnative marsh grass extends down the entire West Coast of the country.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, we recently learned that this project has had a negative impact on an endangered bird, the Clapper Rail, which had found cover from predators in the marsh grasses that have been removed.  (Source)

It has been discouraging to watch our public lands being damaged by extremist nativism.  However, we are encouraged by the recent work of scientists who are slowly dismantling the underpinnings of the nativist ideology, and the public is finally starting to react to the consequences of nativism.  (Source)