Emma Marris, The Rambunctious Garden

Everyone should know about the large number of tree removals and massive defoliation happening in some of our major San Francisco parks, including McLaren Park, Mount Davidson, Glen Canyon among others. Do we want this massive intervention, intended to return these parks to dune grasses and scrubland, or do we want a different intervention based on a resiliency paradigm which preserves the wildlife habitat that has evolved over the last 150 years and supports most of our wildlife. Ecologists have discovered that the “go back to dates” chosen by “restorationists” are really only moments between two human altered landscapes. They are entirely arbitrary.

“Learn to love the inevitable changes, is really how I feel”, says Emma Marris. “If the choice is to fight for a [pristine past environment] and lose, or to work with nature as it changes and adapts to what we humans have done to planet Earth, respecting its dynamism and resilience as it shifts to new states, I vote for the latter.” And so do most park visitors in San Francisco.

In addition, Emma states that when anything is too biodiverse — one of everything — it is more like a zoo than nature. We need to leave areas alone and let them sort themselves out. Practitioners (those doing “restorations”) really need to read her book: The Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World.”

San Francisco Forest Alliance: Preserving Our Urban Forests & Wildlife Habitat

I hope everyone is as concerned about our wildlife habitat as I am. Please check out, and join, the new San Francisco Forest Alliance at SFForest.Net. Their goal is to preserve the forests, trees and thickets, all of which serve as wildlife animal habitat. Slated for removal in the new Natural Areas Program, NAP, plan are 18,000 trees, most of them mature and majestic specimens. They provide ecological benefits and species habitat which are still little understood by NAP. Here is the background:

Trees, forests, and dense thickets of underbrush — thickets which are impenetrable to dogs and humans — serve as wildlife habitat: they offer physical protection and food to wild animals. Almost all trees in San Francisco are non-native — there were only four native species of trees in the area when the Europeans arrived. Non-native berries such as Himalayan blackberry, cotoneaster, pyracantha, holly and others serve as food sources for birds and furry creatures. These are being ripped out in our parks for the shortsighted intention of  “restoring” the San Francisco area to what it might have been like in 1776 — mostly sand-dune grasses and understory species with little if any habitat value.

But the environment has totally changed since that time. The biggest change which altered the landscape forever has been the growth of a dense human population. This impacted the environment tremendously.  But when humans came, they also planted trees and shrubbery to help them deal with the harsh environment — mostly to hold in the loose sands which blew around everywhere, and as wind barriers. The plantings did more than this, they added greenery and beauty to the area. And they created a wildlife habitat which is now home to almost all of our wildlife. Because of these and other changes, even the original soil structure along with the microorganisms that were part of the sand dune ecosystem have been altered forever.

The new plantings grew and evolved. Ours, now, is a totally balanced ecosystem that has evolved over the last 250 years, and it is a healthy ecosystem. An indicator of the health of an ecosystem is it’s top predator. There are coyotes in San Francisco — our ecosystem is very healthy.  Now, along with our dense human population, we have paved roads, lots of automobiles, plenty of pollution  — we need our trees to combat the environmental effects of our dense population and the way we live.  San Francisco has the second smallest tree canopy of any dense urban center in the United States. Our urban forests are essential in terms of carbon sequestration and water sequestration — they help the environment and combat the effects of global warming. Every single tree counts. Yet more of our healthy, hard working naturalized trees are being ripped out and replaced with grasses and shrubs that are not sustainable in the present environment, all in the name of a clearly misguided environmentalism and false science.

Sustainability is something we all aspire to. However, in the time since the Native Plant program began in San Francisco, we have discovered that, in fact, native plants are not very self-sustainable. These native plants require a vast number of volunteer work hours to maintain them. In addition, our Recreation and Park Department is, literally, splashing poisonous pesticides on our parks’ non-native species regularly in order to accomplish their nativist goals. We have tried fighting this policy, but the use of poisons in the Park Department’s so-called “natural areas program”/NAP has actually increased 265% in one year alone, from 2009 to 2010. They are using these pesticides in parks where children play, where there is wildlife, where we walk our pets, and where there is a creek — the manufacturer of these chemicals warn strongly against this. The “natural areas program” is clearly not “natural” at all.

Critics of NAP question not only the program’s expenditures in budget-tight times but also the native plant advocates’ rhetoric, ”  ‘Restoration ecology’ is a euphemism for a kind of gardening informed by an almost cultish veneration of the ‘native’ and abhorrence of the naturalized, which is commonly characterized as ‘invasive,’ ” Arthur Shapiro, a distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, wrote city planning officials last October. (Sacramento Bee, 1/16/12). People are finally waking up to what is occuring in their parks — and they are desperately alarmed.

Images are worth a thousand words:

Professor Arthur Shapiro Comments on the Environmental Impact Report of the Natural Areas Program in San Francisco

Mission Blue Butterfly from Wikimedia Commons

These comments to the Environmental Impact Report of the Natural Areas Program in San Francisco by Professor Arthur M. Shapiro, are posted with his permission, and re-posted from two other websites: Death of a Million Trees, and Save Mount Sutro Forest. These two websites are loaded with pertinent information on this subject. Shapiro is Distinguished Professor of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis and a renowned expert on the butterflies of California.  Please be aware of his credentials as you read this.  Hopefully, these comments will inspire you to write your own comment by the deadline, which has been extended to October 31, 2011.  Details about how to submit your comment are available from the Death of a Million Trees website here. I am republishing this because of my concern for existing animal habitat which is being replaced in our so-called “natural areas” with native grasses which have no habitat value at all for the wildlife existing in our parks.

========================

October 6, 2011
Mr. Bill Wycko:
San Francisco Planning Department
Re: DRAFT EIR, NATURAL AREAS PROGRAM

Dear Mr. Wycko:

Consistent with the policy of the University of California, I wish to state at the outset that the opinions stated in this letter are my own and should not be construed as being those of the Regents, the University of California, or any administrative entity thereof. My affiliation is presented for purposes of identification only. However, my academic qualifications are relevant to what I am about to say. I am a professional ecologist (B.A. University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D. Cornell University) and have been on the faculty of U.C. Davis since 1971, where I have taught General Ecology, Evolutionary Ecology, Community Ecology, Philosophy of Biology, Biogeography, Tropical Ecology, Paleoecology, Global Change, Chemical Ecology, and Principles of Systematics. I have trained some 15 Ph.D.s, many of whom are now tenured faculty at institutions including the University of Massachusetts, University of Tennessee, University of Nevada-Reno, Texas State University, and Long Beach State University, and some of whom are now in government agencies or in private consulting or industry. I am an or the author of some 350 scientific publications and reviews. The point is that I do have the bona fides to say what I am about to say.

At a time when public funds are exceedingly scarce and strict prioritization is mandatory, I am frankly appalled that San Francisco is considering major expenditures directed toward so-called “restoration ecology.” “Restoration ecology” is a euphemism for a kind of gardening informed by an almost cultish veneration of the “native” and abhorrence of the naturalized, which is commonly characterized as “invasive.” Let me make this clear: neither “restoration” nor conservation can be mandated by science—only informed by it. The decision of what actions to take may be motivated by many things, including politics, esthetics, economics and even religion, but it cannot be science-driven.

In the case of “restoration ecology,” the goal is the creation of a simulacrum of what is believed to have been present at some (essentially arbitrary) point in the past. I say a simulacrum, because almost always there are no studies of what was actually there from a functional standpoint; usually there are no studies at all beyond the merely (and superficially) descriptive. Whatever the reason for desiring to create such a simulacrum, it must be recognized that it is just as much a garden as any home rock garden and will almost never be capable of being self-sustaining without constant maintenance; it is not going to be a “natural,” self-regulating ecosystem. The reason for that is that the ground rules today are not those that obtained when the prototype is thought to have existed. The context has changed; the climate has changed; the pool of potential colonizing species has changed, often drastically. Attempts to “restore” prairie in the upper Midwest in the face of European Blackthorn invasion have proven Sisyphean. And they are the norm, not the exception.

The creation of small, easily managed, and educational simulacra of presumed pre-European vegetation on San Francisco public lands is a thoroughly worthwhile and, to me, desirable project. Wholesale habitat conversion is not.

A significant reaction against the excesses of the “native plant movement” is setting up within the profession of ecology, and there has been a recent spate of articles arguing that hostility to “invasives” has gone too far—that many exotic species are providing valuable ecological services and that, as in cases I have studied and published on, in the altered context of our so-called “Anthropocene Epoch” such services are not merely valuable but essential. This is a letter, not a monograph, but I would be glad to expand on this point if asked to do so.

I am an evolutionary ecologist, housed in a Department of Evolution and Ecology. The two should be joined at the proverbial hip. Existing ecological communities are freeze-frames from a very long movie. They have not existed for eternity, and many have existed only a few thousand years. There is nothing intrinsically sacred about interspecific associations. Ecological change is the norm, not the exception. Species and communities come and go. The ideology (or is it faith?) that informs “restoration ecology” basically seeks to deny evolution and prohibit change. But change will happen in any case, and it is foolish to squander scarce resources in pursuit of what are ideological, not scientific, goals with no practical benefit to anyone and only psychological “benefits” to their adherents.

If that were the only argument, perhaps it could be rebutted effectively. But the proposed wholesale habitat conversion advocated here does serious harm, both locally (in terms of community enjoyment of public resources) and globally (in terms of carbon balance-urban forests sequester lots of carbon; artificial grasslands do not). At both levels, wholesale tree removal, except for reasons of public safety, is sheer folly. Aging, decrepit, unstable Monterey Pines and Monterey Cypresses are unquestionably a potential hazard. Removing them for that reason is a very different matter from removing them to actualize someone’s dream of a pristine San Francisco (that probably never existed).

Sociologists and social psychologists talk about the “idealization of the underclass,” the “noble savage” concept, and other terms referring to the guilt-driven self-hatred that infects many members of society. Feeling the moral onus of consumption and luxury, people idolize that which they conceive as pure and untainted. That may be a helpful personal catharsis. It is not a basis for public policy.

Many years ago I co-hosted John Harper, a distinguished British plant ecologist, on his visit to Davis. We took him on a field trip up I-80. On the way up several students began apologizing for the extent to which the Valley and foothill landscapes were dominated by naturalized exotic weeds, mainly Mediterranean annual grasses. Finally Harper couldn’t take it any more. “Why do you insist on treating this as a calamity, rather than a vast evolutionary opportunity?” he asked. Those of us who know the detailed history of vegetation for the past few million years—particularly since the end of Pleistocene glaciation—understand this. “Restoration ecology” is plowing the sea.

Get real.

Sincerely,
Arthur M. Shapiro
Distinguished Professor of Evolution and Ecology

Our EXISTING Wildlife Habitat Is Being Destroyed For Native Plants

 

“Lamented Changes In Our Garber Park Neighborhood”, by Diana

I have been thinking about our Garber Park neighborhood and how it has changed over the past 25 years that we have lived here on Evergreen Lane. I have been thinking how habitat has altered since 1986 and how the overstory of greenery has declined.

In 1986, Evergreen Lane was truly evergreen. In September of 1987, I recall that our neighbor, Mr. Garfield, a professor at Cal, described it as a “magic street.” At that time the street looked like a green tunnel, with big trees on both sides all the way down to Garber Park. A giant eucalyptus tree stood majestically at the intersection of Evergreen and Slater Lane. The air was cool and fresh, invigorating with the moisture of shaded land.

For several years after we moved into our house, deer abounded. There were spots below our home where they rested during the day. When the heat became extreme in late summer, the deer found cool places to sleep under our house. Often, in the fall, we would see male deer butting heads down the hill, while the does hid in the deeper tree growth.

There were raptors perched in the oak trees and hawks flying across the skies. We would see bats fly by the windows at night. And, at certain times of the year, we would hear owls calling to each other in the dark as they waited to spy mice and other small night-time venturers. Every night, we would be greeted by a mother raccoon and three babies eager to hunt for crumbs that might have dropped from the picnic table on the deck.

Mobs of robins arrived to find berries before they embarked on their migratory journeys. We enjoyed watching the abundance of spiders, tiny orange fellows that would spin their webs on plants in summer, adding dashes of color among the greenery. It was beautiful to watch them spin their slivery architecture; their webs were jewels that reflected the dappled sunlight.

Wild bumble bees built a hive under the house, and yellow jackets would visit us when lunch was outdoors, snatching tiny bits of food from the tablecloth. We had a water snake living in our garden for several years. In the garden, we also hosted voles and, once in a while, we would spot the woodland pack rat, an intelligent, clean animal.

Now, when we look around us, we see changes everywhere. Nature no longer seems as close as it used to be. When we look down at the arena where the bucks once battled, it is empty. It has been years since those scenes occurred. The path between houses here where we often saw three or four deer ambling down together is seldom used. We had one doe and a fawn visit last summer under the house, but they stayed for only a day, then disappeared. We spotted one deer resting down the hill this last year.

We know fatalities have occurred due to heavier and faster traffic on Claremont Avenue; that may account for part of the loss. But we suspect that the deer may miss the trees and bushes that have been removed over the years. Careless pruning has opened up much of the green overstory that once existed.

The raccoon population was bothering a neighbor so raccoon families were trapped and taken away as nuisances. Few have been our way since that time. This last year I counted only four or five cobwebs in the garden.The bumble bees have disappeared, as have the yellow jackets. Wild bees’ nests were destroyed by people who believe that bees’ nests house “dangerous pests.” Someone used a shovel to kill the water snake. Its body was left to rot in the sun. The robin activity was much lower this year. Perhaps they miss the berries; many of the berry bushes have been removed because they are said to be invasive; they are “not the right kind,” except that the robins really liked them.

We read that rat poison is spread in parks discourage rodents. The poison moves up the food chain to destroy other species. We have never used pesticides or any other materials that would harm the abundant life that the park and the overhanging trees on Evergreen Lane once supported. Yet, the majority of the wildlife described above has disappeared.

Granted, the 1991 fire (which thankfully did not reach Evergreen Lane or go into Garber Park) and construction in surrounding areas have occurred in the intervening years since we have taken up residence here.

But the raptors are leaving us; a few hawks roam the area but lately I have seen or heard only one. Now, with more eucalyptus trees removed, the evening dance of the bats has also disappeared. We have no idea why so many animals, birds, and insects have left us.

Something in the environment has removed what they needed. We don’t know what it is. We know we miss the spontaneous and vibrant natural environment that greeted us here in 1986. Now we are scrubbed and clean. The bothersome species have been banished.

We miss the cool, scented evenings filled with moist, clean air. Dust is much more a part of our life now, seeping into our house through any crack or cranny, making us think twice before we throw open the sliders for fresh(?) air.

With all respect to those who have come to restore Garber Park to its “native” beginnings and have worked hard to remove built up debris, we can’t help but long for that time when venturing into the Park was a near wilderness experience with dark, cool overhead coverings and the unexpected rush of an animal disturbed in its quiet retreat from the heat. I understand that the work that is going on in Garber Park is well intended… I also feel the magic slipping away.

[Reprinted with permission from  Spring issue of Hills Conservation Network’s newsletter and Save Mount SutroThe same changes described in this article are taking place in too many of our Bay Area parks: Sutro Forest, Twin Peaks, McLaren Park, Mount Davidson, Glen Canyon. Ecological destruction, whether from building and traffic, or from native plant experiments in "restorations" inevitably impacts wildlife and atmosphere. Garber Park photo credit Bindu Frank].

Lost Alpha Status?

I’ve followed a female coyote for several years now — I’ll call her “mom”.  She had puppies the first year and the second year — they all grew up and eventually dispersed. But the third year and this year there were no puppies. Why? We are told that only “alpha” coyotes reproduce. So, might no puppies be due to her having lost her “alpha” status and might this also have something to do with the possibility that a new family group of coyotes might now be using this same territory?

Coyotes form nuclear family groups which exclude other coyotes from their groups and from their territories. I’ve watched this mother coyote raise her various families. Never have we seen other coyote faces within her family group, or other coyotes in her territory.

The theory of lost status occurred to me due to a rumor — unsubstantiated at this point — that a new coyote group, including juveniles, might have been spotted recently, passing through what has been her territory. I have not seen a new group at all. Coyote rumors are rampant in this area: they often spin into a life of their own. So my theory is speculative, at the moment, and will have to remain that way until we verify what we have heard through the grapevine. But I wanted to explore this possibility of loss of alpha status, even if it exists only as a theoretical possibility. I have noticed changes in behavior that might be explained by a loss of alpha status.

Coyote groups are always family groups: genetically-related individuals with the same parents. They are not like dog packs, where unrelated individual dogs form groups for survival purposes. If a new group of coyotes was seen that included juveniles, the young ones would have had to have been born last year, when our mother had no pups. They would have been born to another alpha since only alphas breed.

The presence of another family might also explain why our mom coyote’s forays into the larger part of a park have dwindled, if not totally ceased — she has been limiting her outings to a smaller area now, and I’ve seen her eyeing the adjacent area where the new coyotes were purportedly spotted.

Why might she have lost her alpha status? Could this have happened when her mate was killed? We are assuming it was her mate who was found poisoned two years ago, right at about the time her second set of puppies was born. We assumed this because we never saw a male in her territory after that event. We only saw her and her growing pups. Was her status tied to his status, and then lost when he died?  Or could she have lost her status because there was no male, whatever his status? Or might she have lost it by another means — for instance, she was badly injured by a car two years ago, which might have compromised her ability to remain an alpha?

Then again, she might be too old now for pups, or she might have sustained internal injuries from that car accident that prevent her from having more puppies. One theory brought up in the literature is that coyotes self-regulate their population sizes. If an area has all the coyotes it can support, coyotes will have very tiny litters, or none at all.

So, no puppies, and the possible sighting of another family group including juveniles makes me think of the possibility of lost alpha status. In addition, the previous bolder behavior which suggested an alpha is no longer what I am seeing in our mom. We will never know the answer to the “whys”. But we do know that this very proud, aware and responsible mother coyote has stopped having pups altogether for the past couple of years and she has retreated to a smaller territorial area where she has been less visible than she used to be. Time will tell how long this situation will last — it might be very temporary, or it could be long-term.

Habitat destruction could be driving coyotes out of their previous homes and into new areas.

Habitat Destruction. Habitat destruction is the single most harmful human activity to wild animals. Many of us are upset at the very short-sighted policies causing this habitat destruction which lead to displacement of our wild animals. The “native plant programs” is a case in point: dense animal habitat is being removed in order to plant native plants which offer little if any habitat value — these are mostly dune-type plants. Animal habitat consists of dense areas of growth, brambles and underbrush which are impenetrable to humans and dogs — this is what makes it a safe habitat for animals. In San Francisco we have vast areas of our Presidio which are now being cleared of their forested areas for the benefit of native plants — this means lost habitat. In addition, the remodeling of Doyle Drive, and its attendant habitat destruction, may be driving coyotes out of their original homes close to the periphery of the city, and causing them to move deeper into the heart of the city to find new places to live. If new groups of coyotes are being seen in some areas, this is the strongest explanation.

Wild Animals Need Thick Areas of Growth Where They Can Hide or Seek Protection

Coyotes require both open fields where they can hunt for the rodents which they live on, and they need thicket areas where they can retreat to for protection and rest. The top row of photos shows coyotes retreating into overgrown thicket areas. Coyotes especially need these protected areas when they live in urban environments: they need to be able to escape from dogs which chase them and they need to be able to keep away from people for their own safety.

Much of the original native flora of this area consisted of sparse, low lying shrubbery and dune plants — plants which grew and thrived in the sandy soil. Non-native trees and vegetation were introduced into the area to control winds, keep the sand from blowing around, add variety and to provide visual breaks. This non-native vegetation proliferated and created wonderful habitat and protection for creatures who might not otherwise have been able to move into the area which is now so heavily urbanized.

In recent years there has been a strong trend to reintroduce native plants and clear out non-native thickets. There is no thought given to the critters who live in these wild overgrown areas. When entire areas are cleared out for the purpose of introducing native plants, the homes of our wild animals are destroyed. Since our furry wild animals are not on any “endangered list”, they have no legal protection. The bottom row of photos shows areas where entire thickets have been cleared out, and either left bare under tall trees or planted with low lying native shrubbery — neither of which provide protection for coyotes, where protection once existed.

Preserving Wildlife Habitat vs. A Native Plants Craze

I’ve been fighting to preserve wildlife habitat in our parks for a long time. This includes thickets, forests and underbrush, all of which are being removed and thinned as part of the present “native plant” craze. The native plants of California include mostly low lying grasses and dune plants. Those of us who care about the furry critters which inhabit non-native thickets have not been able to do too much about it. This is because furry critters are on no “endangered” lists. What IS on the endangered list are butterflies and damselflies. So habitats for them take precedence over what already is in place for harboring furry critters.

I think we all would like to see native plants preserved and prosper, but the program in our area is much too extreme: entire forests and thicket areas in our various parks are being removed simply because they are not native — even though they are beautiful and serve as habitats. They are being removed in favor of planting fragile native plants which provide little if any harbor for our furry wild critters. Here are a couple of articles, finally, backing what I have been advocating for so long! Also a couple of superb blogs loaded with relevant information on this same issue, and an analysis of the Scientific American article.

A Friend to Aliens – February 2011 – Scientific American

How alien invasion could save the Earth – 20 January 2011 – New Scientist

http://milliontrees.wordpress.com/

http://sutroforest.com/

Mark Davis, A Friend To Aliens, Analysis

Previous Older Entries