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Letters for the Week of August 14

Readers sound off on eucalyptus trees, Berkeley's minimum wage, and BART.


"The Eucalyptus Is Part of California," Opinion, 7/24

Eucalyptus Aren't Compatible

Gregory Davis makes an argument against the eradication of eucalyptus trees in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons based heavily upon "the tree's beauty and recreational value," and upon the notion that the very idea of "native plants" is faulty given that "nature is everywhere a dynamic entity." Both of these points demonstrate that, more than forty years after the emergence of the modern environmental movement, many people are still very unclear regarding the concepts of "ecosystem" and "sustainability." 

Nature is indeed dynamic and always changing, but such changes tend to be rather gradual in terms of human lifetime scales. And they take place systemically, i.e., in the context of the motion of entire arrays of related organisms, both flora and fauna, developed via intricate actions that took place over very long periods of time, moving in and out of territories. Eucalyptus trees, on the other hand, were introduced to California in complete isolation from their usual supporting cast back in Australia, primarily with the intent of commercial exploitation that proved unworkable in the California context. Not even the microorganisms that in Australia enable the breakdown of fallen limbs, foliage, and the like came along, let alone any animals that live in eucalyptus groves like koala bears. Look inside eucalpytus forests. They do not fit into the local ecosystem, and never will.

Mr. Davis even brings in climate change, when, in fact, the big problem with human-driven climate change is that it occurs at a much faster rate than a natural climate change, giving organisms little to no time to adjust. This is indeed why the current climate change is shaping up to be catastrophic to the entire planet's ecosystem.

Mr. Davis also includes a not-so-subtle appeal to what he thinks is a general sense of political correctness of readers by linking the preference for native vegetation to racism. He contends that this preference is the same as a disdain for "more recent immigrants from Asia or south of the border." There is a huge difference. Humans are all one species, regardless of variations in secondary characteristics such as skin shading or eye shape. Plants and animals are not. Humans are also relatively free of ecosystem constraints, due to the development of tools, language, and cultivation. Undomesticated plants and animals are, on the other hand, very much anchored in specific mosaics of associated organisms. Without those, they will usually either die or expand without constraints in myriad ways, such as the displacement of other organisms and excessive draining of nutrients and water from the soil, to the detriment of their new ecological homes. Ultimately, as we are finding out, humans are also constrained by ecological limits.

I work with a group called CHIA — California Habitat Indigenous Activists. We as a group have been cultivating a garden along the BART tracks in North Berkeley for the last fourteen years, dedicated to plants that were part of the California ecosystem at the time of European colonization. These plants draw numerous indigenous insects, such as local bees, co-exist well with one another, and were used in all sorts of ways by the people we know as the Ohlone who inhabited the Bay Area at the time of colonization. Our key criteria isn't so much "native" as it is whether a plant is compatible with the general ecosystem and is capable of contributing to this system's long-term sustainability, particularly in terms of drought resistance. The notions of "beauty and recreation" have nothing to do with such considerations. In fact, they remind me of arguments I have seen in favor of destructive projects in other parts of the country and against limiting access to heavily impacted areas such as Yosemite Valley. The way a grove looks to humans has nothing to do with how it interacts with other species of flora and fauna. There have been contentions by some people that birds roost on eucalyptus trees, and that deer herds walk through them. Well, birds also roost on power lines, and deer, given the current overpopulation of certain species, can be seen walking through streets in the Berkeley and Oakland hills. I don't think anyone would take seriously the notion that power lines and streets are therefore part of the ecosystem.

This in no way should be taken as an endorsement for the massive use of chemical pesticides. There are other ways to deal with the problem. But the remnants of eucalyptus plantations in the Berkeley and Oakland Hills cannot in any way be integrated into the regional ecosystem. The eucalyptus is no more a part of the Bay Area's and California's various ecosystems than are freeways or downtown high-rises, even if many people find them beautiful and useful for recreation. The need for educating the public on what true long-term sustainability means is greater than ever. 

Jeffrey G. Strahl, Berkeley

I Love Eucalyptus

I greatly appreciate the author of this wonderful and sane article about the proposed eradication of eucalyptus. The people who propose to eradicate eucalyptus and other "non-native" trees are making decisions based on fear and dogmatism, which are never the appropriate drivers for good decision-making. Let me shout out loud that I love the eucalyptus, the acacia, and the Monterey pine. They are not dangerous or destructive forces; rather, they have long provided us with more oxygen to breathe, shaded us, captured the fog to water the dry land, held the hillsides, and brought us beauty and fragrance. To wantonly destroy them and all the animals that depend upon them is a grossly wrong, thoughtless, cruel, and irresponsible act.