Reduce the fire hazard, don't litigate, by L. Tim Wallace

After 10 years, FEMA finally has issued its Record of Decision (ROD) on grants to reduce the fire danger posed by the eucalyptus trees in Claremont Canyon and the East Bay Hills. The ROD is not ideal. The Claremont Canyon Conservancy would have preferred the original draft that enabled the three grant applicants (UC Berkeley, the City of Oakland and the Regional Park District) to use the funds as each saw fit, rather than requiring all three grantees to use a “unified approach.” The final ROD requires thinning the eucalyptus over time rather than enabling a more rapid conversion from eucalyptus to a native and less fire prone oak, bay and willow woodland. This unified approach also will cost the public more but FEMA did not include additional funds. Because of these restrictions, it is likely that the fire danger will not be reduced as effectively as it would have had the ROD allowed conversion. In addition, the ROD removes $167,000 in grant funds for UC to use in the frowning ridge area just below Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Despite these major shortcomings, the FEMA grants should be released so that UC and the two other grant recipients can get on with their work of reducing the fire danger. Therefore, it is unfortunate that a small group of our neighbors, who call themselves the Hills Conservation Network (HCN), has filed suit to force FEMA, UC, the City of Oakland and the Park District to go back to the drawing board and reconsider the option of maintaining eucalyptus groves in perpetuity. The defendants are now forced to spend public money to oppose the litigation. They will be forced to revisit the environmental process that already took into account both public opinion and scientific research during the past 10 years. Now it is way past time to make our community safer. This litigation will at a minimum further delay release of these needed funds and if it succeeds our neighborhood would become even less fire-safe than it is today.
HCN has continually misrepresented or distorted the facts about eucalyptus trees, the risks they create and the nature of the proposed mitigation work. For example, it has alleged that the hills will be subject to clear-cutting and that eucalyptus and other non-native species are valuable elements in the natural environment. In fact no one has proposed clear-cutting and eucalyptus were introduced into the Bay Area only within the last 110 years. Conservancy members have surveyed the areas in Claremont Canyon that would be treated under the FEMA grant. There are nearly as many native bay and oak trees as eucalyptus. Currently held back by the dense eucalyptus, the bays and oaks will grow and thrive once the extremely flammable and fuel-laden eucs are removed.
The Claremont Canyon Conservancy is a 500-family member neighborhood organization formed in 2001. It is dedicated to reducing fire hazards and restoring the natural landscape. We work with the various public agencies that own land in Claremont Canyon to achieve these goals and have assembled a great deal of factual information about these issues on our website.
At this time we are carefully watching the legal process now underway, thus reserving the flexibility to take whatever action we deem necessary to reduce the fire danger as soon as possible. Your support is much appreciated. You also are invited to join our activities in the canyon.