Over 9,000 eucalyptus trees have been removed from Claremont Canyon since 2001 with thousands more due to come down in the next 2-4 years. Careful monitoring and follow-up of the logged areas this time around should assure that resprouts and new seedlings will not overwhelm the land, force out the native flora and fauna, and present an unacceptable wildfire hazard to the canyon and nearby homes.
Some people undoubtedly will miss the tall trees which have held their place in the canyon for nearly a century. Were they less flammable by nature and less aggressive in their growth, wildland managers might be able to deal with them differently. But such was not the case for Eucalyptus globulus, or blue gum, a species imported from Australia for commercial reasons over a hundred years ago. Removal of eucalyptus from Claremont Canyon has become the highest priority for public land managers in their effort to restore a more natural landscape and reduce the chances of another 1991-style firestorm.
The decision to remove eucalyptus was made several times before in the East Bay Hills: in the 1930s and again in the1970s and 1980s, when people were reeling from recent firestorms that had destroyed homes and threatened lives. Each time in the storms' aftermath, wildland managers logged eucalyptus by the thousands and hauled them away to be used as wood pulp. Unfortunately, insufficient funds were available for follow-up and the trees came back with a vengeance, the severed stumps sending up as many as six or seven new stems to create a thick new forest.
Finally, on October 21, 1991, a smoldering grass fire just south of Claremont Canyon swirled out of control during a "Diablo wind" day. Within hours the fire blew across 1,520 acres, destroying 2,449 homes and taking 25 lives. In mega-fires, such this one, everything will burn. But, according to some follow-up studies, eucalyptus trees were implicated in ramping up the spread the fire. Eye witnesses claimed to see flaming eucalyptus debris, including whole branches, traveling long distances through the air, even crossing a six-lane highway. In the firestorm's aftermath, as homeowners began to rebuild, wildland managers again faced the challenge of what to do about the eucalyptus.
UC land managers were on it first, embarking in 2002 on a multiyear, phase-by-phase program of removing eucalyptus from UC-owned land in Claremont Canyon, taking care to retain as many native trees and vegetation as possible.
By 2004, the Park District stepped in, removing eucalyptus from ridge lines to the north and east of the canyon and thinning out the eucalyptus plantation at the Stonewall Road entrance to the Claremont Canyon Preserve.
In 2006, the Claremont Canyon Conservancy partnered with the Park District and the City of Oakland in buffer zones near homes and along roadsides. The massive eucalyptus trees lining Claremont Avenue were of particular concern, as they posed a threat to egress for both residents and emergency vehicles in case of fire or earthquake.
"The work revealed some magnificent (native) trees," said David Kessler of the North Hills Phoenix Association, "especially oaks that have a lot more elbow room, which must have been literally in the shadows previously....The Claremont Canyon Conservancy, the East Bay Regional Park District, the University, and all of us who live in the area need to work together for years ahead to find effective strategies to manage vegetation, and to clear, restore and maintain areas where work has been done."
The Conservancy continues to urge the large landowners to utilize available funds from FEMA, US Fish and Wildlife, Measure CC (Alameda County) and Measure DD (Oakland) for ongoing fire safety work Claremont Canyon. Funding for follow-up work is the crucial piece to assure success of the wildfire mitigation programs.