In December 1972, a prolonged cold snap hit the San Francisco Bay Area killing thousands of eucalyptus trees in upper Claremont Canyon. The eucs were still standing, but they looked terrible–stark and dry and colorless like so much kindling waiting for a spark. With the wildfire of 1970 still painfully fresh in everyone’s memory, UC Chancellor Albert Bowker decided to take bold action. He had all the eucalyptus trees cut down and hauled away. Logging crews used chainsaws, trucks, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment to do the job.
Afterward, the upper canyon looked like a war zone. To minimize erosion, the area was seeded from the air. But it still looked terrible, so the Piedmont Rotary Club came forward with a reforestation plan. They persuaded UC planners to let them plant some 550 Monterey pines and coast redwood seedlings. The actual planting was done on a Sunday morning in April 1975. The seedlings were small, about 12 inches high in one-gallon containers, but most of them survived.
On the other hand, the root systems of the eucalyptus trees were not dead. Soon almost all of the stumps began to sprout, sending up four or five or six new stems to replace those that had been frozen and cut down. As a result, the upper canyon turned back into a forest of fast-growing, fire-hazardous, eucalyptus trees, some of them now 12 to 18 inches in diameter (dbh) and as much as 80 feet tall.
Recently, with support and encouragement from the Conservancy, UC began to cut down the re-sprouted eucalyptus trees in the upper canyon. Mature oaks, laurels, elderberrys and other trees and shrubs are being left alone. Like the pines and redwoods that were planted in 1975 they are now enjoying the sunlight and moisture that were being monopolized by the eucs. So far, about 3,000 eucalyptus stems have been cut down and the program is scheduled to continue.
The Monterey pines, perhaps 100 of them, have reached middle age and look a bit dry; they’re not in their favorite near-ocean environment. On the other hand, more than 200 redwoods have also survived. In fact, most of them are healthy and full of youthful enthusiasm, just beginning to prosper and grow rapidly. Many are 10 to 20 feet tall with main stems that are 10 or 12 inches in diameter. Quite a few are as much as 60 feet tall and growing taller by four to six feet per year. A few have trunks that are over seven feet in circumference (28 or 29 inches dbh).
The Conservancy’s plan is to continue what the Rotary Club started 30 years ago–replacing the old, very dangerous eucalyptus forest with a cool, moist, relatively fire-safe and beautiful forest of redwoods, oaks, laurels, and other native trees and shrubs. The Conservancy has a supply of seeds gleaned from redwoods native to the East Bay Hills that will be used to continue and extend the reforestation program that was started in 1975. It looks to be a lovely and enduring accomplishment that we will all be able to enjoy and be proud of, and proudly leave to future generations.