Friday, May 31, 2013

Drake's Bay Oyster Controversy - Finally, a Rational Perspective!

In today's Marin IJ, author John Hart, wrote a very clear and persuasive point by point look at the Drake's Bay Oyster controversy in which reason, not emotion, holds the day.  Thanks John. And below is reprinted that piece:

Marin Voice: Finding an oyster accord

Photo of John Hart by david sanger
AS THE AUTHOR of a recent book on Point Reyes, I find myself in a no-man's-land between the fronts in the oyster wars. Here is what I think I know.

Point No. 1: Point Reyes is not a "wilderness park." Unlike classic units of the National Park System, it was not created from federal land in far-off mountains. And the seashore is simply unique in incorporating — with the blessing of Congress — large areas of functioning farmland. The historic use of Drakes Estero to produce oysters is not different in kind from the historic use of adjacent pastures to produce milk and meat.

Point No. 2: Yet wilderness is a valid concept for parts of Point Reyes. The word "wilderness" evokes pristine horizons, but is also a strictly defined legal concept, a zone, within which there are no roads, no resource extraction, and no mechanized access. Even lands that were formerly settled can be placed in this zone, and come to look and feel very wild. About half of Point Reyes, mostly in the south, was zoned wilderness in 1976.

Point No. 3: There was a time when everyone, environmentalists very much included, wanted the oyster farm to continue indefinitely. They also wanted wilderness for Drakes Estero. They got around the seeming clash by endorsing oysters-in-wilderness as a "nonconforming use." IJ letter writer Jim Linford has recently revived this position. It was the Park Service that balked, so a brand new label was invented for the estero and a few other areas: "potential wilderness." The estero would be highly protected but without the wilderness label, so long as the oyster farm was there.

Point No. 4: Congress favored oysters, yet quietly wrote language implying that the farm should leave. These words are not in the law but in one of the committee reports accompanying it. They state, as a general principle, that "potential wilderness" should be converted to full wilderness as soon as possible.

Point No. 5: Congress later revised this instruction. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's rider of 2009 allowed the Secretary of the Interior to renew the oyster farm lease, on existing terms, for another ten years. Since the existing lease included a renewal clause, this might arguably have permitted a longer extension. As we all know, Salazar chose not to extend.

Point No. 6: The Park Service has tried to prove that the oyster farm was doing environmental damage, and it has failed. This is my opinion based on an intensive reading of the Environmental Impact Statement and other documents. Studies should continue. Right now the evidence is just not there.

Point No. 7: I doubt that the oyster farm is actually vital to the outstanding cleanliness of the estero. True, filter-feeding oysters are known to clean coastal waters, and some think they do so here. The Park Service argues that the natural flushing of daily tides here dwarfs any filtering effect, and I am (tentatively) convinced.

Point No. 8: I doubt also that a removal of the oyster farm would bring more pressure on the adjacent farmland. Some believe that, without oysters, pollution from cows would become evident in the estero, leading to a campaign to shut down agriculture nearby. But if tidal exchange is overwhelming, any such effect should be very minor.

If I had been Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar?  
I would have granted the 10-year extension. I would have asked the scientists to continue their environmental studies, without pressure.

I would have made such critics as Corey Goodman a full part of this process. And I would have asked Congress to make it clear that, if given a clean bill of health, oyster farming could continue.

To my ear, it is not a discord in the special music of Point Reyes.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Follow up on Berkeley Clearcutting. Round-Up in Berkeley?

 Beyond Chron: More about the planned clearcutting and use of herbicide Round-Up in Berkeley:

Public Rallies Against FEMA/UC Berkeley Tree Clear-Cutting Plan

Hundreds concerned about the future of Strawberry and Claremont Canyons came out to the last public hearing on May 18 to voice opposition and cheer those testifying against the destructive plan. Many expressed surprise over the lack of earlier notice about the project, with my May 16 story--- “FEMA Plans Clear-Cutting of 85,000 Berkeley and Oakland Trees” ---the first news many got of this potential environmental outrage. Of the many arguments made against the plan, the greatest concern involves the proposed use of over 1000 gallons of herbicide, including the notoriously toxic Roundup. Many also offered a powerful challenge to the idea of destroying “non-native” plants, arguing that its logic ---typically associated with rapidly burning non-native eucalyptus trees---ignores other fire hazards including those caused by the clear-cutting.

As a longtime activist and author of books on the power of grassroots activism, it is wonderful that so many people altered their schedules to attend a Saturday hearing at Oakland’s Claremont Middle School on a very busy weekend to save Strawberry and Claremont Canyons. This was people power in action, and those unable to attend still have a month to submit public comments (to do so, go to, or send an email to

We’ve been deluged with emails responding to our May 16 story, and printed many in our letters section. I’d like to distill the essence of what I have heard from both sides, because this appears to be another case where proponents of a bad environmental plan are not carefully listening to opponents.

While there are some who oppose cutting down any tree for any purpose, this is not the majority sentiment I have heard. Instead, people who know a lot more than I about this issue see the FEMA/UC Berkeley plan as a narrow and simplistic approach to a very complex problem.

For example, we got letters from plans supporters saying that the area will be replanted (false) or that it will automatically regenerate (even though the herbicides are designed to prevent this). Restoration of the area is not in the cards, and this is not a case where “short-term” negatives are outweighed by a far better area a decade from now.

Further, the identity of “non-native” trees and shrubs raises complex questions about the meaning of that term. Is a Monterey Pine “non-native”? Isn’t much of the beautiful Berkeley Hills comprised of plants that could be seen as “non-native” and as fire hazards?

Finally, FEMA is actually targeting over 400,000 East Bay trees. East Bay voters are said to be among the nation’s most concerned about climate change, so what about the impact of this clear-cutting on greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of carbon sequestration?

Let’s hope Congressmember Barbar Lee and other political leaders get on board to stop this destructive plan. And if you are first hearing about it now, it’s not too late to express your opposition and influence the outcome.

To stay connected, follow the Hills Conservation Network ( You can also sign the MoveOn petition at )

We will provide any breaking news on this issue as it occurs. And special thanks to my neighbor, Matt Campbell, for originally alerting me to this issue.

Randy Shaw is the Editor of BeyondChron. He is the author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Clearcutting in Berkeley?


FEMA Plans Clear-Cutting 85,000 Berkeley and Oakland Trees

By Randy Shaw
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is moving to chop down 22,000 trees in Berkeley's historic Strawberry and Claremont Canyons and over 60,000 more in Oakland. This destructive plan is rapidly moving forward with little publicity, and FEMA cleverly scheduled its three public meetings for mid and late May while UC Berkeley students were in finals or gone for the summer.
UC Berkeley has applied for the grant to destroy the bucolic Strawberry and Claremont Canyon areas, claiming that the trees pose a fire hazard. The school has no plans to replant, and instead will cover 20% of the area in wood chips two feet deep. And it will pour between 700 and 1400 gallons of herbicide to prevent re-sprouting, including the highly toxic herbicide, Roundup. People are mobilizing against this outrageous proposal, which UC Berkeley has done its best to keep secret.
Strawberry Canyon. Photo credit: Corin Royal DrummondWhen I heard this week that the federal government would be funding the clear-cutting of 85,000 beautiful Berkeley and Oakland trees, including 22,000 in historic Strawberry and Claremont Canyon, my initial reaction was disbelief. I then wondered how the feds have money for this destructive project while Head Start and public housing programs are being cut due to the sequester.
The trees in Strawberry and Claremont Canyon have been there for decades and hardly constitute a "hazard." But pouring 1400 gallons of herbicide on the currently pristine hills will create a real hazard, and UC Berkeley even plans to use the highly toxic herbicide "Roundup" to squelch the return of non-native vegetation.
This is a true horror story that will happen absent public opposition. I know that many will find it hard to believe that this could occur in the pro-environment San Francisco Bay Area, but UC Berkeley may be counting on this attitude to get all the approvals they need before people find out the truth.
Please read "Death of a Million Trees," which provides all of the facts, figures and background about the Strawberry and Claremont Canyon proposed clear cutting as well as the tree destruction plans for the East Bay. The last public hearing will be held Saturday, May 18, 2013, 10 AM - 12 PM, at Claremont Middle School, 5750 College Avenue in Oakland.
The public has until June 17 to submit written comments on the project. You can do so through the East Bay Hills hazardous fire risk reduction project website, or via email.
There are countless destructive attacks on the environment that Bay Area activists cannot impact. But this is occurring in our own backyard, and activists must make sure that this cannot happen here.

Randy Shaw is a Bay Area attorney, author and activist, and the editor of the Beyond Chron online journal, where this article was originally published.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tree Roots Cracking Sewer Lateral?

This story from today's Marin IJ about the town where I live. My husband, urban forester Ray Moritz is quoted.  Will watch this case:

Town of Fairfax sued for planting tree; property owner says roots caused sewage spill

Planting a tree is good for the Earth; but it may not have turned out so well for the owner of a building in downtown Fairfax.

Russell Marne, a San Rafael lawyer representing the trust that owns the building at 1820 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., has sued the town of Fairfax, asserting that a town-planted tree caused a sewage spill on his client's property.

"The tree was planted right on top of the sewer lateral," Marne said. "So the tree grew down and smashed the sewer line. There was an over 200-gallon sewage spill on the downtown sidewalk."

The spill occurred in February in front of the building that houses the MINE Gallery on the ground floor and a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor. Some of the gallery's artwork was soiled, Marne said.

Ross Valley Sanitary District cleaned up the sewage. Randell Ishii, the district's engineer, confirmed that about 200 gallons was spilled; but Ishii said the district's report on the spill lacked the detail necessary for him to say what caused it.

Fairfax Town Manager Garrett Toy declined comment. "The town's policy is to not discuss any pending claims or litigation," Toy said.

Marne said that when the trust purchased the building it had been vacant for about a dozen years and was dilapidated. The trust restored the building, attempting to retain its historic character, he said.

He said the town of Fairfax had previously agreed to split the cost of repairing the sidewalk in front of the building; the sidewalk had been pushed up by the tree's roots.
"We wanted to make sure that tree comes out because it is the reason the sidewalk is busted up," Marne said. "It's a trip hazard."

Ed De Maestri, owner of De Maestri's Fairfax Garage and Auto Body, said he watched the town plant that tree and others along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in downtown Fairfax during the late 1970s. De Maestri said the trees were planted despite his objection.

"I don't like trees downtown; it's just my personal feeling," De Maestri said. "Because they block all the views of the downtown buildings."

Marne said the sidewalk has been pushed up all along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in downtown Fairfax due to the trees.

Fairfax, like many municipalities throughout the state, has specified in its town code that property owners are responsible for maintaining sidewalks adjacent to their property and bear the liability if anyone is injured by a damaged sidewalk.

Fairfax's town code, however, also states that "requirements of this section shall not apply with respect to any sidewalks damaged by any trees, shrubs, hedges and other landscaping installed and maintained by the town of Fairfax."

Marne said Fairfax planted the wrong kind of tree and neglected to install a cage around the tree's roots to control their growth.

Not all of the evidence falls on Marne's side of the ledger.

Ray Moritz, an arborist who operates Urban Forestry Associates in San Rafael, said, "For a tree to invade a sewer lateral, the sewer lateral has to be defective to start with. There has to be a crack, some way for the roots to get in there."

In addition, Moritz said the tree planted in front of the building at 1820 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. is a London plane tree, a hybrid of American sycamore, "which is very commonly used as a street tree because it has less invasive roots. It's a highly recommended street tree."