August 28, 2008

Users of the East Ridge Trail in Redwood Regional Park Protest Tree Thinning

By Angela Hill

OAKLAND -- Regular visitors to Redwood Regional Park's East Ridge Trail in the Oakland hills have circulated a petition and plan to protest what they're calling a "logging" effort as fire officials and arborists remove numerous trees for a long-planned fire break along a portion of the trail.

But park officials say the tree removal is vital for fire safety and is being done responsibly, leaving as many healthy trees standing as possible.

"The trail itself is really the only fire break in that area right now. If a fire were to come through there under the northeast winds, it would not be a good situation," said Ken Blonski, fire chief for the East Bay Regional Park District's fire services. "It's the same concept as defensible space around your house. Plus, we're taking about the old trees that have limbs hanging over the trail that could fall and injure someone."

Those who object to the tree removal agree that some trees should be taken down for fire safety, but they insist many healthy trees are being unnecessarily removed, harming the natural beauty of the area.

"A lot of people now feel this park has lost a lot of its charm and beauty. It's as if we are now walking in a desolate war zone with stumps, like graves, to remind us of what used to be there," said Rose Nied, who lives in the Oakland hills and takes her dogs to the trail on a regular basis. She and other tree supporters plan to share their views with the park district's board of directors Thursday at the board's regular monthly committee meeting, asking for more selectivity in tree removal, more environmentally friendly herbicides on stumps and more advance notice for similar projects.

"We all agree that the eucalyptus, and trees which were leaning and might fall, and trees that may not have looked so healthy should have gone," she said. "But many of us believe that what they have done is overkill. This is one of the few off-leash dog areas around, and the animals need the shade or they overheat. This is eliminating all the shade. There definitely were Monterey pines that were taken down that were not harmful to anyone and were healthy specimens."

Certainly, the thinned area is far more open than it was, and the sight of tree trunks piled by the side of the path is disconcerting for many of the hikers, runners and dog walkers who use the trail, which begins at Skyline Gate just off Skyline Boulevard. About 650 trees, varying in size from small ones 3 to 5 inches in diameter to mature pines of about 24 inches across, are being removed, Blonski said. Many of the Monterey pines suffer from a fungus called pitch canker.

Blonski said the selection of trees for removal has been a careful one.

"Some people have said we're indiscriminately logging," he said. "But this is not being done helter-skelter. There is no reason we would take out healthy trees. For one thing, we wouldn't waste the money doing that. Plus, we've done aerial surveys, ground studies, environmental impact reports. We have careful criteria for each tree."

"We're trying to create a situation where the native vegetation will prosper by removing non-native eucalyptus, thinning the pine and leaving the native understory of bay trees and manzanita and oaks, which are naturally more fire resistant," said Kerry Bearg, project manager for the fire district. "It's part of a much larger strategy."

Nied also said that little notice was provided before the work started July 15, and there was no chance for public input.

"Part of the problem is that these projects take so long to get going that the public input meetings happened years ago," Blonski said.

Indeed, the thinning project, one of several under way in the hills, had been in the planning stages for years. Funds are coming from Measure CC, which was approved by voters in 2004, a property assessment that raises almost $3 million a year for wildlife habitat and natural resource protection, park access and safety, and infrastructure maintenance. Additional funds came from Federal Emergency Management Agency money received after the devastating 1991 fire in the Oakland and Berkeley hills. "The fire-safety plan, including this area, even goes back to when the park first formed in 1936," Blonski said.

Some trail users have mixed feelings about the thinning work. One woman walking along the trail with a friend Monday said, "I love the trees, but I'm also anti-fire."

Reach Angela Hill at 510-208-6493 or [email protected] you go-- What: East Bay Regional Park District board meeting-- When: 12:45 p.m. Thursday-- Where: 2950 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland-- Details:

Originally published by Angela Hill , Oakland Tribune.

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