Contact Robert Sward

Eucalytus Roulette (con't)

Excerpted from America's Largest Weed by Ted Williams (from Audubon Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2002)

"... Even by California standards, Bolinas is funky. Residents tend to be well-to-do, artsy, passionately given to liberal causes. Bumper stickers and posters exhort the populace to "save the redwoods," heed the ghostwritten pronouncements of Chief Seattle, seek "justice NOT revenge" in Afghanistan, go "Dancing With the Planets." For 30 years there has been a building moratorium. Tourism is anathema. There's only one road into Bolinas, and every time highway officials alert the world to the town's existence by erecting a sign, someone rips it down. Might Bolinas be an anomaly?

No. * The city of Santa Cruz, * for example, protects eucs under--of all things--a Heritage Tree Ordinance. A euc qualifies for "heritage tree" status when it's about 16 years old--that is, when the trunk two feet from the ground is 16 inches in diameter. To cut one, even on your own property, is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of not less than $500. You can apply for a permit, but the overwhelming majority of applications get turned down.

For a decade Robert Sward, an English professor at the University of California- * Santa Cruz, * has been trying to get permission to cut the blue gum eucs that overhang his house and rain flammable litter on his roof. "This is no frivolous undertaking," he remarked. "It would cost us $3,000. When we tried to trim the limbs the workmen were chased out of the trees by the [Santa Cruz] Parks and Recreation Department." For three years one of his neighbors, Geraldine Kaspar, has been trying to cut the huge, sickly, litter-spewing euc that is growing into and over her house and poisoning her lawn with toxic drippings. Now the roots are ripping up her driveway. If the damage continues, the repair bill will be several thousand dollars. Kaspar tells me she'll try one last time for a permit, then cut the tree and pay the $500 fine.

Usually the only thing that happens when Santa Cruz fire marshal Mark Latham recommends euc removal to the city fathers is that it "gets studied," he says. "We have categories of flammable plants, and eucalyptus is way up at the top--almost off the scale. It's a nasty situation." He calls the Heritage Tree Ordinance "pretty prevalent up and down the coast."

Wherever managers have dared to remove eucalyptus trees, ecosystems have surged back. Amid native shrubs and grasses pushing up between gray euc stumps, I stood on Angel Island, which juts 781 feet out of San Francisco Bay. Beside me was David Boyd, resource ecologist for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Pivoting from right to left, we admired the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge reaching through a fog bank, then the city of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, the UCal at Berkeley tower, the Richmond Bridge, and China Camp State Park, 20 miles away over hazy hills. Sailboats and pelicans drifted across the azure bay. A distant bell buoy chimed. Ten years ago the only view here was peeling euc bark.

Restoration hadn't been easy, Boyd explained. There had been fierce opposition from a group called POET (Preserve Our Eucalyptus Trees). Having frightened the National Park Service into abandoning an ambitious plan to free the Golden Gate National Recreation Area of eucs, POET fired off a salvo of verse--a poem lovely as a giant weed in which it quoted the eucs as they cried out against arboricide: "We love our home / Here on the isle / We love our fellow trees, plants, animals / And people / We would love to continue living / But we have no voice." Boyd was called a "plant Nazi" and accused of plotting to "eradicate history." When the department's consultant testified that it was okay to get rid of invasive nonnative plants, POET countered with, "The next thing we're going to hear from you is that getting rid of all nonnative people is okay." In an attempt to cover itself, the department undertook a study, publishing a 265-page report six months and $25,000 later. POET found the report inadequate and sued, so the department undertook an environmental review, which consumed another six months and another $25,000. By then the chip market, which would have paid for the tree removal, had dried up. So the department had to cough up $200,000 to have 16 acres logged by helicopter. The rest of the operation, 64 acres, cost another $200,000.

When the work was finally completed, in the spring of 1996, there was angry talk about how the department had constructed a building without holding public hearings or even telling anyone. The eyesore was plainly visible from the mainland amid a mix of bay laurel, large toyon, madrone, and coast live oak. The department had even painted it red.

The building, Boyd and his colleagues explained, was a hospital built by the U.S. Army in 1904. For almost a century it had been hidden by eucalyptus monoculture. "


Ted Williams wrote on reckless tree planting in the May 1991 Audubon.

What You Can Do

Euc protection is just one example of what's happening all over America, as people insist on planting trees where they don't belong. But it doesn't have to be this way. Speak out for the removal of invasive exotics, and remember that restoring native ecosystems begins at home.

For More Information / Voice Your Concerns:

Christopher Krohn, Mayor of Santa Cruz, CA

Emily Reiley, Vice Mayor of Santa Cruz, CA

Sam Farr, Congressman
701 Ocean St., Room 318
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Parks & Recreation
323 Church St.
attn: Jim Lang
831-420-5270 or 831-420-5246
FAX: 831-420-5271

Parks & Rec. is also a source for names and addresses of people whose application for permits was turned down.

Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors
831-454-2200 or 831-454-2323

Santa Cruz City Council
809 Center St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Santa Cruz County Emergency Services


TV Channel #46 Ð 831-970-5042
TV News Channel #46 filmed Meder St. eucalyptus grove and did TV feature on the euc issue. Has film footage.

PH: 831-423-4242
FAX: 831-429-9620

Excerpted from America's Largest Weed by Ted Williams (from Audubon Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2002)


June 7, 2000

To the Mayor, City Council Members, City Attorney, Risk Manager, Fire Chief, Director of Parks & Recreation.

c/o City of Santa Cruz
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060:

Request to Modify
Santa Cruz City Ordinance 89-06 & Resolution No. NS- 18,484 to exclude non-native, Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees from the protection of the above Ordinance and Resolution.

"It's not a matter of if the fire occurs, it's a matter of when." (San Jose Mercury News, page one, May 30, 2000)

In view of the increasing number of urban/wildland fires in areas like Los Alamos, S. California, Florida, the Oakland Hills, and elsewhere, we urge you to revise Ordinance 89-06 and Resolution No. NS-18-484 (regarding the "Preservation of Heritage Trees") to exclude the highly combustible, non-native Blue Gum Eucalyptus from the "Heritage Tree" designation.

The above-referenced Ordinance and Resolution are dangerous and indiscriminate, insofar as they define trees of any and all kinds, if 16" or more in diameter, as "Heritage Trees" and protect them from being cut down even if they are growing on one's own property, property on which one pays taxes!

Fire protection experts recommend that combustible trees be removed from all areas within at least 50' of homes. In many areas of California, homeowners are required by law to do so. In Santa Cruz, however, homeowners face criminal penalties and are fined "not less than $500." for removing eucalyptus (aka "gasoline") trees that literally explode in a fire. Growing as much as 3-4 feet per year, Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees not only destroy Santa Cruz' bio-diversity [e.g., nothing but poison oak grows under them], but they represent a direct threat to the lives and property of Santa Cruz County citizens and taxpayers.

Stuatory immunities do not exempt government from liability for inverse condemnation--such as conflagration accelerated by blue gums--since urban wildfires are a foreseeable consequence of the "Heritage Tree Ordinance," which itself represents an unreasonable use of police power.

Therefore, we ask that you re-write Ordinance 89-06 and Resolution No. NS- 18,484 to eliminate Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees from the "Heritage Tree" designation, and thus allow such trees to be removed by private property owners--and replace them with fire-resistant, native trees.


[REPLY #1]

Eucalyptus Emergency
Let me add 'fuel to the fire', if I may:

Eucalyptus is the most pyrophytic (fire-loving) species imaginable, with aerodynamic leaves filled with explosive oils, fibrous flammable bark, and branches that burn with very high heat values. When windborne, fiery brands will ignite fuels a quarter mile away. An Australian fire started over ten miles from the flame front of a major fire with wind-driven eucalyptus embers. The 1991 fire in the Oakland hills quickly spread out of control via eucalyptus debris.

In addition, eucalyptus has displaced native oaks, maples and riparian vegetation. It has altered habitats for what would otherwise be home to native songbirds and mammals. Its leaves exude poisons which keep other plant species out of the area.

Not all green is good, and we must separate out the species which are native and positive from those noxious weeds that will burn us out of our homes. We need to have the right trees in the right places, and eucalyptus is one species that will take over if we continue to be inattentive to ecosystem, health, fire history, and biological reality.

Dan Gasser, Vegetation Management Specialist, PG&E


[REPLY #2]

"I would like to briefly convey that I share your concerns about groves of Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees, and agree that they are both a fire hazard and an aggressive plant that overwhelms and displaces native vegetation."

Ron Prince, Fire Chief, City of Santa Cruz. June 15, 2000

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [City Council] [City Clerk]
scpr@ [Parks and Recreation]
cityplan [Planning Dept.]

For more information:


New York Times, May 30, 2000, re: Population Shift In The West Raises Wildfire Concerns (page one)
San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 2000, re: Decaying Sutro Forest (page one)
Santa Cruz Magazine, Dec. 1991, re: The Political Economy of Fire, by Bruce Cockburn
Santa Cruz Sentinel, March 4, 1998, re: Tree Policy Scrutinized
Santa Cruz Sentinel, March 5, 1998, re: editorial, At Least Government Should Not Do Damage
Santa Cruz Sentinel, March 5, 1996, re: Heritage Trees Crash Down (page one)
San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 23, 1991, re: Plants: Fire Line of Fire Defense
San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 23, 1991, re: Safe Haven, Fireproofing now
San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 27, 1991, re: In A Drought, Eucalyptus Trees Turn Murderous
San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 22, 1999, re: Forest Fires Fueled By Government Policy


An Annotated Bibliography of the Effects of Fire on Australian Vegetation, Soil Conservation Authority of Victoria, Australia, 1963
A History of Forestry in Australia, L.T. Carron, Australian National University Press, 1985 Blue Gum Eucalyptus and the Santa Cruz Heritage Tree Ordinance, Peter Martin, 1993
Burning Bush, A Fire History of Australia, Prof. Stephen Pyne, Henry Holt, 1991
East Bay Regional Park District, Report of the Blue Ribbon Fire Prevention Committee, Urban-Wildland Interface Zone, Oakland, CA, 1992
Hazard Mitigation Report, FEMA-919-DR-CA, 1992
The Complete Australian Bushfire Book, Joan Webster, Thomas Nelson, 1986


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