H undreds of non-native eucalyptus trees will be taken out and native grasses and trees planted along Santa Rosa Creek on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, according to a plan submitted by Cambria Community Services District for county Planning Department approval.
The plan is intended to benefit native plant species, improving the creek-area habit for a variety of birds, fish and amphibians, some listed as endangered species, while also reducing fire danger.
A total of 344 trees are slated from removal. This year, 144 would be removed on just over 800 feet along the west side of the creek on what’s known as West Ranch, just west of Highway 1.
The other 200 would be removed next year along a nearly 3,000-foot stretch of the south side of the creek east of Highway 1 on East Ranch.
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Large eucalyptus immediately east and west of the Highway 1 bridge over the creek will be left in place, as they are on the Caltrans
Many experts consider the trees to be a noxious invasive that “can dominate the habitat for native trees and plants,” according to Ben Boer, who manages the CCSD-owned open space preserve. Native plants, he said, can’t compete with the eucalyptus species. Despite its weed-like hardiness, it’s prone to splitting, falling and shedding large limbs and prolific amounts of litter that’s mildly toxic to other plants and many animals.
He said the phased tree-removal program has been part of the preserve’s management plan from the get-go. “It’s a habitat issue and a public-safety issue,” he said.
Others consider the eucalyptus a valuable resource to protect, and some, including Joyce Renshaw, chairman of NCAC’s land-use committee, are concerned that the tree removal actually could endanger the protected species the project is designed to protect.
The California Conservation Corps will administer the project and do much of the work, but likely will need to hire a contractor to remove the largest specimens. They’ll be paid by the federal National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is responsible for overseeing protected fish habitats, using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Boer said the removed trees will be replaced by “a huge variety and number of native plants,” which will provide “a normal habitat for the critters that normally live there, and the steelhead trout will do better, too.”
Completion of the tree-removal project will play a key part in a longer-range plan to restore the Santa Rosa Creek habitat, he said, and help ensure grants to fund the overall project can be obtained.
The North Coast Advisory Council plans to review the CCSD tree-removal permit request at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, at Rabobank, 1070 Main St.