Representatives of a number of conservation-related community groups took a tour last Saturday morning of the site where 344 eucalyptus trees along Santa Rosa Creek are slated to be removed.
The proposal put forward by Cambria Community Services District calls for removal of the trees due to the “invasive” nature of the eucalyptus as well as the reported negative impact that eucalyptus oils have on the steelhead trout in Santa Rosa Creek.
The project will be up for review at the district board’s April 22 meeting, said board President Greg Sanders.
The plan calls for removal of 144 eucalyptus this year —along the west side of the
creek in the West Ranch — and the remaining 200 trees would be cut along the south side of the creek on the East Ranch. The California Conservation Corps would be responsible for the tree removal.
Part of the proposal is to replace the downed trees with native riparian vegetation — “a huge variety and number of native plants,” according to CCSD’s Ben Boer, who manages the Fis-
calini Ranch Preserve.
Among the 15 attendees was Bob Schreiber with the Arbor First group. Schreiber believes removing eucalyptus is a “good thing” depending on how it is done. He would prefer seeing the 344 trees removed “a little at a time” and he expressed concern that “people don’t just drop trees right on what plants are left in the native forest.” Some of the taller eucalyptus trees should, perhaps, be left for bird habitat, he said.
Another Cambria resident who has been active in conservation issues — and who recently planted several
oak trees on the Ranch— is Brad Seek, a board member with Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Seek offered his own personal views on Saturday.
“I favor removing some of the smaller eucalyptus trees — the saplings — and leaving some of the larger legacy trees for habitat.” Seek believes stopping the spread of the eucalyptus by taking down some of the smaller trees is a good plan, but he feels there is no need to remove the giant trees that provide shade for the creek.
Heading up the project is Meredith Hardy, a biologist and fish habitat specialist with the California Conservation Corps (CCC). She said the money that has been approved (from NOAA) is based on taking down 344 trees and would likely not apply to an alternative plan such as Seek proposed. She added though that she is willing to approach NOAA with a “modified project” if she is directed that way by the CCSD.
As far as the timing of the tree removal, Hardy said the CCC would work around traditional bird nesting periods (roughly March through September). She also said that her organization fully expects opposition to the plan. Indeed, several questions and comments by participants Saturday at Santa Rosa Creek had a sharp, even accusatory tone.
Some challenged the assertion that eucalyptus oils are harmful to steelhead. Hardy said she does not have in hand any recent studies verifying that contention but is aware of one study in which a chunk of eucalyptus was placed in an enclosed environment and rainbow trout died.
“I’m employed to do projects that benefit steelhead,” Hardy stated. But she also realizes that along with steelhead, a healthy creek environment can benefit the endangered red-legged frog, and the Pacific pond turtle. “I know this is a controversial project, but we want to try and restore the ecological diversity that will benefit the most species.”
Prior to Saturday’s meeting Dr. Galen Rathbun, a retired federal ecologist, sent a response memo to Amanda Rice, the chair of the North Coast Advisory Council (NCAC); “I am not aware of any literature on the impacts of gum trees, one way or another,” he wrote. He also said he favors taking “a more gradual approach, slowly thinning the trees to allow the natives to come back.”
Rice meantime said her council’s duty is to ensure that community input is received when a project like this is proposed. Rice will be sending comments from citizens to county officials. On April 12 the NCAC Land Use Committee meets at the Rabobank at 6 p.m. to take input from those interested in this issue, Rice said.
Then on April 21 at 6:30 the full NCAC board will again meet at Rabobank to decide which of the comments that it has solicited will go to the county.