A cautious approach to tree removal is best course

It may be a reprieve rather than a pardon, but the decision to delay removal of a stand of eucalyptus trees at the Sweet Springs East Nature Preserve in Los Osos makes a lot of sense. Instead of seeking a county permit to remove 120 large eucalyptus trees, Morro Coast Audubon Society will commission additional research before deciding what to do.

That cautious approach is warranted. This project has generated keen public interest and debate, and additional study should help resolve unanswered questions, especially concerning the effects on monarch butterflies.

Some background: For years, the proposal to remove the trees has generated impassioned arguments on both sides.

Opponents say it makes no sense to remove healthy, beautiful trees that are habitat for migrating monarch butterflies and have been nesting sites for birds of prey.

Supporters counter that the nonnative eucalyptus are crowding out native species. They also point out that the trees will be removed gradually over a10-year period, and that trees that show evidence of hosting raptors or monarch butterflies will be spared.

The proposal to remove the trees is part of an overall restoration plan for the 8-acre Sweet Springs East preserve, which Morro Coast Audubon acquired in 2008.

Much research already has been done on the consequences of taking out the trees.

A Cal Poly biology professor conducted a survey earlier this year, and concluded that removing individual trees may have a “small, though negative effect” on monarchs. However, those negative effects could be offset by improving habitat at the adjacent central preserve, which is no longer attracting monarchs.

“This (new study) will really be looking at what it takes to restore the central preserve so it could attract monarchs again,” said Holly Sletteland, preserve manager.

Meanwhile, Morro Coast Audubon will move forward with its application for a county permit for other improvements at Sweet Springs East, including a hiking trail and viewing platform.

If it decides to go ahead with tree removal after the new studies are completed, it will apply for a permit at that point.

Again, we believe that’s the best course of action. While Morro Coast Audubon may not change its mind about removing the eucalyptus trees, it will be in a better position to show that the decision is based on a thorough understanding of the consequences.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.