Hundreds concerned about the future of Strawberry and Claremont Canyons came out to the last public hearing on May 18 to voice opposition and cheer those testifying against the destructive plan. Many expressed surprise over the lack of earlier notice about the project, with my May 16 story--- “FEMA Plans Clear-Cutting of 85,000 Berkeley and Oakland Trees” ---the first news many got of this potential environmental outrage. Of the many arguments made against the plan, the greatest concern involves the proposed use of over 1000 gallons of herbicide, including the notoriously toxic Roundup. Many also offered a powerful challenge to the idea of destroying “non-native” plants, arguing that its logic ---typically associated with rapidly burning non-native eucalyptus trees---ignores other fire hazards including those caused by the clear-cutting.

As a longtime activist and author of books on the power of grassroots activism, it is wonderful that so many people altered their schedules to attend a Saturday hearing at Oakland’s Claremont Middle School on a very busy weekend to save Strawberry and Claremont Canyons. This was people power in action, and those unable to attend still have a month to submit public comments (to do so, go to http://ebheis.cdmims.com, or send an email to EBH-EIS-FEMA-RIX@fema.dhs.gov

We’ve been deluged with emails responding to our May 16 story, and printed many in our letters section. I’d like to distill the essence of what I have heard from both sides, because this appears to be another case where proponents of a bad environmental plan are not carefully listening to opponents.

While there are some who oppose cutting down any tree for any purpose, this is not the majority sentiment I have heard. Instead, people who know a lot more than I about this issue see the FEMA/UC Berkeley plan as a narrow and simplistic approach to a very complex problem.

For example, we got letters from plans supporters saying that the area will be replanted (false) or that it will automatically regenerate (even though the herbicides are designed to prevent this). Restoration of the area is not in the cards, and this is not a case where “short-term” negatives are outweighed by a far better area a decade from now.

Further, the identity of “non-native” trees and shrubs raises complex questions about the meaning of that term. Is a Monterey Pine “non-native”? Isn’t much of the beautiful Berkeley Hills comprised of plants that could be seen as “non-native” and as fire hazards?

Finally, FEMA is actually targeting over 400,000 East Bay trees. East Bay voters are said to be among the nation’s most concerned about climate change, so what about the impact of this clear-cutting on greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of carbon sequestration?

Let’s hope Congressmember Barbara Lee and other political leaders get on board to stop this destructive plan. And if you are first hearing about it now, it’s not too late to express your opposition and influence the outcome.

To stay connected, follow the Hills Conservation Network (www.hillsconservationnetwork.org). You can also sign the MoveOn petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-the-deforestation-3 )

We will provide any breaking news on this issue as it occurs. And special thanks to my neighbor, Matt Campbell, for originally alerting me to this issue.

Randy Shaw is the Editor of BeyondChron. He is the author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century