My interest in the Sweet Springs Preserve comes from having lived within a half-mile of the spot since 1978—first in Cuesta-by-the-Sea and now on 4th Street. I pass by it every day at least once, run or walk through it at least twice a week, and admire the tall trees from my back deck every morning and evening.
My interest also stems from my research on the effects of synthetic chemicals entering the environment. Although I fully appreciate the many beneficial advances in modern chemistry, I am also acutely aware of the dangers many manmade chemicals pose to the environment, especially in such sensitive and unique environmental areas as the Sweet Springs Preserve.
I am a member of nearly a dozen prominent environmental organizations, including the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Wilderness Society. One common bond I greatly admire in all these organizations is the openness with which they approach environmental issues. They make sure their intentions are clear. However, the behavior of the local Audubon chapter with regard to its plans for east Sweet Springs flies in the face of transparency. In fact, it has engaged in a systematic effort to ensure local citizens and even most members of the local chapter had no knowledge of their plans to remove the eucalyptus trees from east Sweet Springs until a few weeks ago.
As far as I know, no mention was made of tree removal in publications of the local Audubon chapter, nor in their announcements for cleanup activities at the site. I only heard of their plans when a concerned local citizen came to my house with a flier. Now that local residents have begun voicing their concerns, the Audubon has initiated a public relations blitz.
The argument is made that eucalyptus is not native to the area. That argument is specious. Few of the flora planted in the county are native to the county. Just because something is not native does not mean it is bad. As a scientist, I have searched the literature seeking peer-reviewed scientific studies documenting the danger of eucalyptus in such regions as the Central Coast of California. I have found none. Certainly, having eucalyptus in our area has changed those areas where the trees are planted, but I have seen no hard evidence showing their presence has created environments worse than what was originally present.
The current Audubon proposal calls for removal of 120 large (more than 8 inches in diameter) trees from the east part of Sweet Springs. But those planners in the local Audubon chapter make no apologies for their ultimate goal: The removal of all eucalyptus from all of Sweet Springs. In 2002, a national Audubon publication featured an article (not based on any scientific study) on eucalyptus, titled “America’s Largest Weed.”
Recently, I had an opportunity to truly get a sense of the significance of the eucalyptus grove in the Sweet Springs Preserve. I was on a flight from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco, and, as luck would have it, my seat gave me a true bird’s eye view of all Baywood Park. Only one significant stand of large trees remains in the entire area: Sweet Springs. It simply jumps out at you when seen from the air. True, there are trees in Los Osos, but without seeing the area by air, you have no sense of the uniqueness of the Sweet Springs site. Photographs from the 1920s show a much larger expanse of eucalyptus in the Sweet Springs area. What remains today is a small fraction of the much larger groves planted long ago.
Finally, as a chemist, I have grave concerns about the proposed use of herbicides in Sweet Springs to ensure the eucalyptus do not return once they are removed. It is impossible to keep any application of chemicals from spreading to the surrounding area and affecting nearby animals, plants, soil, the bay, and the spring itself. The Audubon Society claims one reason for removal of the trees is to protect species living there. The proposed tree removal plan may well cause significant harm to these species. This area is simply too rare to risk the consequences of the use of these toxic chemicals, which would need be applied repeatedly to each stump. The volatile components emitted by an application can have substantial deleterious effects, and it is impossible to prevent these chemicals from volatilizing, even if they are just “painted” on the surface of the stumps. Studying the transfer of volatile compounds to the atmosphere, including applications like those planned for Sweet Springs, has been my primary area of scientific research for the past 15 years.
I urge the Audubon Society to abandon its extreme plans for removal of eucalyptus in east Sweet Springs, and to develop a plan that will preserve and protect the aura and magic of the place and not irreparably alter its fragile, established ecosystem. And I urge the society to be completely forthright in letting the entire community know its long-term plans for the entire Sweet Springs site and the remaining eucalyptus.
Dane Jones has published widely on the development of new methods for analyses of volatile organic compounds entering the environment. Methods he has helped develop are used worldwide. His research has been funded by such regulatory agencies as the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Send comments via the opinion editor at email@example.com.