Our Land

Nothing I have seen in print since September 11 and October 7 (the day we began bombing Afghanistan) has been as consoling and hopeful as Audubon's "This Land Is Your Land" series of essays and photographs [January-February]. While our leaders and journalists would unite us with obsequious slogans and rash rooting for violent vengeance, Audubon brings us back to what being an American is really about--the fabulously varied land of this continent, and how to live wisely upon it. If peace on earth is ever to be more than a Christmas wish, we Americans will have to discover the peace that is in the earth wherever we live, and shed our obsessions with power and might. Thank you for gathering the words and images of some of our wisest artists in these dark, cold days.

John Frederick Kaufman
Wauwatosa, WI


Thank you for the cover story in the January-February issue. As an environmental educator I experienced firsthand the power of the natural world on the weekend following the September 11 tragedy. As I led a group of families through a preserve in Pennsylvania, the anxiety among the adults was palpable. Though they were surrounded by trees, nature was the last thing on their minds. The preschool-aged children in the group, oblivious to the events of the week, bounded into the woods with unrestrained enthusiasm, eagerly exploring every leaf, animal track, and pleat in the bark of a tree. In the wake of their joyous zeal, I was rewarded with the reaffirmation of a belief that in a world of uncertainty, nature is a sure thing. Nature, now as always, is a tool for the preservation of wonder and innocence. Preserving nature for ourselves and for our children has never been more important.

Steven Saffier
Ambler, PA


I cannot express how much I enjoyed your January-February 2002 issue. Every writer is a master of description and [a master at] sustaining interest. "Web Masters," by Joe Bower, and the lovely article on the Audubon family camp are just two examples. My heart aches for Ted Levin and his two great boys on the untimely loss of his wife. Almost all the writers mentioned the catastrophe of 9/11, and no matter how many times I read their words, I found myself tearing up. Thank you so much for a wonderful magazine, truly worthy of an organization like Audubon.

Miriam G. Orlow
Boynton Beach, FL


Insidious Invader

Ted Williams's "America's largest Weed" [Incite, January-February] is the best write-up I've seen on the eucalyptus. As an environmental landscape consultant, I regard the Tasmanian blue gum as a giant flammable, extremely dangerous, and invasive weed under which nothing much can grow. Most of the Eucalyptus Fan Club may be the same well-meaning but misguided individuals who favor feral cats over native birds, feral horses and burros over bighorn sheep, [and who] plant invasive exotics in their landscapes.

Bruce Cowan
Pacific Grove, CA


Ted Williams did a superb job bringing to light the nasty side of the often beloved eucalyptus--and I agree in general that we should remove it in favor of reestablishing native vegetation. Still, I caution against wholesale removal. We have so altered the landscape that even eucalyptus in naturally treeless areas may be the only haven for birds that once nested in what are now completely developed areas.

Jeff Davis
Avery, CA


For more letters on eucalyptus, see below.


Bush League

"Operation Self-Reliance" [Field Notes, January-February] is excellent. I have fought in two wars and various other actions for the United States, and I do care about clean air and water and the survival of the earth's plants and animals (including Homo sapiens). I deeply resent the Bush administration's implication that I am not patriotic.

H. Morgan Smith
Denton, TX


The energy-policy plan discussed in Field Notes neglected to mention an obvious homegrown alternative: hemp. If the United States were to permit and encourage the widespread cultivation of an industrial hemp crop, within a few years there would be no need for continued drilling or mining anywhere. Recently, here in New Haven, I viewed a hemp-powered vehicle. This standard Mercedes diesel station wagon came from Canada, where hemp cultivation is legal. The Hempcar illustrates perfectly what can be done if arbitrary U.S. law-enforcement restrictions are overturned and hemp is returned to the place of prominence it traditionally held across the American continent.

A.J. Weiss
New Haven, CT


Newton Proved Wrong!

I was amazed to find out in "Web Masters," [January-February 2002, page 23] that "Ounce for ounce, spider silk is . . . lighter than Kevlar." Apparently, spiders not only spin remarkable webs; they can even repeal the laws of physics!

Gerry Audesirk
Golden, CO


Editor's Note: Thanks to all those who pointed out that an ounce is an ounce is an ounce. Our spiderweb gurus tell us that spider silk is as strong or stronger than any other natural fiber and some manmade fibers, when measured on an equal scale. For its fiber diameter and weight, the tensile strength (elongation to breaking point) of spider silk is very high, and comparable or superior to that of an equivalent fiber of Nylon 100 or Kevlar. Of course, a 10-inch strand of Kevlar is heavier than a 10-inch strand of spider silk, as the latter is a very fine fiber.


Ted Williams advises pounding on a hollow tree to produce a raccoon [in Earth Almanac, January-February 2002]. His advice stinks! Pounding on that tree could just as well produce a skunk as a coon. It could also produce a rabid coon or skunk with a newly formed headache and a freshly generated bad attitude. Or it could produce a swarm of angry bees, wasps, or hornets. Be quiet in the woods, and you will see more, and safely so. You will not annoy the animals, and mostly, you will not annoy me. I'm on the same trails, and I like natural sounds!

Les Q. Spielvogel
Honolulu, HI



On page 23 of the January-February issue ["Web Masters," True Nature], the caption under the picture of the stabilimentum should have read, "It acts as both a warning to predators and an attractant to prey."


Blue Plague?

Three cheers for Ted Williams's superb column on the California eucalyptus plague [Incite, January-February], and three cheers for Audubon's recommendation to speak out for the removal of invasive exotics. We also need to remember than even native trees can destroy prairies and other naturally treeless ecosystems that used to be protected from woody invasion by fire and large grazers. Planting or protecting trees in the wrong places is destructive, and the widespread myth that trees belong everywhere is dangerous.

Cindy Hildebrand
Ames, IA


I was raised in eastern San Diego County and roamed that area a lot on the lookout for birds and animals. There were many eucalypti, but they always seemed like an unfriendly environment. There was practically no undergrowth, and few insects. Such birds as I saw there stayed only long enough to rest, look about, and decide that these trees were not a hospitable place for them. I never once saw a nest. Thank you for an interesting article on that weed, eucalyptus. We need to get rid of it—send it back to Australia. It is a pest and a killer.

Charlie Betcher
Berkeley, CA


Not many miles from the Marin County, California, sites that Ted Williams visited, there is a very different eucalyptus forest, apparently. Vertebrate ecologist Robert C. Stebbins has found that East San Francisco Bay "eucalyptus habitat is far richer in vertebrates than either redwood or Monterey pine and vies with 'dry' chaparral [coyote brush and small patches of grass] and grassland in species diversity and 'attractiveness' [extent of use of habitat by species]." Birds that make "great" use of eucalyptus habitat include mourning dove, great horned owl, Allen's hummingbird, yellow-bellied sapsucker, olive-sided flycatcher, Steller's Jay, brown creeper, yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon type), Oregon junco (dark-eyed type). An additional 35 species of birds make "moderate" use of eucalyptus habitat. Another report found that 19 species of birds breed in eucalyptus forests here, including the northern flicker, downy woodpecker, bush-tit, brown creeper, Oregon junco, Pacific-slope flycatcher, and red-shouldered hawk, as well as the great horned owl, which Williams did mention.

Alan I. Kaplan
Berkeley, CA


Ted Williams responds: The salient statistic is not how many species but which species. The Point Reyes Bird Observatory reports that species diversity among birds can drop by at least 70 percent in eucalyptus groves. But regardless of how many other vertebrate species may be found there, it's absurd to argue that eucs can be as good for vertebrates as the native grasslands and scrublands they replace. That eucs allegedly sustain more vertebrates than Monterey pines should impress no one. Monterey pines are invasive exotics in most of their current range, including the East Bay area. East Bay euc forests were historically chaparral, which, as Stebbins correctly observes, supported more species. Moreover, apparently because of the loss of this chaparral to eucs, the Alameda whipsnake and the Alameda manzanita are in serious trouble.

"Richer in vertebrates" can be dangerous when the vertebrates aren't supposed to be there. One of the vertebrates proliferating where it doesn't belong because of eucalyptus is, as Kaplan reports, the great horned owl. This species preys heavily on such vanishing natives as northern spotted owls, barn owls, and sundry shorebirds. Another species Kaplan claims makes "great" use of eucalyptus is the yellow-rumped warbler. But because these and other native birds did not evolve with eucalyptus, the sticky gum can clog their bills and nares, killing them. What's more, eucalyptus may be creating population sinks for red-shouldered hawks and hummingbirds, in that significantly more nests fail when built in eucs than in native trees.


The general concerns Ted Williams expresses in "America's Largest Weed" have been shared by a wide range of environmentalists for several decades. Unfortunately, I found several significant inaccuracies. The city of Santa Cruz's Heritage Tree Ordinance requires that permits must be obtained to remove unusually large or beautiful trees within the city--even eucalyptus. As a biologist and former chair of the City of Santa Cruz Parks commission, I am well aware of the careful deliberation that must occur each time a heritage eucalypt is considered for removal. Mr. Williams asserts that "the overwhelming majority of applications to remove large eucalyptus are denied." The truth is that roughly 95 percent of applications to remove these trees are approved.

This error is quite important in light of a second erroneous assertion in the article. Mr. Williams cites Geoff Geupel of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory as his authority on monarch butterfly biology. According to the article, Geupel opines that eucalypts may be a sink for monarchs. He cites no scientific evidence to support this opinion, yet quite a bit exists to the contrary. Monarch biologists such as Elizabeth Bell and John Dayton, among many others, have demonstrated that certain eucalypts are important to monarch-population survival on the Central Coast--although originally, abundant willows may have served as overwintering habitat for these animals. All environmentalists strongly support native willow restoration; however, willow habitat has been paved over and filled to such a great extent that its restoration in large enough quantities may be unrealistic, especially in urban areas. Monarchs are protected as a migratory species and a species of special concern; their habitat is considered ecologically sensitive, composed primarily of eucalypt stands that have been identified by biologists and are regulated by the Coastal Act and locally by the city of Santa Cruz.

There are many problems with eucalypts around the world. If arguments with serious factual errors are advanced, the real concerns may be inappropriately dismissed by readers.

Rachel E. O'Malley, Ph.D.
San Jose State University
San Jose, CA


Ted Williams responds: According to a 15-month study commissioned by residents of Santa Cruz, "the overwhelming majority of permits" are denied. However, this research is dated, so O'Malley's statistic may now be correct. In any case, I should have found a more current source. The people I interviewed were repeatedly denied permits during O'Malley's tenure as chair of the Parks Commission, despite the fact that their lives were being endangered and their houses, gardens, and driveways destroyed by large eucalyptus trees on their own property. In my humble opinion, it is a mockery of our real ecological heritage to protect and propagate invasive exotics as "heritage trees."

I am at a loss as to how allowing Geoff Geupel to express his opinion on the pages of Audubon magazine can be "an erroneous assertion." Geupel directs the terrestrial program of the prestigious Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and his opinions on native ecosystems carry lots of weight. Here's what I reported and what he said: "Geupel believes that eucs may [emphasis added] create monarch sinks the way they create bird sinks--that is, monarchs are attracted to them, then get blown out by storms, perishing by the tens of thousands. 'Monarchs are declining, and I would argue that eucs may [emphasis added] be the reason,' he says." Finally, no one is suggesting that the few euc groves monarchs use for winter roosts be cut down. Cutting down all eucs is impossible anyway. But as I pointed out in the piece, promoting and propagating eucs with heritage tree ordinances (prevalent along the California coast) is wiping out dozens of less spectacular, more diminutive butterflies that depend on the native plants eucs replace.

Monarchs are not "a species of special concern." In fact they are not listed in any depleted category either by the state or the federal government. Monarchs are not "legally protected as a migratory species" any more than dragonflies or bluefish are legally protected because they migrate. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act the fact that a species happens to migrate affords it a limited degree of legal protection; but only birds qualify.

Finally, I would agree with O'Malley that "there are many problems with eucalypts around the world." In North America the problem is that they are here.


© 2002  NASI

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