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Manage Sweet Springs wisely 

The Morro Coast Audubon Society should recognize the value in sustaining the eucalyptus they want to eliminate

Regarding Lynette Tornatzky’s commentary “Eucalyptus crowd out natives” (Dec. 1): The great fallacy in the Morro Coast Audubon Society’s plan to kill the biggest living things in Los Osos is the chapter fails to see any value in those eucalyptus trees, which have been there for nearly a century. The chapter wants, like the Tea Party, to return to some mythical perfect past, and in this case, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room is global climate change. In a few decades, the area where the local Audubon chapter envisions recreating a perfectly native environment is going to be under 10 or more feet of water. All of the trees in California that have grown in the last 150 years, native and exotic—including the eucalyptus trees at Sweet Springs—have stored millions of tons of the CO2 we humans have spewed into the atmosphere. And now the big trees in California (and throughout the world) are dying at a tremendous rate and releasing that CO2.

Pine pitch canker was first noticed on Monterey pines along Highway 1 in Santa Cruz in 1985. Large brown spots appear on the trees, and within six months to a year, the trees are dead. Millions of pines, native and exotic, are dying by the day, and there is no cure. For 150 years, Eucalyptus trees loved California. There was good soil, great climate, and there were no natural enemies. Then, about 30 years ago, eucalyptus bark beetles began to appear around San Diego, Long Beach, and in the Bay Area, followed by more eucalyptus pests, among them the larvae of certain psyllids that emerge from white eggs laid on the back of leaves and suck the life out of the tree.

Whatever natural enemies controlled the beetles and the psyllids in Australia do not exist in California. Our eucalyptus trees have been ravaged and have succumbed at a terrible rate. The attack is far beyond epidemic; it is pandemic, found everywhere from Northern California to Baja, from the sea to the Colorado River. Almost every red flowering eucalyptus street tree in Morro Bay has large beetle holes oozing black sap. The trees will die.

At the same time this tree mortality is going on, our raptors—eagles, for example—who like to nest and roost in very tall dead trees, have been plummeting in number. Modern humans take axes and saws to every big tree they can find. It’s the pioneering mentality: A man ain’t a man unless he’s clearing the land! The animals and plants that co-exist in Los Osos have come into a delicate balance over the last 150 years, and the local Audubon bird group, of all groups, wants to use a sledgehammer in a situation that requires a scalpel and a little patience. The trees at Sweet Springs, which will die anyway over the next decade, should be carefully pruned of all the big branches and big limbs, and those should be laid along the path of the future boardwalk as nurse logs. They will slowly decay and become home to many creatures. The tops of the trees can be trimmed slightly to attract hawks and eagles.

If the Central Coast Audubon group feels so utterly compelled to interfere with nature, they should do it creatively, in a way sensitive to legitimate public concerns. And if they really want to recreate the original habitat in Los Osos, they can do what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years: Collect seeds locally to grow native trees and bushes and give them to the community. Los Osos Middle School has a garden and nursery area that is fenced and little used. A California Native Plant Society member has been valiantly growing many native plants there for years, and I’m sure he could use the help.

At the beginning of December at Whale Rock Reservoir in Cayucos, Cameron Dunn, the Cal Poly Sierra Club, a dozen other volunteers, and I planted hundreds of acorns and small live oak trees. This has been done every autumn for many years, and the number of maturing trees that have resulted is impressive. There are many other organized opportunities for repopulating our area with such trees (see that far better serve our environment than would eradicating the Sweet Springs eucalyptus.

Lionel Johnston plants at least 1,000 trees every year. Send comments to the opinion editor via

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