Los Osos environmental activist Joey Racano weighs in on the controversy surrounding the Morro Coast Audubon Society’s plans to remove Eucalyptus trees from the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve.
As misunderstood as King Kong and standing nearly twice as tall, the Eucalyptus of California is alive and well, and living in Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. There are as many varieties of Eucalyptus as there are flavors at Baskin Robbins, with names like Blue Gum, Wooly Butt and Black Peppermint. As with many trees inhabiting present-day California, the Eucalyptus originated elsewhere, and some, like the Black Peppermint, grow taller in their native lands. There are some who disparage the mighty Eucalyptus, branding her an alien, an invasive, a weed to be eradicated. But like it or not, this tree is now part of our ecosystem, and causing us to redefine the word native.
According to the authoritative work “The Eucalyptus of California” by librarian/archivist Robert L. Santos, California State University, Stanislaus, Charlie Danielson of the California Native Plant Society once made the statement “No animal species feed on Eucalyptus.” But on a recent outing to Sweet Springs East, I personally observed and recorded a squirrel in one of the very trees marked for eradication, and it was eating Eucalyptus seeds! This throws into question how much the ecosystem would actually benefit from removal of these trees as compared to what these trees have come to provide.
Then there is the question of the Monarch butterfly, that solar powered two-winged riot of color that even now continue to be photographed in the very trees slated for removal. Cal Poly Graduate students have spent years documenting the Monarch butterfly’s use of the Eucalyptus in Los Osos and their movements among them. It is the opinion of these grad students that every Eucalyptus tree in the area is de facto critical habitat for these endangered butterflies.
In fact, of all the trees used by Monarch butterflies in California, a whopping 75% of them are Eucalyptus. The SLO County Land Conservancy in its very early days around 1998 wrote the “Sweet Springs Management Plan.” They had a Monarch specialist determine the Eucalyptus trees were used by the migrating Monarchs and that Sweet Springs was on the flyway for their migration. What are now left may be stragglers, but it is our job to bring them back.
In nearby Morro Bay, Eucalyptus make up an entire grove that serves year after year as a rookery for the Great Blue Heron, Black Crowned Night Heron, Great Egret and Cormorant. In Sweet Springs East, where this ill-conceived clearcut is proposed, species I have observed — using the trees in question — not only include Monarchs, but Admiral butterflies as well, along with squirrels, many hawks and a rather noisy Peregrine Falcon.