Controversy grows after eucalyptus trees chopped down in rural Agoura

Species deemed harmful by NPS

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, March 28, 2013

Gary Haynes strolls on the grounds of Peter Strauss Ranch in rural Agoura about three times a week, enjoying the scenery, wildlife and the sweet smell of the towering eucalyptus trees on the property once owned by his friend and fellow actor, Peter Strauss.

Earlier this month, the 76-yearold Haynes, best known for his work on the 1960s soap opera “Peyton Place,” was shocked when he discovered dozens of the eucalyptus trees had been chopped down and their trunks strewn across the property like corpses on a battlefield.

FALLEN FRIENDS—Gary Haynes laments the downed eucalyptus trees at Peter Strauss Ranch in Agoura. The park service said the trees, which are not native to the area, disrupted the watershed.

“I feel like some of my friends died,” Haynes said. “I know they’re just trees. And I know this is a small event in the larger scheme of things and mine is largely a private grief. Though I think we all should take notice when something beautiful dies— or rather, is killed.”

Haynes says he is by no means a “tree hugger,” a derogatory term for an ardent environmentalist, but that the destruction of the trees seemed unnecessary. He said Native Americans considered trees to be “tree people,” living organisms deserving respect and honor just like humans.

The National Park Service isn’t grieving over the downed trees.

Eucalyptus is a nonnative, invasive species. In fact, the trees are considered by Californian ecologists as enemies to the natural habitat and robbers of Southern California’s most precious commodity—water. And the trees have high oil content in their leaves and bark, making them potential fire hazards.

Kate Kuykendall, a public information officer for the National Park Service, said a letter was mailed to residents who live near the ranch explaining why the 45 trees on the property had to be destroyed.

The trees grow quickly, altering the Malibu Creek watershed, and bring a “negative impact on animal habitat,” Kuykendall said.

“Only the trees in the surrounding creek were removed,” Kuykendall added. “One key thing to know is that we will not remove any eucalyptus trees in the historic grove near the actual Peter Strauss home.”

Irina Irvine, a park service restoration ecologist, explained that eucalyptus trees grow so fast that some of them had to be destroyed even though they weren’t directly on the creek bed.

“If you have eucalyptus trees by the creek, they are more apt to reinfest the creek,” Irvine said. “We’re trying to restore the area to what it was like long ago.”

Before eucalyptus trees were introduced to California from Australia during the 1850s, native coastal oaks and sycamores were the prominent trees in the region.

Irvine suspects that the eucalyptus trees were brought to the current property in the 1930s or 1940s. However, she said most of the trees that were removed were 30 years old or less.

Irvine described other problems with nonnative species such as the eucalyptus.

Allelopathy is a process in which the composition of the soil is changed so only specific trees—like the eucalyptus—can germinate. The result is that native trees are crowded out by the dominant eucalyptus, followed by the endangerment and degradation of water quality.

Irvine also said that the leaves and bark from eucalyptus trees litter the land and push out frog populations.

Chemicals from the trees leach into the creek and affect water quality, which has been found to affect endangered fish species like the steelhead trout.

Irvine said a $171,000 state water-quality grant for creek restoration is being used for Peter Strauss Ranch and another property that has been infested with eucalyptus trees.

Haynes says he understands the reasoning behind the tree removal but can’t help but miss the giant friends that greeted him during his walks at the ranch over the past three decades.

“I heard they cut ’em down because the eucalyptus is not native to this locale,” Haynes said. “They say they’re immigrants— they’ll spoil the gene pool. But that’s not nature’s way of thinking. Maybe the government’s reasons are right, but I still hurt when I see this.

“These old giants served us, they stood watch—they gave beauty. They were living things.”

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