You know what particularly struck me in the story "Bad Weed" (April 21)? Not the accusation of fraud against Friends of the Dunes, including without any response. Instead, it was the description of opponents of invasive beach grass removal as "vocal and compelling." Vocal they may be, but not very compelling.
The long list of opponents' arguments against removal seemed to fall into five main categories: the cost, the restrictions on horsemen, incomplete effectiveness, the destruction of prior habitat, and threats to manmade structures due to removal. Arguments from the first two categories weren't "compelling"; they are part of the broader issue of societal priorities regarding endangered species and were subsequently ignored in the story. For the other three categories, your interviewees specializing in habitat restoration appeared to provide rational and sensible explanations rebutting the opponents' arguments. At most, this could be considered a draw.
But also consider the background and expertise of each group interviewed. I'm sure the Journal believes in the concept of expertise. Your "Media Maven" opining on journalism is a journalism professor, and your main movie reviewer is a former film professor. On questions in their fields, I expect you would give the opinions of a doctor or an auto mechanic more weight than the opinions of a vocal passerby. So why consider the opponents to have stronger, indeed "compelling" arguments compared to the restoration specialists?
Was it the typical journalistic lack of background in the technical content of the story? Or was it that journalists are trained to make a story more gripping by emphasizing conflict? Media Maven, here are two more problems with journalism to consider.
Bill Knight, McKinleyville
In reading Heidi Walters' article "Bad Weed," there are several important issues raised, and one comes away from the essay realizing that a single approach may not be appropriate for all beach dune areas. Nevertheless, these issues should not be reduced to the idea of European beach grass versus a few native plants. The larger issue is that dune environments are ecosystems and most have been highly altered so that European beach grass has become predominant with other exotic invasive plants: Pampas grass, yellow lupine, ice plant and various brooms have replaced native plants in the areas behind them.
At the restored Lanphere Dunes, the beauty of the shifting sands, the many animals and insects, and the rich native plant life is truly an amazing experience. Restoring an ecosystem is not a quick process and there are several native dune plants with very deep root systems, much deeper than European beach grass. Beach dune and marsh ecosystems are among the most altered, threatened and quickly disappearing. Humboldt County is extremely rich in varied ecosystems, and these treasures, especially on public lands, should not be disrespected. Species can be threatened and become extinct in a matter of a few generations and perhaps lost forever. Recreational activities can be established that do not compromise an ecosystem - these should be encouraged. Volunteer as well as professional efforts to maintain and restore such ecosystems are a proud heritage for future generations. I am extremely appreciative for the dune experiences they have insured.
Ron Johnson, Trinidad
Heidi Walters fairly represented the "dune management" meeting. She, however, forgot to mention the smirk from Andrea Pickart when she stated "the Lanphere Dunes are open to anybody, any time." Why then, Andrea, is there a sign at the crossroads of Lanphere Road that says "NO BEACH ACCESS"? Andrea, if you run out of things to bash, pick, cut or move, will you still get a government paycheck and a house at the beach? Please, not in our backyard.
Darcey Lima, Manila
I want to commend Heidi Walters for taking on a complex issue in "Bad Weed." It's good to offer alternative perspectives and engage the community further around these projects. I visit the snowy plover area along Little River frequently and always laugh that I seem to count more of the cute, knock-kneed birds scuttling along or huddled in footprints outside of the enclosure than inside. I've also heard lots of complaining when people pass by and see the invasive grass gone, the humps of sand looking newly bald. At the same time, I admire the huge, hopeful intentions of the organizations behind these projects, and the crews of young people who have spent countless hours removing the weed, only to see one more blade pop through the sand. I've wondered how their efforts will be maintained long-term.
There are no easy assumptions for choosing one species over another. The world keeps changing, as it should, and what it means to be native or natural is hard to define. Once there were oceans where there are now cornfields. When I lived in Pennsylvania, I regularly dug up fossils of limpets and scallops in my garden. And before that ocean, I hear there were huge crusts of ice, and earlier, heat sufficient to liquefy granite combined with gusts of toxic air - evolution upon evolution that, well, eventually leads you to either the Big Bang or God clapping his hands, putting it all in motion. I'm guessing there are limits to how ‘original' we want our landscape to be, yes? Human beings are amazing, if sometimes clumsy, members of nature, and I think it is right to try to undo some of our unintended consequences especially for the benefit of others who share the habitat. Sometimes there will be successes, sometimes disappointments, and in between a lot of trial and error and hearty dialog.
Kimberley Pittman-Schulz, Fieldbrook
Bad Weed challenges the wisdom of removing non-native species from the dunes and brings to mind another eradication program. At the southern end of Humboldt Bay, National Wildlife Refuge crews are systematically removing hundreds of Eucalyptus trees that were planted along the water's edge as a windbreak by the McBride family in the 1920s.
The trees create a dramatic backdrop to the fields where thousands of Aleutian Geese alight for several weeks each year and may also secure and stabilize the levee. For decades, these trees have provided pleasure to people driving along U.S. 101, framing this picturesque meeting of land and water. Now, nearly a century old, these trees are part of the historic landscape - a living legacy to the region's settlement years. Like redwoods, eucalyptus create a climax forest where canopy, oils or tannins can inhibit understory growth. Monarch butterflies prefer the eucalyptus as an overwintering home throughout California.
But now the stately and aromatic eucalyptus is being hunted down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; it's our botanical equivalent of the illegal alien. The tree is considered an "invasive species" akin to European beach grass. Dangers abound, we are told - the trees must go. So we may soon say goodbye to another piece of Humboldt County's historic past. The chainsaws are ready to begin their work anew.
But what's this? San Francisco residents have saved several eucalyptus trees, residents of Carlsbad rescued 53 acres of them by referendum, and Mount Sutro Open Space Preserve protects its century old groves of eucalyptus. The preserve boasts a website busting many myths about the eucalyptus. Will our historic eucalyptus appeal to enough Humboldt County residents to warrant a dialog on their fate?
For now, stacks of tree trunks and burn piles of branches mark the refuge staff's progress. I am sure that the federal and state workers, under the guidance of Refuge Manager Eric Nelson, can cite ample justification for the tree removal. But I wonder what will be lost or gained for the effort and what unforeseen consequences may result from the clearcutting program that is now in effect.
Stephen Avis, Eureka
The reaction from the Friends of the Dunes representatives to Heidi Walters' beach grass story requires further addressing.
The rear dunes will without doubt be affected by the changes made in the foredunes, as will the wetlands between the dunes. The tsunami impact, when or if the big one comes, is hard to determine. It will be too late to look back, and a mere OOOPs! will not be very comforting. Patrick Hesp, an internationally renowned coastal scientist, when asked about dune height at the last dune forum in Manila, responded, "The higher the foredune the better." Removing beach grass lowers the foredune.
While I have not seen FOD's finances, there is a $1.7 million renovation of their headquarters and a new parking lot has been carved into the dunes. This was funded largely in part by grant monies. Inquiring minds would like to know where the $38 K per acre required to remove the grass actually ends up.
The success of Lanphere Dunes is in part due to the fact that area had little Ammophila before its removal began, according to the maps shown at the dunes forum. That is most likely because there was not the infrastructure to protect to the east and thus it was never heavily planted, if at all. However, the roads and homes inland of Clam Beach and Manila obviously still need protection.
With the removal of this stabilizing vegetation we are losing unique forests, community trails, access to public areas, $38,000 per acre, and protection for homes and infrastructure from tsunamis and wind erosion. Established wetland habitats and wildlife populations are also being compromised. Where is the upside here?
We need a real dialog, not another staged and very controlled dune forum where follow-up questions were forbidden. While it was an interesting event attended by about 125 people, it did not allow the discourse the FOD representatives say they want.
In addition, what I hear Rick Park (Mailbox, April 28) saying is, we either change the definition of "native" or we all move out. But the beach grass will still be here.
Uri Driscoll, Arcata