The Ongoing Debate Over California's Eucalyptus Trees

The eucalyptus is an exotic species in California, and studies suggest it has contributed to an increase in wildfire hazards. But defenders of the trees say the eucalyptus is just an ecological scapegoat.

1 minute read

December 28, 2019, 1:00 PM PST

By Camille Fink

Eucalyptus Tree

Pussreboots / Flickr

In a cartoon, journalist and illustrator Susie Cagle looks at the history of and controversy around California’s eucalyptus trees. The trees first came from Australia in the mid-1800s, and they have become an integral part of the state's ecological identity.

"But in the hills above Berkeley and Oakland, residents and agencies have been fighting over the trees and the future of the landscape at large for more than ten years, citing concerns over the repeat of the 1991 firestorm — and opposing ecological theories," says Cagle.

The eucalyptus is an invasive species that critics say has taken over ecosystems and poses a fire hazard. However, supporters say the trees keep hillsides from drying out and, as a result, leaving the trees intact makes more sense than replacing them with native vegetation.

"Decolonizing any landscape from any non-native plant is controversial work — let alone iconic, historic trees over 100 years old," notes Cagle. And the fight over the eucalyptus reflects larger issues about climate change and how communities should prepare for the coming environmental challenges.

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