While a small word, these trees form one of the most symbolic and revered symbols of the area. They provide statuesque silhouettes against the horizon, shade for lazy summer picnics and naps, or homes for a myriad of creatures. They are truly the “giving trees” of Santa Barbara County. They do nothing but give, yet all we do is take. While once thought protected under the Oak Tree Protection and Regeneration Program, our 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone has opened this program to special interests in North County that would see the program gutted and remaining oak lands clear-cut for vineyards and development.
The Oak Protection and Regeneration Program was established in 2003 after years of huge grassroots efforts spearheaded by UCSB’s own Environmental Affairs Board. The locals realized that, at the rate of 1,000 trees axed annually, we would soon be an oakless county. Since then, opponents of the program have claimed that the program hurts oaks because it discourages people from planting oaks for fear they will not be able to remove them. This is more misinformation; the program actually enables owners full discretion over the fate of planted oaks. Those vintners in favor of replacing oaks with flat rows of vines may also ask, “What difference does an oak or two make?” When considering that an oak may live for hundreds of years, the removal of only a few has long-term ecological effects. In addition, oaks have a threshold population necessary for regeneration. If Santa Barbara’s oaks become scattered enough, they may be unable to reproduce and will disappear like the passenger pigeon.
How can we prevent this tragedy?
Showing Firestone that he can’t step all over South County and Isla Vista. He has shown that with enough coercion he will listen, as evidenced by Claire’s Park. We applaud you for that, Firestone. But we will not go away. This Tuesday, the county will hold a meeting at the county courthouse to decide the fate of this crucial program. The Environmental Affairs Board will be leaving from the UCSB bus loop at 10:10 a.m. to tell the board of supervisors how important the oaks are to us. Public comment will go for several hours, so catch a later bus if you can’t make it early. If you long for a little excitement in your life and the feeling that you matter in this democratic state – take a stand and join us. Come speak for those trees that can only speak for themselves through the whisper of winds through their branches, which isn’t loud enough for politicians to hear. They will need all the student and faculty voices they can get. And remember, “Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who decided to stand their ground.”
Alisha Dahlstrom is a junior environmental studies and aquatic biology major.