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Rowdy tree lovers, experts address Parks Board

Thursday, April 30, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

The Parks and Recreation Board Tuesday night again discussed the 22 trees recommended for removal at Barton Springs Pool. A recent report by a consultant noted that a number of trees in the pool area and surrounding park were dead or near dead and should be cut down.


However, members of a standing-room-only crowd became so incensed over the  plan to cut down the trees that the chair took a five-minute recess to restore order.


The debate revolves around whether to cut down the trees, or if there are ways the city can save them. Parks Department employees have expressed concern that several trees in the area of the springs are extremely dangerous, including one near a children’s playground.


A half-dozen homemade signs dotted the room with such slogans as “No preemptive strikes against trees and mother nature!”


Walter Passmore, director of the city’s urban forestry program, told the audience, “Nationwide there’s a goal to treat trees on a seven year cycle. Our staff and budget allows a treatment cycle of 40 years. So you can see there’s a fairly large disparity between the maintenance we’re able to do and maintenance that is a recommended goal.”


Despite that, he insisted, “We have invested a lot of time and effort in care of our trees there.” A hearty round of laughter ensued. When Passmore made reference to the “unfortunate circumstance of having people in the same area as we have trees,” the room again burst into extended guffaws. It wasn’t long before the audience was shouting. By the time he said, “We think quick action is needed,” Passmore was met with a loud boo.


Eventually Chair Linda Guerrero had to recess the meeting for five minutes and issued a warning to the crowd, “I’m not going to tolerate this, I’m giving you some opportunities to speak and I expect you to be respectful to the speaker.”


Board Member Jane Rivera asked Passmore about “wood wound,” a metric in the report from Davey Resource Group (DRG). Passmore said that it “was a common misconception that trees heal,” and explained wood wound was a way for the tree to compartmentalize damage. “Our analysis looks at wood wound as an indication of past failures or how that tree has performed under past conditions,” he said.


Vice Chair Danette Chimenti said that the DRG report had several errors in it, and pointed out there were other treatment options other than removal. In fact, the report singled out only four trees that could not otherwise be treated.


Many of the speakers during public comment simply came to express their love of trees and vent their frustration at the city. But Ken Sherman, a local family practice doctor, acknowledged the difficult task before the department and said, “They don’t have enough money or staff and that’s where the whole problem has stemmed from,” while also acknowledging that “there are three, four or five trees there that are pretty near dead.”


Several professional arborists also spoke on the condition of the trees. Although Sean Shriver, owner of Affordable Tree Care, insisted that the trees could be maintained with a system of guy wires and cables, two other arborists questioned how effective that ultimately would be.


Patrick Brewer, a board certified arborist and regional manager for the national arbor company Bartlett Tree Experts, told the board, “I do know these trees; I’ve looked at them and think there are some serious issues with some of these, particularly on the playground. Some are significant hazards.” He said root problems seemed to be the leading issue amongst those trees marked for removal, but more research needed to be done. Brewer said that the radar imaging that DRG conducted was not a foolproof method of detection. He also warned that trees grow stronger with stress and that attaching supporting wires would ultimately serve to weaken them.


Guy LeBlanc, owner of Arbor Vitae Tree Care, said that “Passmore gave you what is indeed the accurate biological representation of what trees do—trees do not heal.” He also said that “cables definitely can be a partial solution. However, if you’ve got a tree that’s completely defective at its roots you can put all the cables in the world in it and it’s still going to fall over.” Despite saying some would be appropriate to remove, he also insisted that it is often easier for arborists to simply recommend taking trees down rather than taking time to see whether there was an option of mitigation. LeBlanc recommended an underground root collar excavation.


The Parks Department and Recreation Department will be scheduling two tours to examine the trees in the coming weeks before compiling more data on their condition. No decision on their fate is expected until June at the earliest.

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