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Few Barton Springs trees likely to be removed

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

After months of presentations, scientific examination and dialogue, the Parks and Recreation Board/Environment Board joint subcommittee on Monday issued their recommendations for 31 trees in and around the Barton Springs Pool, which concluded that only four trees be taken down.


Director Sara Hensley walked a small crowd through each of the 31 recommendations, and audiences member were provided a handout loaded with information on each tree. The recommendations indicated that a majority of the trees would be pruned of dead wood and broken limbs and undergo a “reduction of the crown,” which would help balance top heavy trees and stimulate growth that could correct a dangerous lean. The subcommittee also recommended that public access to several questionable trees be limited.


The board is still waiting on final testing by arborist Don Gardner to determine the fate of two other trees on the list. Gardner will perform a “root collar excavation” on the trees, a process which entails shooting high pressure air across the base of the tree in order to reveal some of the root structure for evaluation. Once the health of the tree is determined, the roots are covered again in dirt.


At Wednesday’s meeting the subcommittee board voted 6-0 to apply for a permit with the Watershed Protection Development Review department to take down three trees in the playground area. The trees represented a consensus by the Davey Group, PARD staff and Gardner, brought in under the recommendation of Save Our Springs, for a third opinion.


Board member Phil Moncada assured concerned citizens and activists that the three trees to be removed are not part of the Barton Springs Pool Master Plan. The fourth tree, a 22-inch Hackberry, is also up for removal but will not be voted on until the next subcommittee meeting, when Gardner’s work on the two questionable trees is also presented.


Earlier in the day a coalition of local environmental groups announced the formation of a Barton Springs Tree Stewards Program as part of a combined effort to maintain the trees. The Austin Parks Foundation, Tree Folks, Hill Country Conservancy and Friends of Barton Springs Pool are a part of the Barton Springs Plan Coordinating Committee. Save Barton Creek Association was erroneously listed as a member but the group has yet to take a vote on the matter.


The goal of the BSPCC will be to implement a comprehensive tree replanting program, collaborate between city staff and volunteers on pruning and maintenance activities, raise funds, advocate improved landscaping management, organize and engage volunteers and dialogue with the city about public funding for the trees.


Hensley told In Fact Daily the meeting “couldn’t have gone any better. This is a perfect example of a great public process. Look at the number of people who are willing to volunteer and donate money to support a tree.”


Roy Whaley, vice chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said his organization would also set about raising money from businesses and individuals that would help to preserve and maintain the heritage trees of Barton Springs. He did say that having a specific goal amount publicized would help. Robin Cravey, President of Friends of Barton Springs Pool, told In Fact Daily the coalition would first figure out how much money would be needed to preserve the trees and base their goals off of that.


The Austin Parks Foundation has already set up a fund of $100,000 for planting trees around Barton Springs and they announced yesterday that another $50,000 had been contributed by the Stillwater Foundation.


Save Our Springs has also been loosely organizing an adopt a tree program. He said the group already had pledges of tens of thousands of dollars despite the fact that they had not been actively fund raising.


The three trees in the playground should be removed in a week or two, staff said. Notices will be put out a week ahead of the removal date so that citizens can have time for any final ceremonies or parties, board member Danette Chimenti told those assembled.

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