Here's a dirty (or let's say, sawdusty) open secret: the City of Salem doesn't really care much about trees.
It allows beautiful healthy trees to be cut down when they don't need to, bowing to special interests rather than the broad public interest, often ignoring expert arborist advice in favor of making "political" tree removal decisions.
Yeah, this is Oregon. Tree country. Green Land. Environmentally proud.
So the gang at City Hall -- Mayor Anna Peterson, City Manager LInda Norris, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez, Urban Forester Jan Staszewski -- try to fool this town's many fervent tree lovers into believing that Salem's city government is with them.
Not true. Here's some of the reasons I say this with confidence.
Tree experts agree with me. I've talked with several of Salem's outstanding arborists. They've been blunt with me about what a crappy job City officials do with this town's street trees. They're infuriated by the B.S. going on here.
It seems that who you are, and who you know, all too often determines whether a tree lives or dies, is saved or is removed.
This is a horrible way to manage Salem's urban forest.
Citizens should be able to have confidence that the care of this town's street trees is founded on what's best for the community, not what a particular business or property owner wants done with publicly-owned trees.
Two of the five U.S. Bank trees
My "Outrage" report blew the cover on Salem's outrageous tree policies. Remember the five beautiful Japanese Zelkovas that graced downtown's State Street in front of U.S. Bank? I hope you do, because memories are all that remain of them after they were needlessly cut down in 2013.
Cut down for no good reason
I was so enraged by this senseless act of tree cruelty, I paid $726.61 to get public records (emails, memos, and such) from the City of Salem that told the true story of how Public Works Director Peter Fernandez ignored his own Shade Tree Advisory Committee, expert arborists, and many concerned citizens so he could keep a backroom deal with U.S. Bank President Ryan Allbritton to cut down the trees -- a deal made several freaking years before Allbritton even applied to have the Zelkovas removed.
Outrageous, oh yeah. You can read all about it here.
Similar thing is happening now with three High Street trees. South of the Elsinore Theatre, on downtown's High Street, three large healthy trees are slated to be cut down. They aren't diseased. They aren't about to die. They aren't causing any problems with the sidewalk that require them to be removed.
No, Public Works Director Fernandez issued a removal order on Urban Forester Staszewski's recommendation because... well, I have no idea. The order admits that the trees are healthy and not causing any problems other than dropping leaves on the adjacent property owner's building.
Which, duh, is what decidious trees do in the fall.
I asked three expert Salem arborists, two of them currently Certified Arborists who have to abide by a code of ethics (unlike Staszewski, who isn't certified), to look at the trees. All of them agreed: the trees are healthy; they could benefit from judicious pruning and other care, having been neglected for a long time; they don't need to be removed.
One of the arborists, plainspoken Elwood Newhouse, started off his conversation with me with, "It's all bullshit." I agree. Read more in my "City of Salem kills more downtown trees for no good reason."
I wrote that post last April when Ira's Alley property owner Steve Ross told me he wanted to save the trees after learning Newhouse's opinion of them. Now they are back on the chopping block. Ross hasn't responded to my inquiry asking why.
Salem Weekly recently published a story on this new tree outrage.
City officials are allowing Salem Hospital to needlessly kill marvelous white oaks. This additional Kill the Trees debacle can be understood via a short video that should get tree lovers fired up.
You also can read about this issue in another Salem Weekly story, "Neighbors object to 'clear cutting' historic trees." And in a well-written letter to the editor in today's Statesman Journal.
Yesterday I took a walk in the area around Howard Hall. I had read that as many as 40 trees may be destroyed in order to make a parking lot there.
The trees there are majestic, tall and beautiful. They provide oxygen, shade, habitat and a rich environment for humans and non-humans who live in Salem. They are valuable.
In 2012 a popular movie was “The Lorax.” The Lorax spoke for the trees. He spoke against tree-cutting and pollution and sprawl. He spoke for clean air, clean streams and a healthy environment. I hope for the many children and adults who saw this movie that this was not just a “feel good” moment. Maybe it encouraged people to take action.
My understanding is that there is a tree ordinance in Salem that prevents the cutting of “significant” trees in Salem. Some of the trees on this property owned by the Salem Hospital are old Oregon white oaks. This ordinance received a variance from the city’s planning administrator.
Who speaks for the trees in Salem? Apparently not the city administrator.
Let’s speak for the trees and find a way to save them.
Being a "Tree City USA" means nothing. Every year Salem's Mayor proudly hangs a banner in the City Council chambers showing that, once again, this town has earned Tree City USA status.
Whoopty-doo. Do you know what this means? Next to nothing.
Thousands of cities in the United States have gotten the same designation, including 56 cities in Oregon. What would be unusual is for an Oregon city to not be a "Tree City USA."
Here's all it takes to become one.
- A Tree Board or Department
- A Tree Care Ordinance
- A Community Forestry Program With an Annual Budget of at Least $2 Per Capita
- An Arbor Day Observance and Proclamation
Salem may have a Tree City USA banner hanging on the wall, but no way does it deserve to be called a city that cares about its trees.
It doesn't. Stumps don't lie. City officials have a nasty habit of cutting down healthy beautiful trees for no good reason.