Another sad day for tree lovers here in Salem, Oregon -- the city that hangs a new Tree City USA banner in its city council chambers one day a year, then trashes trees the rest of the time.
Today these beautiful trees on High Street, just south of the Elsinore Theatre, were chopped down. The area in front of the DaVinci restaurant and Croissant & Co. now looks like this:
I have no idea why the owner of the Ira's Alley building would want to uglify the streetscape by cutting down trees for no good reason. I can use those words, for no good reason, pretty confidently because I've been following the High Street tree saga for over a year.
On April 16, 2004, I wrote a blog post where I quoted a certified arborist, Elwood Newhouse, who inspected the three trees after I learned that the City of Salem was planning to allow the building owner to remove them.
In a phone conversation, Elwood told me "It's all bullshit." Which accurately describes the generally horrific way City officials justify removing healthy, large, beautiful downtown trees.
Remember the U.S. Bank trees?
I blew the lid on this 2013 tree-killing debacle in a tell-all report, Outrage: The true story of how City officials and the bank president cut down five large, healthy, beautiful downtown trees for no good reason, and misled citizens about why they did it.
Well, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez is still up to his old tricks: allowing businesses to cut down street trees for no good reason. Here's what Elwood Newhouse told me about the High Street trees in two 2014 email messages.
The trees are healthy and are causing a very small amount of lift to sidewalk like a lot of other street trees. This problem can easily be fixed by grinding the small lift. Roots can be pruned along with the canopy for better structure. The trees have a great defense system and will tolerate some wounding. There are many things that can be done to preserve these trees. So in a nut shell in my opinion the trees are worth saving.
Okay I'm here again to look at the cavities of concern. The cavities were more than likely caused by sun scalding when some of the lower branches were removed for clearances. The wound wood that is forming around the cavities are a good sign the trees are healthy. Also looking at the last 5 years shoot growth is very consistent. This species of tree compartmentalize the wounds very well. If these cavities warrant the removal of these trees then we should clear cut Bush Park.
Well, Elwood was prescient.
This year the City of Salem didn't clear cut Bush Park, but it allowed Salem Hospital to clear cut an ancient urban forest across the street from Bush Park. I called this shameful in a January 2015 blog post.
I'll also use the same word to describe what happened to the High Street trees this afternoon. It's infuriating to see City of Salem officials treat both trees and the tree-loving citizens of this town with such disrespect.
Check out my recent column in Salem Weekly, "Mayor to citizens: shut up about trees." Here's an excerpt:
The indefensible U.S. Bank tree removals led to the formation of a broad-based committee charged with coming up with revisions to the City’s street tree ordinance.
...The U.S. Bank trees were cut down because the final decision was made by Public Works Director Fernandez. The public records I got showed that lower-level City staff recognized how businesses exert “political pressure” on tree removal requests.
So the committee advised that an Urban Tree Commission be the final decider after the city’s Urban Forester and Public Works Director make their recommendations.
Mayor Peterson didn’t like that notion.
Illogically, she said that because the City Council hires the “right” City Manager, who chooses the “right” directors, who hire the “correct” people to work under them, “right” decisions are going to be made.
Wow, back to the middle ages.
It’s Salem’s version of the Divine Right of Kings. Obey, citizen peasants. Do not question the authority of Exalted Emperor Peterson and her functionaries who supposedly always make perfect street tree decisions.
This new downtown street tree-killing debacle puts the lie to that notion.
A certified arborist says the High Street trees were healthy. City officials cut them down anyway. Why? I have no idea. In their tree removal request the building owners complained about the trees dropping leaves on their awning.
Um, that's what deciduous trees do: drop their leaves in the fall.
So because citizens still can't challenge unjustified street tree removals, and Peter Fernandez, the Public Works Director who allowed U.S. Bank to remove five large, beautiful, healthy trees on State Street for no good reason is still up to his I'll-do-whatever-a-business-owner-wants tricks, downtown's High Street is much uglier today than it was yesterday.
I found this really sad -- wood chips on top of a trash can, pitiful remnants of a tree that, until today, was providing shade, cooling, beauty, and bird habitat to High Street. And now is dead and gone, because of clueless people who don't understand that killing large healthy trees for no good reason is really, really stupid.
Meanwhile, right across the street, a row of trees is doing what the three now-dead trees were doing until they were needlessly removed: making downtown Salem a more pleasant place to visit, live, and work.
I'm really bothered by the cut-it-down and pave-it-over mentality of Mayor Anna Peterson and her anti-environmental City Council majority. Lots of other people in Salem are also.
When election time comes around, remember the High Street and State Street trees.
The current crop of City officials aren't doing this town any good by their destructive actions. What makes them think that trashing trees and uglifying downtown is going to enhance the attractiveness and economic vitality of Salem?