So, when will Salem's War on Trees end?
This is a town where City officials allow trees to be killed for no good reason. And where private organizations, knowing this, push tree-destruction to the legal limit and beyond.
The most recent victim of Salem's horrific tree policies is a majestic White Oak that was supposed to be the centerpiece of Salem Hospital's new parking lot.
Here it is, being cut down.
This photo comes from the Facebook page of Elwood's Tree Service. Elwood runs a great company. He cares deeply about this town's trees. He wouldn't cut down a tree that didn't need to be removed.
The question is: why did the White Oak develop a split down the middle of the trunk that required it to be cut down? Above is another photo of the tree that Elwood provided.
Salem Hospital has been planning the parking lot for a long time. Each of the many trees on the old School for the Blind property were designated to be cut down or saved. This White Oak was one of the few trees that Salem Hospital intended to preserve.
It seems unbelievable that no one noticed a crack this large prior to the start of the parking lot construction. So the White Oak must have developed the crack afterward.
Today I did some Googling on "oak tree split damage construction."
I learned that White Oaks are particularly sensitive to construction activities involving root severance and soil compaction. I also learned that construction in general is a leading cause of trees being lost. See here, here, here, here, and here.
These are excerpts from each of the five links.
Past tree care, construction and landscape activities can affect the health of your trees. Construction, trenches, and tree topping can all have adverse effects on your trees. If roots have been cut or disturbed, the tree may become unstable.
Prior to a construction job starting, we’re hoping your neighbor hired a certified arborist to work with the building contractor. Why should everyone do this? Because trees need some serious protection during construction jobs. Your tree’s roots can grow up to four times the width of the canopy. That means that if you have a large, established tree with 40-foot canopy, then the roots of your tree could extend into the yard two houses down from you.
There is nothing more heartbreaking than losing large, established tree. One of the common causes of tree damage and death is surrounding construction.
As we’ve spoken about regularly here at our blog, construction work is a big killer of trees. It’s incredibly important to provide proper protection for trees during the construction process.
Add in lots of traffic from heavy machinery and construction workers and you not only have massive compression but extensive root damage. Often times, large percentages of a tree's root system are completely destroyed. This weakens the tree immensly. This damage often leads to tree death, not to mention damage to surrounding property if the weakend treall [tree] falls.
It is evident in the top photo that construction activity was taking place all around the White Oak.
This tree was several hundred years old. My wife and I have a similarly-sized White Oak near our house that is about 250 years old, according to an arborist from Elwood's Tree Service (we use Elwood's for tree work on our ten natural rural acres).
The tree that developed the split lived for centuries through countless wind storms, ice storms, heavy rains, and drought. Yet Salem Hospital apparently wants us to believe that soon after heavy construction equipment worked around the tree for weeks on end, the split just coincidentally happened.
A Statesman Journal story about the removal of the White Oak says:
Download Tree removal begins at Salem Hospital
"It's a very sad day here at the hospital," said Sherryll Johnson Hoar, a spokeswoman for Salem Health, parent company of Salem Hospital and owner of the blind school property.
An eight-foot split was discovered Monday. Exactly when the split occurred and its cause remained unknown, but experts, including the city of Salem's urban forester, determined the tree to be hazardous.
...The facility will include a new outpatient rehabilitation center and adaptive playground. Work began on the project in January. Since, the hospital has been met with opposition to the 50 trees they've had to remove from the site. This tree, however, was not supposed to come down.
...Hospital officials had hoped to make the oak a key feature of the facility grounds; architects had incorporated the 200-year-old tree into the design and location of the rehab center.
"We are deeply disappointed. It is one of the most beautiful trees on site," Hoar said. "But with the instability, we had to clear the tree, otherwise it just wouldn't be safe."
Deeply disappointed isn't good enough, Salem Hospital. In my opinion, your careless construction work probably killed the tree. This happened after you got a variance from compliant City of Salem officials to allow nine other "significant" White Oaks to be removed.
A neighborhood association wants the trees to live.
The law in question comes from Chapter 68 of The City of Salem’s code, the tree preservation ordinance. It says that no one can cut down a “significant” tree, an Oregon White Oak greater than 24-inches at breast height, except under certain limited circumstances, which the hospital does not meet.
This spring, as part of their process to develop the land, Salem Hospital asked the city for a variance to the law and for approval to cut the trees. On June 25th, their request was granted by the City’s Planning Administrator.
So, to put it bluntly, Salem Hospital and its parent organization Salem Health, obviously don't give a shit about preserving large, beautiful trees. This makes it more likely that Salem Hospital turned a blind eye to careless construction activities that fatally damaged the White Oak.
We also need to keep in mind that the entire parking lot design process took place with preservation of trees as secondary to maximizing the number of parking spaces. A Breakfast on Bikes blog post says:
However...at another Salem institution, there is sad and unsurprising news. The giant parking lot at the former Blind School property has claimed another loss.
Somehow, as its roots and soil and canopy were altered by construction activities, one of the large oaks developed fatal health problems. It might not be possible to find direct causation - but really, the coincidence is very suspicious indeed.
The Hospital's plans did feature the tree. I think they did want to save it and I don't think that they intended for construction to kill it. There's no conspiracy here.
But it should surprise no one that the parking lot and associated buildings were not planned in a way deeply sensitive to the existing ecosystem. The site plan was "imposed" on the site, not developed in tandem with it in an organic way. This is a failure of siting and of landscape architecture.
And again, it's all driven by cars, by the vast parking lot.
The people of Salem, who subsidize the nonprofit status of Salem Hospital -- which is supposed to put community needs in the forefront -- deserve a White Oak "post mortem."
Several certified arborists who haven't been involved with Salem Hospital's parking lot construction or the tree's removal need to be paid by Salem Hospital to produce an assessment of what probably caused the split in the White Oak.
This assessment should be released to the public without any editing or alteration. We need to learn why the White Oak needed to be cut down. Just as with the 2013 debacle of the U.S. Bank trees, the death of a tree(s) should not be in vain.
Meaning, Salem needs to learn from this sad episode so it never happens again.
So sorry to hear about the loss of the White Oak. I just wanted to reach out and leave a comment. I stumbled across your blog a year or so ago and have been keeping up ever since. I've never been to Salem. In fact I live in London in the UK and my own neighbourhood couldn't be more different. Yet I enjoy looking through this window on your part of the world. I guess in a way that's what blogging is all about. Anyway I just wanted to say hi and encourage you in some small way to keep fighting the good fight. Drinking coffee here this morning I'm thinking sadly about a tree many many miles away and the small-minded, short-term thinking that killed it. I'm glad you're out there looking out for the ones that are left.
Posted by: Mike Sizemore | June 13, 2015 at 03:15 AM
Bev Rushing and I tried our best to help preserve the Oregon School for the Blind property and the irreplaceable trees. The loss of the great White Oak that Salem Health was committed to preserve is so terribly ironic. Salem's City Council set the tone of disregard for history and the ecosystem. The construction methods used to turn the whole area into a parking lot doomed the trees from the start. i watched as the construction company removed three feet of soil inside the trees’ canopies. Earthmovers rumbled over the top of the root structures for months. There was a complete disconnect between the people overseeing the construction and the hospital public relations people. Now, the one tree that the hospital was to feature, the tree that was to be one of the historical reminders as to what was, is now gone forever. Just like Howard Hall, gone forever.
Posted by: Patrick Schwab, Ed.D. | June 13, 2015 at 08:02 AM
Mike and Patrick, thanks for your comments. Most interesting.
Mike, it's way cool to hear from a Londoner who reads this blog. This is one reason I love blogging -- the whole "hands across the sea" thing.
I'm envious of you for having such a provocative and Intriguing Mayor. No doubt many Londoners don't like him, but every time I across a story about him, I find his style appealing. Along with his first name, Boris.
Posted by: Brian Hines | June 13, 2015 at 11:35 PM