A friend sent me photos of a very old (maybe 500 years?) White Oak that the City of Salem cut down recently. It was near the intersection of Fir and Bush streets.
Since the City has a habit of removing street trees for no good reason -- see here and here -- I'm determined to find out if this was another case of "get out the chainsaws first, ask arborist questions later."
What I was told is that several weeks ago a woman who lived near the tree asked that some limbs be trimmed because she was worried about branches falling on children walking to school.
It bothered her to have him talk that way.
But maybe Staszewski just has a poor sense of humor -- failing to realize how much most people in Salem love their trees and don't want them to be cut down unnecessarily.
So am I.
Jan Staszewski needs to answer some highly pertinent questions when he gets back to work next week.
The death sentence document pinned to the tree says "root rot." It took all week to cut the tree down. Ancient White Oaks don't submit to chain saws without a fight.
Someone else who heard about the tree's demise shared a poem (of sorts). It mentions Peter Fernandez, the City's Public Works Director, who is Jan Staszewski's boss.
He's the guy who made the backroom deal with a U.S. Bank president that led to five large, beautiful, healthy trees being cut down unnecessarily in downtown Salem back in 2013, overruling advice from expert arborists and the City's own Shade Tree Advisory Committee.
This is the poem.
500 years it lived here.
Before the wagon trains.
Before the settlers.
Before the City of Salem.
But then Peter Fernandez arrived.
“I’m sentencing this tree to death” said the Public Works “forester.”
The woman who called Jan to ask that the tree's limbs be trimmed feels bad now that the tree has been cut down. She shouldn't.
If the White Oak was killed for no good reason, the bad is on Staszewski and Fernandez. They'd better have some damn good evidence that the White Oak was in imminent danger of collapsing and there was no way of saving it.
I'll be blunt.
I don't trust Staszewski and Fernandez. They've shown that they are quick to get out the chain saws, and slow to consult certified arborists who know a lot more about trees than they do.
I'll be asking Staszewski and Fernandez some pertinent questions.
Foremost among them will be, "Please send me a copy of a report on the tree's condition by an independent certified arborist, which I assume you got, since the City of Salem's Urban Forester isn't as qualified to assess the health of this White Oak as a certified arborist is."
If they didn't get a second opinion on the White Oak, and it was cut down solely on the basis of Staszewski's personal opinion that it had root rot, citizens should complain, big time.
I'll keep an open mind on this until I get a reply from Staszewski and Fernandez. There could have been a good reason to remove the tree.
Like I said, though, their past tree-killing actions support healthy skepticism about whether this White Oak really needed to be cut down.
Let's remember what respected arborist Elwood Newhouse told me after I asked him to take a look at the High Street trees after they were ordered to be removed by the City of Salem.
Meaning, the trees were healthy and didn't need to be cut down, though they needed some care and attention. I'll report on whether Staszewski and Fernandez have solid independent arborist evidence that this White Oak was terminally diseased and couldn't be saved.
If such evidence doesn't exist, then once again citizens can say, "It's all bullshit."
[Update: Someone asked an arborist who I trust to take a look at the White Oak. I was sent a copy of this person's report. Here's pertinent excerpts. This is good news. This time, it appears that the City made the right decision about whether a street tree should be removed.
It is my opinion that the decision to remove this tree was correct... I have determined that the tree had been severely cut a number of times continually spreading decay throughout the tree evidenced by different areas showing varying degrees of decay.
I did not see the top of the tree prior to removal but I would venture to say that this evidence is similar to large trees being cut by the power company for line clearance or untrained workers making large and multiple improper cuts over time.
Some injury may have affected the roots initiating decay from the bottom up but with the wood being piled up over the root area on the street side, I could not inspect for that.]