Calling all arborists and foresters! Help save my oak tree.

JaniefulSeptember 5, 2013

My local community officials are hellbent on tearing down all the mature trees that are between the sidewalk and the street. They claim the redoing the streets will irrevocably harm the tree roots and create a real and present danger to the citizens. My question is - how is this possible? You can drive all over the country and find tree-lined streets that are in much better condition than my community. What processes did they employ to save their trees?

I am most interested in saving the 50+ year old oak tree that shades my south facing house from the afternoon sun. In a year when they start redoing my street, I fear it will be a casualty of this process and am having trouble getting beyond the rhetoric and fear-mongering that I am hearing from the officials.

Any guidance from foresters would be much appreciated. Am I crazy to think they are overreacting? Anyone else fought and was able to save your beloved tree?

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well you can always chain yourself to a tree in protest...I heard that works sometimes

Anywho...yeah I think people have this bizarre fear of trees crashing down and killing does happen but not as often as people have been lead to believe

So does your community have tree lawns? usually that helps create less problems for sidewalks and streets...
I would just complain and complain until they get so sick of you complain that they have to address it...

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 1:12PM
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saccharum(z9 FL)

It really depends on what's involved in the construction. If they're going to re-grade and cut down into the earth within a couple of feet of the trunk, severing most of the trees' structural roots on one side in the process... then yeah, they're right. It would be advisable to just remove them at that point.

If they're basically just adding a fresh layer of asphalt, or if it's enough distance away from the tree, then they're probably overreacting. But given the potential tragedy and liability if a street tree were to fail following construction, I wouldn't blame them for erring on the side of caution.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 2:37PM
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saccharum - If this is indeed the case, how is there a single tree over the age of twenty on any city street? In fact, they redid (not just repaved but removed layers of concrete) a street one block over from me a few years ago before they instituted this new policy. Sure enough, there are 50+ year old oak and maple trees still standing. And they look very healthy.

I honestly just don't understand and see a disconnect between what the city is telling me and what I observe driving around in other municipalities every day. Plus don't trees that old have roots that stretch very far and very deep? I'm really trying to understand how going down 8 inches at the base of an old tree can permanently ruin it.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 3:21PM
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Whether it's 'right' or not, the city may have the final 'legal' say in what stays or goes in the 'hell strip' between sidewalk and street.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 3:31PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

its called an easement..

and they own the rights ... and... its probably not even your tree .....

and you really have no say ...

and it really doenst matter.. what other cities do.. as your tree isnt there...

significant construction under an old tree will kill it.. period .... how long that takes is unknown ...

so to work around it.. and leave it there.. is just making work.. a year or two down the line ...

move.. or hire an attorney.. but you lose either way ... as they say.. you cant fight city hall ....


    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 4:06PM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Janieful sez:

They claim the redoing the streets will irrevocably harm the tree roots and create a real and present danger to the citizens. My question is - how is this possible?

The precautionary principle run amok...

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 10:44AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


they can do no sewer work.. with out cutting off half the trees root mass ...

so how can you not see damage potential ...

and since a vast majority of its root mass.. is in the first foot or two of surface.. how can tearing out and replacing the road.. not cause damage...

etc.. ad nauseum..


    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 11:12AM
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I'm sorry about the loss of your tree.
You know, Ken is right.
You really enjoy this tree, so you don't want them to cut
it down. But, if they keep it, and it gradually dies, (it will die), depending on the size, I can just imagine how big it is, it can kill someone, and I am sure you don't want that to happen.
A good wind storm, even 3 or 4 years after the street construction could take that tree down and hurt people, mabey even yourself.
So, just remember, you can always plant another tree, after the street is fixed, and it will grow and provide the same shade you have now.
Nothing is worth having a person get hurt over, especially when you can replant another tree.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 10:06PM
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Our county's seat is a beautiful town near me. On one of the side streets stood our county's champion American Linden. Some work had to be done to the sidewalk and someone with the town got nervous about the tree and said it had to go. The adjoining property owner was very unhappy about this and set about saving the tree. This was a large tree and perfectly healthy, no nearby utility lines. The town A&P committee & Tree committee got involved and the tree was spared. To this day I think about that whenever we pass by the tree which is still healthy.
What you need to do is get busy and get some advocates for preserving the tree(s). The urban forest with mature trees such as this is a valuable asset no matter if it is in the town's right-of-way.
Is the tree healthy? Is it growing through power lines? Holler loud and clear that you are an adjoining property owner and taxpayer and rally others behind your cause.
If you allow the DPW (or whoever) to make the decision they will replace the mature oak with Bradford Pear, Red Horsechestnut or some other rubbish.
BTW How cost effective is it to remove the existing tree, purchase and install new one? Is that being taken into account?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 10:52PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

what she needs to do... presuming she has a front lawn .. which she might not if urban ...

is plant a new tree.. in the middle of her own lawn ....

we could make suggestions in that regard ... if we had some facts.. and a pic or two ...


    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 8:21AM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)


What kind of oak is it? Not all oaks are long lived like the live oaks are.

A perfect example around here are water oaks. They grow fast and look nice when young but after about 50 years they start dying and it's only a matter of time before they drop big limbs or split. We usually try to save live oaks or giant magnolias as they are part of the Gulf Coast culture but the water oaks and loblolly pines usually find a chainsaw or buldozer.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 6:43PM
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saccharum(z9 FL)

Like I said, the key question is to what degree the planned work will damage the root system. If all of the main roots on one side of the trunk will be cut near the stem, then the trees should be considered hazardous, full stop. However, there are many times when road resurfacing doesn't involve that, and there may be very little direct root damage even if they are grinding/milling down the existing pavement. Like the picture below - the main roots of that tree probably are not within the layer being removed.

So, I think that before you start to launch a campaign to save the trees, you need more information about the construction. If the plan involves serious root disturbance, maybe it could be changed to something less destructive. If not, then there's room for judgement (with consultation from a city arborist or other specialist).

I love big street trees as much as anyone, both for their beauty and the many other benefits they provide. But part of maintaining a healthy urban canopy is managing risk and removing hazard trees. I get a few calls per year from lawyers involved in cases where a tree has fallen, killing or harming people or damaging property. A main question in resulting lawsuits is whether those responsible for the tree should reasonably have been aware that the tree was unsound before it fell.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 9:23AM
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