You will recall, faithful readers, that at my last Natural History meeting, I heard a very disturbing rumor: that 900 additional trees had been removed after the fire. These were not burned trees. They were killed for no reason.
Now Vicky Israel, Griffith Park Manager at the time, had said that the plan was to fell about 160 trees after the fire, as they were in danger of falling. She said this as part of the official report, in front of the Neighborhood Council. It was sad, but understandable.
But hundreds of trees? Not understandable. So I started making phone calls. The first place I called, of course, was the Forestry Division of Griffith Park. Laura Bauernseind, Manager of the Forestry Division for about a year, is an ISA Certified Arborist, I was relieved to find out. Relieved, because I’ve been keeping track of such things for both the Park and the City of LA for some time now. This is one of the lower categories of certification, but we should be grateful that it isn’t just a Climber Specialist, or Aerial Lift Specialist. :) Because, see, only 5 of the 35 people in the Forestry Division, all of whom work in the field, have any certification at all. (And, by the way? There is no team who actually plants trees in the biggest city park in the country. They leave that up to volunteers, like Tree People. No, all they do is cut down trees, or crudelytrim them.)
So I spoke with Laura, and she said that yes, they were taking out a lot of trees, and had been for 3 weeks. But it wasn’t 900 trees, more like 1200. And the DWP Street Services was helping them. More work for everyone! Overtime! Part-time employees!
My voice kind of breaks when I get upset. It’s embarrassing. It happened now. “Who exactly made this decision? Were fire experts or tree experts brought in finally, like the city promised?”
“No, I made the decision,” she said chirpily. “But it was tree by tree. Each tree was thoroughly inspected and a decision was made on whether it had to be removed. ” She admitted that she had no experience dealing with fire or its aftermath.
“So these were all burned trees?”
“No, we would never try to remove the burned trees. These are unburned trees next to paths or trails or roads. Or bridal trails, the picnic areas, the tennis courts… They’re not burning now. But maybe they’re burning inside, in a place where we can’t see it…These are trees that could possibly hurt someone.”
“HOW?” I said.
“We only removed trees that had a potential to fail, Ms. Barstow. We can’t let anyone be hurt by a tree. A tree could prove to be an eminent hazard. We have to mitigate the city’s risk.”
“Oh, so this is a CITY thing. Just to protect yourself from lawsuits?!”
“I am offended by that! I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore.”
That’s when I knew I must be doing something right.
“I didn’t mean to offend you, but you are being very cavalier by killing 1200 trees on city property when we’ve just lost thousands. Not to mention the Mayor’s Million Tree Project. So you are saying that they weren’t burned, but you just worry that one will suddenly fall over?”
“We don’t know if something is happening inside of the tree,” she said frostily. “And we aren’t always taking down the whole tree. Sometimes we just take down a branch.”
“A branch. You are spending taxpayers money to take down branches on a hiking path?”
You get the point.
Now, at the last Natural History meeting Ranger Anne (more about her later) said that a group of workers came across one tree that was still burning in the roots, like coals, I imagine, 3 days after the fire. It must have been a troubling sight, this one tree, even disturbing. Were trees secretly acting strange in other places? That was the only report. Was it worth killing 1200 more trees because one had burning roots? Had trees become a secret menace to the park? Obviously, the Forestry Division, none of whom had any fire experience, thought so.
Then I called Jeanne Hruska at Councilman LaBonge”s office and asked why, if we had consulted experts from all over the state on how to manage affairs after the fire, the Forestry Division had not consulted with any of these about urban forest issues, and were taking down trees willy-nilly, because a branch might fall down, or there might be an invisible fire growing in a tree. She agreed that this was a problem. I also called Mike Shull Superintendent of Planning & Development for Parks. I had seen him speak at the GPNNC meeting, and was impressed with his candid and solution-oriented ideas. There’s an engineer for you!
He said that the city had brought in biologists to get advice on Emergency Debris, soil, burn areas, vegetation, wildlife, landmarks and environmental law. But the fact that no one had advised on, or was overseeing the Forestry Division continuing bulldozing and removing of living trees was a growing concern.
I also called GM Mukri. No call back, which was the usual, but I give good messages. to be continued…
Apparently, City Hall wants to make L.A. more like New York. You see, Central Park is 843 acres. Griffith Park, by contrast, is 4210 acres. Obviously our park is far too big, and needs to be cut down to size. How embarrassing! Leave it to the career politicians at City Hall to spend your money on “park reduction” surgery.
Do you know of anyone, any taxpaying citizen, anyone from planet Earth who has ever complained that we have too many trees in this town? Have you met anyone who called for more pavement in this green oasis? Me, neither. But City Hall politicians need to redistribute your money to campaign contributors, so something’s got to give. In this case, it’s L.A.’s tree population.