Wednesday, March 17, 2010

when tree hugging goes too far

Budding trees are a sure sign of spring. There's a Redbud growing in the entrance to my neighborhood. I love it's shimmery, spring-has-sprung pinkness.

Trees in general are especially appreciated in my city. With so many Texas regions deprived of trees, we Austinites are glad we have as many as we do. Some of us moved here expressly for the trees. So it's understandable there are so many tree huggers in Austin who want to save the trees.

But all trees? Any trees?

I consider myself a tree hugger, yes. But not an uber-hugger. I have some sanity my limits.

And my limit is reached when people insist on saving nuisance trees. When they judge those of us who cut down nuisance trees. Trash trees, my husband Sam calls them.

I'm talking about the kind of soft wooded trees that rot easily -- Chinaberry (Melia azedarach L.) and Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Trees that harm nearby plant life -- Cedar trees ( Juniperus ashei) and Ligustrum (Ligustrum recurvifolium).

Here's an example of what I mean by uber. City employees come onto a residential property ready to trim or cut down trees interfering with power lines. Uber-tree-huggers raise ten kinds of hell. That's a tree! Don't cut down that tree! The city employees run for their lives cave and leave the trees alone.

Come a big windy rain storm? The preserved trees crash down onto the homeowners house and neighboring houses. They crash powerlines. Entire blocks are out of power.

The ubers then raise twenty kinds of hell. Tree trimmers can't get there fast enough. Restore my power!

City workers paid triple overtime to restore power and clean up fallen trees that should have been cut down in the first place. Homeowner claims are filed and insurance premiums go up. Now you and I are paying for treexuberance.

A drive by reveals most of these fallen trees are Chinaberries and Hackberries.

Could have been avoided with some homework. An understanding of the pros and cons of treedom.

Hackberries make excellent habitat for birds and insects, yes. But they are weak and craggy looking and will fall easily in a storm. Keep the Hackberry if it's on a remote part of your property. Cut it down if it is in danger of falling onto houses and power lines.

But here's the most important part: Replace the cut trees with better trees. Or look for saplings of stronger trees. Cut away nuisance trees to make room for strong hardwoods that grow into beautiful shade trees, fun climbing trees, and yes, excellent habitat for birds and insects.

By cutting down Hackberries and overgrowth of Ligustrum in our yard, for example, we have found fledgling Post Oaks that might not have otherwise made it, especially as there are no other Post Oaks in our yard.

Here's another example. Cedar trees grow wild here. Besides causing terrible seasonal allergies, aka, "cedar fever," they also suck up a lot of water. Cedar trees have dense, sticky foliage that catches and holds rainwater, preventing it from ever reaching the ground. Cedars haven't learned to share.

Some experts have estimated 70-80% is hogged by cedars. Hence, less water for the surrounding trees, shrubs, and ground cover. Cedar trees also emit a chemical noxious to many neighboring plants.

The net result is healthy cedar but parched surrounding area.

Bamburger Ranch in the Hill Country of Central Texas is a living example of the power of cutting down Cedar in favor of allowing natural grasses and friendlier varieties of trees to thrive. The result? Natural springs are flowing again after years and years of bone dry.

So be kind to trees but also be smart about trees. Learn what trees are worth saving and which ones are worth cutting in order to make room for a more diverse, lush landscape. And while you're at it, you're helping keep our homeowner's insurance affordable.


Magpie said...

our town (in the northeast) was bandying about a quite restrictive new tree law - until two major storms in the past three weeks took out a lot of trees as a result of snow and/or rain and/or wind. they've backed off. it was an interesting tussle to watch.

shrink on the couch said...

oh the tree laws. don't get me started on the tree laws. I agree with most of them, in spirit if not in letter, but they can get carried away.

Mary said...

We have similar issues here in the mountains where our valleys are seeded with plants that have no right being there...

and people who want to protect them

Mental P Mama said...

Those Uber folk must have moved there from Fairfield County, CT. Because I know them. They are currently whining about their lack of Internet service since our last storm took out all the trees they insist on leaving alone, and with them, their power and cable lines.

Kathleen Scott said...

Great post. There are lots of invasive, non-natives (like Chinaberry) in Central Texas that crowd out habitat trees.

A note about the cedars. For folks who have room, leaving a little thicket provides preferred nesting sites for hummingbirds, cardinals, jays and others, as well as winter roosts for seasonal birds like chipping sparrows.

Unknown said...

I have a very messy cottonwood poplar tree in my yard I'd love to cut down (and my neighbor would love it too) but i can;t afford it

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

My father's moniker is "the tree man of the Central Coast." I think the two of you could have quite a conversation!

Susan said...

Common sense seems to leave people when it comes to these things. In our city we have these trees trimmed in deep U shapes with power lines running trough them instead of planting the trees (or the power lines) in different locations along the street. And when they cut down the diseased trees, they replant with tiny saplings of the same species - and guess what? They get the same disease!

Jenn@ You know... that blog? said...

I have a pruning fetish - I love pruning trees. I agree with getting rid of trash trees and dangerously situated ones too.

Tree huggers can go too far, agreed. We have our fair share of zealots up here too.

blognut said...

I'm with you - I get "treehugging" when it makes sense to hug them, but it gets carried to the nth degree and borders on insanity sometimes.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Your post makes good sense regarding residential areas. Vancouver, WA has a common sense tree ordinance designed to promote a nice canopy of trees, which keeps our air cleaner. But they do encourage sensible pruning.

Out here in the great Pacific Northwest, where we have mighty forests, I grieve at irresponsible harvests and clearcuts which cause landslides and affect water quality. Timber companies that plant monocultures to replace the naturally diverse forests in order to make a quick, easy buck are true bad guys.

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

Andrea Frazer said...

I'm with you, Woman. They cut down a tree in front of our house recently and I was a bit sad, but honestly, like a very old dog, it needed to go. I've got my own bush to worry about trimming. Let the city trim the trees.

Jocelyn said...

It's a good think you make total sense because I think I'd be afraid to disagree with you. Hee.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

We took one of our great maples down this year. I loved that tree, even as it lost massive limbs and broke fences.

It was a mess.

I finally agreed with Greg: It had to go. We had been lucky, but in time, it could have taken out our garage, the cars, hurt the kids.

(I find the tree laws strange, and I live in Tree Hugger Central.)