Starting last year and continuing into this year, tree vandalism in Midtown has been rampant. The vandalism most often occurs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights/early mornings. This fiscal year we have had 29 tree vandalized (26 in the central city).

Victim trees are located outside, near to or within a block of bars and nightclubs. The damage consists of twisting, cutting them in half or breaking off at any point newly planted trees of all species, ripping out the stakes and battering the trees and trying to break a tree by bending it over so far that it damaged the root system so much it could not stand straight without city arborists’ attention and help.

Imagine a vandal’s courage and feeling of power, drunk or sober, to attack and destroy a defenseless living thing such as newly planted tree, which gives us such environmental benefits.

Many were so badly damaged that the city Urban Forest Services had to remove the “remains” because there was no evidence of life to re-grow. Even those that can be saved will only be half the size of its neighbor which was not vandalized, delaying shade and leaf oxygen benefits for at least 10 years. Planting is only done in the rainy season, so all those damaged recently cannot be replaced until this fall, losing an entire summer of growth!

Urban Forest Services (UFS) states that the cost to the taxpayer is $251 per vandalized tree, which includes cost of the original tree, labor for planting, removal costs of the destroyed tree and the repeat cost of buying a new tree and labor for planting it.

This does not include city labor costs for watering the trees before they were vandalized if the trees were located in non-irrigated planter locations, which most are. Nor does it include the environmental costs to during the summer when there is no new tree and its belated growth for the next several years.

Trees vandalized on 19th Street were older established trees that were growing well. Most of those on 19th St were large diameter trees (1 1/2 inches). They would have a higher value than a newly planted tree. Between the 21st and J Street location and the others on 19th St, seven trees were vandalized UFS reports.

Whoever vandalized them had to really work at it says UFS staff, taking considerable time and effort. Vandalizing a tree is a crime. When someone sees that a tree has been vandalized, UFS asks them to call 311 and report the address and the kind of vandalism.

Graffiti vandals are also tagging tree trunks with spray paint, showing serious disrespect for nature. The city when notified of such tagging will photo and add to their inventory of various tagging elsewhere, enabling them to prosecute when monikers are identified. These are not gang tags but the usual graffiti vandals disrespecting nature.

When anyone observes someone either destroying a new tree or painting graffiti on a grown tree, they should take a photo of the criminal if the observer has a digital camera, or get a description and call 311. In the case of tree destruction if it takes the vandal considerable time to destroy the tree, individuals may also call the non-emergency police number.

I admit to a bias of a great fondness and respect for trees. As a fifth grader, I remember our English teacher giving us an assignment to read, Joyce Kilmer’s now nearly one hundred year-old poem “Trees.” We were asked to memorize it and then discuss it in class.

For those who may not have read the poem an abbreviated version goes like this:
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree that may in summer wear
a nest of robins in her hair.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

We then sang it in music class, which followed. I’m sure we must have murdered the song but for a real treat to hear it in its entirety google “song Joyce Kilmer Trees.” While the choral that comes up is beautiful, click on the Paul Robeson (of Showboat’s Ole Man River fame) arrangement. It is a scratchy old Victor recording but none of the richness of his bass voice or the strings accompaniment has been lost.

You will now see trees from a more appreciative perspective. Enjoy.