Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How To Kill A Tree: Exhibit A

Last August 10 I posted about a magnificent bur oak here in Northfield MN that is now threatened by a commercial development. With tongue in cheek I suggested ways that the construction company could do a nice, clean job of killing the tree. Call me cynical, but I predicted a slow death for this gorgeous tree.

The construction crew is off to a good start... in killing the tree.

Step 1: Position a new street directly under the branches, well inside the drip line (even though you have about 1/2 mile of frontage to work with and could easily position the street elsewhere.
The street is a triple threat: To construct it the grade had to be lowered, scraping away critical feeder roots. Then the soil had be be thoroughly compacted, squeezing out the air spaces the roots need. Finally, it will serve to drain rain water away from the tree.
Step 2: Continually drive & park construction vehicles inside the drip line to compress the soil in a complete ring around the tree.
For bonus points, do this in spring when soil is damp to really squeeze the air pores out of the soil!

Step 3: Use the nice, shady area under the tree for storing heavy construction supplies (necessitating more vehicle traffic over the root zone).

Step 4: Get ready to construct a frontage road WAY inside the drip line - requiring more regrading & compaction, and leading to a further diversion of rain water.
There are two other important points about this photograph:
1. The billboard in the distance is for Cannon River Tree Care, a highly competent local tree care company. If CRTC had been contacted at the start of the project this tree would be safe with a Zero Access fence outside the drip line. Unfortunately, no one ever calls a qualified arborist before construction, because they simply don't know that the things they are doing will kill the tree. That's because it's a death in slow motion taking place over years. By the time the owners realize the tree is failing they don't make the connection between the tree's current poor health and root damage that was done during construction years before.
2. The building in the distance houses a small printing shop that I often use for projects. This spring I was discussing this tree with them (they love the view of this lone tree from their window). They expressed concern about the tree's future, but said that the family that had lived on the property and who sold it to the developers had stipulated that the tree must be preserved.
It's a sad but all too familiar story: A landowner who wants the tree to live. Builders who think that by simply not wrecking the above-ground portion of the tree it will survive, and who are completely unaware of the consequences of the below ground damage they are doing. Qualified tree care professionals who are not contacted before construction, but will be contacted years down the line when nothing can be done.

Am I being cynical? Perhaps. Is it possible for this tree to survive? Yes, but the odds are against it.

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