Chris Hall: Tree removal at what cost? |

Chris Hall: Tree removal at what cost?

I write this column as an educator, nature lover, and lifelong local. My wife and I chose to return to our hometown of Nevada City after college because we love so many things about this community.

One thing we value highly about Nevada City is the abundance of hiking trails and nature areas. We not only cherish Nevada City’s natural beauty for our own sake — we also hope that our newborn daughter’s generation will grow up with access to the same kind of nature experiences we have enjoyed. Further, we hope that local wild places will endure even beyond our own daughter’s lifetime, and for generations to come.

Because of my family’s deep and abiding love for this place, I was alarmed when we visited Hirschman’s Pond in Nevada City last week and were greeted with a sight of devastation.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed several Ponderosa pines have been felled near the Hirschman’s Pond Trail in Nevada City; additionally, many other trees and ground-cover species were severely damaged in the process.

Whatever it takes, it is my sincere hope that in the future, the city and its contractors can address the ravages of the drought without adding to them through reckless practices.

I understand that the city conducted the tree removal in the interest of both public safety and forest health. After all, the trees were dead or dying (as confirmed by Public Works Superintendent Chris Shack in The Union article that appeared in last week’s paper). I understand that the trees were no doubt suffering from the ravages of drought and bark beetle infestation. I understand the fire risks and chance of further infestation associated with leaving dead or dying trees standing. I understand that the contractors were professionals, that the city worked with an arborist, a bird surveyor, and a naturalist … but I still have concerns about the tree removal.

If you didn’t read that last paragraph carefully, please do so — I am fully cognizant of the situation at hand here. I comprehend the complexity involved in matters of public land management.

But I still have concerns about the tree removal.

Surely the other trees and vegetation trampled in the process could have been treated with due respect. Again, the path of logging equipment, as well as impact from felled trees, severely damaged many other trees in the area. Smaller trees were smashed and splintered in the process and mature oaks had their branches broken. Worse, all other flora within roughly a half-acre area was extirpated — and I mean down to the ground cover. The effect is that of walking through a wasteland where once was a beautiful open space.

Again, I know that the city has plans for trail reconstruction and cleanup, but less destructive means of tree removal exist.

Apparently, from the city’s perspective, the choice to fell the trees in such a destructive manner was partly motivated by finances. An acquaintance of mine who had a chance to tour the work site with a crewman said felling the trees the way they did cost about $500 per tree. Doing it without destroying the surrounding vegetation would have cost about $2,000 per tree. Additionally, another acquaintance in the city government informs me that the city is working within a tight budget: $200,000 allocated for tree removal citywide. While I object on principal to “pricing” the lives and welfare of the natural integrity and beauty of a place, I do understand that financial realities coupled with immediate public safety and forest health risks represent a thorny management issue.

This particular area is already devastated. The damage to the numerous species surrounding the felled trees cannot be undone. So, it is my hope that the sort of devastation I witnessed at Hirschman’s will inspire those of us (and there are a lot of us) who value the rich natural heritage of Nevada City to pay attention, and to do everything we can to protect that heritage, from attending Planning Commission meetings to calling members of the local government, and any other avenues of civic engagement we can muster in defense of the place we love.

Perhaps the city can coordinate with local environmental organizations (Bear Yuba Land Trust who maintains the trail, for instance). The city does not exist in a vacuum, after all, and our community has many well-established nonprofits who are certainly stakeholders in this issue.

Whatever it takes, it is my sincere hope that in the future, the city and its contractors can address the ravages of the drought without adding to them through reckless practices.

Come one, Nevada City, we’re better than this.

Chris Hall lives in Nevada City.

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