Heritage tree removal still stirring up conflict

Blue Atlas Cedar, by J and R Photography via Flickr/Creative Commons.
The February removal of the heritage Blue Atlas Cedar tree at North Beacon Hill’s Garden House continues to generate controversy. Two local arborists who examined the Blue Atlas contacted the Beacon Hill Blog to give additional testimony about the tree’s condition and the events preceding the tree’s removal. The arborists expressed concern that statements by Garden House trustee and rental agent Carolyn Nickerson in an earlier Beacon Hill Blog article (“Removal of Garden House Blue Atlas Cedar surprises community,” Andrew Hamlin, March 3) inaccurately represented the professional advice given by the arborists and the resulting decisions made to remove the tree.

In the March 3 article, Nickerson stated:

“…We hired an arborist to climb and inspect the entire tree to evaluate its health and possible remedies [for $400]. It was his opinion that the tree needed to be thinned, bolted, tied in various places to keep it from dropping other limbs. (I think that estimate was $1000, maybe less.) Before making a decision we had a second arborist inspect the tree and give his opinion and write a report [on] what he thought should be done. On a danger scale of 1-10 the tree was a 9. Part of the tree hung over the neighbors’ house, part over the sidewalk and street and part over our lawn area where children and adults gather for various occasions.”

Local arborist Oliver Bailey said in an email to the blog: “We [Bailey and Sue Nicol] are the arborists who actually evaluated the tree and recommended preservation. The most damning inaccuracy [in the original story] is the ‘9 out of 10’ scoring on the tree evaluation (false). The entire Heritage Tree Committee and others are group emailing about how we scared the Garden House into cutting the tree down and this was devastating news for us both.”

Bailey continued: “I brought [Sue Nicol] in after completing my report to objectively review my report, inspect the tree and attach a letter stating her second opinion. She is a highly decorated and respected Consulting Arborist. She’s one of Plant Amnesty’s highest referred Arborists. In a nutshell she thought I was exactly right about the tree. Because I proposed a viable preservation plan in my report she added another idea which was to fence off the area directly below the tree on Garden House grounds. However, that was not an option on the public sidewalk, street, or neighbor’s property, all of which were directly under these massive 30″ diameter limbs (yes, diameter, not circumference!)”

Bailey added: “[An inaccuracy] was that I aerial inspected the tree for $400. It was actually $160. Garden House is a non-profit with steep monetary problems. I was always particularly gentle with them.”

Sue Nicol, in her own email, said: “Oliver asked me to assess the tree to confirm/reject his aerial inspection of the Cedar in question in terms of risk. He apparently does not have the Risk Assessment Certification, which I do. I reviewed Oliver’s report and met with him on the site to look at, and discuss the tree. I then wrote my report, backing up his assessment. We both felt that the tree was actively failing, was in a location with significant targets underneath it, had a decayed leader at the top which was supporting a great deal of weight, and needed several actions taken to reduce its risk.

“I wrote in my report,” Nicol continued, “that if the client refused to take on those actions, that the tree needed to be removed. I felt, and still feel, that this tree could not be left to fend for itself. The likelihood of continuing branch failure was too great to do nothing. I did not meet with the clients, since they were Oliver’s clients. Oliver was my client and he paid my bill.”

Oliver added: “The scoring using ‘A Photographic Guide to the Evaluation of Hazard Trees in Urban Areas’ uses a 12 point system. 1/3 of the score is for ‘failure potential’; 1/3 for ‘target rating’; and 1/3 for ‘size of part’. When I aerial inspected the tree I found, photographed and documented a massive tear in a main trunk from a previous failure. Little more than half the trunk remained to support many thousands of pounds of tree above it aiming directly at the public below. There was another injury supporting the entire tree top (also photographed and included in report). The tree rated a 9 out of 12 which you can see is drastically different than 9 out of 10.

“The arborist community knew there is no scoring system using 10 points,” he continued, referring to Nickerson’s statement to the Beacon Hill Blog that “On a danger scale of 1-10 the tree was a 9.”

Nickerson, reached by telephone, declined to comment further. Judith Juno, President of the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs, owners of the Garden House, and Christine Wolf, Trustee and Garden Supervisor, did not respond to email queries by press time.

Asked if the tree was sick, Nicol responded: “If the definition of sick is having a disease, then the tree was not sick, except for its decayed top. Overall the tree was healthy. However, it was showing regular sudden branch loss of branches over 20 inches in diameter with healthy wood breaking. And there was a high likelihood that branches would land either on the roof of the home to the south or on the sidewalk, people, and/or cars to the west; or onto the events lawn to the north and east.

“Should it have been cut down? No, if the owners were willing and able to spend the money to preserve it adequately and take on the liability of additional branches falling without warning. Oliver could have done a good job of reducing the risk of this tree by cabling the longest branches and reducing a few of the heaviest ones. I would recommend that end weight be reduced to side branches.

“Would that have left us a still-magnificent tree? Probably.”

Bailey said that he offered to preserve the tree using the Cobra Cabling System, which involves using “dynamic polypropylene line” to keep a tree aloft, for $600, “less than half the cost I normally would on a tree like this. The materials would have cost $600. I really wanted them to keep the tree.”

“One thing I’m very disappointed about,” concluded Bailey, “is that the community offered to pay to preserve and maintain the tree. Nobody ever told me that. I would have been first in line as one of their Arborists. I suspect Garden House was shaken and after months of meeting and deliberation, just didn’t want the risk of getting someone killed.”

“The best thing to do,” finished Nicol, “would be to encourage the clients to plant a new tree in their garden and for everyone to learn how to be good tree stewards.”

13 thoughts on “Heritage tree removal still stirring up conflict”

  1. Well, the Blue Atlas Cedar is gone. There is no point in pointing fingers and suggesting what might or might not could have been done.
    The last paragraph by Sue Nichol is the best. Plant a new Blue Atlas Cedar or other conifer near the same area but placed more centrally to let it grow without any danger to sidewalk or roofs.

    I had said earlier I would be glad to make a donation along with others who are interested, toward a tree of some size( not a 2
    foot tree). It is hoped the Garden Club Board can agree on a solution as suggested above and receive support from Beacon Hillers as well.

  2. Is this an April Fool’s joke? Otherwise I agree with Lenny. There is no point in pointing fingers now that the tree is gone. And what’s with the “did not respond to email queries by press time?” This is a website…why use such an outdated concept of “press time”? It isn’t a breaking news story. You certainly could have allowed more time which makes me question if this is indeed just a bad April Fool’s joke.

  3. Jennifer, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. (I’d come up with a funnier one if so.) “Press time” was probably the wrong term to use, but my understanding is that the reporter contacted Ms. Juno and Ms. Wolf some time ago, and at some point you have to say “we are going to move ahead.” You can’t wait indefinitely.

    Keep in mind that the arborists’ concern was that they felt inaccuracies in the earlier statements were affecting their professional status. If this is true, delaying the article indefinitely might cause them further difficulty.

    It’s one of those things that is really “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” and I expect that some people will not be happy. But we don’t have a space limit, and would be glad to post responses from anyone who feels it’s necessary to respond.

    I am glad that people feel so strongly about both the tree and the two articles.

  4. “I suspect Garden House was shaken and after months of meeting and deliberation, just didn’t want the risk of getting someone killed.”

    Well, Duh!

    This is helpful to get more of the whole story, but the descriptions of the tree’s problems straight from the arborists only confirms my opinion that the right decision was made and the tree needed to come down. There is a lot of talk of volunteers preserving and maintaining the tree, but who volunteered to accept the liability if a branch eventually breaks and lands on a car, the house next door, or a person walking on the site walk? Apparently insurance wasn’t an option, which isn’t a surprise. Plus, didn’t the neighbor request that the overhanging portion be cut back?

  5. “Keep in mind that the arborists’ concern was that they felt inaccuracies in the earlier statements were affecting their professional status. If this is true, delaying the article indefinitely might cause them further difficulty.”

    Were the arborists even named in the original story? I don’t understand how their professional status was being affected if they weren’t even being named. It seems to me that instead they saw an opportunity to get some free publicity by continuing to beat this dead issue.

  6. I agree with Sarah. I will be happy to donate when we find out who to will handle the funds and determine whether there should be another Blue Atlas Cedar or another kind of conifer, and where to plant it .
    Again, a nice size tree. Perhaps one of the Arborists in the previous blog could advise ,pro-Bono (free) of course just for the noteriety, and
    procure a tree of considerable size.

  7. I fully appreciate the arborist’s desire to set the record straight. Whether their names were included in the orignal article or not, the full story deserves to be heard. I am dismayed when people say, “Oh, this is done, why even keep talking about it”. I’d like to think there may be lessons to be learned. It seems the Garden House made a business decision, but didn’t fully consider the impact on the community. Perhaps by talking about this, future decisions will be made within a different context of how the community will respond. By the Garden House and for others.
    I don’t know what the best decision was, but the account the Garden House gave was incomplete at best. Their lack of attention to community wishes is something to think about when if you are considering using their facility.

  8. I,for one, agree with Sue Nicol’s last paragraph in her assessment
    of the tree. basically ,plant a new tree and let everyone learn to be good tree stewards.
    Further in Carol’s blog she writes “oh this is done ,why keep talking about it” . Well, true , the tree is gone, we need to move on with other plans such as having the Garden Club plant a new tree.
    As far as I know, it is the Garden Club’s property and it was their tree. As to the seemingly convoluted different advice, and it was their decision ,from the advice they received, rightly or wrongly, that the tree should go.
    As to learning about these actions , we found out committees make decisions all the time ,rightly or wrongly from the advice received and act on it. We as individuals can learn to study advice to the best of our ability in any of our decisions.

    So , hopefully,with donations from the community, The Garden Club may choose to plant a new tree.

  9. Jennifer, really? “Opportunity to get some free publicity”? That couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason I contacted the blog was simply to clear up the inaccuracies and get the full story out there. Whether named in the original blog article or not, everyone knew who evaluated the tree, it’s public record. For example, the damages which weakened the tree were never even devulged to the public who swore the tree shouldn’t have come out. Or that our firm refused to remove the tree, only preserve it. The inaccurate “9 out of 10” quote made it sound as though I scared Garden House into removal, then I conveniently removed the tree. Andrew Hamlin didn’t have all the information at the time of the original article. Now he does and I really appreciate his update. Ultimately it’s very sad this tree was removed but Garden House weighed their options very carefully. Only they truly had all the information and opted to favor on the side of human safety.

  10. OK, one last comment on “the tree” . I agree with Oliver. to repeat, It was the Garden Club’s decision, on their property and their tree, and their decision to make,right or wrong, from all the advice they received.
    Now can we get on with it, as to what plans they want to make, if
    any. What ever they are, we need to abide by their choices.

  11. It’s always hard to remove a tree when it has a lot of history behind. It’s sad considering that this could have been avoided.

  12. Well, we can’t undo the past in this case. I totally agree with Nicol’s last lines. Plant a new tree! I had offered to contribute to that idea early on. It can still be a memorial/heritage tree. The tree can be placed where the experts think best, whether it is a new Blue Atlas Cedar, perhaps a Blue Spruce ( I planted a 4 foot one in front of my house 28 years ago, it is healthy and probaby
    25+ feet tall, and a pretty blue. No maintenance required, except sweeping the needles off the sidewalk. In retrospect, I probably should have planted it further back. The Garden Club Board can make that choice for which ever tree is chosen. I’d like a Blue spruce, they are magnificent.

    Again , I would contribute to a tree along with others to be the new Heritage Tree. But one taller than 4 feet probably.
    Apologies for almost reiterating the same blog I wrote 4 months ago. L L

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