Somebody mentioned to me awhile ago that to do good by its trees Alameda needs to adopt a “tree-first” policy.
I wholeheartedly agree, but I’ve been also thinking what exactly that means. No doubt, it’s different things to different people.
To me, it means 1) noticing there are trees around us and 2) acting as if they really matter—like pedestrians matter to drivers for example, or pets matter to their owners. That would mean a status almost on par with ourselves, and an attitude towards trees that matches that status. But I don’t think we are such “tree-thinking” society yet.
In fact, I have a small collection of examples of how much of an afterthought, if that, trees really are to us and how the way we act and think really shows a lack of tree awareness that is detrimental to our surroundings, quality of life, and even budget. I’ve written about such tree afterthoughts here and here, but wanted to share couple more recent ones.
One was a case a couple weeks ago where a permit was issued for sidewalk work by a home owner, and the person cut some roots of the street tree on the sidewalk during work, whether from ignorance or by accident, who knows. The result is that the tree is now considered hazardous and will need to be removed—and replaced at city expense. Was this preventable? Sure, with some forethought. Public Works (they claim now the tree was previously deceased with root rot but that’s another story) could have advised the resident about the tree or made sure to supervise the tree’s well-being while the work is underway. Chances are though, the idea simply did not cross anyone’s mind. Chances are, the person who signed the permit didn’t even know and didn’t wonder whether there is a tree in the way the work s/he approved. It took a phone call to bring this fact to their attention. (They did say they would address similar situations in the future.)
My other example also involves construction, at a school site over the summer, where workers were installing cables next to some newly planted gingko trees, dumping the dug up soil around them, leaning a wooden palette on one of the thin trunks, and generally acting like the trees were some cheap replaceable furniture, not living things in the environment worthy of consideration. A conversation and a visit from the principal cleared that up (that the trees need to be protected during work). Again, I wonder if the trees were ever noted on the plan as existing objects when the workmen got it? Does the district even know how many trees are around each school? I know the volunteers who planted them had to get a permit to plant them, so likely there is a map somewhere… Regardless, looks like nobody told the contractor prior to the work, “Watch those trees, okay?” (Contrast this with construction work around Lake Merrit in Oakland, where trees had orange fencing around them for the longest time and a sign that said “Careful around trees.” But then there was a big tree removal controversy there, so that may have had something to do with it…)
Controversies aside, I think our society needs a serious mental switch when it comes to trees. A mental switch doesn’t cost a penny—and in some cases saves a bundle, for tree replacements for example, when such preventable oopsies happen. But mental switches come about slowly, not unlike growing a tree from a seed.
Here’s what I think a different tree mentality looks like though: I read these two news reports and I found the differences interesting—one is about the fires near Santa Cruz, CA (or any CA fire account for that matter, see L.A. ) and the other one about the fires nearAthens, Greece.
It’s hard to miss a certain difference in focus (people losing their possessions, trees as “fuel on the ground” vs. “ecological disaster”). I know that’s not accidental. When I was in Europe in the summer 2007, when Greece was again engulfed in fires, the disaster was being called as much an environmental one as it was economic and human. What’s more, people (on radio) mourned the burned forests as much as they mourned the loss of life and property. It was refreshing (though sad of course) to hear someone feeling devastated over the loss of an ancient forest instead of several million dollars and a swimming pool for a change.
I hope I’m planting some seeds when I write these things. I know there are people out there who care and see, and other who care but don’t quite know how to see. Where to start? I’d say, looking up more, noting the trees around, learning something about them, is a good first step. If more of us do more of the above, we’ll be happily on our way to becoming tree thinkers, and having policies that are “tree-first” will be no burden at all. Because it’s harder to ignore or hurt a tree you’ve gotten to know personally, right?