Monday, August 13, 2012
Editorial: Don;t lose site of the woods for one tree
Virginia Tech cut down a centuries-old tree not for a malevolent end but to protect people who use Stadium Woods.
From the RoundTable blog
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When Virginia Tech cut down an ancient tree in Stadium Woods last week, many people who care passionately about the fate of the woodland were outraged. They held a vigil that night to mourn passage of a giant. As tree lovers reflect on the loss, they also should pause to recognize that it was necessary.
This was not a pre-emptive strike for plans to cut down a large part of the 14-acre, old-growth wooded area for an indoor football practice facility. Tech officials have not publicly announced a decision where to build. Besides, it would make no sense to fell but one tree first.
Rather, this was about safety. The white oak, No. 131, was hollow on the inside. The school asked two independent arborists to assess it, and they concluded it was at critical risk of failure. If it toppled, given its size, it could hurt anyone nearby or damage surrounding healthy trees. No. 131 stood near the Corps of Cadets rappelling tower and a walking and biking trail, both of which draw a fair number of people.
So to protect the people who use the woods, Tech cut the tree down.
The school could have been more forthcoming about the decision. It might have warned people and provided a full explanation in advance. The woods are a sensitive topic. Breaking out the chain saws without telling people can only fuel distrust. But that does not make the decision to cut wrong.
Some supporters of the woods have suggested that dying and dead trees are part of a healthy, old-growth woodland. True, but Stadium Woods is not some tract in the midst of a national forest. It is a finite green space in the midst of a bustling college campus.
If Tech, as it should, opts to build its practice facility elsewhere and Stadium Woods is saved, it will not become a void. People will continue to use it. No fence will keep everyone out. That would defeat the entire point.
Active use of the woods as a recreation and education resource is one of the more compelling reasons to preserve it. Tech has an obligation to keep people safe while they study, walk, bike and relax. Sometimes that will mean removing branches or even an entire tree.