The Italian Stone Pines on Anapamu are suffering from drought and are on our minds. One year ago this week Cheri penned the below article—at the time, only one of the trees was dead, now 4 are gone. Last week, the Santa Barbara Independent had this update… after reading that article, here is a column from the View Vault to compare and contrast what has and hasn’t been done over the last 12 months to save the trees.
For more information on how you can help the City of Santa Barbara help trees during the drought, specifically the Italian Stone Pines, call (805) 564-5433 or click here.
By Cheri Rae
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
–Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
When the City Arborist/Urban Forest Superintendent Tim Downey was summoned recently to appear before the Historic Landmarks Commission, the subject was, of course, trees. But not just any trees. Specifically, he was asked to report on the health of the Historic Doremus Stone Pines of the 300 to 800 blocks of Anapamu Street, which have long been designated City Historic Landmarks.
A Little History: Those mature Italian Stone Pines form a pleasantly cool, green canopy on Anapamu even the hottest day; they smell like a forest in the middle of the city, and they provide valuable natural habitat for local creatures and even other plants. On one of the trees, an opportunistic jade plant has taken up residence, high above the ground.
Beyond that, they were planted by two important historical figures in Santa Barbara botany: Dr. Augustus Boyd Doremus, who brought the seeds from the French Riviera, and his friend, Dr. Francesco Franchesci, who propagated them. Dr. Doremus (the City’s first Parks Superintendent) planted the seeds all along Anapamu Street, around 1908. The trees typically have a life span of about 150 to 200 years in optimal conditions.
When those seeds were originally planted, the street was a narrow gravel road, and the trees were free to spread their roots and limbs. Modern life has paved this piece of paradise, adding asphalt and concrete, encasing the root structure and stressing their ability to find deep water. The tough trees have buckled sidewalks, swallowed up sandstone hitching posts and cracked curbs and roadways in their struggle to survive modern life. Call it Mother Nature fighting back.
The landmarked trees have been a source of pride and have been prioritized as something worthy of great care in this town for more than a century. A careful program of trimming the roots and the tops of the trees even passed muster with Pearl Chase, who was very fond of them.
Present-Day Problems: But the problem now is that one of the trees was cut down a couple of weeks ago, without any advance notice to the usual powers-that-be who usually weigh-in on such matters.
The members of the HLC didn’t know about it; neither did the city employees who staff the counter and typically hand out the appropriate paperwork to allow a decision to be made about the condition of the tree.
And, the public was not informed in advance either. The big, old tree was not tagged before it was chopped down, leaving a sad, ugly stump in its place.
City Arborist Downey told the HLC that the tree had been monitored for several years and pronounced dead. He quoted municipal code noting that he has the right to have dead trees cut down without notifying anyone, without getting any permission from anyone. Downey complained that the city is having a hard time watering all the city’s trees, old and new, during this time of extended drought. Several times he referred to the city’s new Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP).
But when he continued defending his right to axe trees first and answer questions later; blamed the budget and the weather, and offered little in the way of urgent concern to protect these particular historic landmarks—the historic-minded commissioners stripped the bark off the arborist.
Turns out the HLC members had plenty of ideas about how to proactively to protect and defend landmark trees; and they did not hold back in offering valuable insights:
One commissioner suggested developing a crisis management plan; another offered the idea that creative methods of irrigation could be utilized; and other pointed out that permeable surfaces have been required of private parties—and placed in the parking lots of some parks, and ought to be considered by the City as well. Still another provided a lengthy lecture about how communication needs to improve, and at the very least, notify the HLC with a letter before cutting down a landmark tree, provide a plan for its replacement, and tag the trees so the public could be informed in advance.
When a lone dissenting commissioner complained that 15 minutes had already been spent on the subject and it was time to move along, his comment barely registered with his peers—but there were several eye rolls in the audience for the insensitivity on display.
The stump has now been ground into dust. And there’s news that another of the trees—on located across the street from Santa Barbara High School—has died and will need to be removed. We’ve lost a couple more in recent years, most notably one in front of the Methodist Church, where a small stone pine is doing quite nicely, but has a long way to grow before it becomes a canopy tree.
Personally, I’d like to see the protection of these trees prioritized, with a complete inventory of the entire stand, along with a comprehensive assessment of the current health of each one—and a plan to treat them with the tender loving care these giants in the city deserve in order to survive. After all, they were here first—and we have infringed on their breathing space, encasing their roots and cutting off their natural habitat.