Editorial: A thoughtless tree disaster

With apologies to poet Joyce Kilmer, who penned the eternal “Trees,” poem, an old ditty goes something like this:

I think that I shall never see

A sign lovely as a tree.

Indeed unless the sign should fall,

I’ll never see the tree at all!

This doggerel sprang to mind last week with news that a landscaping contractor thoughtlessly cut off the tops of four beloved maple trees along Highway 20 in central Oak Harbor, with the intent of making shopping center signs more visible from the highway. In this case the trees were felled to allow us to see the signs better, which is simply scandalous. It is ironic indeed that the uber pruning certain to kill the trees took place just a few days before Cass Turnbull, founder of Plant Amnesty, spoke to a group of Whidbey Island gardening buffs. “Topping is for your banana split, not your tree,” Turnbull says with good humor, but there wasn’t much humor to be found among those who love the doomed trees in Oak Harbor.

The trees got their start as part of a massive Highway 20 beautification effort 20 years ago. Oak Harbor beautification boosters, organized under the Heritage Way committee, scraped up funding for 200 maple trees, many boasting plaques honoring the sponsoring individual or organization. Since then the trees have thrived in their grassy meridian, dividing the highway from the shopping area, providing a badly-needed touch of green and shade in an asphalt wasteland.

City employees deserve credit for stopping the tree “pruning” before it went and further. Who knows how many trees the contractor would have cut to improve the view of the many commercial signs in the area.

Now, it is the city’s responsibility to see that the contractor or shopping center owner — whichever is responsible — makes full restitution by replacing the beloved trees with maples just as tall and just as gorgeous. It’s not cheap transplanting larger trees, but it can be done and in this case it must be done. Because the signs we now clearly see aren’t nearly as pretty as the trees.

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