Don’t be in a rush to cut courthouse trees

To the Editor:

I am concerned that the decision to remove the trees at the courthouse was hasty and ill-judged. Once mature trees are removed, they will not be replaceable in our lifetime.

According to Cornell University, sugar maples, such as those at the courthouse, are long-lived, often 300 to 400 years. While topping these trees can cause damage and promote weak limb structure, selective thinning can restore strength and vigor to them.

My inspection of these trees does not reveal any widespread disease or decay problems except in one or two. Although not a certified arborist, I do have personal experience with sugar maples in that we bought a property 12 years ago with three maples of about the same age as those at the courthouse. They also had been topped years ago, which caused them to develop thin weak branches. Over the last 12 years I have selectively removed branches which are too close together, thin or weak. Now, 12 years later, the trees appear strong, healthy and well shaped. We have not had any problem with limb breakage.

While not impugning Mr. Leatherwood's credentials, I do wonder whether he has any particular expertise with sugar maples. Just as one would not want a dermatologist to treat a heart condition, I would like to know that the decision to remove these maple trees is guided by an expert on maples.

I would also suggest that the liability concerns sound overstated. The trees are not going to rain death down on a playing child on a calm summer day. Yes, in a severe ice storm branches may break. In a severe windstorm, a tree may fall. But people are not going to be strolling or picnicking under the trees in these circumstances. Additionally, the height and location of most of the trees do not seem to pose much if any structural risk to the courthouse. Further-more, the county does have liability insurance. Has any insurance official suggested that these trees pose any undue risk?

I would be the first to advocate removal of dangerous trees. The trees in my yard are taller than those of the courthouse and they are close to my house. But there is no reason to suspect that they pose any excessive risk, nor has my insurance agent suggested such.

Yes, danger can lurk anywhere: people have been killed by lightning out of a blue sky. The question is should we sacrifice beauty to an unreasonable fear? Removing these trees is not going to make our lives appreciably safer or more comfortable. Rather, removing them will take away an icon of our community and impoverish our landscape. There should be no stampede to sacrifice the history and beauty of these trees for what seems to be a theoretical concern.

William Dinwiddie, MD

Haywood County

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