As tragic it appears to witness the 130-year-old American Elm Trees being deconstructed at the Historic Colusa County Courthouse, the trees were a symbol of growth and community.
Social media was flooded with ardent messages Saturday morning as chainsaws and wood chippers geared up to remove the hazardous trees from the courthouse steps.
“It was a difficult decision for the Board of Supervisors to make,” said Colusa County CAO, Bob Mazar, “I don’t think anyone wanted to see the trees removed; however, this is a matter of public safety.”
After evaluating an arborists review of the health conditions of the trees, the Colusa County Board of Supervisors voted to remove the trees.
A certified arborist from Richard’s Tree Service conducted an evaluation of the trees. The arborist recommended that two of the trees to be removed and the remaining three trees to be pruned significantly and topped.
However, due to the historical significance of the trees, the county contracted consulting arborist, Denice Britton, to give a second opinion.
Britton commented in her report, I found these historic trees to be seriously compromised by decay resulting from severe topping at approximately 30’ to 40’ that occurred many years ago Topping trees results in the vigorous regrowth of many upright sprouts. These sprouts are only attached to the wood produced since the tree was topped while the wood in the trunk at the time of topping begins to decay. As a result, the sprouts – now the current branches – are 6” to 12” or more in diameter and growing on the outside edges of these old cuts, supported by only 3” to 5” of sound wood below the callus growth. The upper portions of these original trunks are hollow for 4’ to 10’ below the opening, creating nesting cavities currently inhabited by barn owls, an introduced species common in farm lands. The sprouts or branches growing from these hollow shells are now 30’ to 40’ tall, quite heavy and exposed to winds.
“In my opinion, these trees are too decayed to leave in place in their current condition. They present a high risk to the public, especially to vehicular traffic and pedestrians going to and from the courthouse,” said Britton, “The area underneath the trees has been cordoned off for now.
The most prudent thing to do would be to remove all the trees and replant them at this time. However, the elms are particularly vigorous and resilient. Despite the fact that they are decayed, according to current science and wood strength formulas, they likely have the ability to survive another crown reduction – so that at least 2 or 3 of the trees could be reduced in an effort to retain the historic character of the courthouse landscape.”
The Board of Supervisors reviewed the report by Britton and made the determination to remove all five trees.
“It is pretty clear that the trees pose a significant danger to the public and have to be removed,” said Colusa County Supervisor, John Loudon, “The board researched several opportunities to save the trees, but no option was in the best interest of the county.”
Loudon commented that it was a difficult decision for the board.
Replanting on the Horizon
In the spirit of maintaining the heritage of the 125-year-old trees, the Board of Supervisors agreed to propagate new trees from the existing trees to replant or plant elsewhere in the county.
Although removing all five of the trees, only four trees will be completely removed, said Colusa County Public Works Director, Stephen Hackney. The fifth tree located at the corner of Market and 5th Street will remain throughout the winter and spring season so that the tree can be propagated using the new growth.
“The board has made the decision to replace the trees once removed; however, the variety of tree has not been chosen at this time,” said Mazar.
Reuse and Recycle
Following the removal of the trees, the Board of Supervisors hope to discover an opportunity to repurpose the wood and somehow incorporate it back into the courthouse.
“A supervisor mentioned they would like to see some benches or objects crafted out of the trunks and used at the courthouse,” said Hackney, “we are also seeking other projects as well.”