Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Free the Tree

Stevenson Ranch, a community unremarkable in most every regard, holds one unique distinction: the Guinness Word Record for largest tree transplanted, Old Glory.[1] At the time it was transplanted, the oak weighed over 458 tons—about the same as 50 bull elephants—and measured 104 feet across, which is twice as wide as a typical Stevenson Ranch lot. The tree's record-breaking move resolved a standoff between tree-sitter John Quigley and the developer who wanted to cut it down for road expansion. Quigley had perched in the tree for 71 days to save it, saying “the tree has a miraculous spirit.”[2] Or, as Dave Bossert chose to remember the events, “local environmental terrorists used the tree as a pawn to prevent the widening of Pico Canyon.”[3]

After its move in the winter of 2003/2004, a chain link fence was built around the oak. Ostensibly, this protected roots sensitive from being transplanted, shielded visitors from limbs which might die and fall as the tree adjusted to its new location, and separated the famed oak fromthose who might want to do it harm. From behind this fence, Old Glory's fans waited anxiously to see if the tree would survive the shock and stress of the move.
It fared splendidly. In 2011, The Signal ran a story explaining that the County of Los Angeles, which manages the park, would be taking down the fence because the tree had received a clean bill of health from the arborists who knew it well.[4]
Unfortunately, the fence remains. Arborist Jose Mercado has recommended fencing at every turn. His reasons have included "lessen[ing] the chance of liability in case a limb falls"[5] to "discourag-[ing] any climbing on the old oak."[4] I'm hesitant to cast a villain in this tale of transplantation, but at every turn, Mr. Mercado has seemed determined to keep the oak behind bars. Throughout Santa Clarita, other valley oaks (Quercus lobata) stand unfenced in communities where yes, they sometimes drop limbs, and where yes, they might be climbed, but only Old Glory stands in dreary isolation. Even the Oak of the Golden Dream, California Registered Historical Landmark No. 168 and perhaps the most significant oak tree in the state, is far more accessible to the community, surrounded by nothing but a short, rustic fence that's as much seat as security.
The fact that Old Glory remains fenced is a shame. We ought to let the neighborhood that saved it from chainsaws and bulldozers enjoy it unimpeded, to let animals move to and from the tree freely--in short, to let it be integrated into the community.

This "Oak-tober", it’s time to take the fence around Old Glory down. Contact Mike Antonovich's office at LA County. Report chain link fencing as a violation of landscaping codes if you live in Stevenson Ranch. Somehow, let's get the fence down.
[2]Read the Quigley interview with Leon Worden.
[4]The headline from 2011 reads "Old Glory still glorious"
[5]Mr. Mercado wants to keep a fence between you and your tree

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