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Virginia Tech cuts Stadium Woods tree, citing safety reasons

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http://www.roanoke.com/news/breaking/wb/312601

Virginia Tech cuts Stadium Woods tree, citing safety reasons

The stump of a tree cut today in the Stadium Woods area at Virginia Tech.

Christina O’Connor | special to The Roanoke Times

The stump of a tree cut today in the Stadium Woods area at Virginia Tech.

BLACKSBURG — Today a Virginia Tech facilities crew cut down a 4-foot diameter white oak tree in the controversial Stadium Woods section of campus, causing concern among campus and community groups advocating for protection of the 14-acre forest fragment near Lane Stadium.

But Tech officials say two independent evaluations of the health of the more than 85-foot-tall tree came to the same conclusion: a 10-foot-long hollow area near the base of the trunk posed a critical risk that the tree might fall.

The tree stood adjacent to the Corps of Cadets rappelling tower, a popular walking trail and the Cranwell International Center.

“Safety trumps everything,” university spokesman Mark Owczarski said. “It posed a threat to our community. When it comes to matters of safety, we will act.”

The student-led Environmental Coalition, which has organized events in support of protecting the woods from development, is calling for a candlelight vigil near the tree tonight at 9 p.m.

“The tree was cut before we could bring in Olmstead Arborists and without giving sufficient proof as to why the tree was condemned and cut down,” according to a posting on the coalition’s Facebook page.

At the urging of the university’s Arboretum Committee — an advisory group that includes forestry experts — the university commissioned two professional evaluations of the tree’s health and safety. Certified arborists from Total Tree Health Care, Inc. in Radford and Bartlett Tree Experts out of Roanoke have inspected the tree and found that a 10-foot-long hollow section near the base of the trunk rendered it unstable.

Total Tree Health Care recommended in its report, obtained by The Roanoke Times, that the “tree should be removed in a timely manner. Until the tree can be removed, a perimeter should be set up to keep pedestrians far enough away from the tree in case it should fall before the tree can be removed safely.”

Bartlett’s report stated that “the defect(s) that have been found pose an unacceptable risk of failure of the tree. The removal of the tree is therefore recommended.”

The Arboretum Committee was informed earlier this week that the tree was slated for removal. But about a half-dozen members of the 15-member committee asked “that the tree be cordoned off to keep pedestrians away from the tree until a decision about the fate of the woods was made because that decision might influence the judgment of risk and liability associated with the tree should the woods receive some sort of “natural area” designation,” committee chairman and forestry professor Eric Wiseman wrote in an email.

“They were not necessarily objecting to the tree being removed; they were just asking for a reprieve,” Wiseman wrote.

Facilities officials didn’t respond to the request, Wiseman wrote, and the tree was cut earlier today. Large portions of its trunk lay on the ground beside the rappelling tower, and a wide perimeter around it was roped off.

A group of demonstrators gathered at the removal site during the cutting earlier today, holding protest signs. One “I love Stadium Woods” sign from that event remained on the ground at the site this afternoon.

The tree cut today was one of the older white oaks in the woods, dozens of which have been dated from 100 to more than 300 years old. The discovery of those trees prompted a grassroots effort to stop the university’s athletic department from building an indoor football practice facility on about 3 acres of the woodland. The Faculty Senate, Graduate Student Assembly and Student Government Association all passed resolutions advocating that the woods be kept intact.

Tech urban forestry professor Susan Day has said the forest fragment is unique on the east coast, and a consultant’s report valued the woods’ ecological impact at about $5 million.

After public and campus outcry on behalf of the woods, Tech President Charles Steger ordered the formation of a 15-member ad-hoc committee to study the issue and make a recommendation. The committee included athletics department officials, forestry experts, students and woods advocates. In June, the committee recommended to Steger and the Board of Visitors that the practice facility should be sited on the tennis courts adjacent to the woods.

The cutting of the tree today is not related to the practice facility debate, university spokesman Larry Hincker said. “This is totally independent of that decision,” which is pending.

Vice President for Administrative Services Sherwood Wilson is expected to make a formal recommendation on the practice facility to Steger in the next few weeks. There is no timeline for the president to make a final decision, Hincker said.

University officials first became concerned about the tree cut today about a year ago, when a grounds crew noticed a large hole at the base of the tree, Hincker said.

No one was eager to cut it down, he said. “But we’ve got a tree that was scaring people.”

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Written by vaphc

August 11, 2012 at 6:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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