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In Loving Memory Of An Old Oak Tree

WFAE commentator Susan Turner. align=left

If you walk through some of Charlotte's historic neighborhoods, with their well-shaded streets, it may be hard to imagine this fact: the city has lost nearly half of its tree canopy in the last 25 years. That information comes from a new study the city commissioned. Population growth and economic development are the main culprits. The Charlotte City Council is now considering a new rule that would require developers preserve more trees. A public hearing is schedule on the ordinance next month. Long-time Charlotte resident Susan Turner offers a personal take on the value of a tree. The "beeps" from the heavy equipment were insistent reminders of what was imminent - the felling of the tree two doors down in our alley in Plaza Midwood. The crane and trucks were maneuvering into position to bring the beast down. And it WAS beast. About six feet in diameter at its base, the beautiful, old oak shaded at least five of the surrounding homes for years. The first sign of trouble came when a "developer" bought the home next door and flattened it to build two in its place. I think it was his first - and hopefully his last project. No doubt he thought he was going to make a bundle, but the bank ended up foreclosing. For months, the builders parked their trucks all over the roots of the big oak tree and its two smaller siblings, bricks and lumber were piled at its base. One day, we caught a guy gouging a backhoe against the trunk of the tree in order to hastily prep space for a concrete parking pad. He was clueless as to the injury he was inflicting when we ran out to confront him. He must have thought we were women crazed, and he would have been right. After several calls to city hall, we were told that, although Charlotte prides itself as a 'city of trees,' there was nothing local officials could do to save the old beast. Trees on private property are unprotected by ordinance unless they have been granted a special designation. We watered that tree through the drought of 2008 with a hose we dragged from our yard and over our fence. But we knew the trauma and damage from the development was taking its toll. Slowly, inexorably, the highest limbs, then those further down, began to lose their leaves. The beast was in obvious distress. The bank that ended up owning the house had the old tree trimmed. But the last remaining live branches, and most of the oak's considerable weight, hung over the neighbor's home and threatened ours, too. It was an old tree, but its end was hastened by abuse suffered at the hands of those who didn't value it. That tree withstood Hurricane Hugo, countless storms and multiple droughts, but it was man that finally killed it. When the beast came down, it opened up the sky to us, but took away much of the treasured afternoon shade it gave during hot summers and caused an abrupt housing shortage for the local wildlife. We witnessed a death, inevitable, but oh so premature. Unfortunately, this is a too common occurrence in Charlotte, where the citizens proudly show off to their out-of-town visitors the magnificent tree canopies that line our neighborhoods. The trees signify much of what makes this town special. I guess I'll call our landscaper. Time to plant some trees that someone - maybe one hundred years from now - will marvel at and hopefully protect better than we did this one. Susan Turner is a tax accountant who has lived in Charlotte since 1977.

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