Letter is in Response to the Cutting Down of
Live Oak Trees in Aransas Pass
Live Oak Trees in Aransas Pass
My dad passed away the week of Thanksgiving. The holidays this year were a blur for me, between honoring his wish to be "taken home" to Kentucky to be buried and spending several weeks away from my own family moving his belongings to storage. He has been gone for three months and, although I'm healing more each day, his absence has left a hollowness I can't exactly explain. The lessons he shared with me and my brother Mick, however, will be passed on to our children and grandchildren.
|Photo of Big Tree at Goose Island State Park by David Allen Ilfrey Jr.|
I'd like to tell you about the one that seems to hold the most gravity for me today. He always taught us the importance of doing what's right even when it's unpopular. I have tried to live by that maxim in my personal and professional pursuits. So, in honor of my Dad the great teacher of life, I have decided to stand up for what is right but not necessarily popular.
Trees perform specific and vital functions within a given ecosystem. Native trees, especially, offer food and/or shelter to birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and other wildlife. Beneath them are companion plants -- shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses, vines, if you like -- that complete the web of life. Each member of the ecosystem depends on the others for something and often their job, their "ecological niche", is interdependent on the other members' jobs. When you remove a tree, it should be a decision reached only after consulting with horticulture experts, wildlife restorationists, members of the community, and others who may be directly or indirectly impacted.
There are plentiful sound reasons for removing these giants of ecosystems. Exotic-invasive species should absolutely be eradicated and replaced with native and some adaptable species. Unhealthy specimens might adversely affect other members of the ecosystem, thereby prompting the decision to remove a tree. In the case of a community eager to develop, a rerouting of a roadway might be a reasonable explanation for removing a tree, but only as a last resort. Sadly, none of these reasons fit the decision to clear-cut several very stately, very mature Live Oaks and replacing them with palm trees.
The trees were located in Aransas Pass and were by all accounts beloved by residents for decades. Based on their size, the trees were approximately 50-75 years old. Perhaps older. From an economic perspective, these trees were valued in the tens of thousands of dollars per tree. Specimens of their size and form are rare in the nursery industry, which could have increased their value further. Birds and other wildlife depended on those very trees for their survival. The Coastal Bend ranks at or near the top of "birdiest" locations in the United States. If we decimate the birds' habitat, they will not come. And neither will the birders, the tourists who flock to our area to observe birds in their native habitat. The absence of these trees will directly impact the economy and ecology of our region. These majestic symbols of Texas' Coastal Bend were priceless jewels brimming with beauty and history. Yet, they were cut down simply to create "consistency" within the median planting; the spaces left by the Live Oaks will be filled with approximately 30 palm trees to match a few existing specimens. For the sake of consistency, then, we have given up the Hopi diamond in exchange for a trinket from a bubble gum machine.
All of this is part of a project to promote clean air initiatives; those mature Live Oaks had been performing that function for at least two generations. How long, if ever, until the palm trees match the air-cleaning capabilities of the Live Oaks? The wildflowers that bloom in that median every spring, too, will be replaced...with turfgrass. Exotic-invasive turfgrass.
Funding for the project is being provided by TXDOT and was lobbied for by Keep Aransas Pass Beautiful. David spoke with someone from TXDOT who assured him those trees were intended to be transplanted to another location within Aransas Pass. They were not. Instead, seven or more irreplaceable specimens were cut down based on the aesthetic values of a small group of people. This decision was not based on data from experts in horticulture, wildlife management, bird habitat restoration, tourism, or general business practices. Nor were the interests of the residents in that neighborhood considered. This decision seems incongruent with the values of Keep Texas Beautiful and its affiliates in our region. In neighboring Aransas County, for example, the Live Oaks are revered and preserved: they are protected by ordinances because of their invaluable contributions to our economy and ecology.
Today, on Texas Independence Day, we celebrate the people, the symbols, and the heritage of our history. We celebrate our rugged personality. But these symbols of Texas' Coastal Bend are not being celebrated. Making firewood of these local treasures is not the right thing to do. Replacing them with palm trees and turfgrass is not the right thing to do. But standing up and speaking out about this travesty is absolutely the right thing to do. I think Dad would be proud.
- Christy Ilfrey
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