Letter to the Editor | Update Re: 'The Cutting Down of Live Oak Trees in Aransas Pass' by Christy Ilfrey

Author Christy Ilfrey

The letter I wrote last week in response to the clear-cutting of Live oaks in Aransas Pass appears to have touched a nerve. Thank you for sharing my words and adding your own. It is clear the community consensus is that the trees should never have been cut down. And by community, I refer to the entire Coastal Bend. Yes, this decision affects those of us residing outside of Aransas Pass, too. Those trees are gone. Forever. They were part of the history of this region and a rapidly disappearing ecosystem known as the Live Oak/Redbay forest. Removing them is like decapitating the plant community, and replacing them with palm trees is like putting a jack-o-lantern on the headless horseman.

Many of you have asked about the timeline of this decision. An article written by Norma Martinez and published in the Aransas Pass Progress Index states that representatives on behalf of Keep Aransas Pass Beautiful drafted the concept of removing the Live oaks and replacing them with palm trees. These representatives are volunteers from the community, not employees of the city. Their function is to beautify their service area with permission from public officials representing their service area. KAPB conceived the plan to remove the trees then approached TxDOT about funding their proposal to “revamp” the median. They applied for TxDOT’s green ribbon landscape grant. After the funding was approved, KAPB representatives approached the Aransas Pass City Council about completing the project and to secure approval for transplanting the oaks to Veterans Memorial Park. Later it was determined the oaks could not be transplanted. Ms. Martinez’ article asserts the oaks will be replaced with palms and “native grasses.”

First, as I explained in my previous letter, the value of the Live oaks in terms of natural and cultural history – as well as retail value – should have indicated the need for an immediate revamping of the design…not the median. Ironically, the grant money is awarded by TxDOT as part of a green ribbon landscape program to improve air quality. Mature live oaks do more to improve air quality than freshly planted palm trees. Wildflowers, such as winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), that have been thriving independently in that median contribute to clean air, too. The existing plan calls for bermudagrass, an exotic-invasive turfgrass, not native grasses. Further, establishing pallets of newly-planted bermudagrass requires excessive water, another precious natural resource. Add to that, fertilizers to make the turf grow; herbicide to suppress weeds; routine lawn maintenance to keep it manicured: any potential for improving air quality has now been offset by loud and air-polluting machinery.

So, aside from being part of this subtropical paradise known as Texas’ Coastal Bend, why would I care? What do I want? I care, because for the past year I have participated in an Aransas Pass-based non-profit organization comprised of people who truly care about their city. I have learned about the economic transitions in Aransas Pass that have occurred since the late-70s and early-80s. I have learned about improvements within the school district and budget cuts intended to make AP a better place to live, to work, and to play. I’ve heard first-hand the dreams of merchants to make downtown a destination. I want their voices to be heard and their interests – OUR collective interests – to be respected. The city has plans to create a system of hike and bike trails and at least forty more trees are expected to be removed to make way for these new amenities. These amenities add value to the community but only if they do not destroy existing attractions.

All of this can happen in very simple, measurable ways. First, modify the Harrison median design to call for Live oaks instead of palms, and Horseherb or other no-mow alternatives to bermudagrass. Better yet, restore part of the Live Oak/Redbay forest by also installing understory plants, such as Redbay, Yaupon Holly, Southern Wax Myrtle, American Beautyberry, Coralbean, and Turk’s Cap. Native ornamental grasses and coastal prairie perennials would be another sound alternative to the proposed plan. Second, establish city and county ordinances to preserve Live oaks (to mirror those in Aransas County). The damage has already been done, as they say, but we do not have to let it happen again. Detour the route of the hike and bike trails to allow those forty trees to be saved. And finally, put palm trees in open spaces without disturbing mature, native vegetation.

The letting of the contract will be March 17th, so there is still time to make your voice heard. Share your opinion in concise, precise, and clear statements with Mayor Adan Chapa and the four members of the Aransas Pass City Council; Representative Geanie Morrison and Senator Lois Kolkhorst; Keep Texas Beautiful and their local affiliates; and TxDOT. Although we cannot instantly restore the majesty of those regal live oaks, we can still do the right thing: we can move beyond accusations to find solutions to conserve, preserve, restore, and celebrate our community. Together.

- Christy Ilfrey

Opinion pieces/submitted articles and comments are the thoughts of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WWN.

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