Friday, September 16, 2011

Trees Under Attack - Arborcide Crimes



As far as crime scenes go, the one in Floral Park was rather unusual. The victims: Three 12-year-olds. Each 15 to 20 feet tall. Slim builds. Oak species. The weapon: what appears to be a saw. The evidence: three stumps and some residual sawdust. The reward: $1,500 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

New Yorkers take their trees very seriously. So when the three fallen trees alongside Hillside Avenue in Queens were discovered by community members in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, outrage ensued. This was no accident, the locals decreed, this was a crime: an arborcide—and a premeditated one at that, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"Someone used some type of electric saw and cut them 95% through and left them standing and figured the storm, Irene, would be blamed," said Fred Kress, president of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces. "It's just stumps out there, it's sickening. I don't really have any tolerance for this stuff."

There are punishments for arborcide: A conviction for removing or damaging a tree brings with it up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $15,000.

Some in the community think the punishment fits the crime.

"If you're going to do the crime, you have to pay," said Michael Castellano, a local civic leader who was at the crime scene this week.

Mr. Castellano was among a group of community members who alerted local officials to the incident. Council Member Mark Weprin got on the case (nothing like railing against arborcide to generate some community good will) and called for a press conference.

The authorities were called in and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe deemed the arborcide a "serious criminal offense" and an "assault on our communities." The damage: more than $11,000 (and these were just your run-of-the-mill oaks).

Mr. Weprin is using campaign contributions for $1,000 of the reward; the remainder is coming from the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces.

In a city where asphalt reigns, trees are a precious commodity. The city's campaign to plant 1 million new trees is going strong, about halfway there, according to its website.

Neighborhoods frequently lobby for more trees, and casualties are obviously not taken lightly. In Crown Heights, neighbors were distraught last year when a serial tree killer was on the loose.

Tree advocates still haven't gotten over the willow tree that was cut down to make way for Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

And just last week, signs in Forest Hills began popping up urging residents, or rather their furry friends, to stop disrespecting trees.

"Try being force fed dog urine! every day and see how you survive," the sign reads. "Please help to keep these trees Living!"

Arborcides are more common than one would think. To wit:

• In March of 2008 and 2009, a total of 47 red cedars were vandalized in Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan.

• In September of 2009, seven trees in Lefferts Playground in Queens, planted as part of a Sept. 11 memorial, were destroyed.

• And no park has had it worse than Juniper Valley in Queens. In 2009, there were at least four incidents of tree destruction, with more than 20 trees affected. A year later, two young trees there were destroyed.

The mystery of the tree-hater plaguing Juniper Valley Park was never solved, despite numerous rewards offered (which included dueling rewards from City Council candidates).

In one case, 12 young cherry trees were cut off with a power tool and dragged around the park. Just last month, an evergreen was knocked down.

"It hasn't been a good few years for trees in Juniper Valley Park," said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Valley Park Conservancy.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Parks Advocates, said that in most instances those who get caught for damaging trees are contractors.

But he also points a finger at the city.

"The city is also committing arborcide," he said, pointing to an instance last year when it cut down 56 trees at Lincoln Center before Fashion Week. (The Parks Department, obviously, vehemently objects to this.)

In Floral Park, the tree-cutting episode has exposed racial tensions in a community that has developed into a "Little India," with an influx of Indian immigrants and businesses shaking up the old order.

The block where the incident took place includes Masala 2 Wok, Mumbai Xpress, an Indian astrologer and the forthcoming Balaji Super Bazar.

On the aptly named "Queens Crap" blog, comments quickly devolved into blaming "animals" who want "nothing to do with America."

The underlying assumption among some was that the owners of the new supermarket must have had something to do with it. The trees blocked the store's fa├žade and a fourth tree on the block was conspicuously left standing.

As the scene this week, I asked Mr. Castellano if anyone had spoken to the grocery store's owner. He had not.

But minutes later, out came Rakesh Kumar, the owner, hand extended and eager to talk. Mr. Kumar called the tree cutting "very bad." He said his landlord had also condemned the act.

"People are pointing fingers at us," said Mr. Kumar. "First day it happened I said, 'It's a small tree first of all and it doesn't bother us.'"

He continued: "We know the rules and regulations of this country," noting that if they wanted to take the tree down they know they would have had to get city approval. He is now offering to plant new trees and to pay all the associated costs.

"According to our custom, we worship the trees," he said.

Mr. Kumar has his own theory about what might have happened. "We have a lot of competitors around here, our supermarket competitors," he said, rattling off the names of nearby Indian supermarkets.

And so the speculation continues.

Like so many arborcides, the Floral Park ones may never be solved.

Because none of the businesses appear to have surveillance videos of the trees, information is scarce.

"The investigation is still ongoing," said a spokeswoman for the police department.

For the time being, at least, this one appears to have everyone stumped.

Read More:

The Wall Street Journal- September 15, 2011 - By Sumathi Reddy

1 comment:

  1. Install cameras in all parks and catch those bastards.