Thursday, January 21, 2010

Have we saved that tree?

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — When it comes to saving the existing trees on the Las Cruces Downtown Mall, there’s good news and bad news.
For those who hoped to save that spectacular Chinese Pistache on the mall’s south end, the initial news was not good. It’s one of 11 trees on the city’s Downtown Mall hit list of trees that are too big or otherwise not good candidates for a move ... and officials said moving the tree would require an estimated $10,000 and bringing in out-of-state equipment.
But this week, Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he’s amenable to making changes in the downtown revitalization plan to save the tree and assistant city manager Robert Garza said Tuesday that city officials are looking into ways to do so.
The further good news is that about eight of our leafy buddies, from Italian Stone pines to another Chinese Pistache, are on the “save” list, destined for new homes in city parks, including nearby Klein and Pioneer Women’s parks, according to the city’s landscape architect, Cathy Mathews.
In response to a Jan. 10 Las Cruces Style column about tree removal during Downtown Mall renovations, many readers wrote, called and e-mailed offering to petition, protest or even picket to save their favorite trees. Others suggested that the Downtown Mall plan be redesigned to accommodate the trees.
“I hope something can be done to curve the road around them. In the town I came from, there was a Heritage Tree ordinance. Trees of a certain diameter must be preserved or must pass a community vote before they can be removed. Unless a heritage tree was diseased or damaged, it must be saved,” said Al McBrayer of Las Cruces.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t run it by the city council,” Mayor Miyagishima said of a possible heritage tree preservation ordinance.
“We’d certainly want a good, compelling reason (to destroy thriving trees). We certainly don’t want to just knock them down. We’d like to keep them and relocate them whenever possible,” Miyagishima said.
And he thinks a downtown plan modification could not only save the tree, but might also create a tourist attraction.
“I think it would be kind of nice to have the street curve around the tree. Maybe it would be like that street in San Francisco and people would come to see our street with the big tree right in the middle,” Miyagishima said, referring to San Francisco’s Lombard Street, known as “the crookedest street in the world.”
Garza said “mechanics have now been set in motion” for a redesign that could save the tree when the final phase of revitalization begins on the south end of the mall which could be as early as March of 2011.
He called the Chinese Pistache near The Music Box “a cornerstone that’s fortunately strategically planted right in the middle, which enables us to design a solution around the tree. We’re looking at options.”
Many people “see the same value and appreciate that tree. It’s a perfect tree and it’s a happy tree and has been there a long time and should be there as long as possible,” Garza said.
Since downtown revitalization began, people have been concerned about saving existing vegetation, including many trees whose roots go back several decades.
“We’ve sometimes called them the Bicentennial trees because those plantings were put in about that time, in 1976. There are some very nice trees. It’s unfortunate that we’ll have to lose some of them,” said Les Finley, the city’s horticulturist.
The outlook is not good for Flo Hosa Dougherty’s favorite tree, growing in front of a gallery complex that includes her Blue Gate Gallery on the north end block of the Downtown Mall, the next phase scheduled for revitalization and tree removals.
“This particular tree has a rich life now. People meet there, vendors seek its shade, folks munch their lunch, kids play around it and some people find it a good place to go through their recent purchase of books and start reading right there. It’s a mature beauty,” Dougherty said.
If the tree cannot be saved, she hopes it can be cut in such a way that the wood can be given to “wood artisans, carvers, turners and whittlers to transform into furniture, gates, bowls, baskets” and other works of art, which she hopes to exhibit when her section of the mall is finished.
Dougherty’s favorite tree is scheduled to fall when construction begins on the north end of the mall. The city is looking through final bids and if the council passes a final resolution to accept bid in late February, as anticipated, we’ll bid adieu to that tree in March.
But the outlook is much more promising for the Chinese Pistache on the other end of the mall.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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