Randall Beach: Readers stand tall for our trees

An expansive copper beech tree at 31 West Prospect St. in New Haven, across the street from where columnist Randall Beach lived for about seven years.

Three weeks ago I wrote a column about why trees are important, how they help us and the environment and why we should notice and protect them.

The response from you, the readers, was immense and heartfelt. I even heard from Ralph Nader!

But Dianne Witte, who lives on the west side of New Haven, had the most interesting message of all, at least for me personally. It made me wince and it proved my initial point that magnificent trees are all around us but we don’t take the time to notice and appreciate them. We are too busy, too distracted, too clueless. That includes me, a “tree person.”

Witte was following-up on my rave about a copper beech tree in Edgerton Park, on the New Haven-Hamden line. I wrote that it’s my favorite tree.

“My favorite tree in New Haven is also a copper beech,” Witte wrote. “It’s at the crest of the hill on West Prospect Street, which runs between Whalley Avenue and Fountain Street.”

What?! She was describing a tree very close to the house where I lived for about seven years, from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. And I had never noticed it. I couldn’t remember it at all.

And so I took a drive to my old neighborhood, and there it is! That large, beautiful old tree is almost directly across from my old driveway. I was so blind.

Witte told me the City of New Haven had to take down an ash tree in front of her house because “it was not doing well and was susceptible to the ash borer.” But like me, Witte knew about the Urban Resources Initiative offer to plant replacement trees for free and she, too, took advantage of the program. “URI gave us two trees, a lacy elm and an American linden and they’re doing well.”

Meanwhile, I received a long phone message from Nader, the famed consumer crusader, saying he liked my trees column. He had read it because he maintains his ties to his boyhood town of Winsted and my column was picked up by The Litchfield County Times, another Hearst Connecticut newspaper.

“My favorite tree growing up in Winsted was a maple tree,” Nader told me in his message. “I grew up watching the birds in it, watching the squirrels, watching the wind flit through its beautiful branches. It was a lovely tree, part of my upbringing. I called it ‘a sweetie of a tree.’ In the fall it produced a blanket of colorful leaves.”

When I called him back, Nader continued to rhapsodize about that old maple. “I even climbed it at times. I climbed up maybe 25 feet. I sat up there, hearing the whistling of the winds. It had a multiple, intangible effect on a seven-year-old. And it provided a refuge for all kinds of entities, including birds.”

And then he started to sound like the Nader we know and most of us appreciate: “Insurance companies are out to scare homeowners: ‘See that tree? It could fall down on your roof!’ Utility companies eviscerate trees. They cut out the heart of them to get to the wires. Winsted used to be a tree-lined community. No more! Now you’ve got stumps.”

Nader said his book “17 Traditions” contains an essay in which he writes about his affection for that sweet old maple.

“This is not a good time for trees,” he said as we concluded our conversation.

Yes, I also heard from people who are standing up and fighting to save the trees in their communities. Greg Martin, who directs constituent services for the City of Ansonia, sent me detailed emails about the sad situation there. He said for years “I have been outspoken to anyone who will listen regarding utilities’ approach to tree removal. I have argued that dead, diseased, dying or grossly wire-entangled trees should be removed but all other (healthy trees) should be pruned only.”

“We’ve all seen first-hand perfectly healthy trees felled by utility companies on private property per request/approval of property owners,” Martin noted. He said that recently some healthy hardwood maple trees and prime age blue spruces were taken down on Ford Street.

Martin said property owners should know “removal of trees reduces property value, increases air-conditioning electricity needs due to no more shade and your home will now bake like a loaf of bread in the oven.”

Martin concluded: “I firmly believe that the current ‘vegetation management’ program is clearly designed to remove as many streetscape trees as possible in the state.” He said “vegetation management” is what the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority or the United Illuminating Co. calls the tree removal program. A PURA spokesperson did not return my phone call requesting comment before my deadline.

It’s clear many of us feel helpless when trees suddenly come down near our homes because often there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Pamela Franco, who lives on Woodin Street in Hamden, said her next-door neighbor cut down about 20 trees that stood on the neighbor’s property but greatly enhanced her property.

Franco said the neighbor left a note in her mailbox on a Sunday, informing her the trees were coming down. She didn’t see it because who checks his or her mailbox on a Sunday? The next day, Columbus Day, Franco went to work — and when she came back, “all the trees were down.”

“It was the only shade I had,” she told me over the phone. “This has violated my yard, my life. I’ve been crying. I’m hurt, saddened, sickened. Those trees were huge, maples and others.”

But here’s a happier message from Susan Wineland of Orange. She told me that several years ago many of the old trees on her property were slated for removal by UI and its tree-cutting company, Asplundh. She called PURA headquarters in New Britain and was immediately given support with a cease and desist order.

“Soon thereafter a wonderful arborist from Asplundh walked the grounds of my property with me and agreed to be on site while only minor tree trimming was done,” Wineland said. “I couldn’t have been more pleased with the excellent professional assistance I received from PURA and Asplundh.”

However, Wineland added: “My deep concern is that while many peole support environmental protection as a theoretical concept, they do little within their power to make sure to protect the essential living species of trees, plantings and wildlife on their properties.” She said she wants to remind the public “about the trees that surround us and the devastating effects to all of us by their removal.”

Johnna Gurr also emailed me to say: “I love trees as well. Daily I surround myself with all kinds, especially pine, maple, dogwood and birch. As a teenager, I would often climb up to a well-worn spot on a crabapple limb with a book. And spend hours there.”

Finally, Theresa Champagne told me: “I get disgusted when I drive down roads that were once so pretty and are now so barren. I cringe every time I see a bucket truck and guys trimming trees. The utility companies have been way too aggressive!”

Champagne has noticed “all the people taking down trees so their lawns are wide open. Heaven forbid you have to take time away from your phone to rake leaves! If you don’t like yard work, buy a condo. A home without trees and shrubs is devoid of character, same as the owners.”

Champagne added, “I feel sorry for the animals having their habitats taken away from them. The people around here have no respect for nature. So, as to (what is) my favorite tree: All of them. I marvel at their beauty all the time, especially in the fall. Go hug a tree.”

Connecticut Media Group