Tree-top debate


POSTED: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An arborist for the Outdoor Circle is afraid that almost 100 ironwood trees being pruned at Kapiolani Park are in danger of disease or death in an unfortunate case of deja vu.

Mark Leon, an arborist representing the Outdoor Circle, called the trimming of these trees “;devastation—absolutely.”;

“;It's like telling my doctor my arm hurts and the doctor ends up amputating it,”; said Leon, president of Sunshine Landscape Co.

But city spokesman Bill Brennan said pruning the 97 trees near Dillingham Fountain is “;the right thing to do.”; The city's Division of Urban Forestry authorized the trimming, which started Thursday and will continue until Friday.

Leon disagrees.

“;They took too much off, which will increase decay, and they're cutting in the wrong places,”; he said. “;When you take such a big cut and take away so much foliage—the only food source the tree has—the tree can't compartmentalize or wall off the decay. The decay then runs through the entire tree, and the tree can't grow new mass.”;

Outdoor Circle CEO Mary Steiner was notified of the pruning last week by Richard Berry, a resident who has lived since 1970 in an apartment building overlooking the ironwoods on the Diamond Head end of Kalakaua Avenue.

Berry said he noticed last week that Trees of Hawaii Inc. was “;topping off”; the trees.

“;It looks like a crewcut,”; he said.

Some of the branches cut were “;as long as 25 feet,”; he said.

In the mid-1980s, he remembers, about 20 trees gradually died after such a severe trimming.

“;I fear the same thing is going to happen again. The health of the trees was compromised. The termites got into them and hollowed them out. We love those trees. It's a shame to see them die off. Plus, they're not doing anything to replace them.”;

Brennan said, “;The trees were topped many, many, many years ago. We don't top trees as a rule. For most species it's not the way to go. When a tree has been topped, as these were, they require a different kind of pruning.

“;Our arborists and Urban Forestry people have determined this (method) as the best way to prune these trees,”; Brennan said.

Noe Undan, an arborist for Trees of Hawaii, said his company was hired to reduce the height of the trees to prevent the highest, weakest branches from being snapped off by the wind. Some of the branches were termite-infested, he added. Some of the 97 ironwoods are about 60 years old, up to 55 feet high and vary from 1 to 4 feet in diameter, Undan said.

“;We are cutting less than 30 percent (of each tree's height) ... about 20 percent,”; which amounts to about 15 feet, depending on the height of the tree, he said.