Trees axed in Redwood Grove due to drought

Grace Hase/Town Crier
After inspection and assessment by arborists, 14 redwoods in Los Altos’ Redwood Grove were cut to their stumps, primarily because the trees’ ailing health rendered them a significant hazard to visitors at the preserve.

The 14 redwood trees cut down last year in Los Altos’ Redwood Grove may not have looked sick to the untrained eye, but California’s long drought led to the trees’ demise.

“Most were cut down to the stumps because they posed a significant hazard to the public,” said Christopher Costanzo, the city’s maintenance service supervisor. “The way the redwoods die (is) from the top down. So the lower branches looked a bit green, but maybe 50 percent or more of the tree was completely dead, which is the most dangerous part of the redwood.”

According to Costanzo, the dying redwoods posed a danger to the public because redwoods can “blow out,” meaning instead of the tree entirely toppling over, the top half blows out, which can take down other trees and branches that surround it.

The axing of the redwoods has sparked public debate from residents over the past few months, as many were upset that the seemingly healthy trees had been removed without a second thought. But Los Altos Public Works Director Susanna Chan emphasized that the city did not act in a hasty manner.

“We do ongoing inspections for our trees, but in 2016 we did a citywide comprehensive condition assessment for all our tress,” she said. “All the city trees were inspected by our expert, and they identified this area as an area of concern.”

Chan said that after the 2016 assessment, the city hired another arborist to conduct a “focus evaluation.” Certified arborist Walter Levison identified the patch where the redwoods were eventually leveled as a high-risk area. He documented his reasons in a report to the city, noting that soil moisture deficit, sun exposure to exposed roots, exposure of canopies to heat from the afternoon sun and perennial drought contributed to the trees’ vulnerabilities.

Potential regrowth

Although there may be a stump-filled patch in Redwood Grove, there is still hope the trees will once again grow tall, Costanzo said.

“We’re going to monitor the new stumps (and) if they start up around the tree, we can establish a new leader,” he added. “We’re (also) going to monitor the ones we cut halfway down to see if they establish a new tree that’s safe.”

While the city and many anxious residents hope for regrowth, the lumber of redwoods past sits, awaiting its fate.

“We’re trying to find somebody to mill the wood,” Costanzo said. “We didn’t want to just waste the lumber. … (Maybe) we’ll be able to install benches in parks that are made with our own (redwoods).”

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