What Sense of Entitlement…

End of Massachusetts Street

End of Massachusetts Street

On Tuesday, I drove home with a Parks employee, let’s call her Q, who had discovered that day that three 60-foot oaks had been girdled (the bark cut all the way around to kill the tree) in Conference House Park. The damaged trees and a cleared area were behind the Park’s fence directly opposite a brick house on Massachusetts St., which borders the park.

Hmm. That’s bad. Why would someone do that?

The Sighting

On my way into work on Wednesday, I drove down Massachusetts St., and who was there but an older gentleman standing at the end of the street, scraping dirt off his adze with his foot. (That might explain the damage at the bottom of the trees—easier to do with an adze than an ax.)

So I got out of my car and said, “I’m from the Conference House Park and we noticed some damage to the trees here. Have you seen anyone working in this lot?”

“No,” he said, “I just moved in two weeks ago.”

“Oh,” I said. “Maybe landscapers or gardeners? Someone caught vandalizing a tree has to pay something like $80,000 for the damage, so….”

He seemed a bit startled by that. I said, “If you see anyone, could you call us, please? Let me give you my card.”

He took the card, and I said, “Come visit us sometime!” and smiled, and he smiled back. I didn’t go behind the fence to look, however—not yet.

Cleared area
Park area cleared by a homeowner or landscaper, not by Parks

Later that Day

Q and I went back to survey the damage and take more photos. As we poked around, we discovered that it wasn’t just three trees, it was six.

We also noticed that, on the sides of the trees facing the street, the perpetrator had piled up old branches, dirt, and old pieces of plywood. Clearly, whoever did it knew it was wrong.

We talked about why he (or she) had done it. “I think it could be because the trees shade his front lawn,” Q said. “South is behind these trees, so the afternoon light would be blocked.”

Tree with damage hidden from the street
Tree with damage hidden from the street


The next day, a Parks Department forester and an official went to look at the damage themselves. They knocked on neighbors’ doors, and I got a report about their conversation with the old man.

He repeated to them what he’d said to me—he knew nothing and he’d only lived there for two weeks. (The damage had clearly occurred within the past two weeks, maybe within the past few days.) The adze was nowhere to be found, although he brought out a few other garden implements. The official told him that the fine was $20,000 per tree and mentioned that I’d seen him with an adze.

The two Parks officials then looked at the area again and found not six, but nine trees girdled or cut down. (And also a den of feral kittens, but that’s another story.)

One of the nine girdled trees
One of the nine girdled trees

What Now?

What happens now is waiting to see whether the trees die. It’s possible that, if the cambium layer wasn’t completely cut through, the trees will survive, but it doesn’t seem likely.

For now, everyone associated with the park is keeping an eye on the end of Massachusetts St. in hopes of stopping further damage.

The whole situation is depressing, though, and has us all on edge and angry. Q described our reaction to the vandalism best: “What sense of entitlement does this man have, that he believes  he can kill trees—trees that aren’t even on his land?”

A Story about Another Arborcide

Tree-killing seems to be one of those strange psychological crimes, like arson fires set by firemen. This article about an arborcide, The Golden Bough, was in the New Yorker in 2002.

Click here for a hopeful postscript on the Golden Spruce.


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2 Responses to “What Sense of Entitlement…”

  1. Jessica Says:

    I’m more than saddened. How dare this person rob me, my friends, my neighbors & our children’s children of these trees? I want to see the City prosecute this man. I want him to pay every penny plus interest for the life of those trees. I am furious over this & have been noticing more & more tree damage across the island. Across the street from the entrance to the College of Staten Island, along Victory Blvd just beside the onramp to the express-way, I noticed not one but 4 trees in plain site that had been chopped down, most likely with an axe as the cuts weren’t as even as a chain saw. The stumps were uneven, above waist high & completely unlike any tree clearing I’ve seen.
    Why would anyone kill a tree– but on land that’s not theirs? And on Park Land no less?
    I might just have to walk on my Mr ‘Adze’s’ House & see what he has to say for himself… perhaps the Advance would be interested in knowing about.
    With all the talk about our country infringing on our constitutional rights, with the government turning communist & all that mumbo-jumbo– how can someone so flout everyone else’s rights by damaging trees?
    It’s beyond sense, reason, decency…it’s almost beyond words.

  2. livingthenonprofitlife Says:

    If you don’t see the vandal actually wielding an ax or chainsaw, you can’t do much about it.

    However, if you DO witness an attack on a tree, you can call the police or Parks Enforcement (call 311 for Parks). I wouldn’t directly challenge someone with an ax in his or her hand.

    (I wonder if attacks on trees have gone up since Mayor Bloomberg started the Million Trees program. It would be interesting to find out.)

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