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Dane County Parks Celebrates Earth Week by Cutting Down Many Large Trees

Dane County Parks Celebrates Earth Week by Cutting Down Many Large Trees

(Cut tree stumps treated with pesticides, Lake View Hill Park, April 23rd)

On Earth Day and the day after, April 22rd and April 23th 2014, contractors hired by Dane County Parks cut down several large, healthy trees near the top of Lake View Hill Park, a county “conservancy” on Madison’s north side, near Warner Park. Some of the trees, just south of the old nurse’s dorm, were mature and productive mulberries that neighborhood children have harvested delicious berries from for years. They were also habitat and favorite food sources for deer, birds, and other wildlife. Sadly, this summer animals and kids who go there for berries will find their beloved trees gone—replaced by pesticide-sprayed stumps. Happy Earth Day from Dane County Parks!

Why? When asked what the rationale was for cutting down all these large trees, Nelson Eisman, Dane County Parks staff who directed the contractors to cut the trees, said that the roots were damaging the old stone wall of the nurse’s dorm, which will be demolished soon. Further, he said, “they’re mulberries”[1] and were “obstructing the view” from the top of the hill.

Yes, you read that correctly. Large trees are being cut down by Dane County Parks, in part, to improve the view for people. In fact, in the last several years, the county has spent many thousands of public dollars [2] slowly clear-cutting the hill for the sake of “the viewshed.” Not long ago, several huge, thriving trees, including some beautiful pines on the hill that were popular nesting sites for hawks and other birds, were cut down. Again—why?

As with the Earth Week tree-chainsawing spree, we were told then that the trees were cut to improve the “the viewshed” from the top of the hill and so that “people driving on Northport Drive can have a better view of the nurse’s dorm.”  What? Really?? Yes, this is what they said. Beautiful, mature trees were cut down so people driving 35+ mph down a county highway can catch a fleeting glimpse of an abandoned, crumbling building on the top of a hill—one that will now be demolished.

Just as ironic and sad, community members involved in focus group discussions last year about the fate of the nurse’s dorm agreed that “healing” was a critical component of what should happen on the land there no matter what became of the building. Focus group participants also agreed that serious stormwater runoff problems in the highly-sloped areas around the nurse’s dorm need to be addressed asap–especially before the building is demolished and the water tower behind it torn down and rebuilt. How is cutting down many large trees going to reduce stormwater runoff? How is this healing the land?

Lake View Hill Park is county public land; it belongs to all of us. Land in this park, especially the large trees, provide precious wildlife food and habitat—habitat that is shrinking and increasingly rare in a city and county where more and more land is being developed, and trees cut down, to make way for roads, condominiums, McMansions and corporate business parks.

Where is the public discussion about what is happening on this public land?  Where is the community discussion about how the many thousands of public dollars per year are spent in this park? Is this really what Northsiders, the broader Madison community, and other citizens of Dane County want—a Lake View hill steeped in toxic pesticides and devoid of trees, so that people have a better “viewshed” from the hilltop and when driving down the road nearby?

It is a sad day indeed when those entrusted with protecting our public park land—in this case, land citizens in the neighborhood worked hard to protect with conservancy zoning—chainsaw down large healthy trees on Earth Day.

For shame, Dane County Parks!

 


[1] Some mulberry species are native to Wisconsin and others aren’t. At this point, the native and non-native species have hybridized and are very difficult if not impossible to tell apart.

[2] Much of the work in Lake View Hill Park is funded through fees paid to the county by the telecomm companies for having their communication equipment on the Lake View water tower. In the last few years, tens of thousands of dollars of this money have gone to buy pesticides from Dow Agro and other pesticide companies—and to cut down large trees.

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