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The Answer is in the Trees

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 26, 2005


A smart monkey, I have always held trees in high regard. I like trees. Having planted hundreds, you could say I dig trees. Trees are without ego, have no ax to grind, political or otherwise, live within their means, and spend their lives reaching for the light. Oaks are my favorite, sycamores are best to enjoy sunsets with, and cottonwoods soothe.

As a kid, I easily understood the biology part. Trees make air, food, weather, water, habitat and homes. We're talking 6th grade education here. An animist before I knew it, trees seemed a vital part of human evolution. Having come of age during the environmental revolution of the 70's and angered by the anti-environmentalism of the Reagan revolution that continues today, I understand the ecological threat posed by corporate capitalism and the lack of a 6th grade education.

Cultures based on utilitarian and endless consumption, leave little room for trees. Looking back, the history of western civilization is one of deforestation. Monoculture farming, and then the hyper-diversity of urban and residential development followed deforestation. Redevelopment will continue the trend. As views become endangered in densified coastal communities, suburban neighborhoods become a battle for open space and blue-sky views; mature trees will be removed to make room for more people.

One of the great things about anthropocentrism is it allows its congregation to avoid the existential rights of non-human life forms. In their pursuit of biological dominance, human beings, so content at being the center of the universe, have failed to acknowledge the ecological importance of other species. Trees included.

Prompting this observation was the recent efforts of an Encinitas resident who has taken it upon herself to save two mature Torrey pines on property slated for development. Having gathered more than 500 signatures on a "Build Around the Trees" petition, Presha Dawn wanted to work with Encinitas City staff to incorporate the torreys into any proposed development.

Arranging a meeting with Encinitas City Manager Kerry Miller, and Director of Public Works Phil Cotton, I invited Presha along. My point was to forward the issue of a defined and recognized tree policy for Encinitas. Currently city staff is working on a landscape maintenance policy relating to trees on public property. More procedural than philosophical, the maintenance policy being drafted is a safe place to start.

Parks in Encinitas retain a considerable amount of native species. Some parks, such as Leucadia Oaks and Cottonwood Creek, were designed with a California native plant palate. The park being planned for the Hall site will include a passive use buffer zone planted with a similar native palate. Whereas, the city has demonstrated through public policy a trend towards an established preference for indigenous landscaping, and economic and ecological factors support this trend, municipal policy fails to define native species as worth preserving and heritage trees worthy of protection.

Another example of where a clearly defined policy is lacking are the Eucalyptus trees lining the Coast Highway 101 through Encinitas and Leucadia. Although not native to California, (or the Western hemisphere for that matter), the trees have been in place for so long they are now a part of the cultural heritage. As of this writing, nothing protects those trees from the ongoing development of the coastal corridor through Encinitas.

With recognition, preservation is possible.

It is time for the City Of Encinitas and other coastal cities to set clear policy regarding the recognition of heritage and historic trees, and the planting and preservation of indigenous tree species. The tricky part is crossing the line between public property and property rights. I understand, any public policy relating to trees on private property would need to be incentive based, and not punitive in nature.

A community should be judged by how it treats the indigenous species that predate its arrival. Quality of life is as much about ecological sustainability as it is about economic prosperity. A "Build around the Trees" type initiative, as envisioned by Presha Dawn, would help achieve both, through conservation, preservation, and restoration of native tree species and those the community deems historically important.

Protecting native flora and fauna should be part of a municipal government's charter, not left to individual citizens. Out numbered and out gunned by private development interests, and under represented by city government, ballot box activism becomes a viable option.

In my opinion, a clear and concise tree policy for Encinitas is inevitable. Much needed, and long overdue, such a policy is possible when people like Presha start speaking for the trees.

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Culturally speaking, industrial man just doesn't get it.

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