Future shady streets

NeighborWoods signs line Avenue O near 45th Street in Galveston. The Galveston Island Tree Conservancy plans to plant about 130 trees on March 23.


GALVESTON — I received a couple phone calls last week after writing about this year’s scaled-back NeighborWoods program, a effort by the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy to replant trees, and bring back shady avenues, to city neighborhoods.

Most of the calls asked how a person can get a tree of their own or get the program to come to their neighborhood (the answer: contact the conservancy at treesforgalveston@yahoo.com).

But one caller, who managed to ferret out my cell phone number, wanted to let me know about her concerns about the replanting project.

The caller, who insisted on remaining anonymous, laid numerous charges against the conservancy’s policies, including that the organizers were not being respectful of landowner’s wishes (especially in cases where a home is a rental), that roots of the live oak trees being planted would ruin sidewalks and, most intriguingly to me, that new trees would attract an ark’s worth of critters to the island

The call culminated with an explanation that trees bring squirrels, squirrels bring snakes and snake bring hawks. Those hawks, said the caller, could begin dropping snakes on tourist’s heads — which would be bad for everyone.

Lest this be a potential hazard to public safety, I reached out to the conservancy about any complaints they received and a pair of forestry experts to ask about the dangers about adding new flora to an ecosystem.

“It is hard for me to think that trees in general could be bad for the island,” said Dr. Carol Loopstra, a professor of biotechnology and dendrology at Texas A&M. “In my opinion, even if having trees meant having rodents, it would be worth it.”

Loopstra said that while she prefers other species over the live oak being planted by the conservancy, she had never heard of their roots ruining pavement.

“Many trees can ruin pavement but the TAMU campus has hundreds of live oaks and I haven't seen that they are a problem,” she said.

Pete Smith, the manager of A&M’s urban forestry program, said he worked with the city to help develop the list of trees that can be planted.

Smith said that infrastructure concerns were taken into consideration when the list of choices and guidelines were being generated. The planners went so far as to include trees that can be planted underneath power lines without having to worry about them growing too high.

As to the charge that more trees might bring more animals to the island, Smith said that’s kind of the point.

“The trees in Galveston are a critical habitat for birds and other animals in the Gulf Coast,” he said. Smith said that more animals would obviously result in more animal-related problems, but whether it would rise to the level of nuisance is up for debate.

(Unsurprisingly, there are few recorded instances of snakes escaping the clutches of a hawk only to land on the head of an unsuspecting person. Which is not to say the threat doesn’t exist. In 2001, a hawk in California dropped a 3-foot-long gopher snake on a power line, sparking a five-acre brush fire and threatening some luxury homes.)

As for complaint that landlords end up with trees on their property without having given permission to be there; the conservancy admits it can happen, but that they try to avoid it.

“We've insisted that if the resident wants a tree they must get permission from the landlord, and in fact, when we plant in front of rentals, most times the renters' names aren't on the response card,” Priscilla Files, the NeighborWoods organizer said. “Have we been 100 percent successful with that? Probably a couple of trees have slipped under the radar over the past three annual NeighborWoods, but by and large, that hasn't been an issue.”

(4) comments

Gary Miller

“It is hard for me to think that trees in general could be bad for the island,”
Trees are never a problem for those who get paid to plant them. The problem is for whomever has to care for them. Water, pruning, fertilizer soon cost more than planting.
The older and bigger they get the more their care involves and the less likely they will do what the planting expected. Interfering with sewer systems, sidewalks and power lines is more common than reported.
Glenn Taylor, head of Hortaculture @ OU, made what I consider the best statement about trees.
"Any tree in the wrong place is just a big weed that's hard to get rid of" Chose wisely where and what kind you plant.

Steve Fouga

"Loopstra said that while she prefers other species over the live oak being planted by the conservancy, she had never heard of their roots ruining pavement."

It's hard to fathom that an A&M tree expert has never heard of their roots ruining pavement. However, I think she's on the right track about there being better species than live oak for the Galveston environment.

Lars Faltskog

Yes, to "choose wisely" is a must. While I think oaks, by and large, have proven to eventually meet their ill fate - planting one and hoping that it look decent for 3 decades or so isn't a terrible thing.

However, even a novice Landcaping 101 student at the local community college or a weekender who dabbles in "gardening" once or twice a year - visiting Home Depot - ought to have sense enough to know not to plant a tree that will likely eventually get large near sewer pipes, or immediately near a sidewalk.

Those foul-ups and bad decisions shouldn't be blamed on the NeighborWoods program. As far as an unauthorized renter planting a tree on his/her landlord's property without permission...all the landlord has to do is get a shovel, dig up the little sapling, plant it somewhere else appropriate (or give it away). Then, evict the good-for-nothing tenant. Not rocket science, and not the worst of "crimes".

Now, all you gun-snappy homeowner folk: don't go out with your rifle to your renter or the NeighborWoods people and threaten them if they try to plant in your yard. Just tell them to leave, or get your landscaper to pull it up when they go. LOL

GW Cornelius

Wasted time, wasted money , wasted trees. Really dumb idea!

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