Danger in Our Tree Canopy

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Like most others, I could not help but be moved to tears by the deaths of Kelly and Sloane Murray after a tree branch crushed their car during a summer storm ["With the Crash of a Branch, They Lost Their Supermom," front page, July 4]. I didn't know the Murrays, but the circumstances of their untimely deaths weigh on me.

In Northwest Washington, as in Chevy Chase, Md., where the Murrays lived, there are many older trees towering over our densely populated community. Overhead electrical wires are precariously strung around or sometimes through these trees. Three days after my husband and I moved to Barnaby Woods, lightning struck a tree down the street, taking out power for three days and causing an electrical fire. My first thought: What did we get ourselves into?

We soon found out. When we attempted to take down the massive white oak heavily leaning on our front lawn, we discovered that the city's Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002 requires city approval to do so. So we hired an arborist who said the tree showed signs of rot and stress, and we petitioned the city. Response: Denied. (Of course, you can take down a tree without approval and face potential jail time and a fine based on the tree's size; in our case, it would have been about $10,000.) Even with approval, there is still a hefty donation required to the city's tree fund.

I sincerely hope that a lesson of this horrible tragedy does not go unheeded. The city should adopt sensible rules allowing its citizens to make these critical choices without having to pay a bounty for our safety.



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