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Large tree felled at high school site

Two arborists said black walnut tree wouldn't survive site work

TIMES FILE PHOTO - The large tree at the bottom of this aerial photograph is a black walnut tree cut down in late March.A large black walnut tree that originally was to stand sentinel in front of Beaverton’s newest high school is now a pile of roots and branches and trunk.

The contractor working on the campus in South Cooper Mountain removed the large tree in late March after two arborists determined the tree was very unlikely to survive grading and installation of a retaining wall that would damage its roots.

The tree had held a prominent spot above the intersection of Southwest Scholls Ferry Road and 175th Avenue and also was featured in architectural renderings of the new campus rising from the hill right behind it.

The city of Beaverton required the district build the wall and reduce the sheer slope above the intersection, which will be widened to accommodate a turn lane.

Arborists from Teragan & Associates, hired by the district, determined in January that the tree’s trunk was starting to decay in several spots, including an old injury near the base. The firm’s report also noted that the tree wasn’t tested for disease but might either already be infected or if damaged would have become more prone to thousand cankers disease, a beetle-borne fungal infection killing many of the region’s black walnut trees.

The city’s arborist agreed, according to a letter Beaverton Senior Planner Scott Whyte sent to Fran Warren, a Cooper Mountain resident active in that community. Whyte confirmed in the letter that city officials agreed the tree had to be removed to accommodate the required work.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - This 2015 photograph shows the tree standing at the corner of Southwest Scholls Ferry Road and 175th Avenue. It was cut down about two weeks ago.Part of Whyte’s letter stated: “The extent of excavation necessary to construct a new retaining wall is expected to cause severe impacts to the roots, thereby causing a quick decline in tree health.  If the tree were to remain, it would not survive.”

“If it was in good shape, we would have tried to work around it,” Beaverton School District spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the district plans to plant up to 22 new trees at the intersection. Potentially, lumber milled from the walnut tree might be incorporated into the new school, perhaps as wooden countertops in the school’s administrative offices.

At least some neighbors were unhappy.

“This week, it was pitiful to drive by and watch the crows and other birds ‘picking over the carcass’ of that amazing landmark tree,” Warren, who is a leader with the 175th Neighborhood Association, wrote in an email. She also described the tree as “an informal historic site.”

Reached later by phone, Warren said 10 to 15 neighbors had emailed her, disturbed about the loss of the tree.

For the area’s nature lovers, the tree’s demise is yet another blow emanating from the school project. Warren was among neighbors who opposed the district’s plan (which was approved) to fill in wetlands at the north end of the campus property to build ball fields, and she also believes a lone Douglas fir tree that a pair of Cooper’s hawks used for nesting near the center of the school property was felled unnecessarily. She said neighbors have photographed dead beavers run over next to the construction site.

“The people that live on the upper part of the mountain get nervous about protecting the natural resources up here,” she said.

The walnut tree, thought to be more than 80 years old, already dodged death in 2008-09 when 175th Avenue was rerouted to align with Southwest Roy Rogers Road at Scholls Ferry.

Brian Wegener, who spearheaded the Tualatin Riverkeepers’ unsuccessful efforts to fight the wetlands fill and has been critical of its overall site development, said removal of the tree was a symbol of the district’s philosophy.

“If trees, wetlands, or slopes get in their way, they just bulldoze them,” Wegener wrote in an email.

But Wheeler said the district’s hands were largely tied in this situation because the requirements for the building and landscaping left the tree without a safe haven.

This isn’t the first time that local government requirements have forced the district to remove trees, including recently.

The district also must cut down two large sequoia trees in front of Vose Elementary School this year to align the school’s entrance with an existing street when it’s rebuilt starting in June. In that case as well, officials hope to somehow make use of the wood from the felled trees on the campus.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - An architectural rendering of the future high school at South Cooper Mountain shows the large black walnut tree behind a retaining wall and lowered hillside. Arborists later determined the tree would not survive the wall and landscaping work.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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