Century-old cedar may have posed safety risk, but some Sherwood folks stood up for its preservation

Photo Credit: JAIME VALDEZ - Sherwood historian June Reynolds watches as crews works to cut down a 119-year-old Lebanon cedar tree in Old Town Sherwood. Reynolds and others have protested the trees removal and have threatened legal action because of it.The cedar tree on Southwest Second Avenue in Sherwood was planted when Grover Cleveland sat in the White House, Bram Stoker finished his novel “Dracula,” and a young inventor named Henry Ford was driving his latest creation, the horseless carriage, through the streets of Detroit.

But on Tuesday, the 119-year-old giant was brought down as crews worked throughout the day to remove the landmark from the city’s Old Town.

The tree’s owner said it posed a safety risk, but some Sherwood residents say the city should have stepped in and may have violated its own codes by allowing the cedar to be removed.

Rumors have circulated for weeks about the tree’s removal, but June Reynolds, a historian for the Sherwood Historical Society, said she didn’t hear it was coming down until last week.

“There is no community awareness of what’s going on,” she said. “Quite frankly, tree or no tree, people have to be notified of these things. It's common courtesy.”

Reynolds and others have argued that the city violated its own code by not posting public notices for at least 10 days prior to the tree's removal and failed to take public input. Reynolds said her family plans to seek legal action against the city for allowing the tree to be removed.

Reynolds threatened to chain herself to the tree to prevent its destruction. She said she was that passionate about wanting to preserve a piece of Sherwood’s history.

Photo Credit: GEOFF PURSINGER - June Reynolds chants 'Save Our Tree' with a group of protestors next to the Cedar of Lebanon tree in Sherwood. The tree was cut down Tuesday because it posed a safety risk to residents, property owners said.“I think it’s a travesty,” she said. “That is a huge landmark. The question is how many landmarks are (the city) going to take down in Sherwood?”

The Cedar of Lebanon tree at 16001 S.W. Second St. has stood since at least 1895, when it was planted by the town’s marshal, Reynolds said.

Reynolds said this particular cedar represented something important to the town.

“This is supposed to be quaint, magical town, and that’s why people come here,” Reynolds said. “And they should, look at what we’ve got. We don’t want to stylize our town and make it look like Beaverton or any other run-of-the-mill place.”

Reynolds, the author of two books about Sherwood’s history, said she feels obligated to fight for the city’s past.

“It’s my responsibility to be aware of the historical value of things,” she said.

Public outcry over the tree’s removal sparked a Facebook page devoted to its preservation, and led one woman to write a poem about its long guardianship of Second Avenue.

Reynolds gathered a small group of supporters on Tuesday morning, chanting “Save our tree!” to passing motorists. The group was escorted off the premises by Sherwood Police before 9:30 a.m.

Photo Credit: GEOFF PURSINGER - Late Monday night, someone hung a love letter to the tree, thanking it for years of standing tall over its city. 
'Your beauty, magnitude, strength and spirit are unmatched,' the sign read. 'May you pass softly, feeling the love of the many around you whom tried to save you. Thank you for standing so strong, for so long!'

No public input

Under the city's codes, public notice is required for removal of “street trees,” a program enacted by the city to plant and protect trees along Sherwood’s many streets and boulevards.

According to the city’s street tree program, a removal permit is required if the tree is more than 5 inches in diameter at breast height and within 10 feet of the road.

The Lebanon Cedar certainly fits that criteria. At more than 7 feet in diameter, the silent giant abutted the sidewalk, raising it in places under its massive roots.

But Brad Kilby, a planner with the city of Sherwood, said because the tree was planted before the street tree program was conceived a few decades ago, the city can’t enforce its regular protocols.

“We have the street tree ordinance for new or redeveloped property,” Kilby said. “Developers have to install street trees to get a tree-lined boulevard and things like that, but this tree was planted well before that ordinance, so it’s not a ‘street tree.’”

The tree is also located on private property, Kilby said, which ties city officials' hands.

Private property owners are allowed to remove up to five trees, or 10 percent of the trees on their property, without any permit, review or approval as long as trees are not located in a wetland or flood plain, Kilby said.

Photo Credit: JAIME VALDEZ - Dane Emerson, right, has owned the property since 2007 and said the tree posed a liability risk after a branch snapped off in 2012 and crushed a car.

Tree posed safety risk

Trees that pose a threat to life or property can also be removed without a permit, Kilby said, but property owners are asked to give the city 48 hours’ notice in order to provide documentation about the tree’s condition.

A storm in 2012 brought down one of the tree’s massive limbs, crushing a car parked underneath it, said the tree’s owner Dane Emerson.

Emerson purchased the property in 2007. He said he has spent thousands of dollars to maintain the tree over the years.

In the end, he said, it was time to let it go.

For more photos of the removal, visit our Facebook page

“I couldn’t deal with throwing thousands more dollars at it and taking the risk,” he said. “The tree is magnificent. I can’t argue that, but it’s about public safety. It’s a liability, and unfortunately, that outweighs its aesthetic value. If it were in a different spot on the property, then it might be a different story.”

Two independent arborists have inspected the tree, and both agreed it was due for a “catastrophic failure,” Emerson said.

“Big things like that don’t just fall,” he said. “It could be a month from now, a year from now, or 10 years from now, but the fact of the matter is that this has started (to decline),” Emerson said.

Reynolds said the tree needed a little tender love and care, but it shouldn’t have been removed.

“We have been pleading with people,” Reynolds said. “They could take 20 feet off if they wanted to. Just don’t literally cut it down.”

Kilby said there were ways to prune it and other mitigation options to improve safety. But, in the end, it was up to the homeowner.

“For the last year, I’d have a hard time sleeping at night because of it,” Emerson said. “I know there’s emotion, and I understand the passion. I really do. I think this tree is amazing, but there comes a point where you have to weigh the risks and make a decision.”

Heritage tree protections

Photo Credit: JAIME VALDEZ - The Cedar of Lebanon tree on Southwest Second Avenue has stood since 1895 when it was planted by the town marshal. 
Many cities have programs in place to protect historic or unique trees, Brad Kilby said.

Portland designated its Lebanon Cedar as a heritage tree in 1993, preventing it from being removed without the consent of the Portland City Council and the Urban Forestry Commission. The city helps property owners care for heritage trees, helping to pay for pruning and other costs.

Sherwood, however, has no such program.

“Some cities have taken a more proactive approach,” Kilby said. “We had discussions with the City Council in the past to designate heritage trees, but those led to no action. There is a cost associated with it. You have to have the political will, and the citizens have to be on board with it also.”

June Reynolds and other protestors spent part of Tuesday collecting fallen limbs and cones from Cedar of Lebanon. She said she hopes to grow a new tree from the sapling.

“I am hoping we can all be stewards of the land,” she said. “Sometimes being a steward means looking after your own property, but it also means protecting the entire area.”

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