Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Old Tulip Tree Falls
By David Bell

AN ICONIC piece of our physical connection to our departed ancestors has fallen. The giant tulip tree planted by Jean Aubin on the old homestead has succumbed to time, age, and the chainsaw.

Jared Bell (Great-great grandson to Jean and Anne Aubin) lives next door to Rozel, the old Aubin homestead, and got a first-hand view of whole procedure which involved a large crane, some aborists unafraid of heights, and a few big chainsaws.

The felling of the tree was not without some controversy. Firstly, Glenda Bell, great granddaughter to the Aubins, walked down from her house on Franklin Street to view the proceedings. Standing on the road she proceeded to take some photos when the lady of the house ran out to shoo her away, claiming Glenda was invading her privacy. Not being one to back down easily, Glenda flung a few words her way (best not printed on this page) before moving on. While amusing, this incident highlighted the emotion going around the village about the felling of this landmark tree. One would suspect the current owners were feeling the pressure from the many people and organisations pushing to preserve it.

The local newspaper ran an article which gives a good explanation of the whole saga. The photos were taken by Jared Bell and added to the article by David Bell.

Community outrage as 'iconic' Pirongia tree to be felled

The 40-metre American tulip tree on the corner of Franklin and Belcher St is being cut down branch by branch.
But arborists are up in arms and say the tree could have been saved.
The tree has been admired by residents and arborists for the last 130 years. It arrived on a ship from America in the late 1800s and was planted at the house of prominent Waipa man Jean (John) Aubin.
Arborists say the tree is one of the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
The tree had been on council's protected trees list for more than 20 years but was removed in March this year due to safety concerns. Once a tree is removed from the list, property owners have full authority over the tree.
The owner has contracted tree-removal company Treescape to cut down the tree at a cost of $17,520, which council is paying half of.
Council says the owner was aware of the tree's protected status before moving onto the property. The property owner declined to comment.
Waipa District Council community facilities manager Bruce Airey says concerns were raised with the tree's safety last year.
Council commissioned a report on the tree by independent qualified arborist Paul Kenny in September 2017.
Paul had been monitoring the tree annually since 2006.
In his last report he observed the areas of dieback he had been monitoring did not yet have significant impact.
He also found the decreased annual trunk diameter growth would need to be investigated further if a pattern of reduced growth rates developed.
Paul recommended pruning work be carried out.
"None of my recommendations were to remove the tree," he told the Waipa Post.
But in March this year, the property owner commissioned a further report by consultant arborist Geoarb.
The report showed the tree's health had rapidly declined and it posed "an imminent hazard to life and property".
It said the vascular system of the tree was diminishing, bacterial/fungal infection was present and the canopy was sparse in areas with chlorotic leaves.

The report was reviewed and verified by council's arborists and the tree's protection was removed.
But two independent arboriculture companies are calling nonsense on Geoarb's report and say the tree could have been saved.
Craig and Talia Wilson, owners of Wilson Trees & Landscaping, say the tree is "outstanding".
"It's the best form of that species," Craig says.
"The whole crown looks really healthy and has been reported to be in good health in Paul's annual reports."
"Why did Waipa District Council not seek a third opinion? Why was Geoarb's report given precedence over Paul's 12 years of reporting on the tree?"
Craig says the tree is admired by arborists all around the world.
"As arborists we love trees and do as much as we can to protect them."
He says alternative options about saving the tree should have been discussed.
Talia says protection of heritage trees needs to be taken more seriously.
"What's the point in having a protection order if they're so easy to remove. It's getting to the point of ridiculousness."
She says the removal of Pirongia's tulip tree highlights a national attitude towards trees.
"We pretend we are a green tree-loving country but that's not the case.
"Trees don't have voices — we need to be advocates for them."
Talia says it is now too late to save the tree.
"Our hope is that this is a turning point in the attitudes of the council and the owner.
"We hope something will be learned from this situation and that more protection is placed on our heritage trees."
Noel Galloway, owner of arboriculture business Pristine Arb, says he wants peace of mind as to why the tree is coming down.
"I'm not a tree-hugger or anything, but for some reason this one has really hit home."
Noel says arborists are often trapped in ethical dilemmas when they have to fell a tree they believe could be saved.
"Apparently some of the guys who are on the job couldn't sleep last night."
When Waipa Post visited the site of the tree last week it appeared a worker was distressed about removing it.
"We think it's a pretty nice tree. We're not happy about removing it, but we've got to do our job," one Treescape employee said.
It is believed a Treescape employee pulled out of the team tasked with the job.
Treescape refused to comment.
But a woman who grew up with the tree wasn't fazed about its removal.
Robin Wood (nee Bell) is the great-granddaughter of John Aubin, who planted the tree.
Robin now lives in Te Awamutu but grew up in the homestead at 661 Franklin St where the tree was planted.
She said she had no sentimental connection to the tree.
"Trees don't live forever and are very hard to save. You've got to be a realist about it."

I'm with Robin. It was a magnificent tree ~ no doubt about that ~ but like all living things, eventually they die. True enough, the tree may have lasted another decade or two, but its sheer size made it problematic. Pirongia is prone to some pretty severe storms at times and just one of those branches falling on the house would do big damage. One can certainly empathize with  the cries to save the tree; no-one wants to see something so spectacular in nature that has been around for over 120 years come to an inglorious end. Perhaps if old Jean hadn't planted it so close to the house, but in a park or in a large field, it would have been allowed to see out the full span of its life. 

But, too late now. It's gone. Old Jean Aubin, the planter, has gone too, along with all his generation that lived in the homestead. Reginald Bell, the other long-term resident of Rozel and grandson to Jean has also long departed the scene. The tree has outlasted them all and has now joined them.

The circle of life, as the song from the Lion King tells us.

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