Tree Canopy Falls Prey to Litigation Madness

By June 2, 2007General

In many urban areas around the United States, the forest canopy has been dramatically reduced over the past 30 years due, in part, to increasing development. As environmental concerns have risen, many urban areas are reinstituting tree planting programs to help rebuild the canopy — not only for its carbon dioxide consuming benefits, but also for the cooling shade it brings to hot summer days.

Obviously, a big tree has a lot more canopy than a new seedling, which may take 20 years or more to reach maturity. Holding on to big trees helps preserve canopies too.

So it’s too bad to report that the litigation madness that affects our country has even reached into this corner of American life, in ways that can’t be endearing to anyone who wants to enhance the environment. Here’s one place where green advocates should lock arms with manufacturers, who have also borne the brunt of legal abuse.

Here’s the issue: Whenever there is the remotest chance that a big tree might fall into a roadway, local authorities will take it down. They can’t risk the lawsuit that would possibly emerge if the tree toppled in a storm. It’s irrelevant whether the tree might live on for another 100 years and never topple. There is a prejudice against big trees. Big automatically = dangerous.

I know this firsthand from my own town, where we have been engaged in an effort to retain a few big old white oaks. But litigation fear has swept county government and those big trees and their big canopies of green have to go, local officials say. It goes without saying that 30 years ago, there would have been more forbearance and, unless a tree showed immediate threat, it would stay. That is the way it’s done in Europe, where the litigation madness hasn’t taken hold. They still value trees that have prospered for a couple hundred years. But in America, they gotta go. Bring on legal reform and let’s spare that axe!

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