By Mary O’KEEFE
“I’m the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.”
It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” I read it over and over to my kids, and now I read it to my grandson. I think the message is so important.
According to Publishers Weekly, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) said he considered “The Lorax” the “best thing I’ve ever written.” He said he was a “preacher in that book, but I got away with it by disguising the message.” He reportedly wrote the book as a protest against excessive logging in California, Dr. Seuss’ home state.
When I moved to Crescenta Valley I thought, “These are Lorax people.” I had never met a community that was so protective of its trees. I remember being called by Steve Pierce and historian Mike Lawler about a crowd gathering in the 2600 block of Foothill Boulevard. A company that had just purchased a business located on the south side of the street was planning on cutting down a 100-year-old Moreton Bay Fig tree.
The plan was to build a three-story mixed-use office and retail building. This, according to those who had gathered to protest, would damage the roots of the tree. The community had no idea it was happening until the bulldozers showed up.
Now, according to LA County Regional Planning, the developer didn’t have to hold any public meetings or let the public know of its plans. S/he didn’t need any special permit. S/he had actually slipped by design standards that had been adopted by the board of supervisors. The developers got approval to remove the tree before the standards went into effect.
In the end, the protest worked and the tree was protected. There are many stories of the community “speaking for the trees” … and now there is another threat that residents are facing.
Southern California Edison and Los Angeles County are in local neighborhoods – a lot – “trimming” trees. This is a difficult issue because at its core is safety from wildfires. The State of California has allowed utility companies to trim trees 12 feet from power lines. This is reasonable since a state investigation found that Pacific Gas & Electric transmission lines ignited the Dixie Fire in northern California.
But it is the way and timing of the tree trimming that seems to be bringing out in local residents their inner Lorax. There is one resident in the Briggs Terrace area who has had his trees trimmed every four months for a long period of time. SCE states it is only following the state’s mandate to trim the tree to protect from wildfire; however, excessive trimming can damage trees.
Foliage is food for trees; if trimmed too much a tree can be put at risk of nutritional deficiencies. Too much trimming can also make branches too weak to deal with the high winds that are often coming through the area, and affect the tree’s ability to fend off diseases or insect invasions.
According to elitetreecare.com, “When a plant loses too many branches, especially at the top, it can [be exposed] to sun-scald, starved of nutrients it gets from leaves and forced into shock by trying to overcompensate for its loss.”
The problem appears to be that SCE does want to do what it can to prevent wildfire risks, with which everyone is in agreement; however, SCE is not doing the trimming. It hires outside contractors, along with LA County that sends out its own tree trimmers. The Briggs Terrace family has had one company come to trim on one day, followed by a notice that another company will be there in a week, and then face LA County trimmers a few days after that. Sometimes notices are placed at their door and no one shows up; sometimes they come home to find their trees being trimmed without warning.
In 2018, scientific studies conducted around the world found that trees are far more alert, social, sophisticated and – yes – more intelligent than we thought. No surprise to the Lorax.
Studies revealed that trees of the same species are communal and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and collective intelligence similar to an insect colony, according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine titled “Do Trees Talk to Each Other? “
That article quoted Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author: “All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”
Okay, so now that we know trees communicate and work together some of you will be thinking, “I am Groot” while others are worried that André’s Tree in “Sleepy Hollow” is real.
At present the trees are more like Groot – a sweet creature that defends those he loves. Trees have not been able to protect themselves so we all must be like the Lorax: “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
Today it is expected to be sunny with the highs around 69. David Sweet, meteorologist with NOAA, doesn’t see any “adverse weather” for the next few days. On Friday it should be warmer, in the mid-70s, with patchy low clouds. Saturday will see highs in the mid-70s but then Saturday evening to Monday there is 30% chance of rain with a slightly lower chance, 20%, on Tuesday. The Saturday to Tuesday rain is expected to be light but a bigger storm is brewing. Sweet said it is too far out to see if it stays strong or begins to weaken.