Maybe common sense isn’t so common after all

I noted in my Sept. 22, 2009 post on the threat posed to ash trees in the Midwest by the emerald ash borer (EAB), and included photos of the famous grove of 500 ash trees surrounding the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.  I was in St. Louis that summer for the ASHS meeting and saw that the National Park Service was planting trees from a variety of species around the monument.  I assumed at the time that the Park Service was preparing for the eventual loss of the ashes to EAB.  Boy, did I get a wrong number.

Last week my former grad student, Sara Tanis, alerted me to an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  The Post-Dispatch reports that with the destruction of the grove of ash trees looming, the National Park Service has contracted with a Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm to replace the monoculture of ash trees with, I am not making this up, a monoculture of linden trees.  I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.  Apparently the landscape architects that are drawing up these plans have never seen what Japanese beetles do linden trees.  Oh, that’s right; the L.A.’s are in L.A.


The article is available on-line if you can stomach it.

On the bright side, since this is a Federal project it will likely move forward at glacial speed and will require public input.  Here’s hoping the Park Service gets an earful and common sense will prevail.

5 thoughts on “Maybe common sense isn’t so common after all”

  1. In fairness, it should be noted that the article doesn’t say there’s a contract to replace the trees – the contract is to develop a plan to replace the trees and will involve an environmental review over the winter. And though not mentioned in the article, as a site on the National Register of Historic Places, it will have to go through cultural compliance as well. Lindens are only two of the trees proposed in the draft as replacements. ” The potential replacements are: miyabe maple, freeman maple, ginkgo, tulip poplar, London planetree, trazel filbert, American linden, and silver linden.” And if my 40 years of experience with government projects is any guide, there will be plenty of opportunity for further comment and modification.
    I agree that ecologically we should go out of our way to avoid monocultures. But we often plant monocultures for cultural reasons, and accept the additional management problems that creates. And for a park manager who must follow multiple often conflicting policy and legal dictates, as well as political and public pressure, it can make it a difficult row to hoe.
    My personal preference would be to evolve the landscape into an arboretum of American natives. It seems that would be in keeping with the creation of the Arch as a monument to and commemoration of America’s Westward expansion. But I doubt that would pass muster with the cultural compliance folks and the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act.

  2. Bob,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I certainly do sympathize with the Monument management. If you troll over to the comment page of the article you can get a taste of the varied opinions from “Natives only!” to “Don’t waste a dime of my taxes on this!” Personally I view this as a teachable moment and an opportunity for someone with some design flair to showcase how a diverse mix of trees can be made visually appealing. I hope they don’t fall back to following the original design intent, which we know is flawed.

  3. There are two systemic insecticides available for use against EAB: imidacloprid (common trade name: Merit) and emamectin benzoate (Tree-Age). To effectively treat trees as large as the ones surrounding the Gateway Arch the chemicals need to be trunk-injected by licensed applicators. This is actually a fairly complex subject – I’ll put up a more complete post in my regular spot on Monday. Not trying to be a tease – just a little short on time today.

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