Save the general’s tree

A heritage black walnut is slated to be chopped—for what?

Mr. McCollem has been a tree trimmer in Butte County for 20 years, a tree maintenance supervisor and flood-control superintendent for 10 years and is a certified urban forester and arborist.

The city engineers and urban forester have decided that one of Gen. John Bidwell’s hand-planted black-walnut trees must be sacrificed for “progress.” The tree is located on the north side of Fifth Avenue at the alley between Spruce and Palm. The tree is four feet in diameter, with a full symmetrical crown in very good condition. Considering all the infrastructure placement and maintenance and abuse it’s endured in its 100-plus years, it has carried on a great heritage.

The tree must be removed for the installation of curb, gutter, sidewalks and “traffic-calming” bulbs. Tom Varga, the director of the city’s Capital Project Services, cites a litany of inconveniences posed by the tree, such as ADA access at sidewalk intersections, telephone and utility poles and guy wires, and residential parking. Specifically, the tree marginally obstructs fire-truck access to the alley.

All of these concerns can be mitigated with reasonable alternatives except the fire-truck access. The new design standards require a minimum 28-foot inside-turn radius in both directions where the alley enters Fifth Avenue.

In the hundred years since John Bidwell designed and laid out the Chico Vecino subdivision, there has never been an access problem for the Fire Department, garbage trucks or other transport. There are no scars on the tree. With the installation of all the new concrete impediments, there might be some restriction if the tree is not removed.

It seems to be a matter of choice—between the arbitrary and questionable utility of the expensive new experimental street designs chosen by the engineers, and the straightforward, wide-open, simple and generous layout Bidwell created that has provided flexible access and afforded protection for the trees.

Interestingly, the planned intersection bulbing does not meet the fire-access standards invoked as cause to remove this tree. The city has had to negotiate a variance with the Fire Department for the bulbs. The risk of impaired access and associated liability is greater for the bulbs than the tree because the fire trucks will have to negotiate the engineer’s slalom at every intersection on the way to the fire.

This tree should be conserved until mortality makes removal necessary. Further, black walnuts should be returned to the city’s approved tree list out of respect for Bidwell’s foresight and heritage. These trees have served the city well with the beauty and the shade they’ve provided many Chico families over the years. Their long life is testament to their suitability for our urban forest.