The consensus of climate scientists is that climate change threatens to cause an irrevocable alteration of life on planet earth. The buildup of greenhouse gasses has accelerated over the past two decades despite clear warnings and we are nearing the tipping point, where the effects of climate feedback loops become irreversible.
Some technical solutions are being proposed, such as the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the storage of it deep underground. The irony of this solution, of course, is that our climate crisis is in large part due to the extraction of sequestered carbon in the form of coal, natural gas, and oil from deep underground. Whether or not such technology is practical, feasible, or effective on a large scale remains to be seen.
What does appear practical, feasible, and effective, however, is the very non-technological solution of planting trees. Through the process of photosynthesis – the way trees and plants convert the energy of sunlight into the stuff of living tissue – vast amounts of carbon dioxide are absorbed and oxygen is emitted. In this way, trees and all plants scrub the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sustain climate balance. Proposals for the mass-planting of trees are now being actively considered.
Locally, however, it seems that ever more large trees are being felled. Regulations in the City of Sonoma only address the removal of large trees that may impact the public right of way; the removal of large trees farther than ten feet from front property lines is not regulated at all. Trees in backyards are exempt from any regulation and can be removed at will by the property owner.
During the past few months, significant trees have been removed all over town. One of the largest and finest specimens of cork oak was cut down on the former Cannard property on Third Street East. On East Spain Street three very large redwoods were recently felled; a thirty-foot portion of the trunk of the largest of the three was laid flat on the ground and milled into planks on the spot; all that remains is an enormous stump. The city itself unceremoniously removed the massive eucalyptus trees at the western edge of Depot Park, purportedly to resolve ditch drainage issues. Nearly every day, the buzz of chainsaws can be heard around town. There certainly are legitimate reasons to remove trees, for instance disease or damage that create dangerous conditions are reasonable justifications.
Interestingly, when developments are proposed on an undeveloped parcel, all the trees on that parcel are inventoried by a licensed arborist in a report and those deemed necessary to protect are noted. Why a similar standard is not applied to large trees on developed lots remains a mystery.
Given the looming climate crisis, and the wish to maintain Sonoma’s remaining rural atmosphere, perhaps it’s time to revisit city policy regarding large tree removal. Should regulations be imposed that cover particular species of trees, or trees of a certain size or age, no matter where located? The city has designated its first Heritage Tree at the Garden Park on Seventh Street East; is it time for other meaningful trees to be identified and protected under the Heritage Tree program? An example would be the two old walnut trees that bracket the Catholic Cemetery on East Napa Street.
We believe a discussion about protecting our trees is long overdue.
— Sun Editorial Board