NIU chops down east lagoon willow trees

By Vickie Snow

Many smiles are turning into frowns by the east lagoon since ten huge black willow trees were stumped over winter break.

University officials decided to cut down the old trees and plant new ones, said NIU Physical Plant Director John Harrod. Several more trees targeted for removal as part of a beautification project will survive for now.

University officials explained that the trees were cut down because of hefty maintenance and safety factors, Harrod said.

NIU Landscape Architect James Murphy said the trees are a “liability for the university.” Branches easily break off during wind or snow storms, he said.

Willows “have a lot of dead wood in them and are dirty in their older age,” Murphy said. “These trees are more dangerous than others on campus.”

arrod also stressed safety as a major reason. “The trunks were going bad and branches were falling.”

Earth First, an environmental group, brought NIU students together to protest further destruction, said Earth First spokesman Jeff Smolla, after seeing stumps where 75-year-old willows once stood.

Smolla said Earth First prompted James Harder, NIU vice president of business and operations, to call a halt last week on the cutting of trees that aren’t a safety hazard.

arrod said chopping the remaining targeted trees has been put on hold because of snow and in hopes of gaining community support for removing the trees.

Because the willows were not dead or diseased, Earth First is angered by the “slaughter” and believes the trees were not threatening anyone’s safety, Smolla said.

Earth First wants to ensure that the Environmental Committee, which recommended the project, contacts students and the community before any other massive alterations of the campus occur, Smolla said. The committee is made up of faculty, physical plant staff and students.

Earth First member Tara Moyle said, “Trees are endangered, not people. They (the university officials) think they’re justified in manipulating nature.”

Smolla said, “One of the real reasons (trees were cut) is the trees created too much work for the maintenance crew.”

But Murphy said protestors “are not responsible for maintenance and we can’t make decisions on their feelings.” The trees were cut down in the “best interests of the university.”

arrod sympathized with Earth First and others who are sending a message against the chopping.

“It’s important that people are concerned about the environment. Those involved in the removal are just as concerned,” Harrod said.

The trees were cut down over break to avoid interrupting traffic flow and classes with loud machinery, Harrod said. But Moyle said university officials probably wanted to avoid student protests.

New maple and oak trees have been planted at the lagoon, but it will be many years before they reach maturity, Murphy said. Maples and oaks are less fragile, live longer and require less maintenance, he said.