Two large oak trees removed due to falling risk

Photo by Jon Long

Two large trees which had posed a danger of falling were removed from campus this week: a willow oak located south of the Skiles Walkway and a water oak located between the Fitten and Fulmer residence halls.

The decision to remove the two trees was made by Facilities Management in the weeks after Sept. 18, when a tall willow oak split and fell onto Skiles Walkway, narrowly missing nearby students.

“Having the other willow oak split the way it did really shook us all up,” said Jessica Rose, associate director of facilities assessment and analytics in Facilities.

The monitoring of trees on campus is an ongoing and key effort within Facilities.

Hyacinth Ide, the associate director of landscape services and vehicle management in Facilities, said his team had undergone several efforts over the years to attempt to preserve the willow oak that finally fell in September.

“When I got here in 1999, the tree was not in a very good shape, but we continued to apply all kinds of technology that we have: deep root fertilization, pruning, and even insect control,” Ide said. “If you look at the life cycle of a willow oak in an urban environment, from everything we can tell, looking at the rings of the tree, and the diameter, it was pretty much to the end of its life cycle.”

After the willow oak fell, Facilities “had to make a decision on risk on the campus” with regards to other aging trees, Rose said, and ultimately chose to remove the two trees that posed an outstanding danger.

All at-risk trees have to go through a thorough process to ensure that their removal is the only feasible management option. In addition to performing their own in-house assessment of the trees, Georgia Tech Facilities uses two third-party services, such that three different experts must independently agree before any specific tree is slated for removal.

The process is designed “to make sure that everyone’s on the same page and that we’re doing everything we can before we actually remove the tree,” Rose said.

To compensate for the loss of these trees, more will be planted near Skiles Walkway.

“For now, we’ll probably put in between 10 and 12 canopy trees,” Ide said. Canopy trees, Ide clarified, are “trees that will become big.”

Because the advanced age of the willow oaks south of Tech Green, additional trees had been strategically planted before the first one even fell. However, according to Ide, one of those trees was unfortunately destroyed when the willow oak fell on top of it.

One of the primary goals in the Campus Landscape Master Plan is to increase the campus tree canopy to over 55 percent coverage “by planting more trees and providing an effective maintenance program.”

“We have developed what we call a five-year tree management plan and inventory update,” Ide said, “which means that every year we divide the campus into five zones. Every year, we bring in a contractor to assess a tree in each of the arboretum zones.”

Facilities emphasizes that they are doing all that they can to ensure that trees on campus will remain healthy despite the several challenges of recreating a natural world within a limited space.

“We only have so many staff members, we only have so many hours in the day, but we’ve done everything we can to focus on our trees more and take them very seriously in an urban environment,“ Rose said.

Facilities intends to plant more trees to ensure that the overall campus canopy does not decrease in extent. Currently, Tech has over 12,000 trees on campus with a diameter larger than two inches and has plans to consistently increase that number.