The County wants to cut down 219 eucalyptus trees along the 101 safety corridor as a prelude to building a pedestrian/bike trail from Bracut to Target. | Barry Evans

A long while back, when I believed that Jesus was my main man, our Sunday Bible school teacher threw us a curveball with the parable of the fig tree:

And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. [Next day] …as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

What happened to love, forgiveness and compassion when the man curses an out-of-season fig tree for not having any figs? I forget what the lesson of the parable was, but it was lost on me: better to be a lost-soul tree-hugger than a saved-soul tree-hater! There was probably a lot more, but that’s one I remember, and which came to mind upon reading that Humboldt County staff are recommending cutting down 219eucalyptus trees along the 101 Eureka-Arcata corridor.

Trees are so cool. They take low-entropy energy from the sun — that we can’t use — and turn it into slightly higher-entropy that we can, in the form of fruit, firewood, building materials, animal fodder and much more. They fight gravity! Gravity says, go down; they do the exact opposite. Alive, they give us shade from the sun, protection from the wind (which is why we have that long stand of eucalyptus along 101, to protect Henry Devoy’s Fay Slough dairy farm way back when), block noise, reduce glare, provide habitat for birds and other animals, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. What’s not to love?

Humboldt County Public Works

In the case of 219 eucalypti adjacent to 101 — and to the proposed four-mile trail linking Target to Bracut — they’re safety hazards. So says this county memo. Can’t argue with that: trees, or tree branches, do sometimes fall without warning. (Old-time loggers referred to dead branches caught high up in trees as “widowmakers.”) To prove their case that this particular species of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus or blue gum) is a serious hazard, county staff added a 19-page attachment to their memo. This attachment detailed the deaths of three people who had been struck by falling branches from this species in California since 1990: a 4-year-old girl in Highland Park in 1990, a 29-year-old woman in Newport Beach in 2011 and a 61-year-old woman in Whittier in 2016.

Three are three too many, but can we put this into perspective? Three deaths over an 18-year period in a state with a population of nearly 40 million rounds out to an annual chance of 1 in 240 million for each of us Californians being killed by a falling eucalyptus branch. (By way of comparison, these odds are about the same as winning the Powerball lottery after buying just one ticket in a given year.) So when the county says, “There is a high likelihood that falling limbs or a toppled tree could strike the trail, and a high likelihood that such an incident would result in severe consequences if a trail user is present at the point of impact” (my italics), this feels like loaded language.

For that matter, taking the staff recommendation to its natural conclusion, shouldn’t we be cutting down swaths of trees in Sequoia Park, Arcata Community Forest and the several redwood parks near here to protect us from falling trees and branches? I recommend the wonderful satiric comment posted last week in response to a Journal story about the proposed tree massacre.

How about a compromise? This 1969 photo (below) shows the trees being topped, trimmed down so the high — potentially dangerous — limbs are eliminated. If we did this, we’d still have a visual barrier (and potential crash barrier) between the proposed trail and the highway. I’d say this would be a win-win for everyone.

Humboldt County Public Works

The supes are meeting on Tuesday, July 31, at 9.15 am at the courthouse to discuss this. Please consider coming and supporting those of us who think the staff proposal sucks … as much as cursing an innocent fig tree.

If you can’t come and want to make your voice known, here’s how to reach the supes:

  • Rex Bohn 476-2391
  • Estelle Fennell 476-2302
  • Mike Wilson 476-2393
  • Virginia Bass 476-2394
  • Ryan Sundberg 476-2395