Seeing Endeavour through all those trees

I wrote a week ago about the inaccurate numbers that the California Science Center gave out about the Endeavour trees — that is to say, the trees being shopped down to make way for the shuttle’s path from the airport to its permanent home on display at the museum. And the bottom line is: They were quite inaccurate.

Museum officials originally said that only about 50 of the 265 trees slated for the chainsaw in Los Angeles were taller than 15 feet, which is a very tiny tree. But after The Times produced an editorial in favor of cutting the trees — because so many were supposedly small and because the museum was pledging to plant two trees for each one lost, because the museum had gone to great lengths to minimize the tree-cutting and there was no other practical way to get the shuttle to its new home — the Science Center put out a fact sheet that, among many things, mentioned that only about 50 of the trees were both taller than 15 feet and had trunks thicker than a foot at chest height.

In other words, there could be many trees of substantial height that happened to have slender trunks.

It took awhile to get the corrected information from museum officials, who said one reason was that as talks continued with the neighborhoods involved, different trees were continually being either saved or condemned. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the museum upped the ante on the removed trees, promising to replace each with four new trees.

So here are the new numbers: Of the 265 trees, 127, not 50, are taller than 15 feet; 38 are taller than 25 feet. That means close to half the trees were better than tiny, not less than one-fifth as the original numbers indicated. Museum officials apologized and, in an effort to show that they weren’t trying to fool anyone, sent photos of all 265 trees.


I have to admit that, over 15 feet or not, many of the trees were scrawny-looking. It’s easy to imagine that their replacements will look just as good either as soon as they’re planted or within a couple of years. And some of the trees defined as “large” — meaning they were both taller than 15 feet and thicker in the trunk than 12 inches — were in bad shape, growing at a curve over the street or dangerously tilting up sidewalk panels.

Others were badly trimmed, growing bushes around the base and up the trunk. And some, but not a lot, were lovely trees that grace their neighborhoods and provide sidewalk strollers with occasional intervals of decent shade.

The difference in the numbers is inexcusable, but after the slide show of tree after tree after tree, it still makes sense to take them down. In a few years, the neighborhoods will have more trees and, in most cases, nicer trees that don’t break up sidewalks.

The bigger question at this point is whether those 1,000-plus new trees will be maintained in a way that continues to make them an asset to the neighborhoods in the decades ahead. The Science Center has promised to provide arborist services to all the trees for two years to make sure they’re well established in their spots (though given its failure to produce accurate numbers within a reasonable amount of time, it should be watched carefully on this). But after that, it will be up to the city; given the condition of many of the bigger trees that will be cut down, it’s safe to say that the city has too often given the trees a two-bit shave and a haircut instead of true tree maintenance.

Having more trees would make a great addition to the neighborhoods, but it’s always easier to buy or build or plant something than to maintain it.


Don’t tempt Carmageddon

Kids, put down those sodas

Photo gallery: Ted Rall cartoons