Guest columnist Weston Dripps: 


Published: 05-03-2023 8:26 PM

I feel compelled to offer a few key facts relevant to the April 7 guest column, “Amherst College’s tree problem” [Gazette] that didn’t make it into the article. The piece suggested that sustainability isn’t top of mind when it comes to the college’s management of its off-campus trees. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In deference to the neighborhood in question, it’s also true that its residents have experienced disruption of several kinds that have impacted existing trees, including the construction of affordable housing, the protection of power lines and work by the state on Route 9. None of these actions are connected to the college, but they have certainly impacted the local residents.

The college’s policy for the care of its trees is to be thoughtful, proactive and responsible about managing them, as they are a hallmark and major point of pride of our campus.

We work to preserve as many mature trees as possible. We monitor the health of them, conduct regular preventive maintenance and care, and consult with professional arborists around any decisions made about them. We perform safety-sensitive work and even routinely conduct sonic tomographies (basically X-rays of a tree trunk) on the ones that we have concerns about.

Any decision to remove a tree is made after thorough consultation and analysis, and only when necessary to avoid significant risk to personal safety and the homes nearby. In fact, we have saved several trees by installing cables into them, including a more than 100-year-old maple on South Pleasant Street.

This was the case for the trees mentioned in the column. Several of them needed to be removed in order to install a drainage system to save a home’s basement. One needed to be removed because it had a significant crack and posed an extreme risk to a home nearby. These decisions were made after consultation with a professional arborist and conversation about every possible option.

All trees removed in association with the lyceum project were removed at the recommendation of a consulting arborist — and after several examinations — because they all posed extreme risk due to being dead or significantly structurally compromised. For example, a large hole in a tree was present because the trunk was rotted out, which severely compromised its stability and made it an extreme safety risk.

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The column also suggests that the college should plan its work around trees. The writer might understandably be unaware, but we do this.

For example, last spring Amherst College donated numerous trees to the town to plant on town land, some of which will be planted in the neighborhood in question. As a part of our climate action project on campus, we are mapping out the best possible routes for installing underground pipes that will impact the absolute fewest trees. Some will likely be affected and have to be relocated, but, as is our policy, we will plant more trees than we remove.

Small trees become large trees, and our stewardship of all of them is focused on maintaining both the present and future tree population.

As the temperature continues to rise and our campus trees begin to burst again with leaves and blossoms, I invite our neighbors to take a stroll around the Amherst College grounds and enjoy the foliage. A few must-sees are the 100-plus-year old camperdown elm at Pratt Field and the many pines, oaks, maples, elms and beeches that grace the college’s main quad. We will continue to responsibly take care of those and the hundreds of other healthy trees we look after, and regularly plant new ones to replace any that need to be removed.

Weston Dripps is director of sustainability at Amherst College.