Rumors about some doomed trees spread like Dutch elm disease on Elmwood Avenue.
The talk seemed to be spurred by the frenzy of activity by various utilities and the preparation for new curbs and sidewalks being installed along the bustling commercial corridor. Or it could have been the recent axing of a couple of stately but diseased trees on the street.
"They already took down two beautiful elm trees in front of the Noodle King in the 800 block. Don't ask me why. They shouldn't be taking down healthy elm trees," complained Edward Pinkel, owner of Urban Surfer Inc. at 736 Elmwood.
Posted on a tall, graceful tree outside Sequoia Restaurant at 718 Elmwood were signs that read: "Save Our Elms" and "Please Don't Let Them Take Our Tree!" William Green, a waiter at the restaurant, concurred with those sentiments.
"I don't want to see them take down the large trees. It's called Elmwood Avenue for a reason," Green said.
It so happens that the tree in front of Sequoia is a maple. But more important, said City Forester Peter Pasnik, the city never had plans to remove it in the first place.
"That tree is not being touched," he said, "but it would be a good idea to remove the screw holding up the sign posted on the tree. That is not doing the tree any good."
Pasnik said 10 trees were targeted for removal as the city proceeds with the second phase of a project to install new curbs and sidewalks on the Elmwood strip from West Delavan Avenue south to Allen Street. Last year, the city undertook a similar project on Elmwood between Forest Avenue and Bidwell Parkway.
Pasnik said all of the trees to be removed have been targeted because of disease, not street work.
"None of this was done with any thought of malice, and it was not done to make the contractor's job easier," Pasnik said.
Pasnik said two felled trees near 832 Elmwood were mature maples that might have looked healthy to the untrained eye but, in fact, were not.
"They were rotten at the base, though it may not have been evident," Pasnik said. "The roots were overtaking the sidewalk, but the hazard was in the crown of the tree. There were numerous dead branches, and the trees was structurally weak."
An elm tree across from the Crane Library at Elmwood and Highland Avenue also had numerous dead branches, Pasnik said, and showed early signs of Dutch elm disease, which wiped out more than half the city's tree population in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The rest that were targeted are smaller trees, including some cherry trees that Pasnik said were "cracked, damaged and unsalvageable, as well as hazardous."
"If these trees were in more residential neighborhoods, residents would be after us to take them down," Pasnik said.
Still, neither Pasnik nor Parks and Recreation Commissioner Daniel T. Durawa was unsympathetic to the concerns of the Elmwood Avenue merchants who feared the loss of what appeared to be healthy trees.
"Our job is to protect and preserve trees of the city," Durawa said. "On the other hand, we do have a backlog of trees to be taken down all over the city."
Every tree that is removed will be replaced with disease-resistant strains, Durawa said.
"We can't put elms up because Dutch elm disease still affects the trees," Durawa said. "In many cases, we're using Christine Buisman elms, which is a disease-resistant strain of elm, as a replacement for the American elm. They're more resistant, but not as large or as pretty, and they all have a springtime beetle problem."
Besides, he said, most of the city's tree spaces are too small to support an American elm once it grows to its normal size.
Durawa added that not only is the city not randomly tearing down trees, but a new city tree ordinance is in the works for a sort of tree trust fund agency.
"If you can't replace a tree that's been removed from a property, you must make a payment to the fund that provides for the planting of a tree somewhere else in city," he said.
"We understand that Elmwood is unique, and generally businesses there want their trees. But, believe it or not, in other areas, some try to kill their trees because they block their signage."