[Edited to Add: This tree finally went down on April 8 or 9, 2013, following strong winds in the Bay Area.]
It’s visible for miles around, the dramatic dead tree high on the brow of Mt Davidson. That’s the Murdered Tree.
Well, someone didn’t love it. The tree didn’t die naturally, we learned on a tour with local historian Jacquie Proctor. It was girdled.
Though we’d heard of girdling, it’s only in the last two or three years that we’ve understood it’s being used as a deliberate technique to kill trees in San Francisco’s native areas. Before, we heard mostly of deer killing young trees in snowy winters, chewing tender bark when they run out of browse and girdling the trees in the process.
Never had we heard of anyone deliberately doing it to a tree.
So what is girdling, exactly?
If the bark of a tree is removed in a ring around the tree, it starves to death. This is because the living part of the tree is the area just under the bark. That’s what carries nutrients from the roots to the top of the tree. (The heart of the tree isn’t alive, which is why a tree can be hollow but still healthy.)
Supporters of Native Plants were deliberately killing trees in this way. The two beautiful trees above, at Bayview, are clearly girdled.
On Mount Davidson, the girdling was done more discreetly, just above the ground, with the wound hidden by undergrowth unless you actually looked for it.
Also on Mount Davidson is an area called The Boneyard, where tall eucalyptus trees lie dead and their stumps are bleached and gray by the trail. One stump has a nail driven in, possibly used to poison the tree.
The Natural Areas Program plans to fell 1600 trees on Mount Davidson. Of course, more will be lost as the wind pushes down trees that are not wind-hardened. And any tree under 15 feet is considered fair game for tree-killers; those don’t count as trees.
There’s a new organization we’ve written about before, the San Francisco Forest Alliance, that is trying to combat this. Their website is at SFForest.net – or click on the button below to go there. Please sign the petition there if you haven’t already.