Those of us who wish to save the Torrey Pine tree at 4633 Long Branch Avenue in Ocean Beach won a small battle at the last OB Planning Board meeting, Wednesday, December 1st.
We won a temporary reprieve from the Board – as the City has been threatening to chop down the tree within the next thirty days. The Board voted unanimously to give the parties thirty days to do testing and evaluations, develop alternatives to removal, and to return to the Board with their results.
A battle was won – yet the war may still be lost.
The majestic tree on the 4600 block of Long Branch dominates that entire block – I know as I lived on that very block for over five years until just recently . It – along with at least one other Torrey Pine on private property – gives that block a special feeling and look. The foliage from the tree spreads out – up and across the street until a virtual canopy of pine is formed for that part of the block. It’s shady and cooler during the summers.
That block of Long Branch – has always been one of the most green blocks in OB, a block with a bounty of trees and bushes. I’ve noticed that since the early Seventies. Of course, over time, a number of the trees have been removed, and the block is not as green as it once was.
But as you drive down the block or happen upon it – you can’t get away from the visuals of towering dark green pine and the effect it has.
Now imagine all that … gone. … It’s overpowering – the change would be so drastic – as to effectively disfigure the block – making it a lot less welcoming – more sterile – more gentrified.
The City may very well still take the tree out. Its experts say that, their contractor says that. Don’t they? That’s what Drew Potocki said during the Planning Board meeting.
But if you dig a little (no pun intended) into what little documentation the City has provided for their case against the tree, you can find fault in Potocki’s logic. For example, two of the City’s experts say that the adjacent sidewalk needs repair – and no one disagrees with that. It is broken and the root has cracked it. It has never been permanently repaired.
So the experts say, well, if you repair the sidewalk, you’ll cut the roots of the tree, thus make it weaker and more dangerous – so – this logic goes – it must be removed. No ifs and or buts.
Yet – over on the 4600 block of Saratoga Avenue – 3 blocks away – the City has done great things with the sidewalks to save the Torrey Pine trees there. Why can’t the City do something like that on Long Branch? The City has not even addressed this. Why not? It was their work on Saratoga.
So, there’s questions like these that need to be addressed before anything is done to the Long Branch Torrey Pine. So, please pardon the following details, but come along for a journey into the fight to save just one Torrey Pine, and allow me to share and spell out the issues here and gather some recent history and post it all together.
Torrey Pine Trees
The Torrey Pine tree (pinus torreyana) is one of the rarest pine trees in America and even the world. Whether it is the very rarest in the U.S. is up for contention. Right now, there are only two locations where it grows in the wild: Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands 175 miles off the coast of Southern California and in Del Mar, up the coast from OB. Today’s large Torrey Pine trees in Ocean Beach were all planted back in the Thirties.
It’s estimated that there are only 2,000 – 3,000 Torrey Pine trees remaining that are growing in the wild. It’s also believed that the Torrey Pine was the one dominant tree species of Southern California, its forests blanketed the area. But by time the Europeans arrived, there was only the two basic locations. The trees were very important to local Indians. According to Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening:
The wild groves of these trees still in existence were once part of a much larger forest that, probably due to climate changes, shrank to the limited area we know today. In the 16th century these trees served as a prominent landmark to seafaring Spaniards on an otherwise bare coast. They gave the name “Punta Des Arboles”, the Point of the Trees, to the current location of Torrey Pines State Reserve. …
Called “Soledad Pine” by the Spaniards, the species was renamed in 1850 by Dr. Charles Christopher Parry, a traveling botanist [part of the US-Mexico Border Survey party] in honor of his friend, Dr. John Torrey, the greatest botanist of his time.
For centuries before the arrival of Europeans, the Torrey pine was an important source of food and craft materials for local Kumeyaay Native Americans. In fall they gathered the nutritious nuts off the ground. They used the sap to make glue and sealant and the needles for coiled baskets.
By the time San Diego was settled, there were only several groves of the trees left up in Del Mar. Local philanthropist and newspaper publisher Ellen Browning Scripps bought the grove of trees south of the Penasquitos Lagoon to protect them and their native area, and with her foresight and generosity donated the core grove that eventually became what is today the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
Among trees, pine trees in general are the longest living trees in the wild. And among pine trees, Torrey Pines have some of the most longevity. It takes most species of pine trees two years for their pine cones to mature; for Torrey Pines, it takes three years. And according to experts, Torrey Pines in the wild live 200 years.
The roots of Torrey Pines can spread out far beyond the length of its branches; a forty foot tree can have 2 to 3 times that length in roots. In the wild, they are known for their deep roots and wind-blown shapes.
The Torrey Pine is an endangered species. An endangered species is one that is at risk of being extinct.
Coastal communities that are fortunate to have Torrey Pines in their midst treasure them for their unique history. Within the City of Del Mar, the Torrey Pine is protected by law, having become their “heritage” tree. And in Ocean Beach a few years ago, strenuous efforts were made to protect the strand of Torrey Pines on the 4600 block of Saratoga Avenue. Buckled sidewalks were removed and re-poured to fit around the trees and metal grates were put in place to be able to move when the earth and trees grow. Under citizen pressure, the City of San Diego did this.
San Diego in general honors the Torrey Pines, and has named the following sites after them: Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve, Torrey Pines Golf Course, Torrey Pines Gliderport, among others.
Some History in the Protection of San Diego Torrey Pines
At the time of their naming, Torrey Pines were thought to only be in one locale, the Del Mar area. Dr Parry – the botanist who had named the Torrey Pine, returned to the area in 1883. He was shocked at the lack of protection for the main groves of wild Torrey Pines in the Del Mar area, and wrote to the San Diego Society of Natural History an historical and scientific account of the tree, emphasizing the need to protect it from extermination. That resulted in some movement towards guarding their groves. The State Preserve’s website states:
The first source of protection came in 1885 from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. They posted signs citing a reward of $100 for the apprehension of anyone vandalizing a Torrey pine tree.
In 1888 the grove of trees on Santa Rosa Island was discovered. That added to a mystery about the trees and the growing momentum for some kind of protection. Plus California formed a State Board of Forestry that same year. However, there was apparently a set-back two years later, when pueblo lands that included the Torrey Pines area were leased for cattle and sheep grazing, and trees were cut and used for firewood.
First Park for Torrey Pines Established
Finally in 1899 the San Diego City Council voted to set aside 364 acres as a public park – this was the very first park of Torrey Pine trees, but unfortunately it did not include specifics to protect the Torrey Pines themselves.
After the turn of the century, the lands surrounding the park were in danger of being commercially sold. Between 1908 and 1911, newspaper woman and philanthropist, Ellen Browning Scripps, acquired two additional pueblo lots and willed them to the people of San Diego. This added to the park the area of North Grove and the estuary.
Botanical studies of the park by San Diego Society of Natural History were conducted in 1916, and their findings of damage caused by people picnicking and camping reignited the public movement for the trees’ preservation. In 1921, the first custodian of the park was named – Guy Fleming (today there’s a trail named after him). The next year, Scripps had a well-known landscape architect map out a long-term plan for the park. And by 1923, the Lodge was built. The City Council added more pueblo lands the next year, and the park gradually grew through the years – but not before other threats to the Torrey Pines.
Between 1928 and 1930, the League To Save Torrey Pines fought and won against a proposed cliff road above the beach. The purpose of the road was to eliminate curves and grades in the old road. The opponents felt that the road would not only destroy a section of the park but would also be costly to build. One of the reasons the League was so against this new road was that it called for using landfill in the canyons so that the road could go across them.
Another threat occurred during World War II when the Army leased leased 750 acres of Torrey Pines Mesa from the City for training purposes including anti-aircraft artillery.
Up to the late Fifties, the Torrey Pines park was under the authority of the San Diego Department of Parks & Recreation. Citizens and government managers did not believe the City had sufficient authority to protect the endangered species within it, so in 1956 a special city election was held which resulted in handing the nearly 1,000 acre park to the State of California, for it to become a state reserve.
About 100 acres were appropriated for the construction of a public golf course. The State Park became official in 1959. In 2007 the nomenclature was changed to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
Meanwhile in Ocean Beach …
One of the projects of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the early Thirties of the Great Depression, was planting young Torrey Pine trees from out of one foot high-gallon cans on both sides of Catalina Boulevard, from the old gate to Cabrillo national monument. The Torrey Pine trees for the project were raised in Ocean Beach by David Cobb, a County employee who had some land on Saratoga Avenue for a nursery. Pine nuts from the Torrey Pines park were gathered and seeds were sprouted and they were transplanted to larger and larger cans, a process that took one to two years.
The original project on top of Point Loma failed due to there not being sufficient protection of the trees’ roots from gophers, squirrels and rabbits, – although a few survivors can be found near the Fire Station on Catalina.
Back in Ocean Beach, the Cobbs ended up with extra trees and they were planted along Saratoga Avenue and a few other blocks as well.
Since the subject of trimming or pruning the Long Branch Avenue tree has been raised, here are some points in pruning Torrey Pines from Pat Welsh:
Points in the Pruning of Torrey Pines
- If a Torrey pine tree is in good health and does not have any dead growth in it, it may never need pruning.
- All pruning should be done in winter months between the beginning of November and the end of February before warm weather promotes extensive new growth of shoots and foliage.
- All cuts should be made at the outside edge of branch collars. (The branch collar is the thickened area or ridge that surrounds a branch where it meets the trunk or another larger branch.)]
- Any lowering of height or shortening of branches needs to be accomplished by drop-crotching. (Drop-crotching is a system of pruning by which a new leader is chosen farther down on the tree or further back on a branch.)
- Never allow a tree to be topped and never allow branches to be chopped off without leaving a remaining growth tip. (Topping is a discredited pruning system by which a tree’s height is lowered by cutting straight through branches or the trunk removing all tip growth further out or up from the cut.
- Above all, when pruning, never remove more than twenty percent of the foliage of a Torrey pine tree at any one time.
- Pines need a healthy canopy of foliage to provide food for their root system.
- Over-pruning combined with incorrectly placed cuts weakens trees and can stimulate excessive growth on remaining branches.
More on our own Torrey Pine on Long Branch in Part Two.
-Elizabeth Santo’s masters thesis , as quoted in Torreyana, 2008.
– Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening