Letter to City Arborist From Ocean Beach Biologist About the Long Branch Torrey Pine

by on November 20, 2018 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

Editordude: The following letter was sent to the San Diego City-paid arborist Brian Widener by Kris Schlech, a retired biologist.

Mr. Widener:

My name is Kristen Schlech. I am a former long-standing resident of OB, a retired biologist (Botany), and spent over 20 years in San Diego working to protect and preserve the unique flora of San Diego County. While I have not been privy (yet) to the City’s 11th hour arborist’s report regarding the Torrey pine tree on Long Branch Ave., I have been previously deeply involved in the preservation efforts for all of OB’s Torry pine trees.

With the help of Save Penninsula Trees, and in collaboration with Anne Fege, a forester and member of the City Forestry Advisory Board, we collectively produced a handbook in 2016, for free and for use by the City, on stewardship for San Diego’s trees. In addition, we successfully identified numerous Torrey pine trees within the OB district that qualified for Heritage Tree status, and we expected those trees to be so marked within the City’s Master Tree Inventory.

Based on my understanding of the November 2018 CFAB meeting, I am stunned by the cursory attention given this particular tree. It should be clear, given the recent loss, and subsequent public outcry, of several signature Torrey pines on Saratoga Avenue in 2016, that not only are the Torrey pines in OB a particularly sensitive issue, the community is focused on the conservation and preservation of the remaining Torrey pines within the area. They are much beloved, are specifically referenced in the OB Community Plan, and represent an iconic signature for the district.

I expect, as the City’s Arborist, that you are now aware of the endangered species status of these trees, and that you understand the local and state laws that protect this species in particular? The global population of Torrey pines,estimated at less than 2,000 individuals, is at a critical mass, and the species is irreversibly impacted by the loss of every single tree. Given that 99% of the global population resides within a very small and vulnerable area within the Torrey Pines State Park, I’m sure you can acknowledge the importance of these outlying specimens, especially given that they were planted in the early 1900s, have a historic provenance, and have defined the coastal landscape and view shed of Ocean Beach.

As indicated in the City’s Municipal Code, and the Heritage Tree Program, all and every measure needs to be considered in the preservation of these trees. What was witnessed in the 2016 debacle regarding the felled trees on Saratoga Avenue, the City was negligent in required diligence concerning the laws that protect these trees, particularly in the use of “public safety” as an excuse to prematurely destroy three magnificent Torrey pines. The temporal loss cannot be mitigated, even at a 30:1 ratio, as suggested by the Forestry Industry’s Mitigation Guidelines based on tree girth. The community could have easily chosen legal recourse, and would have likely won that battle, but instead chose to move forward with a positive effort, as noted above, to ensure that the remaining Torrey pines within the district were afforded adequate protection against such knee-jerk reaction.

I therefore implore, and caution, the City to pay very careful attention to the disposition of the Long Branch Avenue Torrey pine. Given that Ocean Beach has already expended significant effort in past years to ensure the continued standing of this specific tree, all eyes are on the crossed Ts and dotted Is to ensure that EVERY measure is considered, and fully discussed with the community, before this tree is deemed a “risk to public safety” and removed.

While I understand that all trees eventually reach the senescence of their cycle, it is not clear that this tree, simply because it leans, or “moves”?, poses an “imminent threat threat to life and limb”. Torreys are noted for their strong trunks, extensive and deep roots, and ability to cantilever. Thus it is the community’s view that this tree has several more years of function, service, and value, and should be protected before any consideration of removal is entertained.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding the sensitive species status of the Torrey pines. I can only hope that the City does not repeat their previous violations of the laws protecting these iconic trees.


Kris Schlech

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

thequeenisalizard November 21, 2018 at 10:14 am

Maybe a preemptive lawsuit should be considered. That may make the city sit up and listen.


Geoff Page November 26, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Excellent letter , Kristen.


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