Unjustified Arborcide, or Mercy Killing?

On Tuesday, I saw a large pile of logs piled next to the curb in front of 146 and 148 Hicks Street. I later received an e-mail from a reader who lives in a nearby building, saying that a healthy tree behind 148 Hicks was being taken down for no apparent reason. The reader described this as a “tree of heaven,” presumably Ailanthus altissima.

The next morning, I went to the same spot and saw (see photo) logs loaded onto a truck, and another truck, with the hopeful name “SavATree” emblazoned on the side, but with a wood chipper behind. A worker came from behind 148 Hicks. I asked him if the whole tree was coming down, or if it was just being trimmed. He said it was coming down. I asked if the tree was unhealthy. He said there were some problems near the bottom. More photos and text after the jump.

This is a photo, taken by a neighbor, of the tree at nearly its full height, but after most branches had been removed.

Another photo, taken by the same neighbor, of the remaining stump near the bottom, with no evidence of problems. Perhaps they were further down? The neighbor suggests that the tree was destroyed to keep it from interfering with a new rooftop addition to 148 Hicks.

What say you? Unjustified arboricide or mercy killing?

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  • WillowtownCop

    A much smaller tree was murdered on Columbia Place last summer when some jerk complained about the bench built around it in front of the Iris Cafe. I still cannot figure out why the tree had to come down just because the bench did, unless it was for some other reason and just very, very badly timed.

  • Flashlight Worthy

    WillowtownCop, sadly that tree in front of Iris was leaning so heavily into the street that it was tied with a rope to the 2nd floor railing of the building next to it. I suspect it was considered a safety hazard.

    Fortunately a pair of cherry trees went into that treepit and the one next to it last week. I suspect that the crew at Iris will take excellent care of them and we’ll have a pair of beautiful blossoming trees for decades to come.

  • lori

    If the tree is on the city street, near the sidewalk, in front of your house, you cannot remove that tree – it is the city’s responsibility. However, if the tree is in your backyard, on private property, you can do what you want. Sometimes, when trees are planted, they are a nice addition to your backyard, but when they grow to full height they interfere with light, other plants and/or can become a danger to the building. “Neighbor” has no say in the matter.

  • jennyrose

    We suspect arborside – that maybe the repairs to the building included a nice new backyard without the gigantic (weed) tree, We had a great view of it also, along with all the birds who used to perch in it. It’s very sad and empty now.

  • Frenchbull

    I am a great tree lover and a weekly volunteer at BBG but I can’t understand why this is our business. I think it’s creepy to be passing judgement and snooping around taking photos and bothering people about trees on private property.
    We must have something better to report on?
    Just saying.

  • Lenbee

    A large Ailanthus tree in a tight yard can be a nuisance, present a liability or may just not be to the owner’s liking. It is the sole responsibility and concern of the homeowner. The tree may have been attractive to neighbors, but they didn’t have to live under it.Years back I had a 24″ trunk caliper Ailanthus removed from my yard. It was cut up and brought to street through the lower floor of my brownstone. Well worth the expense and mess to rid my property of an albeit beautiful tree that should have been pulled out as a tiny “weed” 50 years ago.

  • http://pistachiopony.com maria

    I have been noticing lots of trees around here not looking good and slowly dying. We had a nice one infront of our building that died recently. I reported it online through parks and they removed it. I applied to get a new one, but still nothing.

  • amos

    When did observing the loss of a beautifully gigantic living green sculpture (tree!) outside of one’s window become “creepy” here in the borough where “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. The loss of community values is “creepy” and certainly is a reflection of our times. Sure, the property owner has the “right” to take down the tree and so it is…. and yet, it is still sad.

  • frenchbull

    so I suppose I have lost my “community values” and am creepy too
    must go out to walk the dog now in shame

  • WillowSt.Neighbor

    Does “community values” include spying on ones neighbor?
    If the tree was on private property then the owners have the right to do with it as they please even if it doesn’t please their neighbors.

  • mabel

    Said tree is the tree written about in the book mentioned – however, it is more a weed than a tree as it is extremely invasive, crowds out other plantings and damages any structure in its way. Look it up.

  • Penny Bridge

    This is simply a matter of weeding in a private garden. The tree is invasive, not native and deserved to be “murdered”. Is this a community blog or a spy network of cry babies.

  • Cranberry Beret

    Hey “neighbor” why don’t you just ask your neighbor what they’re doing? That’s what neighbors do. Instead of anonymously complaining to a blog with speculation. Sheesh.

  • tree-of-hell

    That was an ailanthus. I’d just thank the owner for getting rid of it. Remember, it is a weed, extremely invasive and kills local trees and shrubs. If you have one of those beasts, nothing will grow near it, and the smell is quite awful as well.
    I saw when they removed the bottom of the tree. Trunk was hollow.

  • Lauren

    Why are we discussing a private issue? The tree was in the backyard, we may like it or not but we have absolutely no say on this. Also, why are pictures of a private backyard being published online?? Did you get the owner’s permission for posting this pictures? I have a backyard as well and find it very creepy that some “neighbor” could be taking pictures of my private property. Neighbour, just spend 5 minutes and do some quick research about Ailanthus. Also check what Parks and the USDA have to say about this invasive, non-native species. The best you can do is to erradicate them.

  • Lauren

    Question to “Neighbor”: Where were you two or three years ago when your building cut down not one, but two Ailanthus in your backyard?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlsiLOnWCoI Arch Stanton

    Lauren, Just as people have the right to cut the tree down in their backyards, people have the right to take a picture out their window of their neighbors backyard. Hate to bust your bubble but you don’t live alone in this city.

  • Nabeguy

    Tree of heaven? If they’re up there, I’m switching to Buddhism. I had one removed without a nanosecond of hesitation when I moved into Middagh Street. It stank in summer, dropped all manner of leaves and branches in fall, and grew at a rate of 1″ in circumference a year, which eventually led to the collapse of the retaining wall that it grew out from. It’s the Shaquille O’Neal of weeds. It may look nice out your window, but try living under one for a year and I’m sure you’d have a better understanding of these homeowners motives.

  • Lauren

    Arch, it is not taking the pictures that bothers me, but BHB releasing pictures of a private yard online for everyone to see. I can peek at my neighbor’s backyard and even take a pic, but posting them online is a different issue.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    The fact that the yard is “private” in the sense that it is owned by the owner of the house, who may decide to whom physical entry to it is allowed, does not make a view of that yard, easily visible from another person’s window, “private.” The fact that this tree was visible to a large number of Brooklyn Heights residents, some of whom had strong feelings, despite having no remedy at law or equity, concerning its removal makes this a legitimate news item.

    A majority of comments on this story has been to the effect that this type of tree can be dangerous to adjoining buildings and has other unpleasant qualities. This suggests that the owner of the tree, in addition to having a legal right to take it down, acted in a justifiable manner. That is why I asked the question, both in the caption and the last sentence of the post, whether readers thought this was justifiable or not.

  • Mark

    As a certified arborist and dedicated tree preservationist, I avoid removing trees when possible. Unfortunately this tree had a hollow trunk and posed a hazard to those that live nearby. It is great to see so many people caring out trees in Brooklyn Heights!

  • Kaialee

    I agree with Mark. The tree did have a hollow trunk (it was visible at approx. 6 feet from the ground). Thank god the owners took it down or those of us who are neighbors could have been seriously injured when it fell down, which would be just a matter of time.

  • cat

    Our neighbor took down a huge gingko tree a couple of years ago. And despite the fact that I loved watching the birds (including a falcon at one time) perch on and sing from that tree, I totally get not wanting those stinko berries dropping in the backyard. I don’t even know if that is the reason they took it down–it could have been dead on the inside for all I know.

  • T.K. Small

    I think this treaty should be burned at the stake!

    On a serious note, the tree that I am truly angry about having been removed, was the Redwood behind 2 Montague Terrace, in the garden between the building and the promenade. That was a tragic loss and, I believe unjustified.

  • my2cents

    Slightly off topic, but has anyone else noticed that if you look at many old photos of the neighborhood from even as recently as the 1950s, there seem to be almost no trees lining the streets? It’s so weird! I think of these trees we have as very old, but most of them are probably under 50 years old. Who planted them, I wonder. Was it a mayoral priority at one point?

  • Lenbee

    In reply to my2cents, Most city-planted tree species mature within 40-60 years. The major reason that some die young is from truck impacts and cramped concrete- bordered areas which block all-important water from reaching the uppermost roots. Excessive dog urine can also compromise a young tree’s health. At one time, NYC only planted Sycamores. Now, flowering Bradford Pear trees and other hardy species have textured NYC’s tree scape . NYC has long had an ongoing “greening” agenda.Be it on the street or in one’s back yard, when a tree becomes a “nuisance” I see no moral basis to let it remain from an Ornamental Horticultural “pro life” perspective.I believe in plants’ rights on a macro biotic scale, e.g. a Rain Forest. However, a random Ailanthus tree in a metropolitan environment is and should be subject to its survival by its “keepers.” Yikes, can you imagine a day when one is reprimanded for tossing out an unwanted or unmanageable “houseplant?” Just stirring up the pot…………

  • Tricolore


    Please spare us your notion of news judgment. If it’s a legitimate story, you would have picked up the phone and called any of the owners. You didn’t. Instead, you took pictures from a couple in the neighboring building that may be the two unhappiest people on the planet who hate everybody and never hesitate to let people know it. How enterprising.

    It didn’t take much to ask the question of the owner. I wasnt even planning to and ran into one guy while walking my dog. He simply said, “one tree falling on our houses was enough” and noted damage to the base of the tree.

    So, had the tree fallen on the house, I suspect you whiners would have pitched in for the repair.

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