Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Las Vegas Tree Killers

Someone in Las Vegas recently discovered that trees are good! Two weeks ago, the Las Vegas City Council approved $500,000 for an urban forestry program to plant trees in West Las Vegas. I think that’s fabulous. I also think one way to foster an urban forest throughout Las Vegas would be to encourage people to stop cutting down trees in the first place. I would think that would require cooperation from landscapers and home owners associations. Maybe they could adopt a motto: Don't be a tree killer.

If you live in an HOA-controlled area, as so many of us do, your HOA has the final word on what happens to the landscaping in all common areas, including the removal and planting of trees. I’m fortunate to live in an area that loves trees; when my HOA had to remove hundreds of cottonwoods because of their property-damaging, water-hungry roots, it replanted with equal numbers of water-appropriate trees.

However, should you happen to have an HOA like my mom-in-law’s, you get to watch helplessly as the HOA ruins the landscaping. When she originally purchased her condo, the common-area landscaping was lush and inviting. I thought it was a good idea when the HOA announced it was getting rid of the grass. It seemed like an easy conversion because the complex was full of mature mesquite, African sumac, and palo verdes – all desert-appropriate trees that can live on scarce water. A line of about fifteen mesquite trees shaded the sidewalk and the buildings at front of the complex; the trees were probably ten years old. One day I drove past a line of fifteen severed trunks. The mesquites had been decapitated by a landscaping crew that took the rest of the week to reduce the area to scraps of twisted roots and dirt. What replaced those beautiful trees? Scrawny pines. So the rumors went, one of the HOA’s board members didn’t like desert trees of any kind and wanted all of them removed. After years of an on-going onslaught, from whoever initiated it, just about all the desert trees are gone. Most of the few remaining trees have been trimmed into grotesque shapes that make them look like torture victims.

My mom-in-law’s complex is by far the worst example I’ve seen of tree stupidity, but I would have to say most tree killers I’ve met just don’t grasp the importance of trees in a desert city. News flash: trees are a good way to spend your outside water dollars because they provide SHADE. Shade, if you have not noticed, is an important thing in the desert. In case you don't care about comfort, perhaps it would help to remember shade helps lower your power bills. You don’t have to have lots of lush, green turf to have trees. If you're after water savings, then tear out your turf. The Water District offers excellent rebates. Kill the grass, my friend, but leave the trees.
Photo information: Top: My photo of the cottonwoods behind my house. They were already sucumbing to disease when this picture was taken, just a few months before they were cut down in 2004. The grass (mostly) remains.
Within the text: My picture of the palm tree stump left after landscapers cut down a 50-foot palm down at my MIL's complex.

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