New York Civic: The Axeman Cometh BY Henry J. Stern

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All We Are Saying Is Give Geese A Chance;

StarQuest in the News;

Last Chance for Questions; and

In Search of Fall Interns

The "Pelham Parkway 87" are mature trees, primarily lindens, with some elms and oaks, who have the misfortune of living too close to a "road improvement", as the $36 million reconstruction of the two-mile long roadway is euphemistically called. Not enough is being done by the city to preserve these historic trees.

Our efforts to identify the best way to save the Pelham Parkway 87 have been frustrated by the fact that the project falls under the auspices of three different city agencies, each more ready than the last to pass the buck.

The project is funded by the Department of Transportation's (DOT) capital program, designed and built by the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and lies on land mapped as city parkland under the jurisdiction and protection of the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR).

When we called DOT to inquire about the removal of the trees, we were told that DDC was in charge of the project. When we called DDC, we were told that the trees were on Park land. When we called Parks, we were told that the reconstruction had been initiated by DOT. This round robin of avoiding accountability would be comedic if it didn't involve the destruction of trees that are older than most people.

It also appears that no environmental assessment was ever performed on this project. According to the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) procedure, the lead agency of any city project should perform such an analysis when it would lead to "the removal or destruction of large quantities of vegetation or fauna" or "the impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archeological, architectural or aesthetic resources (including the demolition or alteration of a structure which is eligible for inclusion in an official inventory of such resources)."

Clearly 87 mature trees constitute a large quantity of vegetation. Additionally, according to a 2006 report published by the city's Department of City Planning, Pelham Parkway is eligible for listing on the State or National Register of Historic Places. It seems apparent that a formal review of the impact of removing these trees should have been done.

Under current plans, the 87 will become sawdust next year as construction proceeds.  Some city employees have belittled the prospects of the trees claiming that many of them are dead – although some of the alleged dead are still in leaf. We have no problem with the removal of dead trees, Pelham Parkway was not intended to become a petrified forest. We do, however, take issue with the removal of older trees that still have years of shade to provide.

By preliminary observation, the important distinction is between when a tree is "declared dead" and when a tree is actually dead. With humans, that moment is usually when the heart stops beating. With trees, which are much larger and sometimes older than people, there are many specimens which are half-dead, more or less. Some tree trunks are hollowed out to a greater or lesser degree. The rate and the amount of decay vary from tree to tree, as well as their estimated life expectancy.

There is a risk of a dead or near-dead tree toppling, killing or injuring those unfortunate enough to be below its canopy at the critical moment. Several tragedies of this sort occurred this year in Central Park, an area where the trees are particularly well maintained. The appearance of a tree may be deceptive, some look healthy but their trunks and branches may have internal decay.

New trees that are planted are generally saplings (trees with less than 4 inches DBH – diameters at breast height). They will require decades to grow to a size where they produce significant shade. Young trees are also subject to the deleterious effects of pollution from automobile exhaust from the adjacent roadway. New trees will be planted by the hundreds, but many, victims of human vandalism, dog urine, automobile scrapes or droughts, are not likely to grow to healthy maturity.

The Basal Area Replacement Formula, which I introduced while Parks Commissioner, provides for a sufficient number of smaller trees to replace larger ones which are necessarily removed. It is not easy, however, to secure compliance with the formula, which basically calls for wood for wood replacement of old trees with new ones. The previous standard, caliper replacement, would allow four 3 inch diameter trees to replace one 12 inch diameter tree. BARF, in this case, would require four times as many trees as the caliper rule. Before that, it was tree for tree, which meant in effect that a toothpick could replace a redwood.

Guardians of the urban forest must be vigilant to prevent its depredation.  Whether greedy entrepreneurs or misguided civil servants threaten trees, the words of George Pope Morris (1802-64) come to mind:

"Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now."

A review of the health and safety of each potentially affected tree should be performed, with an eye to preserving as many of as possible. Then the design of the project should be altered to save as many of these healthy trees as can be preserved.

Dozens of Geese Land at the Lake

The goose population at Prospect Park Lake has climbed to 61, as geese flying past the lake have settled on its waters. This is nature's effort to fill the void caused when government agents goosenapped between 250 and 300 geese who lived on and around the lake, trucked them to a gas chamber, killed them with carbon dioxide gas and dumped packages of bodies in a landfill.

This act of ansercide was intended to prevent geese from being sucked into jet engines and endangering the lives of airline passengers and flight crews. On January 15, 2009, tragedy was narrowly averted when a jet was skillfully guided onto the Hudson River. Since that time, there have been periodic exterminations of geese. Guidelines say geese should not fly within five miles of an airport. The goose no-fly zone area was recently increased to a seven-mile radius.

Prospect Park Lake, however, is about ten miles from JFK and LaGuardia airports, and it is not known whether its geese have ever interfered with aircraft. Geese closer to the airport have been slain without complaint, in the interest of protecting human life.

We believe there should be a determination, based on evidence if there is any, as to which populations of geese are likely to be a hazard to air travel and which are not. There are also more humane ways of reducing goose populations such as addling eggs and transporting geese to areas remote from airports.

We need information from government agencies as to what anti-goose measures are being undertaken. We would like to know on what basis specific areas are chosen for the extermination program. Fear not, we do not intend to tip off the geese. But we cannot make policy suggestions until we know just what is going on. Particularly when a program makes life-and-death decisions, the public should be informed so animal and airplane authorities can bring whatever information they have into the search for sound public policy.

StarQuest in the News

This week, Regis Philbin joined New York Civic and the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance in our fight to save 87 trees endangered in The Bronx. In a four-minute segment on Live With Regis and Kelly, Regis read from StarQuest's op-ed in last Sunday's New York Post on the air and made an impassioned plea to "Leave Those Trees Alone!" To watch the video, click here.

Last Chance for Questions

We have already received a number of great emails from our readers in response to our call for questions about New York you would like to have StarQuest answer in an upcoming column, but we will continue accepting your suggestions through tomorrow, Friday, August 13th. Please send your questions via e-mail to as soon as possible, and make sure to let us know whether you would like us to include your name or initials along with your question or if you would prefer to remain anonymous.

In Search of Fall Interns

New York Civic is now looking for fall interns. You will learn a great deal about New York City and State government, and meet interesting people. In past years, many students and post-grads have enjoyed the experience. If interested, call 212-564-4441 or email

Henry J. Stern writes as StarQuest. Direct email to him at Peruse Mr. Stern’s writing at New York Civic.


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eHeziNew York Civic: The Axeman Cometh BY Henry J. Stern

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