Whitney Point Cemetery Tree, NY
Guest Viewpoint in Binghamton paper
  Sep 06, 2004 02:44 PDT 

        An article in the Binghamton paper caught my eye back on Aug. 26th.
A local cemetary has a 5 foot diameter soft maple that is in decline. A
large limb has fallen already and damaged a number of stones, some of which
date back to the 1790's. I wrote a guest viewpoint that the paper printed
on Sept. 5th. They cut off a few lines, but got all the major points I was
making. I spoke of how trees often create a sense of place for many areas
and the benefits and pitfalls of urban landscaping. Here is what I sent

Dear Editor,

            As a long time lover of trees, the dilemma of the Riverside
Cemetery Association in Whitney Point attracted my attention (article
appeared on August 26th). I hate to see a tree cut down without reason,
especially one that is a local landmark, but since it become a threat to
these irreplaceable gravestones, there isn't much choice. My mother and I
had a sugar maple cut down in 1997 that was becoming a threat to the
property. It was 4 ' in diameter. I did a ring count that took me back to
the 1840's. It was one of three maples that were planted strategically to
the southeast of the home. We surmise that the front part of the home was
built in that same time period. These three maples shielded the home from a
vast majority of the summer sun. Unfortunately, only one is left and that
is in decline also.

            Getting back to the cemetery tree, it must also date back well
into the 1800's to reach a diameter of 5'. When the tree is finally
removed, perhaps a ring count could be taken. The problem with trees when
they reach that size is that they are often hollow making age estimates very

            I could tell from the limb that that was lying on the ground
that the tree has been in a state of decay for some time. Decaying trees
serve a very important function in the ecology of the forest. In the latest
issue of Mother Earth News, the importance of these "snags" is documented.
In North America, about 85 species of birds, some 50 species of mammals and
roughly a dozen reptiles and amphibians rely on snags for shelter, food,
mating, resting, nesting and other functions. Decaying trees also serve as
great incubators for new trees as they begin to generate. Cleaning up a
forest of all its snags and "wolf trees" is a detriment to the biodiversity
of the forest.

            The dilemma of the cemetery association also highlights the
importance of planting trees in appropriate places and engaging in routine
maintenance and care until the tree has grown enough to fend for itself.
How many times have you seen trees planted under power lines or next to the
foundation of a home? Often trees are planted in very confined areas that
may also be subject to exhaust fumes and road salt. These trees are often
doomed to poor growth and eventually have to be removed. This results in an
unfortunate waste of time and money. Contact your local cooperative
extension agent or local landscaper for what trees are best suited for your
particular growing conditions.

            The planting of trees in urban areas has immense benefits. I
got these figures from a recent edition of Earth Talk that appeared in the
Ithaca Journal. Chicago's tree canopy removes the following pollutants from
the atmosphere: 15 metric tons of carbon monoxide, 84 metric tons of sulfur
dioxide, 89 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 191 tons of ozone and 212 metric tons
of particulates. In the mid- 1990's, a public-private partnership in
Sacramento, Calif., promoted the planting of over 200,000 trees around the
city. Just ten years later, it is estimated that over 200,000 metric tons
of carbon dioxide are removed from the atmosphere annually. This results in
a savings of up to $3 million annually in pollution reduction. Although we
usually don't think of trees when we think of the Big Apple, the five
boroughs have over five million trees covering 17 percent of its public and
private land. This saves its taxpayers as much as $10 million a year in
pollution reduction.

            If that tree in Whitney Point could speak, it certainly would
have some stories to tell. I'm sure there were plenty of pioneers who stood
in its shade to reminisce about the early days of settlement. Although this
tree cannot write a book, you can interpret its life story by looking at its
size, its height, the texture of the bark, the configuration of the limbs
and its various battle scars from various storms or old age.   A tree this
size imparts a special quality and provides much of the character for this
special piece of ground. I once read a quote in reference to the redwoods
that always resonated with me. Although I don't know the author, it went
something like this: "These are more than just large trees. They are
ambassadors from another age". For the Southern Tier, a tree like Whitney
Point's soft maple definitely falls into that category.

Ed Nizalowski

Newark Valley, NY