Logging isn’t exactly what you expect in our urban neighborhoods, but that’s how it seemed to neighbors who observed the travesty of apparently healthy, mature oak trees being taken down by a new homeowner in Bailey’s Crossroads. One neighbor wrote “it is a sorry state of affairs when people have so little regard for Mother Nature that…their selfish interest is more important than their neighbors, neighborhood, and the environment.” He added a request that Fairfax County require a permit before certain trees could be taken down.
As I explained to my constituent, there are no laws or regulations in Virginia that prohibit individual homeowners from removing trees on their own property. Although the county has pressed strongly for tree legislation in the past, the General Assembly has defeated attempts to adopt such legislation. The activity described was not logging. Harvesting of timber is regulated by the Virginia Department of Forestry, and there are few woodlots left in Fairfax County that might qualify under the state code. However, any land disturbing activity, such as removing trees and stumps, on more than 2500 square feet of your property does require a permit from Fairfax County. It is not clear whether the homeowner plans to remove the stumps, or just leave them in place, like gravestones to commemorate the fallen trees.
Humans are not the only danger to trees. Forest pests such as the gypsy moth, Asian longhorn beetle, and the emerald ash borer are present in Fairfax County. Your real estate property tax bill includes a dollar or two to combat infestation of these insects. You also may see large purple boxes hung high in some trees. The sticky traps are placed to capture flying insects for later identification both as to type and geographical location.
According to Fairfax County’s Web site (www.fairfaxcounty.gov), trees provide significant environmental, social and economic benefits to our neighborhoods and the greater community. The Fairfax County Tree Commission advises the Board of Supervisors about tree issues, including a new project called “Celebrated Trees.” The effort recognizes big, historic, commemorative, and favorite trees in Fairfax County. One of the biggest trees in Fairfax County is a swamp chestnut oak in Huntley Meadows Park. Several beech trees in Falls Church claim to be: the biggest, the original (giving its name to Beech Tree Elementary School), and/or the oldest. A beautiful copper beech tree in Fairfax City, alas, was the victim of severe weather a few years ago, and I still miss seeing it on my way to the Fairfax County Government Center. Its deep purple leaves always caught the light and gave it a namesake coppery glow.
Trees remove carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas, from the air, and they absorb ozone and other pollutants. One mature tree with a 26-foot canopy (like those that were cut down) can absorb the emissions of a vehicle driven 11,500 miles each year. Shade trees can reduce a home’s cooling costs by 10 to 50 percent in the summer. On a very warm evening, for instance, the trees surrounding the Newton Edwards Amphitheatre at Mason District Park provide a cool respite for attendees at the free summer concerts. You can feel the difference just by walking the short distance from the parking lot to the seating area.
The Tree Commission notes that “You’ve climbed them, relaxed in their shade, plucked their fruit, and planted them in honor of loved ones.” It’s too late to save the trees that triggered my constituent’s inquiry, but it’s not too late to celebrate trees, and plant many more, for our own enjoyment, and that of generations to come.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org