The fourth-largest registered tulip tree in the state, which stood 121 feet high, was cut down limb by limb Tuesday despite an 11th-hour effort to save it.
Michelle Danz doesn’t blame the landowner, who she believes didn’t know the significance of the tree. Nor does she fault the crew that took it down, as they were simply doing their job. But Danz was obviously frustrated when she spoke to the Beacon Tuesday morning.
She had tried to make someone in the city aware of the pending loss of the tree, only to find the person she had been instructed to speak with didn’t exist.
“The person who could do something about this was fictional,” she said. “I did everything I could think of.”.
She tried to reach the Rhode Island Tree Council, which maintains a record of the state’s largest trees by species – they are the champions. She called the Warwick Police Department and City Hall. She was told to contact the city’s tree warden. She tried doing that, only to find that since Alfred DeNoncour retired about two years ago, his successor has yet to be appointed.
DeNoncour learned of her calls and called her back. There was nothing he could do.
“He was the only one to call me back,” Danz said.
What Danz discovered is that the property owner needed no clearance to take down the tree.
“I don’t think taking down a historical tree is landscaping,” she said.
Danz, whose property abuts 162 Payton Ave. in Longmeadow, where the tree was located, said the land was recently sold. She said word in the neighborhood is that four houses are going to be developed on the property. That could not be confirmed. Planning Department personnel had likewise heard of a possible development, but pointed out there is no application to subdivide the land.
According to city land records, North End Realty bought the property on Jan. 30 for $206,000.
Danz called loss of the tree a heartbreaker, especially from her perspective, since the tree was on the property line and would not have interfered with the houses. She also noted the tree was the home to a pair of Northern flickers, large brown woodpeckers.
“I wish we could have done something to preserve this beautiful thing in our neighborhood,” she said.
There could be more at stake than the loss of one of the state’s largest tulip trees.
John Campanini, technical director of the tree council, said the property is also home to the state’s second largest cucumber magnolia, the state’s fifth largest American Linden, or basswood tree, and a 67-foot high weeping European beech.
“For a small residential yard, they had some magnificent trees,” he said.
He said the tulip tree, which is native to Rhode Island, was 100 to 120 years old and probably part of the forest in that area before development took place.
Campanini was incredulous that the tree would come down without city officials knowing.
“There’s a flaw in the local zoning and planning,” he said.
The tree council was active in promoting legislation in Providence that requires the city to be notified when trees with a circumference of 28 inches are slated for removal.
Campanini stresses the measure is not designed to inhibit development but rather to promote the preservation of trees where possible. He could not say how many trees have been saved, but he believes it’s many more than those cut down.
With so much emphasis on reducing carbon footprints, Campanini observes one of the easiest measures is to save trees.
“We don’t want to take away anyone’s rights,” he said. Trees, he added, are often a good selling point to a property.
Margie Ryan, landscape project coordinator in the planning department, said, “We do everything we can to protect trees. They’re very valuable to the site.” She said trees save energy by providing shade in the summer, add value to property, absorb storm water, replenish oxygen and serve to counter the effects of greenhouse gases.
Ryan said when developers come before the planning board, the city has some leverage to try to save trees as part of an overall plan. That’s not the case if the property owner is simply removing trees.
As for the warden, Ryan said that position could be filled reasonably soon. She pointed out that the city has a tree crew that trims and takes down dead trees on city land.
The Payton Avenue tulip tree was surveyed in December. It had a circumference of 187 inches and a crown spread of 187 feet.
It wasn’t all that far from the “champion” tulip tree, the largest in the state, that stands at 975 Warwick Neck Ave.
Campanini said the sandy soil and drainage in that area makes it especially attractive for tulip trees.
COMING DOWN: The state’s fourth largest tulip tree, standing 121 feet tall and believed to be 100 to 120 years old, was cut down Tuesday. The tree stood in the Longmeadow section of the city on Payton Avenue.