Last fall, students watched as dead branches continued to crack, break and fall from the old tree between Seymour Union and Alumni Hall.
This month, the school decided to take the tree down.
Despite the falling branches and most of the tree being dead, prior to this decision the Campus Environmental Committee had kept the trunk standing for as long as possible for the purpose of wildlife, such as squirrels and birds, using it as habitat.
However, the college’s insurance company saw the tree during an inspection and told the college that the tree had to come down in its entirety to comply with their rules.
A subgroup of the Campus Environmental Committee named TAG, or the Tree Advisory Group, met to discuss the pros and cons of keeping the tree up, but they knew they ultimately had to take it down for safety reasons. The tree resided in one of the busiest parts of campus: between Seymour Union, Old Main, Alumni Hall and Seymour Library. The risk of a dead tree falling outweighed the need for habitat on Knox’s campus.
Scott Maust, Director of Facilities Services, was surprised at the lack of protest about the tree coming down.
“There was no student protests, no issues at all,” Maust said. “I will say that there were a couple people who really wanted the tree to stay, but the supermajority of the people really questioned why we left that trunk. They just thought being in the center of campus … why did we leave it? I had quite a few more people ask why we kept it there so long.”
When the trunk was removed from campus, it was brought in its entirety to the Knox Farm behind the high tunnels, where it can be used as habitat for animals who depend on decaying trees, such as insects.
Previously, there was conversation about cutting the tree into several parts to use for several purposes, or cut the tree to use for lumber. However, this was rendered impossible as the tree is considered to be urban, and most sawmills will not cut urban trees unless the owner of the tree guarantees that they will reimburse the mill for their blade. Urban trees can have nails, rods and other metal fixtures in them that could break the blades of sawmills, which usually cost upward of $25,000.
The tree is of unknown age, but Professor of Biology Stuart Allison guesses it could be upward of 100 years. The earliest trees on campus were planted by Professor John Van Ness Standish, the botany professor for whom Standish Park is named after, in the 1890s, and the Seymour Union tree could very well have been one of those trees.
Knox has a tree replacement program that replaces every tree that falls or is removed with at least two other trees. The Seymour Union tree has already been replaced with an 18-foot tree that is in front of Alumni Hall.