Group: It’s wrong to ‘butcher’ airport trees

LIHU‘E — Hawai‘i’s oldest environmental organization is calling attention to the Lihu‘e Airport for what it called excessive pruning that resulted in the destruction of trees.

The century-old Outdoor Circle said untrained pruning will likely result in the loss or damage of several trees in the airport parking lot. As many as 60 trees on airport property are also in danger from poor maintenance, according to The Outdoor Circle.

The State of Hawai‘i Department of Transportation said that maintenance crews did conduct an excessive level of tree trimming.

“Our Airports Division takes full responsibility and will work to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” said Caroline Sluyter, public information officer. “Our Airports Division staff has already conferred with the Kaua‘i Outdoor Circle and will be meeting with one of their arborists to discuss better landscaping methods and techniques.

The goal will be to establish uniform landscaping policies and procedures at our airports statewide, Sluyter said.

DOT Airports Division Deputy Director Ford Fuchigami will be on-island Tuesday to speak with Kaua‘i Outdoor Circle’s branch president, Maureen Murphy. She is a certified consulting arborist with 35 years experience growing and caring for trees on Kaua‘i.

Murphy said it is important to note that The Outdoor Circle does not always recommend saving a tree. They will recommend removal when a tree presents a hazard or could not succeed from being planted in the wrong place.

“We are about saving trees worth saving,” she said.

Murphy said part of the problem was with the airport planting trees that fruit over a parking lot. Still, she said it is possible to mitigate with proper timing of pruning, and that it was wrong to “butcher” the trees.

She has a dim hope for the trees to recover. She said new growth after severe pruning often results in weak limbs that tend to break very easily.

“Its a completely different biological attachment than a naturally growing one and very weak,” Murphy said.

Murphy said Kaua‘i Outdoor Circle provides tree care training for state workers through a Kaululani Urban Forestroy Grant. They have operated the program for three years and she said HDOT crews have not attended the classes.

“We got the grants to train government employees, both county and state, and the only guys who showed up were the county beautification crews,” she said.

Bob Loy, Director of Environmental Programs for The Outdoor Circle on O‘ahu, said the work done on the trees was “unprofessional, improper, inappropriate and destructive.”

“These trees are extremely valuable public property and their destruction represents a substantial loss,” Loy said.

“Now the trees likely will have to be removed and replaced. If not they will look terrible for at least a year or more and will most likely have their life span cut considerably shorter because of the wounds from this work.”

The pruning work was conducted in an unsafe manner and in violation of regulations, Loy said. The workers were photographed not wearing protective hard hats, safety glasses or tethers as they cut trees adjacent to private vehicles.

“The DOT knows better than to have allowed any of these problems to have occurred,” Loy said.

To view such an eyesore right outside the airport is the wrong welcome to visitors to the Garden Isle, Loy said. Tourism is the No. 1 island industry, and visitors are expecting unparalleled beauty — “not carnage,” he said.

“The worst part is, this could have and should have been prevented,” Loy said.

The DOT Highway Division has tree professionals. They could have trained and coached airport workers on proper tree care and safety.

“It‘s not just the fault of the poorly trained workers and those who failed to ensure proper training,” Loy said. “These employees were told to do the work and obviously are directly supervised by higher-ups.”

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