Column: Missing: 800 treesWe’ve got a problem here in Stillwater that I’m hoping one of you can help to solve.
By: Angie Hong, South Washington County Bulletin, Worthington Daily Globe
We’ve got a problem here in Stillwater that I’m hoping one of you can help to solve.
It all started Monday morning, while staff from the Washington Conservation District were cleaning up from their weekend tree and rain barrel sale at the county fairgrounds in Lake Elmo. They made a trip to the storage shed to drop off tables and other materials from the sale, and when they got back to the fairgrounds, 800 trees were missing.
Now, I’ve heard of people misplacing a set of car keys, but I’m pretty sure these folks didn’t set 800 trees on the back of the toilet and forget they were there. Furthermore, there were still boxes for the trees sitting on the ground with the names and contact info for the people that had purchased them stapled firmly to their sides. The only problem was, the boxes were empty.
Maybe the Washington Conservation District did too good of a job in promoting their tree sale this spring. Once the word got out that trees were the next “it” thing, everyone wanted to buy a bundle. Some of the most popular tree species were already sold out by February, and as the pick-up day approached, staff worked frantically to update the order forms. Black spruce? Sold out! Paper birch? Sold out! Staghorn sumac? Sold out!
Ah, how the local citizens of the east metro must have panicked, wondering if they too would get a bundle of bare-root saplings for their own planting projects. I suppose the conservation district is lucky no one was trampled when they raised the big barn door at the fairgrounds at the beginning of the tree sale on Friday morning.
My hunch is that the tree thief is a bird lover. Every one of the trees that disappeared Monday morning is known to provide excellent food and habitat for our feathered friends.
Black cherry attracts 429 larval insects, which, in turn, provide food for dozens of bird species, as well as the cherries themselves, which wildlife find irresistible. Red maple attracts 287 larval insects (lots more food for the birds) as well as having edible seeds. In fact, people can eat maple seeds too. Sauté the green baby seeds in oil and sprinkle them with salt and they are almost like popcorn! Other stolen trees included white pine, hackberry, tamarack and white spruce. All are good for birds and other wildlife.
Like the Grinch who stole the littlest stocking from the fireplace, the tree thief even took some shrubs. Missing along with the trees were bundles of wild plum and highbush cranberry, two shrubs that have beautiful white flowers around this time of year and attract hundreds of larval insects for birds to eat.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the thief had a big ravine forming on his or her property that desperately needed to be stabilized. In addition to providing food and habitat for birds and other wildlife, the trees and shrubs that were stolen also help to capture rainwater and soak it into the ground before it can run off and cause erosion.
The shrubs can also be planted on steep slopes and at the top of bluffs to help anchor the soil. Maybe the thief is more of an eco-terrorist, planning to covertly plant trees and shrubs on highly erodable lands around the county to protect our lakes and rivers.
In the wake of the theft, Washington Conservation District staffers are optimistic that the trees will at least be put to good use somewhere in the local area. Nonetheless, if you see your neighbor out planting an unusually large quantity of trees in the next week, feel free to let the conservation district know.
Angie Hong is an educator for the East Metro Water Resource Education Program. Contact her at (651) 275-1136 extension 35 or firstname.lastname@example.org.