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Cut It Out

By Tina Traster

May 15, 2008 -- I called in the tree-cutting service to take down the old, diseased pine tree that stood at the entrance of my driveway. At least half of its branches were lifeless, and the trunk was splitting apart.

Still, I liked the specimen, the only pine among the hundreds of maples and catalpas that populate my slice of suburbia in Rockland County. A birdhouse hung on a lower branch, the way a pocketbook swings on the arm of a society lady.

The crew arrived with buzz saws, cherry-picker buckets and a giant wood chipper. I peered from the window as a worker was lifted to the top of the tree. From my vantage point, he looked like a Tonka toy.

The roaring chainsaw sliced off branches, each crashing to the ground, pine needles spilling out like pickup sticks. Finally, the naked, branch-less trunk was carved from top to bottom.

It wasn't an easy decision to chop down a tree, but at least I had a choice. Not so for residents throughout Rockland and Westchester counties who are watching as trees that border their properties - and that happen to be near transmission lines - are removed by utility companies.

The tree-removal program was mandated by federal regulators and the New York State Public Service Commission after a major Northeast blackout in 2003, which was caused in part by a tree that fell on transmission lines in Ohio.

I read in my local paper that the Blauvelt family lost a row of trees that used to screen their back yard from a noisy road. To add insult to injury, the utility company, O&R, left the yard a tangled mess of wild brush, stumps and tree clippings.

I live across the street from a power line, so trees bordering my property are not in danger. But I am nevertheless annoyed because taking down trees sacrifices the beauty of our land, privacy and security. It also devalues our houses.

Recently, just as my maples were flowering, I drove past Storms Road, around the corner from where I live, and noticed an army of tree-cutters. They worked their way from one end of the road to the other, leaving stumps and branches in their wake. The house on the corner suffered the greatest assault, a once partially hidden house now in plain sight for all to see.

I find it hard to believe that the aesthetic and ecological damage done by removing trees is worth the just-in-case scenario of a tree falling on a transmission line. Selective cutting and pruning I understand, but this mandate has turned into a scorched-earth blight.

Residents are making noise about the tree-cutting, and the political dance has begun. The Rockland County legislature and two town boards have passed resolutions calling for the state Public Service Commission to suspend and review its mandate. They are also calling for a restitution plan for replanting and cleanup. For my part, I signed an online petition called "Save Our Trees" on www.thepetitionsite.com.

Haven't we learned the consequences of erasing the natural world?

Trees shade us on hot, sunny days. Children learn to climb in them. They cut down on carbon-dioxide emissions and stem flooding with their deep roots. Every spring, the maples and spruces light up our mood as delicate flowers and leaves burst from their buds.

So what if we have to light candles occasionally when a storm knocks out power?

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