Disputed NE Bend tree felled, hours after vote

City doesn't know who did it; arborist in fight says wasn't him

BEND, Ore. - Just hours after Bend's City Council, acting as the city's "tree board," voted to have the city cut down a disputed, nearly century-old Ponderosa pine tree at a new community garden site, someone cut it down -- but it wasn't the city, which is now trying to find out who did the overnight deed.

Councilors sided with a city staff arborist who said the tree posed a safety hazard and needed to be removed from the project site near NE Eighth Street and Franklin Avenue.

Another arborist, former city council candidate Wade Fagen, had objected to the tree's removal, saying it was not failing or a hazard. Fagen also recently appealed to the city to try to save a juniper tree at a road project on the south end of town, saying the road could have been shifted a bit to save it and that junipers are native High Desert plants.

As for the garden project, organizer Cheryl Howard said the tree's removal is a serious matter, and that felling it required a special permit, due to its proximity to power lines.

City officials told NewsChannel 21 they don't know who cut it down -- and Fagen said he also has no idea who did it, as he still was fighting to save it.

But Howard noted that Fagen told councilors at a meeting previously that if they voted to take down the tree, he could do it himself.

Howard said arborists in Bend are concerned about what they called "rogue behavior" -- and the person responsible could face charges.

The original plan was to cut the tree down as a safety hazard during installation of a new community garden.

An arborist with the city deemed it a hazard because of its lean and split up the middle, and a cavity at its base. But Fagen objected to the removal, saying the tree was not failing or a hazard.

Some neighbors said Wednesday they, too, didn't think it should go.

"It's a prominent visual image in the middle of my front window, I don't want it going anywhere,"  Matthew Cassidy said at the time.

Cassidy lives right across the street from the towering pine.

Over the years, the tree has been limbed because of power lines that run right up next to it.

"I guess some people might not say it's the most classically shaped tree, but I appreciate that about it," said Cassidy.

At Wednesday night's meeting, councilors discussed the option of getting an independent arborist to look at the pine.

Councilor Doug Knight argued the city had its arborist look at it and said it needed to go. He noted that Fagen said the tree is fine and doesn't pose a threat. A third arborist said an evaluation of the tree needed to be done, and Knight said he agreed.

In the end, Knight was the only one to vote against the plan.

After the tree is gone, community garden organizers said they plan to put in two new Ponderosa pines.

Having done their very rare duty as the city "Tree Board," Councilor Sally Russell said she'd like to see options in the future, and City Manager Eric King said the city is developing a standard process for deciding on removal of tees in public rights of way.

Mayor Jim Clinton said he would have liked to see the tree saved -- "I think it has character" -- but went along with the staff recommendation. He also said he believes there should be a tree board made up of people who know, love and care for trees.

But colleague Mark Capell called for balance, or you could "get a half-dozen people who say, 'I'm never going to let a tree get cut down in the city."

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