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    UC plans to cut down several hundred trees at the Gill Tract in Albany

    trees on the Gill Tract 1

    The Monterey pine grove on the Gill Tract of Albany will soon disappear. Photo by Linjun Fan.

    Several hundred trees on the Gill Tract in Albany will be cut down by the University of California at Berkeley soon, causing concerns from a number of residents in the community.

    All the 317 Monterey pines, which have grown into a dense grove on the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Buchanan Street in the past half century, need to be cut down because many of them are infected with pitch canker and could hurt passers-by when falling onto streets,  according to university staff.

    Albany Mayor Robert Lieber said he was skeptical of the plan, and questioned whether it’s necessary to cut down all the Monterey pines, some of which are still healthy.

    “I think the amount of trees they are proposing to cut down is disproportionate to the actual need, ” said Robert Lieber.

    184 of the trees, which are within 70 feet from the street sides, will be cut down beginning on Jan.28, and the rest 133 will be brought down in a later phase, according to Glenda Rubin, assistant director of Community Relations of the university.

    A majority of the pines are now infected with pitch canker, some of which are dead or dying, according to Brice McPherson, a researcher of the university who studied the condition of the trees several months ago.

    “If the trees must be removed because they are dead or are hanging over the streets, if those trees are cut down, then the remaining trees, even if they are not ill or not infected, are going to be much likely to be blown over in a windstorm, ”  McPherson said.

    trees with pitch canker 

    About a dozen Monterey pines in the grove are dead or dying due to the disease pitch canker, leaning on other trees or fallen onto the ground. Photo by Linjun Fan.

    The Monterey pines at the Gill Tract, a 14-acre agriculture research field owned by the university, were planted in the 1960s by university researchers for genetics studies. Pitch canker was first detected in them in the 1990s, according to McPherson.

    Some Albany residents criticized the university for not taking actions at an earlier time.

    “They should have had some plan in place to replant trees that continue to provide benefit, rather than coming in and taking out hundreds of trees at one fell swoop, ” said Kim Linden, a member of the Park and Recreation Commission of Albany.

    Linden said that the trees have been providing a variety of “green benefits”to the community, including oxygen and open space, and cutting them all down would be a shock to people who are used to seeing the trees everyday.

    “It’s sad to see they go. I see them everyday right from my window. It will be really different at that corner, ” said Albany Assistant City Administrator Judy Lieberman whose office locates opposite the street from the pine grove.

    “But if the trees are hazardous, and they are going to fall down on the streets and kill someone, you don’t want that to happen, ” Lieberman added.

    The Albany City Council will discuss the tree-cutting plan at its upcoming meeting on Jan.22.

    Mayor Lieber said that he would try to prevent the healthy trees from being cut down.

    “We don’t have much control over what the university will ultimately do, ” Lieber said. “But we will be able to slow down that process. “

    The university originally decided to cut all the trees down in one phase, but changed to the current two-phase plan due to funding shortage, according to Phil Cody, manager of Campus Grounds Services of the university.

    The several-acre land will be seeded with grass and wildflowers after the trees are gone. The university said that it hadn’t decided what the land would be used for in future, but the tree-cutting work was unrelated to a development plan on  land nearby.

    “The proposed commercial and housing development site, further south along San Pablo Avenue is not part of the property where the trees are located, ” a university notice said.

    Click here to read the full text of the notice.

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