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Activist Report on Attempt to Save City Trees in Decatur IL

This report was prepared for another working group, but I post it here to provide details about a coalition that has managed to keep over 100 trees standing--at least for now.

Report from Decatur IL
Re: Activist efforts to prevent logging of 114 municipal trees
From: Sandra Lindberg, member of Eco-socialist Working Group in Solidarity, and moderator of SCNCC thread, "Feminist Ecosocialism"
Date: 11.4.17

A coalition of environmental and social justice groups in Decatur IL are focusing their work on saving 114 trees that the City has decided to cut down. The trees sit on wooded municipal property that the City terms "undeveloped."

In early 2017, a local tree removal company approached the City and offered to "harvest" over 200 hardwood trees on two pieces of municipal land. The company, Critchlow, already had a reputation for cutting down trees and leaving devastated land behind. Critchlow asked to cut down 100-year old oak, hickory and walnut trees and offered the City 25% of whatever profit sale of the trees would bring.

In May 2017, before the newly elected City Council members could begin to understand what was happening, the Mayor and City Manager approved the first Critchlow logging operation. On a heavily wooded site, Critchlow removed about 100 hardwood trees. It cut many four to five feet off the ground and left ragged stumps behind. The company also left behind piles of canopy brush, suggesting to the City that the refuse would provide "habitat" for local wildlife. The trees were logged in a way that injured or knocked down surrounding young trees and native shrubs.

Local activists who have been working together since the 1990's in an umbrella organization called the Community Environmental Council, photographed the injury Critchlow brought to the May logging site, providing the photos to City Council and Mayor.

Soon after activists began to complain about Critchlow's methods, City Council was asked by City administrators to approve the second Critchlow logging site, this work area to lose 114 trees. The land where the trees stand includes shoreline for Lake Decatur. The site is steeply sloped. The City Council approved the second logging operation, in spite of opposition by one City Council member: newly elected David Horn, an ornithologist in the Biology Department at Millikin University.

The Community Environmental Council attempted to reverse the Council's decision. Members wrote letters to Council, the Mayor and city administrators. They submitted letters to the Decatur Herald and Review, some of which were printed (the local paper prints only 1 or two reader letters per week). Members who had existing relationships with Council members or city officials made phone calls urging caution on the issue. Others contacted neighboring Sierra Club chapters in Champaign/Urbana, Springfield and Bloomington, as well as environmental organizations in those cities. All of the email and phone work was supported by a protest outside City Hall in May (30 people showed up) followed by attendance at the following City Council meeting where 50 activists rose to their feet when asked by an activist making public comment if they wished the City to abandon plans to log trees on the property next to Lake Decatur. At that meeting, activists filled all but a handfull of seats in the council room.

Issues brought forward by CEC about logging the mature hardwoods include:

1. Possible soil erosion and run-off that would follow logging on the hillside. Decatur has recently spent $9M to deepen Lake Decatur, the source of drinking water for the City and for the large industrial companies located in Decatur. Logging, potentially, could undermine dredging efforts designed to protect Decatur from drought's effect on water supplies.

2. The need to evaluate trees and their value in a wholistic way. While the City hoped to receive $25,000 for 114 trees, environmentalists pointed out that trees reduce average city temperatures (thereby reducing energy consumption costs for all in hot summer months). Trees also help soils to retain moisture, which scientists have linked to increased chances for rain over an area (clouds often move past arid landscapes, instead dropping moisture on areas where higher humidity levels already exist). Trees also add to the liveability of the ecosystem: attracting residents to an area, providing habitats for varied flora and fauna, and creating attractive places where people are more likely to start small businesses and live for extended numbers of years.

3. The need to develop a plan for tree removal before City trees are cut down. In other words, before harvesting from the Commons, all the people must participate in such a decision.

4. The need to end the tendency toward cronyism in the way City business is conducted. In other words, use open-bidding for selection of outside business providers.

Thanks to the work of the environmental coalition, City Council was forced to adopt provisions demanded by activists:

1. To postpone logging of the second site.

2. To hire an independent arborist who would survey the site, document the trees there, and make recommendations connected to any logging that might happen on the land.

3. To begin design of a City tree removal policy so that any future "harvesting" follow democratically arrived at guidelines for the process.

4. Open the tree removal company selection process to public bidding, rather than relying on existing relationships between city government and a few businesses.

As of this writing, the stand of trees remains untouched. The activists continued cooperative efforts remain crucial.

Representatives from the following Decatur and Macon County organizations are part of the Community Environmental Council:

Adopt a Street

Agricultural Watershed Institute

Bee-utiful Decatur

Bike Club

Boy Scouts

Daughters of the American Revolution

Decatur Audubon Society (I am a new member of this organization)

Decatur Park District

Dove (domestic violence shelter)

Girl Scouts Shemamo Council

Good Samaritan Inn/Mercy Gardens

Izaak Walton League

Illinois People's Action

Macon County Conservation District

Master Gardeners

Master Naturalists

Millikin University (I teach at Millikin)

Macon County Environmental Management

Prairie Rivers Network

Scovill Zoo

Sierra Club

Running Club

United Way Volunteers

University of Illinois Extension

Neighborhood Group representatives

My ability as an activist to access information from and to participate in the CEC work depended on my willingness to join Decatur organizations and to get involved in them. There are currently are no progressive or socialist groups in Decatur, which remains a pretty conservative town. It's connection to energetic labor protests and strikes has been seriously impaired by decisions of several large corporations to move jobs from Decatur to other cities. Decatur has lost over 15,000 residents in the last 20 years.

Hope this information is of interest!

Sandra Lindberg
Decatur, IL