A county road crew, armed with permission to trim, cut off a substantial part of the century-old oak tree at the Horsemill Road entry to the Crestridge Ecological Reserve near Crest last week.
"I was coming off the hiking trail when I saw what they'd done and how much they took," said Leila Sinclair, who lives nearby. "It's not like you can put the limbs back on."
From the road, it appears that the front half of the tree is gone, like a piece of broccoli cut in half. There are more than a dozen visible wounds where branches were cut back or lopped off. From an arborist point of view, the cuts are mostly appropriate for a tree — just not for this tree.
The reserve staff had asked a county road crew to come and sweep the north end of Horsemill Road, at the reserve entrance, according to Chris Manzuk, the reserve manager. They were unable to get the street sweeper under the tree's canopy over the road, which means that fire trucks wouldn't be able to either, and so the crew's supervisor offered to return and trim the tree. (Fire trucks need 14.5 feet of clearance.)
But the crew returned without the supervisor who was familiar with the limited trimming that park staff had agreed to and took off a lot more tree than expected, according to Manzuk
"We were all pretty shocked to see how much of the tree they cut off," neighbor Margie Padelford said. "We know they didn't mean any harm, but it was still very sad to see what was left.
Crestridge is a 3,000-acre reserve chock-full of old-growth Engelmann and live oaks in a spectacular area near Crest, about three miles east of El Cajon. It's a rare shady oasis in East County, where the trees grew up around a creek, and hiking trails traverse oasis settings in an area known for its blazing heat part of the year.
The reserve is part of a chain of open space owned by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and its trails connect the Lakeside Reserve on the north to the San Diego Wildlife Refuge. While it is rarely crowded because few people know about it outside the area, it is very popular with people who live nearby. Sinclair's daughter's wedding was held in the oak grove in July, where the shade kept the guests and wedding party comfortable.
"This is our backyard — we use the reserve, we hike it and we value it," Sinclair said.
Manzuk hired on about a year ago and has spent the last year trying to fend off Gold Spotted borer beetles and trying to balance those efforts with getting the trees through the years of drought.
"It's a careful balance," he said. "You have to be careful you're not doing something that's beneficial to one tree but detrimental to another."
The tree cutting came at the worst possible time. Once a year, the invasive gold spotted borer larvae become adults and leave the host tree in search of other oaks to push into. Compromised oaks, with weakened ability to fight are a prime target.
The reserve will be closed Thursday and Friday so staff can apply pesticide to try to fend off the bugs. After that, the county crew will be returning to follow up on rehabilitating the tree, working with the reserve staff.
"The county already came out after we asked and painted the cuts with a wound sealant that will help the trees," Manzuk said. "They've said they are very sorry about the miscommunication and they're making efforts to make up for this."