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"They shoe horses, don't they?"

Killer Trees of the Texas Panhandle

and
The Noble Quest for a "Forgiving Roadside"

Editorial by John Troesser
According to an old story, the wife of the first Texas State Forester was taking a train through West Texas to join her husband who had already taken his position in East Texas. After mentioning her husband’s new position to a fellow passenger, the passenger looked out at the passing landscape and said something to the effect of: “Lady, Texas doesn’t need a State Forester." He then added: "- or else it needs one real bad.”
Killer tree
Killer Trees of the Texas Panhandle
Photo courtesy La Grange C of C
A recent letter to the editor of the Pampa News (Online) got our attention. The letter was from TxDOT Amarillo District Engineer Mark E. Tomlinson. In the letter Mr. Tomlinson addresses the “proposed tree removal project on U.S. 60 and U.S. 83 in Hemphill, Roberts, Ochiltree, Carson, Gray and Lipscomb counties.”

Mr. Tomlinson offered these eye-opening statistics:
“From 1992 to 2001, 303 fixed object crashes [on the highways mentioned above] were recorded. These crashes resulted in eight fatalities and 203 injuries. Seven of the fatalities and 11 of the injuries were tree-related.”

Our curiosity forces us to ask the question: Has anyone has recorded how many of these “tree-related” fatalities were beverage alcohol-related. With five counties involved, seven fatalities in nine years - that about equals the carnage that occurs on an average “safe” Houston intersection.

Mr. Tomlinson then uses understated comedy to make his point:
“While trees are often visually pleasing, they are also extremely solid objects.”
“Beauty through contest sensitive design”

Engineer Tomlinson goes on to say:
“I hope you know that we do not suggest a project of this (sic) lightly.” TxDOT has, for many years, been a leader in creating roadside beauty through the planting of numerous trees, shrubs and other plant material. We also work diligently to preserve existing beauty through contest sensitive design and good maintenance practices. We actively manage this land to preserve its beauty and usefulness through sound environmental stewardship. We take this responsibility very seriously."
The Old Dilemma of the Interlaced Fundamental Mission VS Factoring In Sound Practices

Continuing to quote from Mr. Tomlinson's letter: "As it is with many things in life, though, there are other needs and priorities to be considered as well. Striking a balance between these potentially conflicting issues is one of the most difficult things we do. Interlaced through this is our fundamental mission to serve the people of Texas and others who use our highways. Therefore, we listen closely to people's opinions and concerns and work diligently to address these in our projects and operations. We also factor in sound engineering practice and experience to ensure the creation and maintenance of the safest, most effective transportation system possible."
Reader, please stay alert.

"In this case, we are very concerned about safety on U.S. 60 and U.S. 83. We believe these numbers are significant and that we need to develop a project that addresses these fixed object crashes. For decades, TxDOT has worked toward providing a "forgiving roadside" on our highways. Approximately one third of all highway fatalities are associated with single vehicle, run-off-the-road crashes. We cannot predict precisely where these vehicles will leave the road and cannot control the causes for the departures. Therefore, it is vitally important that the roadside be free of fixed objects. This concept has been incorporated into our Roadway Design Manual and is required whenever we undertake roadway rehabilitation or expense."

"We are also considering the feasibility of transplanting some trees and possibly planting new trees in safe areas."

Note: Cutting down mature trees that have managed to grow in a harsh environment and replace them with struggling transplanted trees that require at least some initial maintenance (including watering) is not an equal proposition. Transplanting trees is not as simple as it sounds - especially in Panhandle soil.

Mr. Tomlinson has given a “tentative letting date" of October 2005 and concludes his letter with: "In the interim, if you should have any questions or need additional information, please contact me at (806) 356-3201.
TxDoT departments range from engineering to litter control to promoting tourism, traffic counts, mapping, prairie dog poisoning, guardrail repair, etc. It is our hope that TxDoT doesn't take on the additional responsibility of tree removal, especially in the Panhandle where they may have to import chainsaws from East Texas.

Editorials are only made by fools like me;
but only God can make a "visually pleasing, extremely solid object."

© John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't they?" July 23, 2004 Column

Killer Trees Update

  • Panhandle “Backlash” Saves Trees
    or Love in the Time of Dendrophobia
    by Brewster Hudspeth
  • Related Topics:
    Texas Historic Trees | Texas Panhandle | Texas Towns | Texas
     
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