Bunya mess? – by Laura Hagar Rush

Is a decking project in the Barlow too close to the base of the bunya bunya tree? (Photography by Laura Hagar Rush)

Just when you thought the bunya bunya tree on the eastern edge of the Barlow was safe, a major dig near the base of the tree has tree lovers in the city in an uproar.

Barlow workers excavated a large rectangular area about 30 cm deep, relatively close to the trunk of the Bunya Bunya tree, about 2.5 meters away.

The Barlow is not doing anything illegal; they received a demolition permit from the city’s building department.

Barlow owner Barney Aldridge said: ‘We’re just doing some landscaping there. We were very careful with that tree. I think it just makes people nervous.

The word ‘nervous’ underestimates the reaction. The Sebastopol Times received several calls and emails from local residents, including Tree Board/Design Board member Lynn Deedler and arborist Julian Thorn.

“The rule of thumb is that 50% of a tree’s roots are in the first meter of soil, 70% in the first half meter of soil, and then 90% of the tree’s roots are in the first three meters of soil,” says Thorn . . “There are large roots that are important for anchoring and supporting the tree and storing the sugars the tree has made. But to me, the most important roots are all the super fine root hairs – and many of them are microscopic – and they’re all in the top layer of soil. It is therefore unconscionable for me to cause a disruption of that magnitude. I would be very surprised if this tree does not decline rapidly over the next ten years.”

In response to the outcry, the city sent its arborist Becky Duckles to take a look. After examining the place, she was not worried.

“I’m happy to tell you that I really don’t think there will be any significant impact on that tree as a result of the work that has been done,” she said. “I looked very closely at the roots – and I have thirty years of experience looking at construction sites and trees – and I think it will be in really good condition.”

It’s still unclear what will be built in this space — some sort of patio dining area is being considered — but Deedler said the Barlow will have to submit its plans to the Design Review Board for approval.

The bunya bunya tree, which is about 140 years old, was saved from the axe last month by the Sebastopol Tree Board and City Council. The bunya bunya is an extremely long-lived species, which can live for 600 years undisturbed.

A little too close for comfort. The excavation starts approximately 2.5 meters from the base of the Bunya Bunya tree.