Tahoe City fifth-grader saves 400-year-old cedar tree | SierraSun.com

Tahoe City fifth-grader saves 400-year-old cedar tree

Ryan Slabaugh/Sierra SunKeegan Wells, left, and her sister, Madison, stand next to the large cedar tree they helped save this summer. Behind them are signs they made that they hoped would help convince a builder to spare the tree. It worked.

TAHOE CITY, Calif. and#8212; Keegan Wells walked up to her neighbor, a 400-year-old cedar tree, and gave it a hug. Her little arms could barely reach across the front of the trunk, and from a distance, it looked like she might be in danger of being stepped on by a giant.

and#8220;We used to have a fort here,and#8221; she said, nodding toward a pile of broken logs and sticks. and#8220;It wasnand#8217;t big, but it was a good fort.and#8221;

The fifth-grader has grown up on the West Shore her whole life, which is home to dozens of enormous, old-growth trees like the one sitting in an empty lot next door.

In past years, the lot has provided a playground for the neighborhood and#8212; the tree is a famous hiding spot when the kids play Sardines, which is kind of like hide-and-seek and#8212; as well as providing a sense of calm that only a big, old tree can give.

Then in June, they watched as a real estate agent pounded a and#8220;For Saleand#8221; sign on a patch of dirt in front of the tree. Soon after, the sign came down. Someone had purchased the lot, and had tagged the old tree for removal.

Thatand#8217;s when Keegan and her mother, Nancy, decided they could not just sit and watch. They tied ribbons around the tree and decorated it with a number of signs that proclaimed their love of the gentle giant.

One sign protected by a plastic bag reads: and#8220;Do not cut me down or else we will all be heartbroken.and#8221;

Another sign advocates for a resident of the tree, a large woodpecker whose rat-a-tat-tat has become part of the neighborhood soundtrack: and#8220;If you cut down the tree, the woodpecker will have no home and will peck our house and your house too.and#8221;

and#8220;This tree is important,and#8221; Nancy said. and#8220;It is part of this neighborhood. I think you could say that.and#8221;

After a few weeks without hearing any more about the tree or the development, Nancy and Keegan went grocery shopping and ran into an old neighbor, a local contractor named Tim Matises. Matises, who spoke with the lot owner about building the home, told them some good news.

and#8220;The owner contacted me about potentially building his house,and#8221; Matises said. and#8220;When I went to look at the lot and the plans with him, we saw the big tree with the signs on it. I asked him if he was going to cut it down, and he said no.and#8221;

The tree would stay, Matises told the Wells family, and the builder would spend extra money and time to make save their neighborhood treasure.

and#8220;We jumped up and screamed in the middle of the aisle at Safeway,and#8221; Nancy said. and#8220;We immediately called home and told them and#8216;Theyand#8217;re saving the tree! Theyand#8217;re saving the tree!and#8217;and#8221;

For now, the signs remain, as do the playful scars on the trunk caused by the neighborhood kids. The effort Keegan put in, with help from her mother and sister, Madison, means a lot to local builders and arborists.

and#8220;Itand#8217;s unfortunate when you see builders come in and clear-cut the lot,and#8221; Matises said. and#8220;Whereand#8217;s the challenge in that? You grow your house from the ground … so if you have to work a little harder, you get to keep great trees around your house.and#8221;

James Tiercy, a certified arborist for Arbor Care of Tahoe, said he wished more people would follow Keeganand#8217;s example, and to understand that the forests give the Lake Tahoe Basin a lot of its character.

and#8220;I think itand#8217;s becoming more and more prevalent that people are understanding there are measures you can take to preserving trees before development project,and#8221; Tiercy said. and#8220;Most times, the arborist gets involved too late. The best time to get an arborist involved in a project is when youand#8217;re drawing up the plans. The options to saving a tree after roots get torn into are pretty limited.and#8221;

Cedar trees are more susceptible to development than fir or pine trees, Tiercy said, but are very resilient if left untouched by human hand. Simply put, he explained, that tree would have died without Keeganand#8217;s advocacy.

Ed Toole, of Viking Tree Services, said he loved to hear Keeganand#8217;s story: and#8220;I agree with the kids,and#8221; he said. and#8220;Any old-growth cedar is worth saving. What a noble cause.and#8221;

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