Overly ambitious tree cutters get barked at by residents

Well-intentioned pruners went too far, critics said

ON SITE—At Medea Creek Park. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

ON SITE—At Medea Creek Park. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Unsupervised workers tasked with removing dead and fire-damaged trees in Oak Park’s Medea Creek Park raised the ire of residents by reportedly cutting down several healthy trees instead.

The workers were volunteers from Goodwill Industries. Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, which oversees Medea Creek Park, instructed the volunteers to trim and remove trees that presented a fire hazard or a potential risk to park visitors. The volunteers were not accompanied by an expert to help them determine how extensive the job should be and which trees needed treatment.

Manju Venkat, an environmental biologist and resident of Oak Park, said he noticed the crews had cut down trees that seemed dead at first glance but were actually in the process of recovering from the Woolsey fire, which tore through the park in 2018.

“I noted that the native willow trees were being cut down. They seemed, at a certain height, to be dead and burnt, but they were sprouting at the bottoms. The tops should have just been trimmed,” Venkat said. “Pruning some of the trees a little bit to safeguard visitors would have been a good idea, but not completely removing them. There should have been some advice on the technical side, like a biologist or arborist guiding them.”

Wayne Nakaoka, the district’s director of planning and maintenance, said the instructions to the work crew were to remove dead or burnt trees. Once community members raised concerns about damage, the work was halted.

“We stopped the work, so there’s brush and logs all over the place. We wanted to determine how the community wanted us to proceed cleaning it up,” Nakaoka said.

“Goodwill has been volunteering with us for the past six or seven months doing cleanup in Simi Valley and Oak Park. They contacted us saying they had some volunteers that needed training (for brush removal) and general landscaping-type work.”

The district’s Oak Park Committee, which represents the community’s interests to the Simi Valley-based district’s board of directors, voted last week in favor of a motion to ensure an arborist would be consulted before any more trees are removed in the community.

The committee also voted that workers should remove the logs and debris by hand and use cuttings from the damaged willow trees to revegetate the area where the work was performed.

Committee member Dan Cooper, an environmental consultant, said he was concerned that the park district didn’t consult with an arborist before sending workers into the park, but that he’s satisfied with how the community’s concerns about the trees have been addressed.

“The district is making it right. I’m not mad about it; accidents happen,” Cooper said. “They’re going to pull the logs that were cut out of the creek and get an arborist next time they do work like this.”

Follow Ian Bradley on Twitter @Ian_ reports.