Arborist says push to keep Barton Springs pecan tree 'just doesn't seem practical'
A certified arborist who inspected Barton Springs' beloved pecan tree "Flo" stands by his assessment that removing the tree is necessary for safety, despite calls for the tree to be left alone.
Guy LeBlanc was among four arborists hired by the city to inspect the tree, which had been diagnosed with a fatal fungal disease. They separately agreed the tree could eventually collapse.
“You are probably looking at no more than five years," said LeBlanc, who has worked as a certified arborist in the Austin area for over 40 years and has assessed the tree once before. "It just doesn't seem practical."
Flo has leaned over the springs since at least 1925. Currently, it's supported by a combination of cables and a permanent steel support structure. In the 1970s, the trunk cavity was partially filled with concrete to help provide structural stability. The tree care industry no longer supports the practice, which has been found to speed internal decay, the city said.
Because it's unclear when the tree would fall, it poses a danger to people who visit the pool, LeBlanc said. The risk rises when the tree has most of its leaves, because that's when it weighs more and catches more wind. That's also when traffic at the pool is the highest.
"This isn't a matter of the tree falling straight down," he said. "It's a matter of possibly the canopy being caught and twisting and rolling and falling onto someone. And that could be fatal."
Despite the expert opinions, Austin-based environmental group Save Our Springs Alliance said it believes the tree can stay where it is with some upgrades to the existing support system, including a cable system to reduce the load and exposure to wind.
In a letter to city leaders, SOS supporters said, "the city's arborist experts have somehow overlooked the obvious. This is not a tree standing up, it is a tree laying down and fully supported. Perhaps a structural engineer would advise some limited improvement to the cradle, but this would be something small, if needed at all, and be cheaper than killing and removing the tree. In other words, this is a question for engineers not arborists."
LeBlanc said the city could put structures in the tree to further support it, "but it wouldn't be enough in terms of public safety to do that because of the very high traffic that is in that area.”
"We are not talking about a human being with cancer here, where you would spend any amount of money to get another year or two of life," he said. "That isn't really practical with a tree, or doesn't seem like a really wise way to spend money.”
The city had planned to remove the tree this week based on the advice of the independent experts, but said Monday it’s delaying the removal and reviewing “additional considerations.”
The City Council is expected to discuss the delay further on Sept. 19. The city said there is no timeline for when it will decide to continue with removal.