Understanding the Decision to Cut Down the Trees on the Furman Mall

Written by Grace Ryan, Contributor

The debate over environmental regulation is heating up. The World Health Organization recently added climate change to the growing list of veritable health threats facing the globe. Iconic young adults are making history by lobbying for change. Recycling bins are appearing around nearly every corner, and Furman recently provided students the option of adding compost-dedicated trash cans to their rooms. With concerns regarding the environment reaching an all-time high, it appears counterintuitive to be cutting down the iconic trees that line Furman’s mall. According to University officials, however, the decision to remove the trees is simple: it makes students safer and makes the campus more environmentally friendly. 

The oaks that defined Furman’s mall seem strong and towering. In reality, however, they were rotted. Jeff Redderson, assistant vice president of Facilities and Campus Services, went as far as to label them as “safety hazards” to both pedestrians and cars. The trees, though beautiful, were precariously close to causing a major accident, whether that be from a falling branch or the uprooting of an entire trunk. Clinton Colmenares, Furman’s Director of News and Media Strategy, notes the trees did not have “good central leader trunks” or sustainable “branching habits.” Beyond the potential physical damage, the trees were also negatively impacting the environment. Joe Pollard, a professor in the biology department, claims the old trees were “giving off carbon dioxide” through a series of faulty exchanges in their leaves. Thus, by replacing the declining oaks with carefully selected newer ones, not only will the campus be safer, but the air around campus will become cleaner as well. 

Pollard’s and Redderson’s reasoning negates a majority of the environmental questions tied to the project. Colmenares claims the “community has been very understanding and supportive” about the project. However, Gracie Bartel, a current sophomore and Shi Center Garden and Arboretum Fellow, suggests the endeavor did face opposition. Bartel shares that students and trustees alike displayed “significant backlash” towards the project, mostly due to aesthetic concerns. “The mall is such an iconic part of campus,” she notes, and many worried that with the removal of the trees, “it wouldn’t be as pretty.” These fears were not ill-founded; now, a casual stroll down the mall reveals the stark reality that comes with the new development. On one side, the sky is a spider-web of branches, and the road is outlined by robust trunks. Turn 180 degrees and the drive looks barren. No stain-glass sky, no twisting branches, and no bordered path. Instead, there is merely a graveyard of stumps and mess of construction equipment. 

Bartel quoted that,  to address the problematic aesthetics, a “staggered timeline” has been created for the project. Each stage of removal is happening in a gradual, palatable manner,  to limit the overall environmental and scenic disturbance. Therefore, the project will continue to unfold slowly, the next step being the replacement of the trees next to the PAC and adjacent building in the coming years.

In sum, Furman is not out to hurt the natural world or change the topography of the school. Instead, the University is attempting to make a safe and conscious decision with numerous long-term benefits. Yes, the mall may look less stately now, and the trees that will be planted in mid-January will be smaller than the previous giants. However, environmental change is inevitable.  Instead of resisting or denying such changes, adapting and course-correcting is appropriate.

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