Crime headlines sell newspapers, but unfortunately the destruction of our local oak woodlands over the past thirty years didn’t count as a crime.  Instead, our ancient oaks were destroyed with permits issued by County or City planning agencies. To many of us that believe we should preserve the beauty and benefits of our native oak heritage, it may not have been a crime, but it certainly is a travesty.

My first experience with this destruction began in the 80s with the loss of oaks for the mass grading Stevenson Ranch.

Although replacement trees were required at that time, those trees did not have to be oaks or even native trees. Today one can see the results – a lot of very flammable pines. Benefits of replanting with natives, such as forage and habitat for local birds and low water use were lost, were lost.

With the help of the Oak Conservancy, Dorothy Riley at the helm, residents marched to save oaks and protested against the lax County regulations (our City hadn’t yet been formed).

Thanks to Dorothy and her Oak Conservancy cohorts, and Mike Kotch of SCOPE, the County approved its first oak preservation ordinance in 1988, requiring a two to one replacement of any destroyed trees, establishing values for oak trees and penalties for illegal cutting.

But the ordinance still allowed permitted cutting.

Another major loss followed when the County allowed the destruction of approximately 2400 hundred oaks to expand Sunshine Canyon Landfill. This area was designated, as one of Southern California’s few significant hardwood oak forests. It was pretty much decimated by the landfill expansion. Yes, two to one replacement was required, but many of the oaks didn’t survive in planting locations that were not conducive to their growth. Of course, the oak forest ecosystem with its understory and wildlife were irreplaceably lost, as were the many heritage trees over three hundred years old that will not be enjoyed again by future generations for several hundred years.

Chain saws continued to fell our local woodlands. – Over 300 oaks lost for the Newhall’s Westridge project, around two hundred permitted for removal at the ironically named Fair Oaks Ranch (although in the end, the company cut just over 70, instead of the full 200), the “kissing” oaks that touched over Pico Canyon felled, as well as hundreds more for the various developments there.

The threatened removal of the Pico “Old Glory” oak, a massive heritage Valley Oak some 10 feet in diameter, sparked another huge protest effort to save the tree and our oak resources. John Quigley climbed into its branches in late October 2002 and remained in the tree for nearly three months as a human shield to ensure its safety. After thousands of people turned out to view the tree and tense negotiations, the tree was moved down Pico Canyon and re-planted in a park, where, thanks to deep watering by the County Parks Department, it can still be seen today.

“Old Glory” Pico Oak on the Tenth Anniversery of the Tree Sit that Saved It

It’s now the tenth anniversary of the Old Glory Oak intervention. Although this tree is doing well, that can certainly not be said for the many others that were cut in anonymity.

Or for the thousands of others whose removal has already been permitted or proposed. This includes the 158 for the Disney project in Placerita Canyon and some 1400 removals permitted by our City for the Gates King Industrial Project in the hills behind Newhall.

We were all grateful for Santa Clarita officials opposition to the Las Lomas project in the Newhall Pass. It called for removal of 2900 oaks and impacted the wildlife corridor between the Santa Susana and San Gabriel Mountains, (the same linkage that played a factor in the recently celebrated preservation of Elsmere Canyon). But the City’s approval of the Gates Industrial project within their area with similar impacts to the oak forest and wildlife corridor, made the Las Lomas opposition seem merely political.

The City did not even require 2 to 1 replacement for the hundreds of oak removals in the Gates King project.

The chain saws have not yet started for this industrial project or for Disney’s proposal in Placerita Canyon. Perhaps like the thousands of oaks saved in Elsmere Canyon, there is still time. Perhaps we will come to our senses and realize how important oaks really are for clean air and to cool our earth, and to our quality of life.