The man who trimmed and thinned the majestic tree at Heritage Mall said he pruned the tree properly, but a certified arborist and others contend that he cut so much from the tree that the health of the 300-year-old white oak is in question.
Larry McDonald of Trinity Tree Service said mall management hired him Friday, Sept. 2, to remove a number of rotten branches after two large limbs broke off from the Target side of the tree.
"Major branches were falling off," he said. "We thinned and then cut out some of the lower branches because after we gave them a shake, we could hear them cracking. The trimming we did was to address public safety concerns."
McDonald said he does not understand why people are criticizing his work. He has been in the tree care business since 1978, so he said he knows what he is doing.
City Forester Craig Carnagey and certified arborist Vernon Esplin of Buena Vista Arbor Care Co., who cared for the tree for about 13 years, both said the tree was so severely pruned that its future is now in doubt.
Esplin said the tree could have stood for another 100 years, but with the recent pruning, his prognosis is now 50 years or less.
Trimming about 40 percent of the tree's live parts at one time has put too much stress on the tree, he said.
"This type of thing should not happen," he said. "The tree merited preservation and proper pruning. He shouldn't have pruned all of the lower limbs."
Carnagey said it is unfortunate that the city has no code or standards governing the trimming of Heritage Trees. The white oak is one of Albany's seven Heritage Trees.
"The city won't be getting involved in this issue because we have no standing," he said. "If there is any kind of challenge, it will have to be settled between the mall and the contractor."
Donna Green, general manager of Heritage Mall, said her office attempted to contact Esplin to perform an emergency tree trimming after a number of limbs were found to be broken near the bottom of the tree.
Green said Esplin never returned her telephone calls so "because of the urgency, we hired a pruner we've used in the past. He responded quickly to our phone calls."
"When we saw what had happened, we were disappointed," she said. "The canopy and skirting around the bottom, which was beautiful, was cut off. It doesn't look like its old self anymore."
Esplin disputes that anyone from the mall's office tried to contact him. He said he had no messages that anyone attempted to reach him. Rather, it is his understanding that the mall called in McDonald because he charges less.
After what has happened, Esplin said he no longer wants to be associated with the tree in any way.
"I don't want anyone to think my company had anything to do with this," he said. "I've called an arborist from Portland to come down and assess the tree. I want to know and I want others to know just what damage has been done."
The tree became a Heritage Tree in 1999. It is known as The Messenger Tree because years ago, people left messages for each other in one of the tree's crevices.