silhouette of a tree with no leaves

February 21, 2023 /
Mark Buscaino

The Poisoning of Heritage Trees

Casey Trees received many calls from concerned residents about the Washington Post Metro Section article on the poisoning of Heritage trees at a Southeast DC development site. There were many twists and turns, but a key detail of this case was that the trees in question were located on the periphery of the development site, a $1.5 million dollar property which the developer purchased from the City for a buck. Yep – a buck.

Given where the trees were located and the purchase price of the lot, one would think some effort would have been made to preserve these trees for the benefit of the incoming residents, but no. In summary, a $144,000 fine is an insufficient disincentive to follow DC’s tree preservation laws.

Next – were the trees really poisoned or did they die by natural causes? For this, please read the Notice of Infraction to draw your own conclusions, but buckle up, it’s a doozy. When was the last time you met a squirrel at Home Depot with a cordless drill and some herbicide? You simply cannot make this up.

Last, but not least is the developer’s statement, as quoted in the Post about DC’s tree protection laws: “Additionally, the fines actually go toward enhancing the tree canopy in the district, which we wholeheartedly support on our projects as we have done in the past.” Really? By this logic, motorists in DC should be encouraged to drive over the speed limit because the fines will help fund programs that help protect residents from the dangers of speeding cars. Please…

As noted in Casey Trees’ latest Tree Report Card, DC’s canopy is declining, and the resulting negative health effects will continue to disproportionately impact disadvantaged residents such as those located in Ward 7 where the trees were destroyed. While DC’s tree protection laws are better than most in the DMV, and the staff at DC’s Urban Forestry Division have done a fantastic job under tremendous pressure upholding them, in cases like this Casey Trees believes that penalty fines should be increased by an order of magnitude, and the business licenses of all those involved should be revoked.

What can you do to help prevent this in the future? Casey Trees encourages you to contact your Council Member to voice your concerns and encourage them to pass additional laws to stop the intentional destruction of protected trees, so all communities can stay green and healthy for generations to come.

Thanks for your ongoing support.

Mark Buscaino
Executive Director
Casey Trees