[Vision2020] Grace Wicks Tree :-(

Saundra Lund sslund at adelphia.net
Thu Jun 24 22:00:33 PDT 2004


My memory isn't always as good as I'd like, but I'm wondering if anyone can
remind me who our commissioners were in 1994, 1997, and 1999?

The reason I ask is because I was deeply saddened to read the article in
yesterday's Daily News about the health of the Grace Wicks tree at the
Courthouse.  I do NOT understand how a storage shed, a generator, and a
satellite dish were allowed to be constructed to the detriment of a community
landmark  :-(

And, unfortunately, Moscow's Community Forester Ordinance is no help because it
doesn't apply to trees on property owned by the county within the city.

The demise of the Grace Wicks tree -- and the factors the caused it -- will
certainly influence how I feel about the county acquiring new property.  "We"
certainly failed at protecting and preserving a valuable community resource.

For those who didn't see it, the following article appeared on page 2A of
yesterday's (6/23/2004) Daily News:
Latah County Courthouse tree showing signs of stress
Malia Matson

Moscow resident Bill London said he used to love to watch sunsets from under the
branches of a large spruce at the Latah County Courthouse. 

"It was an extraordinarily pretty tree, well-proportioned," London said. 

Now, what is known as the Grace Wicks tree, has a bleak future. 

The Colorado blue spruce is showing signs of disease, which will likely force
its eventual removal, county building and grounds director Jim Kremer said. 

The more than 60-foot-tall tree stands in the northwest corner of the parking
lot. Its exact age is unknown, but Kremer believes it was planted in the 1930s. 

It became informally known as the Grace Wicks tree because it was favored by
Wicks, a Latah County commissioner in the 1960s. 

Kremer said drought conditions for the past several years in the area have
probably caused the tree to go from appearing healthy to having brown tips this
past spring. 

"We don't know exactly," Kremer said, adding that he will test the soil. 

London disagrees. He said the tree was killed by the negligence of the Latah
County commissioners who allowed construction around the tree. 

It is surrounded by a generator, a storage shed, and a satellite dish, all of
which require a concrete base. 

"The county gradually snuffed out the tree," London said. 

He gained an interest in the tree when he used to live near the courthouse and
took walks to admire it. 

"I was worried about it ever since this stuff got put around it," London said. 

City of Moscow forester Roger Blanchard said the spruce suffers from multiple
stresses due to the construction. 

Blanchard explained that, despite a tap root, a spruce's root system does not go
as deeply into the ground as many people think. He used the image of a wine
glass on a plate to describe the system as flat and shallow. 

"Roots in the upper 8 to 10 inches of soil absorb water and nutrients,"
Blanchard said. "In a forest, there's a layer of mulch. Take that away and air
or water can't circulate." 

Kremer agrees the items installed over the years have contributed to the tree's
poor health. 

"The soil is pretty well covered with concrete and asphalt. It has limited
access to water," Kremer said. 

He said a satellite dish was placed next to the spruce in 1994, followed by a
storage shed in 1997, and a generator in 1999. 

The shed was built even though 18 courthouse employees signed a petition
opposing it. 

"All of the equipment was absolutely necessary. There was no other place to
install it," Kremer said. 

Blanchard said this particular variety of spruce is fairly drought tolerant
because they grow in the Colorado Rockies and don't receive much moisture in the

But Kremer does not see water as a solution to the tree's problem. "I just don't
believe the tree can live even if you feed water to it," he said. 

He said he has tried to maintain the tree's health by pruning it and removing
dead wood. He said grounds crews also have been instructed not to use de-icers
around it, so as not to upset the chemical balance of the soil. 

Kremer estimates the spruce has a couple more years before it has to be removed.

"It becomes a liability at some point," he said. 

Blanchard said Moscow's Community Forester Ordinance will not protect the
spruce. The ordinance prohibits the neglect or removal of public trees without
permission from the city. The ordinance does not apply to trees on county

Transplanting also is not an option to save the tree, Kremer said. 

"It's too big. Much of the root system is located under the parking lot," he

When the Grace Wicks tree is removed another will be replanted in its place,
Kremer said. He said it hasn't been discussed yet, but it will probably be a
different species. 

London said it is a shame that the county for which Wicks worked, contributed to
the eventual demise of her favorite tree. 

"Grace Wicks was an icon," London said. "Her love of that tree and her desire to
protect it makes it poignant that we, in the county, killed it." 

Malia Matson can be reached at (208) 882-5561 ext. 239, or by e-mail at
mmatson at dnews.com.

Saundra Lund
Moscow, ID

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do
-Edmund Burke

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