At Christmas time, parks brace for theft of evergreen trees

by Andrew Tellijohn

When Jan Morse walked home from work Monday evening, she noticed a trail of pine needles meandering through Marcy Park. The trail led to the remains of a pine tree, executed in the name of Christmas.
Morse reported the tree theft to the Minneapolis Park Police, and as the board’s president, she mentioned it at the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association board meeting the next evening. She was surprised to learn that almost everyone in attendance could tell similar stories, she said.
“Every year you can count on little trees in their entirety, or tops of larger trees, being taken for use as Christmas trees,” Morse said.
Citing difficult growing conditions and the trees’ monetary value, Morse said stealing the trees is a selfish act.
“It’s very disturbing to every year lose these valuable trees,” she said. “These trees are worth hundreds of dollars.”
“It’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons. It’s a very unthinking thing to do.”
With the consequences tied to theft of trees, she said it’s just not an intelligent thing to do.
Persons caught stealing trees face stiff penalties, including potential restitution fines. Restitution can include tree replacement and moving costs, a tree-planting fee and sales tax, said Ken Simons, chairman of the Minnesota Society of Arboriculture’s Tree Evaluation Committee. The fees charged depend on specifically what kind of spruce or pine tree it was, he added.
Though replacement fees vary depending on what type of pine or spruce tree is damaged or stolen, fines are still severe. Restitution expenses can result in the most expensive Christmas tree a thief ever put in his or her living room.
For example, using $50 per foot as a planting fee and $1 per mile as a transportation fee, the cost of replacing adamaged 25-foot blue spruce tree would be around $1,425, Simons said.
“You’re better off giving the Boy Scouts 20 bucks (for a tree) than getting hit with a charge like this,” Morse said. “You can buy a tree on almost any street corner.”
The tree mutilated Monday night was between 25 and 30 feet tall. Minneapolis Park Police Sgt. Ken Baribeau said it was cut about 12 feet from the ground.
Its appearance will be permanently altered, said Mike Zins, an extension horticulturist in the University’s Horticultural Science Department. Instead of having one dominant branch growing towards the sky, a number of branches will now struggle for dominance, he said.
“It isn’t going to kill the tree but it is going to deform it. It will make it look tough for several years,” Zins said.
Even though the damage won’t kill the tree, Simons said he would consider it a total loss.
“It’s a negative landscape element,” he said. “It doesn’t have the form you would want at this point in time.”
Minneapolis Park Police Sgt. L.A. Evenrud confirmed that the issue is under investigation, but had no comment when asked if police had any suspects.
Evenrud said fewer than a half-dozen tree-damage complaints are received every year, but this is the season when the majority of incidents occur.
The Marcy Park neighborhood is a strategic target for tree thefts because of a series of berms and hills that shield the area from the street. The tree chopped Monday night was a particularly well-hidden interior tree, Morse said.
She said the entire community loses when a tree is damaged.
“You’re destroying the quality of urban life as well as a significant financial investment that these people have made.”