Sugar maple squabble leads to Arbor Day argument

? Lanny Lutz wanted to give away saplings to students for planting, but the Forestry Commission thought otherwise.

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The Gunderson porch people aren't the only ones upset over a recent village commission ruling. Lanny Lutz is positively uprooted.

Lutz started a new organization called Friends of Sugar Maples a little over a year ago to promote an increase in colorful fall foliage in Oak Park.

He's made progress, successfully lobbying the Village Forestry Department and the Village Forestry Commission to take sugar maples off the arbora non grata list so they can once again be planted on the village's parkways. In fact, Lutz points out, "Anyone in Oak Park who has an opening in his parkway can call the village and specify a sugar maple." He, of course, would encourage such a choice.

He's also encouraged by outgoing Village President Joanne Trapani's decision to have a sugar maple planted in Lindberg Park's presidential grove (honoring all past presidents).

Last November, Lutz got the go-ahead from village hall to plant a sugar maple in front of Ascension, St. Edmund and Hatch schools. He hoped to follow that up with a sugar maple sapling giveaway to students this Friday (i.e. Arbor Day) at the three schools "to foster increased awareness of trees, the beauty and other virtues they provide, and possibly an awareness of nurture."

But the Forestry Commission turned him down cold.

Lutz interpreted that as a clear sign of hostility toward sugar maples, but Village Forester Jim Semelka sees it a little differently.

He likes sugar maples, too, but "all things in moderation," he says, "including sugar maples."

You want to plant the right tree in the right place, he added, and only as many as you can afford to lose (based on your planting budget). According to that criteria, sugar maples don't rank as high as other trees. They like a cooler climate and more acidic soil than is commonly found around here. And the parkways are a little narrow for their tastes, Semelka adds. They would do better in our parks.

Arborcultural decision

The commission's decision on the giveaway was "arborcultural," Semelka said. "If you give away 100 trees, what kind of home will you find for them?"

To put it in perspective, Semelka said there are approximately 18,900 trees on village parkways with a capacity of 20,000. Elms are still the most numerous, and we all know the problems that has caused. Green ash make up 8.5 percent of the total (1,604 trees) because they were once a popular substitute for the dying elms. But now the Longhorn Asian beetle is wreaking havoc on green ashes throughout Canada and Michigan.

Have you seen all the beautiful white blossoms on the ornamental pear trees around town? Looks like they're everywhere, right? We have a total of 258.

At the moment sugar maples make up 3.6 percent of the tree population (690 trees), so while Semelka is OK with planting more, "overdoing it is a bad idea."

Lutz says he, too, is in favor of "responsible proliferation. I want to get the number as high as possible and not make enemies." He, too, has noticed the pear blossoms this spring and says, "If those are worth it for a few weeks in the spring, is it worth it to have sugar maple color for a few weeks in the fall? I think it is."

Fortunately, he said, an anonymous donor just the other day offered to pay for the saplings, so Lutz is going ahead with the giveaway on his own.

Semelka, meanwhile, will be at St. Edmund this Friday as well for a village-sanctioned Arbor Day planting of two trees in the Oak Park Avenue parkway at 10 a.m. The species? Crimson Spire oaks.

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