By Nick Diamantides
Someone is purposely killing the large eucalyptus trees that have been thriving on Signal Hill’s north slope for half a century. Some of those dying trees could topple on a hiker, causing death or serious injury. Signal Hill Petroleum (SHP) is offering a $2,500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever is committing the crime, and the Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD) is conducting an investigation.
“We were up on the north flank of the hill last week to look at a site where a hiker had apparently been injured from a fall, and we discovered that some of the eucalyptus trees had been cut with a chainsaw halfway through the tree,” said Kevin Laney, SHP’s vice president of rig operations. “We found some others that had the trunks drilled and injected with poisons. It looks like it has affected about 10 trees up there.” (SHP owns the land on which the eucalyptus trees stand.)
“We are sickened by these horrible acts of destruction and for the loss of these beautiful trees,” said SHP President Craig Barto. “We are also absolutely determined to see these criminals caught and prosecuted.” Barto added that the public needs to understand that the persons responsible for the destruction are nothing less than “tree terrorists.”
Laney said the problem began about a year ago, when somebody had sawed halfway through a few trees that were 12 to 15 feet tall. “We should have done something about it then, but, honestly, it just got away from us,” he said. “We really regret that we didn’t do more about it then, but we never thought they would go to this degree. Now we have to stop them.” He explained that the more recent damage involves trees that are 30 to 45 feet tall.
Laney added that Proscape–Pro Care (a commercial landscape/tree maintenance company that has been based in Signal Hill for 25 years) has been caring for the trees on the north slope under contract with SHP for several years and is now developing a strategy for what must be done next. Proscape President Dave Fender said his company does not yet know what kind of herbicide was injected into the trees, but an Orange County lab is in the process of analyzing samples. He explained that all the trees that were bored and injected are now in the process of dying, but some of them might survive. “The larger ones could possibly compartmentalize the damage and grow around it,” he said. “But the smaller ones will definitely not survive, and none of the saw-cut trees will survive. It’s just a matter of time before they completely die.”
Fender said the cost of removing and replacing the trees would be extremely high. “Logistically, they are in a tough area, and to locate and identify that variety and size of eucalyptus trees to import and plant in that area would almost be cost prohibitive,” he said, adding that most of the large trees that have been damaged are 30 to 50 years old. “The two largest ones could be 70 years old,” he noted.
Donn Showers, City of Signal Hill building official, also had a look at the damaged trees. “Signal Hill Petroleum understandably is worried that the trees cut through halfway might fall over on somebody,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate situation.”
Laney noted that he lives in Signal Hill with his wife and they have enjoyed hiking on the eucalyptus-lined trails for many years. “The north flank is basically open for hikers and joggers and people walking their dogs. Everybody enjoys this area and its beautiful trees,” he said. “Now one or two very selfish people might ruin it for everybody.” He explained that SHP is considering all possible security measures.
The 32-acre site has been discussed as a possible location for a nature preserve or park. In the past, the City of Signal Hill and the Sierra Club have expressed an interest in purchasing the land from SHP for that purpose.
Laney noted that, aside from the danger to human life, the trees add beauty to the hill and their root systems help stabilize the slope and prevent mudslides during heavy rainfall. “But now we have to cut some of them down to prevent them from falling on somebody,” he said.
Laney stressed that SHP is very serious about apprehending the person or persons responsible for the damage. “We will do whatever it takes to catch them,” he said.
Laney said Signal Hill Petroleum is asking the public for help in apprehending the person or persons responsible for the crime. “We are offering a $2,500 reward to anyone who provides the police with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever has done this,” he noted.
Anyone with any information is asked to call the SHPD at (562) 989-7200.