The tree has become a "hazard tree" due to several factors, said Sheryle Dell, Terre Haute urban forester, who had to make the difficult decision to fell the huge tree, the largest registered green ash in the state.
In order to take every possible step to save the tree, which is in the city-owned tree row between the sidewalk and the street, Dell hired Davey Resources, an Indianapolis-based natural resources consulting group, to examine the ash. They found significant decay, including one large branch with 75 percent decay, Dell told the Tribune-Star.
Some of the branches on the champion tree are as large as many full-sized trees, Dell noted. If one of the branches fell, it would strike a home or the sidewalk, making the tree a "hazard."
The news comes as a disappointment to members of TREES Inc., a local environmental and civic group dedicated to promoting trees in the area. The not-for-profit group has entered the tree in the state rankings each year since the 1990s and it has always been the state champion green ash, said Joy Sacopulos, a member of TREES.
Despite the disappointment, the decision to remove the tree is understandable given its condition, said Mary Beth Eberwein, a leader of the TREES "Big Tree" committee.
The trunk of the tree is about seven feet in diameter, Dell said. It is 198 inches in circumference at four-and-a-half feet above the ground and is 75 feet tall, Eberwein said.
The tree could have been saved, Dell said, but it would have involved removing the rotten wood, leaving the tree a shadow of how it appears now. Making the tree safe would also involve cables, braces, bolts and even a lightning protection system since metal would have been placed in the tree, she said.
The total cost for all that: $20,000, not including extended maintenance costs, Dell said. In addition, being an ash tree, the tree would need to be treated for the emerald ash bore, she said.
The Terre Haute Tree Advisory Board, a volunteer group that oversees city-owned trees, said the best move would be to save the tree if the funds could be found, but given the city's tight forestry budget, $20,000 seemed a lot to spend on a single tree, Dell said.
Wood from the tree will be saved for future use, Dell noted, adding she knows how important this tree is to many residents of Terre Haute.
"We truly understand the value of this tree," Dell said. "It is a special tree to the community."
For a list of other state champion "Big Trees" in Vigo County, visit the TREES Inc. website at www.treesinc.org.