Although UNM is a nationally recognized arboretum, therefore supposed to be filled with rare tree species, the University has at times had to cut down historic trees.
UNM President Robert Frank said the University cut down one such historic tree near the University House in September.
The tree was a goldenrain, about 100 years old, and Frank said it was cut down because beetles had infested the tree. He said the beetles posed a large problem to the University House, where he resides.
“The beetles were big and they were in our house,” he said. “All we wanted is to get all the beetles out of our house. The beetles were bad, but losing the tree was sad.”
But Frank said cutting it down was not entirely his decision.
“The infestation was at a level that it couldn’t be treated,” he said. “We would not have undertaken this without any guidance. We did not cut down the tree on our own.”
Gary Smith, the Physical Plant Department’s associate director for environmental services, maintenance and operations, said the infestation was severe and could have caused the tree to fall down and injure people or property. He said the removal cost the department $1,323.
Smith said PPD is the only entity authorized by the University to remove trees on campus. He said that although it was unfortunate to have cut down a historic tree, the department did it to uphold campus safety.
“It’s part of doing business at a public educational institution,” he said. “You don’t base decisions of this type on emotional attachments. One has to have the safety and well-being of the campus community foremost in mind.”
Smith said that because trees in an urban setting such as UNM normally only live for 40 years, the goldenrain had a very long life by comparison.
Frank said no tree has been cut down on campus since the goldenrain.
Smith said there are 13,000 trees on campus, including the approximately 1,000 trees PPD planted during the last decade. But he said there aren’t as many trees as PPD would like to have, due to insufficient funding from the University.
“We like to balance the number of trees with the amount of green space we have available,” he said. “We would like to have more trees and will add more as funding becomes available.”
Smith said trees are important to maintaining the cost of University operations. He said planting more trees could reduce the cost of building cooling by 15 percent.
Trees also raise the value of University property by up to 18 percent.
To maintain the number of trees on campus, the PPD has five arborists who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, Smith said.