ENCINITAS — As a Peace Corps volunteer in his 20s Julian Duval had traversed rainforests around the world, from Asia to Africa to Peru, Mexico and the Amazon.
He’s seen firsthand the destruction of rainforests, too.
Now, as the president and CEO of the San Diego Botanic Garden, Duval said it was surreal to see a tree — an at least 100-foot tall Torrey pine — in the garden’s rainforest area have to be cut down in a similar manner.
“The surreal thing for me, in this whole process, is to see the equipment that’s being used to get it out,” Duval said.
As a crew began taking down the tree, they had to use a compact tractor to haul away the large pieces.
“These are the same sort of images you see in the destruction of the rainforests when logging takes place,” he said.
Though Duval was quick to point out that the circumstances here were much, much different.
Due to the tree’s continual and increased rate of lean, officials at the garden decided out of a matter of safety that it had to come down.
The tree was talking to us, Duval said, and we had to respond.
Planted more than 60 years ago as a seedling by Ruth and Charles Larabee, founders of the Botanic Garden, the tree had grown to a prominent height, shielding portions of sun and sky from the other trees and plants beneath its canopy.
With the majority of the tree gone, sunlight now poured through the hole where it once stood.
Duval said they’re hopeful some of the trees and plants now exposed to the sunlight will be able to adjust, adding that they’re a little bit lucky that June Gloom is in effect, otherwise some of the plants might burn.
“Some of the plants can adapt. Some of the plants might even enjoy more sunlight,” he said. “But we’ll see how that plays out over time.”
Because of the narrow pathways and delicate surroundings, crews from Bishop’s Tree Service had to cut the tree down by hand using a pulley system, chainsaws and heavy-duty ropes.
Alex Montillo, of Bishop’s Tree Service, said this might be the biggest tree they’ve ever taken down.
Officials don’t really know what caused the tree’s demise, but Duval said it could be because of the way it was rooted on the side of a slope. Years ago, it was thought the tree might have some distress from a fungus, but Duval said it recovered from that.
“The environment it was growing in to begin with might have already spelled the fact that this was going to happen,” Duval said.
The tree has been leaning ever since Duval joined the garden, about 20 years ago.
“It’s sad that we’re losing this monumental tree to the garden here, but at the same time, life goes on, everything’s mortal — even mighty trees like this,” he added.
According to Duval, Torrey pines, in nature, probably live about a couple of hundred years, not like the Redwoods or Sequoias.
The garden has 29 other Torrey pines throughout the garden’s property, according to Paul Redeker, director of horticulture at the garden. That includes three others in the rainforest area, all of which are standing straight and tall.
The garden anticipates turning larger portions of the cut down tree into furnishings for the Larabee House and for wood carvers to create items for sale in the gift shop.
This story has been updated since its original posting.