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Legislative Action

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Please see this page for information on the original resolution (HR 224) considered by the 2011 Hawai‘i State Legislature. Our deepest gratitude and warmest aloha to Representative Jessica Wooley for introducing it.

3/21/11: the resolution has been referred to the House Culture and Arts Committee and the Higher Education Committee. A hearing may be held next week.

3/29/11: a hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, 31 March, at 3:30 in conference room 309 of the capitol. The resolution will be heard by the House Higher Education Committee. Testimony may be submitted via this page.

3/31/11: testimony was delivered by Robert Loy, of the Outdoor Circle, and Pat Matsueda; written testimony was submitted by Keith Leber, Jennie Peterson, and Adam Williams. To download their testimony, go to this page. The House Higher Education Committee recommended that the measure be passed, with amendments. The resolution moves forward as House Concurrent Resolution 261:

Ka Leo Article

After I had been interviewed by a reporter, a Ka Leo editor wrote to me with additional questions. Here are his questions (in blue) and my answers:

> 1. When was the exact date that the comose fig tree was cut down?

The tree was cut down on August 14, 2010. Please see this KL article for details and pictures:

> 2. Who are the people involved in trying to get the resolution passed? (Outdoor circle, UH Manoa faculty, etc?)

Several people testified in support of the resolution, including Robert Loy, of the Outdoor Circle; Jennie Peterson, of the Hawaii Nature Center; and Adam Williams, who started the effort to save the tree in 2009, when he was a UHM student. You can find a link to everyone’s testimony here:

> 3. Can you give me further details of the resolution and what conditions it would entail?

On March 31, a hearing was held on the resolution. The testimony referred to above was submitted at that time. Here is the action that was taken as a result of that hearing: “The committees on HED recommend that the measure be PASSED, WITH AMENDMENTS” [boldface added].

The resolution was amended and became HCR 261. Details on HCR 261 are on this page:

For me, the most important parts of HCR 261 were as follows:

  • The statements that “the original construction plans for the Campus Center expansion accommodated the continued existence of the comose fig tree, but were later revised to require its removal” and that “the planned [Campus Center] expansion merely involves recreational and not educational or research facilities.”
  • The direction given to UH: “BE IT RESOLVED by the House of Representatives of the Twenty-sixth Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session of 2011, the Senate concurring, that the University of Hawaii is requested to catalogue all trees of historic value and adopt a procedure for building design, construction, and expansion that permits the preservation of such trees.”

> 4. What was Rep. Jessica Wooley’s explanation in not furthering the proposed legislation?

We did not request or receive a formal explanation from her. Later, a friend of mine familiar with what happened during the session speculated that either (a) someone had asked that the resolution be held back or (b) in the frantic days before the end of the session, the resolution had been tabled in favor of bills and resolutions that seemed more important. Whatever the case, we intend to go to the legislature next year and try again.

> 5. Why was the comose fig tree so important?

There are many good answers to this question. I’m going to narrow them down by quoting Jennie Peterson, a natural historian and curriculum specialist at the Hawai‘i Nature Center. During the small ceremony we held on Martin Luther King Day to remember the Comose Fig tree, she praised it while talking about trees in general:

Particularly in this time of climate change—real and occurring now—trees are some of the most important ways to limit the effects of global warming. They absorb and store carbon dioxide, filter toxins and purify the air, provide shade, reducing temperatures. They promote water and soil retention, decreasing storm water run-off. They convert solar energy into food that fuels the food chain, release oxygen and provide habitat for birds and other creatures.

All trees are important to life on Earth. We cannot live without them and yet we cannot save them all. However, it’s still crucial to work to protect trees, especially intact native forests that provide enhanced ecological services and hold secrets not yet revealed. Urban trees must be saved to temper the effects of over-development, and we must save those special heritage trees with unique qualities.

If any tree should have been spared, it’s the Comose Fig tree. Its sheer size makes its environmental benefits more important. Planting several small trees will not make up for this tree’s “gifts” for a long time. An American forester said, “Trees outstrip most people in the extent and depth of their work for the public good.” This one certainly did!

It also has a rich historical legacy—planted by Joseph Rock, the first Territorial Botanist in Hawaii, and U.H.’s first botanist. He was also an internationally known plant explorer. The Fig was part of the Heritage Collection of trees that Rock planted on campus nearly 100 years ago.

Uniqueness: This variety of fig is the only one on Campus and one of few in the State.

Aesthetics: Located just outside the Art Dept., it’s ironic that this truly great work of art, an inspiration and vision of beauty was cut down.

Enhancement: Apparently the rec center had to go in this location to “enhance student experience.” I cannot imagine how a rec center can compare to this irreplaceable treasure with its ability to enhance life in a deeper way—with solace, beauty, calm, joy. Its qualities are gifts not only for us today, but for our children and our children’s children. Now cut, it cannot be replaced. Not in our lifetime or our children’s will we experience a nearly 100-year-old Comose Fig.

Another question that I feel should be answered is this: why didn’t the UHM administration and the Campus Center Board respond to the wishes of two thousand people–students, faculty, alumni, the UH Landscape Advisory Committee, the Outdoor Circle, and others–to save the tree?

KL had tried to get CCB to explain its decision to remove the tree, but the board was unresponsive. For example, in early 2010 I had submitted to KL a second letter regarding the tree, and KL had tried to get a response from CCB that could be printed along with the letter. However, all that appeared from CCB in the Feb. 22, 2010, issue was a generic ad urging students to share “suggestions or ideas that could help us make your favorite ‘hang out’ spot in the Student Union better.”

> 6. What steps will you take in the HSL for next year?

I will contact legislators to see if the resolution can be reintroduced. I may also contact Lt. Governor Brian Schatz to lend support if his duties allow it. Early in 2010, he made this statement about the tree: “This important UH landmark has to be saved. The project plans for the facility can and should be revised to preserve the tree. Part of the extraordinary experience of learning at UH-Mānoa is in the beauty of the campus, and that must be aggressively protected.”

> 7. What was your intention behind your blog?

The blog <> was started soon after we held the ceremony on Martin Luther King Day to remember the tree. The blog not only preserves the memory of the tree but also

  • keeps a record of the events that led to the tree’s destruction;
  • keeps people informed about actions taken locally, nationally, and internationally to protect trees;
  • allows us to celebrate trees at a time when natural resources are being exploited or destroyed without regard for the future of human beings or the planet; and
  • strengthens the community of people who believe that the quality of life depends on the protection and preservation of trees.

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