Four large oak trees at Santa Rosa Junior College, including two that tower over the middle of school's central lawn, providing a leafy canopy for graduation ceremonies and Day Under the Oak events, are slated to be removed after they were found to be diseased.
The removals, which officials said are driven by safety concerns, will bring to six the number of oaks — some heritage size and age — lost on the Mendocino Avenue campus since November.
“It's heartbreaking,” said Carl Dobson, an arborist and the college's manager of grounds and recycling. “It's going to change the look out there.”
Three of the four trees are located on the lawns west of Burbank Circle and east of Analy Hall. The fourth rises above the rose garden near Mendocino Avenue, near where an iconic, 250-year-old oak that stood over the school's main sign was felled by winds in November.
“We are not doing this because we want to, it's because we have to,” said college president Frank Chong. “We are very protective of the trees. At the same time, my job is to protect the safety of the college community.”
School officials maintain an inventory of the more than 1,000 oak trees on the 115-acre Santa Rosa campus. In March, in addition to a regular inspection, officials looked closely at 40 trees and then called in a consulting arborist to test 16.
Oak root fungus was found to be crippling the four trees now slated for removal. All are more than 100 years old.
“When trees are young, they can usually withstand it; wall off and compartmentalize,” Dobson said.
But the four that were determined to be too far gone are in “very high traffic areas,” Dobson said.
“We decided the risk is too high,” he said.
The tree by the rose garden is the largest of the group and is likely to be removed first. The three in and around the graduation lawn will be gone by Day Under the Oaks on May 4 and graduation ceremonies on May 24, school officials said.
Before their removal, SRJC psychology instructor Brenda Flyswithhawks said she'll perform a transition ceremony for the century-old trees many native people consider “elders.”
“We do some things in our way to give them a safe journey as they transition and we do it in a way to say 'Thank you. Thank you for all those many years you have stood strong for us,'” Flyswithhawks, an Eastern Cherokee, said.
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.