Thursday, September 17, 2009

Destruction of Newly Planted Trees Continues in Juniper Valley Park

Reward Offered after 12 More Destroyed

By Conor Greene

Newly planted trees in Juniper Valley Park have again fallen victim to vandalism, and local activists and officials say the problem is more than a simple case of juveniles causing mischief in the Middle Village greenspace.

Steven Fiedler, who serves as co-chair of Community Board 5’s Park Committee, received a phone call on Sunday morning informing him that for the fourth time this year, somebody had damaged or destroyed a number of trees during the overnight hours.

Unlike previous instances, which generally involved snapped limbs or uprooted trees, the destruction in this case was caused by a power saw, according to Fiedler. “As far as we can figure, between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Saturday night into Sunday, somebody came in with a battery powered saw,” he said. Two oaks near the ballfields were destroyed and ten cherry blossom trees near the walking path were cut in half.

“The other vandalism has been incidental, [such as] after the cops chased them out and they came back and ripped out two trees,” said Fiedler. “But with this incident, this is premeditated. This person planned on what he was going to do, used a nice quiet saw and didn’t want to get caught. I don’t know what kind of gripe the person has. I have a hard time thinking a kid is going to come in with a saw and cut down trees, they’re more likely to break them. I think this is an adult with an ax to grind.”

Of the 300 trees that were planted in Juniper Valley Park this year, about 30 have fallen victim to vandals, said Fiedler. The latest act has resulted in a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible, with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and her opponent in this fall’s general election, former Councilman Thomas Ognibene, each donating $1,000 and the Juniper Park Civic Association providing $500.

“Arborcide is a serious criminal offense and an assault on our communities, and the loss of 12 newly planted trees… is a blow to the quality of life and environmental health of Juniper Valley Park,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in a statement. “Trees are a valuable asset, providing shade and oxygen, cleaning the air, and creating homes for our wildlife. The Parks Department is committed to protecting our trees…”

After the destruction was discovered Sunday morning, officers from the 104th Precinct were notified and canvassed the surrounding neighborhood for witnesses. In addition, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, who lives in Middle Village, arrived at the scene and has asked the district attorney’s office to investigate.

“The Parks Department thanks the community for stepping up and reporting this terrible incident of tree destruction,” said Lewandowski. “Juniper Valley Park is a gem for Middle Village and we will continue to work with the NYPD to track down the person or persons responsible for vandalizing the park.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, called the incident a “shocking display of premeditated arborcide” and noted that vandalism has generally been contained to areas such as the bleachers near the roller hockey rink. “This is the worst we’ve seen so far and it’s now obvious that we are dealing with a very disturbed person or persons,” he said. “This is a serious attack on our quality of life and we pledge all of our resources in helping… apprehend the person or persons responsible for this atrocity.”

Fiedler said officials are looking into whether there is a clause in the tree planting contract covering the replacement of damaged and destroyed trees. He added that a police officer used to patrol the park at night, but that assignment has been eliminated, leaving the area open to vandalism and other overnight problems.

Arborcide is punishable by up to $15,000 in fines and one year in prison, according to the Parks Department. It is illegal for citizens to remove, kill or damage a street or park tree, whether intentionally or accidentally. Anyone with information is asked to call the 104th Precinct at (718) 386-3004 or the NYPD tip line at 800-577-TIPS. All calls are kept confidential.

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