Adlai Stevenson defined a hypocritical politician as one who would cut down a redwood tree “and then mount the stump to make a speech for conservation.” In a modern twist on that lament, Boston was literally stumped for several months by chainsaw vandals who tramped into parks from Boston to Brookline to Watertown to slash off tree burls, knotty twists that are prized by wood carvers. Last week, police arrested a Dorchester man for attempting to cut burls off a red oak in the Fenway Victory Gardens. Hopefully, the arrest will make other burl burglars quit.
As with Stevenson’s politicians, the craft makers who pay between $50 and $500 for the exotic wood in order to produce fine bowls and furniture should know better: Cutting burls off decades-old oaks, hemlocks, and linden trees often causes rot that will eventually kill the trees. And even if the cutters and buyers aren’t aware that removing the burls endangers the trees, it’s a desecration of public lands. Like snipping the blossoms off flowers in the Public Garden, slashing burls off trees in the Fenway and elsewhere is a crime against the whole notion of community property, and common values. In a region whose image is defined in part by world-renowned green spaces, residents should feel thankful that thefts of precious vegetation are as unusual as they are.