You may think his (or her) victims were easy prey.

Newly planted and naturally silent, the nearly two-dozen trees found broken and decapitated in Santa Monica this week were not very large.

But Urban Forest Supervisor Wister Dorta believes someone put a lot of effort into the destruction. The splintered trunks have him scratching his head.

“They’re definitely not cut.

They’re broken but I don’t understand how they broke them because we tried to break the leftover pieces and it was pretty hard. You have to put your whole body weight into snapping them.”

Dorta, who planted some of the trees himself back in August, was the one who found the carnage on Tuesday. A total of 18 trees were snapped along Olympic Boulevard.

All of the victims were Stenocarpus sinautus, known as firewheel trees, a drought resistant Australian rainforest native known for bright red flowers in the spring.

The species are an integral part of Santa Monica’s urban forestry program – which includes plans for 800 new trees in the City this year.

“It’s not as common,” Dorta said of the trees, which cost about $280 a piece to purchase, and plant, “it took a lot of work to find them. They are drought tolerant and have a nice, upright form. Some were snapped one-to-two feet from the base and then again up higher.”

Dorta described his discovery as “frustrating and disappointing.” The City public information officer, Constance Farrell, called it “arborcide.” She is hoping someone witnessed the vandalism and can come forward to police with a description of the person responsible.

“We don’t want our urban forest restoration program to take any more of a hit,” Farrell said in an email to the Daily Press.
Anyone who with information on the broken trees should contact the Public Landscape Division or Santa Monica Police Department dispatch.

Dorta has already cleaned up the debris and left some of the trees in place, hoping they may have survived the damage. If they don’t, he hopes they can be replaced.

“I drive by those trees every day on the way to the office and I always look at them to make sure that they’re growing,” Dorta said. “We are trying to reforest a site that previously had no trees at all.”

Santa Monica has plans to plant thousands of trees in the coming years, with the ultimate goal of increasing the city’s canopy by five percent. The City’s urban forest consists of about 33,500 public trees.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press