By Adam Rubenfire, Managing News Editor
Published December 4, 2013
There were 16,408 trees at the University in fiscal year 2012, according to the most recent data. But University officials will need to subtract one tree from this year's total after an incident Wednesday morning involving a fraternity’s pledging activities.
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Twelve students were interviewed by University Police early Wednesday after they allegedly stole a tree from a parking lot near the Industrial and Operations Engineering Building and took it to the house of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, commonly known as FIJI. Responding officers were able to determine that the tree cutting was a part of a fraternity pledging activity, but later Wednesday morning University Police would not confirm what fraternity the students were affiliated with.
In response to a report that several individuals were removing a tree at about 1:20 a.m., UMPD officers canvassed North Campus, later heading to the Oxford area on Central Campus, where police and a Housing Security officer were seen with the tree and several students at about 2 a.m. The tree was in the bed of a blue Ford F-150 pickup truck on the front lawn of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house at 707 Oxford Road.
Officers interviewed the students at the house, then escorted the pickup — with the tree in the truck’s bed — to a garage near the Campus Safety Services building on Kipke Drive, where the tree was left for storage. One officer was seen holding a hacksaw, though it's unclear whether it was confiscated from the suspects.
After the tree was stored, University Police were seen at the tree’s original location with four of the suspects, where officers continued to talk with them. A tree stump surrounded by sawdust and debris could be seen at the northeast corner of the lot.
The tree is currently being classified by UMPD as a 13-foot Pine Tree, but a more accurate description, along with the value of the tree, will be determined over the course of an investigation. Once the investigation concludes, Washtenaw County prosecutors will decide what charges, if any, will be made in the case. In larceny cases, charges and consequences can differ based on the monetary value of stolen property.
Several of the suspects declined to comment, as did brothers at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house. It’s unclear what the students were planning to do with the tree.
University Police acknowledged that there is a yearly trend in December tree-cuttings, but unlike this case, many tree larcenies are not resolved. In December 2011, UMPD investigated the larceny of a Serbian spruce tree from Nichols Arboretum. That tree was valued at $400 by UMPD, and $1,200 by Arboretum officials.
—Daily Staff Reporter Sam Gringlas contributed reporting.