By Steve Zoski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 12, 2011
Officials at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum say they’ve been grinched.
Tom O’Dell, collections and natural areas specialist at the arboretum, said he noticed last Wednesday that one of the arboretum's two Serbian spruce trees was reduced to a mere stump.
O’Dell said arboretum officials found tracks that led about 300 feet to Geddes Road and disappeared afterward. This marks the fourth-consecutive year that a tree has been cut down in the arboretum, according to O'Dell.
O’Dell described the tree as approximately 10 feet tall with about a four-inch trunk. He said the tree was most likely taken for use as a Christmas tree by individuals who are underestimating its worth.
Arboretum officials reported that the tree is worth about $400, according to University Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown. However, O'Dell said he personally thinks the tree was worth $1,200.
Brown said charges filed against the suspect(s) in the incident would depend on what parts of the tree, if any, are recovered. She also noted that the value of the tree affects the severity of charges the perpetrator(s) could face.
“In larceny and in malicious destruction of property, the consequences change when the value of the property increases,” Brown said.
Brown said if the suspect(s) are charged with larceny and the value of the tree is between $200 and $1,000, the penalty for the crime would be 93 days in jail, a fine of $500 or three times the value of the property. If the tree is more than $1,000 in value, Brown said the suspect(s) could be sentenced to no more than one year in jail and charged with a fine of no more than $2,000 or three times the value of the property stolen.
Brown said there has been a yearly trend of December tree-cuttings in the arboretum, but detectives have had difficulty solving the crimes.
“What I understand from previous years (is that) they typically are reported in the month of December, and we don't have a lot of success in finding suspects,” Brown said.
O’Dell said the tree was donated by Ilene Forsyth, a professor emeritus of history of art, whose home shares a property line with the arboretum. He added that he thinks future tree cuttings could be prevented through additional DPS patrols and a neighborhood watch in the area bordering the arboretum.
There are plans to replace the tree next season, according to O’Dell.