Axeman: Peñalosa is on a tree-chopping spree

The Peñalosa administration has authorized the cutting of 34,000 trees, and more than 11,000 have already taken place. These actions are taking, a toll on Bogota´s wetlands and other parks in a city that needs three times the trees it has now. The scale of these actions is breathtaking. The trees that Mayor Peñalosa´s administration has authorized for removal would form a line between Bogota and Mexico City. Approximately 3,155 km could be covered if you put all the trees that have a death sentence in Bogotá next to the ones that have already been cut down.

What is the mayor’s justification for this aggressive tree-removal policy? The Secretary of Environment authorized 9,383 trees for emergency reasons and another 8,553 supposedly for interference with construction and infrastructure projects. The other 16,240 trees authorized for removal are under the argument of general “forestry management”. This includes a wide range of motives like ‘new landscape design’, phytosanitary reasons and instability.

Could many of these trees slated for removal have been saved with relocation or an adequate silvicultural treatment? There´s no way of knowing because for the Mayor the approach is always the same: cut down the tree. Only 27 trees were approved for relocation and 28 for treatment; thus, only 55 out of 34,000 will be preserved.

As of November 2018, 11,394 of these removals had been executed, one-third of the total authorized. 5,274 trees have been cut down by the Jardín Botánico de Bogotá and 6,120 by third parties at a total cost of $3,068,211,596 COP ($989,000 USD). Each tree removal costs the city $501,341 pesos ($160 USD). The estimated costs of the authorized removals would be $17,361,966,490 COP ($5.6 million USD).

What sorts of trees are being cut down? The observed heights of the trees suggest that these are adult individuals with high value in terms of biodiversity, water retention and CO2 capture, one of the main gases in the greenhouse effect. Their average height is 9.1 mts (29.8 ft) and the tallest is a 57.6 mts (187 ft) tall Eucalyptus.

The largest mass removal is the one related to the works in El Dorado international airport. 1,835 individual trees were authorized for removal. The Civil Aviation Administrative Unit, the International Airport Operation Concession S.A, and Civil Aviation made the request.

Other significantly large removals are those approved in the protected wetland areas and the Cordoba canal. For example, directly inside the Córdoba wetland (located near Calle 116 and Avenida Suba), there´s an authorization to remove 744 trees along with 359 in the adjacent canal, adding up to 1,103 fewer trees for the city. These cuts would make way for a new panoramic bikeway inside the passive recreation protected area. Bike riding and playing basketball are not passive activities, so the administration´s obsession with building in this place is not compatible with Cordoba’s designation as a Ramsar wetland. The Mayor would be better advised to build high-quality, protected bikeways within Bogota’s wide streets.

Add to the situation the authorized removals in surrounding sectors like Alhambra (520 trees) and Iberia (104 trees), among others, and the area that will suffer similar environmental impacts to those in 2017 for the El Dorado Airport construction.

The entities that have ordered the largest number of tree removals are the District Secretary of Environment (7,078), the Bogotá Botanical Garden (4,681) and the Urban Development Institute (3,187). The zones where the most tree removals have been authorized are Suba (7,136), Usaquen (5,303), Fontibon (3,590) and Engativa (3,549). Most of the species have been the Wattle tree (8,208), Eucalyptus (4,114) and the Cypress tree (3,095).

One such group of trees is located along 7th Avenue, including 1,136 removals authorized between 40th and 183rd Streets. Most of these were requested by the IDU (Urban Development Institute) for infrastructure works. These are surely related to the proposed Transmilenio bus rapid transit project for the 7th Avenue. 2,000 trees in total are estimated will be felled there.

Another large set of removals, 685 trees, is set to take place in NQS Avenue corridor. Primarily a landscaping project, changing the NQS Avenue “esthetics” will cost the city $333,392,270 COP ($106,000 USD).

There are 26 such landscaping projects, according to the information given by the Bogota Botanical Garden. These will be in 9th Avenue, 116th Street, Bosque Popular, Transversal 42, 19th Street, Berlin Park, Pontevedra, Mirandela, Pradera Sur along with the aforementioned NQS Avenue. The Botanical Garden says these projects are temporarily suspended, following the Personeria de Bogota recommendations. Out of the 1,292 trees authorized for removal, 746 have already been cut down according to the Forestry Management Coordination for Ancient Woodland.

The records in the Environmental Secretary only show 496 removals requested by the Recreation and Sports Institute, a figure that doesn´t correspond to the magnitude of the projects that are being currently executed in regard to new sports fields. Citizens are already showing their dislike for these projects: We have seen many peaceful actions requesting further consultation with affected communities such as Virrey Park, Japón Park, Ciudad Montes, El Nogal, Modelia, La Esmeralda, El Cortijo, Colsubsidio, Iberia and the Córboda canal sectors like Victoria Norte, Mazurén, Santa Helena de Baviera, Colina Campestre and Prado Pinzón.

The administration and its contractors are legally obligated to support and be part of actions that promote citizen participation throughout any process that affects the environment. However, according to citizen claims, there have been a series of barriers for effective participation, such as setting up meetings far from impacted residential areas, scheduling meetings during work hours, and giving out wrong and conflicting information. Additionally, the commitments that were made to the community haven´t been fulfilled, with the result that there has been no place for dialogue, to a point where the riot police has been sent to dissolve peaceful gatherings.

Peñalosa´s administration still has a year left and it´s foreseeable that new tree removal requests will be made for different reasons. More trees will be cut down for normal emergencies in winter season, and some may indeed pose a risk for power lines and buildings. But, current actions suggest that trees will be torn down mostly for new landscape projects and public works that are not very well justified.

Bogotá City Council member

Maria Fernanda Rojas