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Tucson Residents Angered By Vegetation Destruction At Ward Office



The scene outside Tucson city council's ward 3 office in late February motivated longtime resident Brian Ellis to post images to Facebook.

The images showed a series of before and after scenes of the garden of native vegetation that volunteers and staff planted.

They also showed the aftermath of a recent garden cleanup gone wrong, with the beds of wildflowers, vines, milkweed and others replaced by barren dirt and pared back trees.

The response to Ellis' post was as immediate as it was visceral, with dozens expressing emotions that ran the gamut from confusion to anger the crew's decision to remove the hard work put forth in the garden space.

Fast-forward three weeks, and Ellis is still awaiting answers from the city about why the garden was ripped out. 

"I've been volunteering to take care of that Ward 3 site, which is a rain garden demonstration site here in Tucson," Ellis told Patch. "They're all native plants, all supported on rain water. Our care for them was kind of minimal — more picking up trash and stuff like that — minor trimming if needed, but really just letting the plants be plants and grow and thrive.

"And they were doing great and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, the city decided to go in and 'clean things up' and ripped out just about all of those plants. And the trees that are there, they trimmed them up horribly." Ellis, who works as an engineer, has taken on water harvesting and rainwater management projects like the one at Ward 3 as a calling of sorts.

It's that calling that led him to volunteer with Watershed Management Group, who planted the garden at the office, located along Grant Road just west of its intersection with Campbell Avenue.

That's why Ellis was so incensed by the crew's decision to chop back the trees and take out the native vegetation in the garden that abuts the major east-west thoroughfare.

"Native plants, they're acclimated to our precipitation cycles. So during the winter rains and the monsoons they're expecting rains," he said. "Then when it gets hot and dry, they're expecting that. So they're adapted to the region and they support so many more insects and birds and animals and stuff than the non-natives.

"So it's kind of a no-brainer that we should try to incorporate more of them into our landscape, especially as urban areas expand and you get more roads and parking lots and stuff like that."

The Ward 3 office responded to complaints by those like Ellis and the Watershed Management Group members at-large in a statement to Patch, saying they are working to address their concerns.

"The Ward 3 office has already coordinated with City departments and has a meeting with Watershed Management Group next week to begin planning the revegetation of the Ward 3 basins," the statement reads.

In an email to Ellis on Feb. 23, Tucson Parks & Recreation Director Lara Hamwey addressed Watershed Management Group's concerns and more.

Hamwey told Ellis in the email that she had been in touch with WMG, the city's new Urban Forester and the city's Green Stormwater Infrastructure coordinator to address the group's concerns.

In her email, Hamwey also said her goal is to address the issue in the department's long-term planning so that such actions don't happen again in the future.

"Part of my objective is to help facilitate a culture change and training for staffing to allow us to ensure we are in step with changes citywide from climate action planning, Million Trees, conservation, embracing native etc," Hamwey said in her email to Ellis.

"I appreciate the time you took to reach out and make sure I was looped into the situation and the loss experiences. I regret this occurred, unfortunately I can't rewind and prevent what occurred, but we are going to move forward in a manner to prevent it from reoccurring."

Patch's attempts to reach Tucson Mayor Regina Romero's office for comment on the matter were not successful.

When asked what he would tell the city if he had the chance, Ellis said he would ask Tucson officials to address their policies and processes and protect native vegetation going forward.

"If you want to prevent it from happening once and for all and going forward, training's not the answer. You have to change your policies and processes," Ellis said. "So they told me they're going to change it and fix it with training. I'm not holding my breath for that.

"Hopefully we can get some meaningful change implemented this time, instead of some 'oh shucks, it happened. Sorry.' And we're here in six months to a year going through the same thing."

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