Jiji Township (集集) Mayor Chen Chi-heng (陳紀衡), elected in 2014 on a Tree Party ticket as the nation’s youngest township mayor, yesterday said he would no longer refer to himself as a conservationist, to distance himself from the movement, citing “ideological differences” and calling the label political “baggage” to governance.
Chen made the remarks in response to being disavowed by the Tree Party in March, following a series of escalating disputes beginning last year over the conduct of his office in the pruning of weeping fig trees in the Nantou County township.
The disputes ultimately led to Chen’s announcing in June last year that he had left the Tree Party. However, despite Chen’s voluntary exit, the party convened its general assembly in March and voted to formally revoke the mayor’s membership.
Later that month, Chen ordered an additional round of pruning for a row of weeping figs on Jiji’s Wunsin Street (文心街) in anticipation of typhoon season, resulting in party members and local tree lovers leveling accusations that Chen had reneged on his campaign promises, pointing to a specific tree that was completely pruned of its branches.
Chen said the tree in question had died prior to its pruning due to poisoning from an unknown source, adding that his office authorized a total prune of the tree, because it feared that it might fall during a typhoon and become a public safety risk or cause property damage.
The township’s equipment lacks the necessary height to trim trees’ topmost layer, resulting in public gardeners sometimes over-compensating by removing an excessive number of low-hanging branches, Chen added.
“The township office’s work is often disputed because of disagreements with some members of the public over how much pruning is necessary, leaving us trapped between two opposing views,” he said.
Chen said “the safety of township residents and their property should take precedence over the trees,” adding that Jiji’s weeping figs are known to have a shallow root system and have fallen on houses and cars.
Chen said his decision to prune the weeping figs led to accusations that he had “contradicted my earlier ideals,” but added that tree conservation had become “baggage” impeding him from making decisions necessary to maintain public safety.
“As I have decided that ensuring public safety is more important than protecting trees, I am compelled to make the choice to refrain from calling myself a tree conservationist in the future,” he said, adding that township pruning is guided by public safety and aims to maintain the health of the tree whenever possible.
Chen said the Jiji Township Office would continue caring for public trees and promoting tree conservation, but added that it has been determined that the weeping figs are unsuitable to the local climate and that he would move forward with a plan to replace them with oil-seed camellias.
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