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Hug the space shuttle, not the trees

The cutting of hundreds of trees so the shuttle Endeavour can move from LAX to Exposition Park is actually a benefit for the cities involved.

September 06, 2012
  • Traffic cones cover tree stumps along Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood. Trees were cut down to clear a path for the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour.
Traffic cones cover tree stumps along Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood.… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)

There are times when we can hug trees with the best of them. But let's face it: Most of the 400 or so specimens that will be uprooted to ease the final path for the space shuttle Endeavour aren't worth all that passionate an embrace.

The California Science Center has aroused deeply rooted sentiment against its plans for shuttling the retired shuttle from Los Angeles International Airport along surface streets in Inglewood and Los Angeles to the museum in Exposition Park. The controversy arose because the move will involve cutting down hundreds of trees along major thoroughfares.

Better to look at it another way: This is progress, and not just in the sense of a shiny high-tech behemoth mowing down nature. For all the talk about these historic shade-giving symbols of nature, only about 50 of the 265 or so trees that will be sacrificed in Los Angeles are taller than 15 feet. Of those 50, 20 are nuisance trees that are tearing up sidewalks or causing similar problems; the city wants those gone.

PHOTOS: Space shuttle Endeavour 1991-2012

For each tree it cuts down, the museum will plant two trees of the species most favored by the individual neighborhoods, along the same streets. Museum officials promise that in two to five years, the new trees will rival the originals in size. They're even throwing in two years of arborist work to ensure that the trees become established. All this will cost $2 million to $3 million.

The city of Inglewood, where about 130 trees will be cut down, is delighted. That city has a master plan for trees, and none of the species that will be removed — many of them pavement-busting ficus — are in it. All the replacement specimens will be in the plan, and along with the repair work the museum will fund on deteriorating medians and so forth, the city will be left with $500,000 worth of improvements.

Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph makes a persuasive case that dismantling the shuttle for transport would irreparably damage such awe-inspiring features as the delicate tiles that protected astronauts from the heat of reentry. Meanwhile, the museum has taken extreme measures to remove as few trees as possible. The equipment used to move the shuttle can make 90-degree turns to dodge obstacles, but there's no maneuvering room when two trees stand on opposite sides of the street. Broken heat-shield tiles could not be replaced because they're not made anymore, but trees are an ever-renewable resource, and Los Angeles will soon have 250 or so more of them.

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