Planet Earth

UPDATE: Giant Portland Tree Has Been Poisoned, After Thousands of People Rallied to Save It

“Unfortunately, property rights protect things that people build, not things that we grow."

By Timothy MeinchDec 5, 2020 12:00 PM
Claire Bollinger (left) and Shayan Rohani.

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This #ScienceIRL column appeared in Discover’s annual state of science issue. Support our science journalism by becoming a subscriber.


This story was updated on March 23, 2021

A beloved, massive sequoia tree at the center of a neighborhood clash in Portland was recently poisoned, according to OregonLive and multiple news reports. The criminal act against a tree that the city of Oregon was planning to remove marks the latest unexpected twist in a story that has garnered national attention from tree lovers over the past year.

The Portland Audubon has offered $1,000 for information related to the tree poisoning incident, which Shayan Rohani described earlier this month on the tree's GoFundeMe page. Rohani, who has been rallying support to save the tree on his property since early 2020, said he and his partner Claire Bollinger discovered five holes — 1-inch wide and 1-foot deep — drilled into the tree on February 24. They expect toxic chemicals were inserted through the holes.

"She is showing a severe burn on the south side of her canopy that is changing day by day," Rohani wrote.

He added that the incident occurred shortly after a solution emerged to permanently save the sequoia and prevent the city from removing it due to the tree's encroachment on a neighboring property. The neighboring property, Rohani says, was under contract to be sold to a tree-friendly developer intending to protect this tree and two other giant sequoias in Portland. He said that contract has now been terminated, due to the tree's uncertain health.

"The tree’s future is now more uncertain than ever," Rohani wrote. A court case challenging the city's decision is scheduled for circuit court in the near future.


Original story published on December 5, 2020:

Sequoia trees are big — as in, the biggest trees in the world. The current titleholder, General Sherman, towers 275 feet above Sequoia National Park in California. (That’s nine-tenths as tall as the Statue of Liberty.) In a residential neighborhood, even an adolescent sequoia, such as this one in Shayan Rohani and Claire Bollinger’s backyard, can look gargantuan.

At roughly 100 feet tall, it rises above the sparse canopy in the Sabin neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. In 2020, thousands of people around the world signed a petition to save the sequoia after the city ordered its removal in the spring because the tree’s vast root system is destroying the foundation of a house next door.

(Credit: Corey Arnold)

The tree draws daily visitors. A sign in Rohani and Bollinger’s yard asks advocates to contact government officials. And the tree’s fate now awaits an appeal in county court. For removal, the chainsaw work alone is estimated to cost $20,000, not including a crane rental, dropping powerlines and several semi-truck loads to haul away the 100-ton giant. Meanwhile, back in 2017 the city declared the house next door a “dangerous structure” in need of demolition or repair.

“Unfortunately, property rights protect things that people build, not things that we grow,” Rohani says. “The value this tree could provide to the neighborhood and city could last for 1,000 years or more.” Indeed, some sequoias surpass 3,000 years of age. That means this tree, estimated around 115 years old, could be entering adulthood within a few decades — if it is preserved.


Science isn’t stuck in a lab. It shapes the entire world around us, from art and design to city structures, natural landscapes, and animal behavior. Use the #ScienceIRL hashtag on Instagram to show us where and how you’re experiencing Science In Real Life.

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