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About one century before Davy Crockett entered the Alamo another fight for life was taking place in Safety Harbor, Florida. Amid a forest of oaks and vegetation a single acorn miraculously sent out a fibrous root which drove into the ground and somehow became established. Against all odds this root developed into a small tree and 300 years later it became the fabled Baranoff Oak. For over 300 years it has withstood the vicissitudes and inclemencies of weather. Hurricanes, lightning, and fires could not and did not kill this magnificent specimen. Now it is fighting for its life - and losing.

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case that is literally the truth. In an attempt to create a park like atmosphere and showcase this magnificent oak many of the life sustaining roots were cut, torn, and mutilated to make way for man-made improvements. These "improvements" include brick pavers, fill dirt, benches, and sidewalks - everything known to man that will kill a tree. The dying beauty has been reduced to growing in a container; albeit a large one surrounded on all four sides by cement and brick pavers. Gone are much of the roots by which it transferred water and nutrients from the soil to leaves, thereby disenabling photosynthesis to take place. The result is that the top of the tree is dying back. As twigs and branches die they are left without protection boundaries, giving way to opportunistic pathogens. Essential life processes are disrupted and the tree declines and dies. Remaining will be the coveted brick pavers, the plaques, and the statues. But the 300 year old inspiration will be gone for good.

The Death Watch has begun...
There are two arborists that think there is a chance to save this magical and historical tree, Joe Samnik and Alan Mayberry. Joe is a life time achievement award recipient for excellence in arboriculture. He is the founding president of the Florida Chapter, International Society of Arboriculture, and has been an expert witness in over five hundred legal cases involving trees. Joe is entering his 45th year of practice. Alan of Alan Mayberry Tree Consultants is a well-known and admired arborist who was the City of Clearwater's arborist as well as Dunedin and Safety Harbor. Alan has been in arboriculture for 30 years and was the Chairman of the Urban Forestry Council. Joe was attending a class that Alan was teaching about tree biology and a conversation developed between the two regarding the sad decline of the Baranoff Oak. Both agreed that it was worth a chance to try and save the landmark oak.

The two have put together the "Dream Team" of arboriculture preservation efforts. Joe, with the vision, was elected to lead the preservation efforts. The team consists of soil scientists and testing labs, biologists, chemical experts, tree pruners, and soil manufactures, safety experts, climbing experts, lighting protection experts, fertilizer representatives, and equipment suppliers and operators. Most all team players will donate their time, materials, and equipment. And just in case the preservation efforts are in vain, Joe has secured a commitment from a world class tree grower to propagate acorns from the Baranoff Oak so that there will be authentic "grandchildren" available for future citizens to enjoy. Root preservation is tree preservation. With so many of the trees necessary roots destroyed by well-meaning improvements and other man-made foibles and no place to regrow, the unchanged tree canopy placed demands on the root system that put the entire system into bankruptcy. As a result the Grand Dame of the west coast is dying.

Multiplicities of disciplines were considered before a non-mainstream and controversial approach to preservation was decided upon. The first consideration is always the people. Whether it is the City of Safety Harbor or a husband and wife, it is never about the tree, it's always about the people. The leadership of the City of Safety Harbor and its people are progressive and wanted the tree saved. The second consideration was for the safety, health, and welfare of the people that would be working in the tree to preserve it and for the people who recreate and come to enjoy the tree. A safety inspection was conducted by International Society of Arboriculture certified professionals to ensure that the tree was safe. If a tree marked for preservation is not safe it cannot be preserved if there are targets of people and property located within the failure zone of the tree. The soil in which the tree was grown was checked by a laboratory for nutritional content and other soil considerations. The leaves of the tree were tested to see which nutrients were being taken up by the tree and to detect if there were any "digestive problems" occurring. Custom made soils and additive sprays were manufactured specifically for the tree based upon these soil and tissue tests. A lightning protection system will be installed to protect the tree against future death or irreparable damage. The sidewalks to the west and south shall be removed, as well as, the coveted pavers. A custom-made soil will be put in their place to provide future growth and expansion.

The question becomes, can enough be done in a short period of time to reverse the decline. Can the knowledge of two arborists, both in the twilight of their professional careers, be enough to reverse years of neglect to this community's touch stone? Can Mother Nature be fooled fast enough and thorough enough to make a 300-year-old landmark feel young again? A group of talented arborists are betting on it... Against all odds.

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Joe Samnik, is an Arborist Certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. Mr. Samnik has over 46 years of practice encompassing tree issues, arboreal and horticultural consulting, dispute resolution, tree and plant appraisals and expert witness in tree and landscape issues.

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