From the well-known spreading oak at Slattery Blvd. and Highland Ave to the state champion sycamore on the Youree Drive side of A.C. Steere park, Shreveport’s tree inventory is rich. Oil and gas comes and goes, but the tall, wide and ubiquitous trees make this town rich year round.

Yet in Shreveport’s oldest and most tree-shaded neighborhoods, the whining machinery of the tree services are a commonplace sound. Is there trouble in paradise? Are Shreveport’s trees entering an era of decline? Asked if Shreveport’s trees are in a crisis state, Donna Curtis, veteran head of Shreveport Green, says “Yes.”

“The significant droughts of recent years, the disturbances in our weather patterns, those are a big stressor for trees,” she says. “We miss so many rain storms—they seem to ride a climate bump over our city. And when we get a cats-and-dogs downpour our trees benefit very little.”

Arborist Vernon Gregory agrees with Curtis, “The summers of 2011 and 2012 gave us terrible droughts. And they were among the hottest seasons on record. That was devastating to our trees.” Gregory points out that trees respond to hard drought and heat in a delayed fashion. “When trees are stressed during droughts, they are weakened. They become susceptible to disease. The diseases often begin and do their early damage inside the tree,” says the certified arborist. “It eats them from the inside.”
“Long-term damage from drought happens over a period of years and includes stunted growth, branch die-back, and possible death of the plant. Many woody plants can take up to three years after a drought to display negative long-term effects,” says Robert Childs.

Pest problems are another result of long-term drought. “Many pests, like wood borers and bark beetles, cannot survive in a healthy tree. As a tree or shrub becomes weakened from drought, these pests invade rapidly,” says Childs.

Construction and repair of infrastructure in Shreveport has been murderous to the city’s trees, according to Curtis. Recent excavation of yards to replace gas meters and underground gas lines has taken out trees both directly and indirectly. On picturesque Thora Blvd., which runs between Line Ave and Fairfield Ave adjacent to South Highland Elementary School, the construction-related death of a massive sweet gum tree led to the loss of 3 additional trees, observed Curtis. “Workmen were re-doing gas lines and their digging caused the death of the sweet gum. When that tree toppled, it upset and brought down 2 tall pines and a large magnolia,” noted Curtis.

Isabella and Jacqueline Van Savage kayak past the cypress trees that ring Cross Lake.

“Workmen need to be careful of trees,” reminds Curtis. Opening a number of smaller holes, she says, to access their below-ground lines and junctions might sometimes be as effective as opening a single giant cavity. Smaller holes may be less invasive of tree life. “At Shreveport Green we are always trying to educate people about trees,” she says.

Tree trimming by the electric power company has been damaging to Shreveport’s tree population. “I have spent a fortune re-doing my yard after the Swepco trimming,” says Curtis. Broadmoor resident Alice Normand was so enraged by Swepco’s tree-trimming that the Times did a story on her plight in June 2016. “We chose this house, bought this property 23 years ago, largely because of this oak tree,” she told Times reporter Lex Talamo. “It keeps the house cool, and it’s over 200 years old,” Normand said. “It’s a heritage tree.”

The power lines that nearly graze the top of her oak, though, have led to trimmings that she says amounts to butchery. According to Swepco’s Danny Salter, the work is “a routine procedure done for the safety of customers and to reduce power outages caused by trees.” Tree service contractors receive years of training, work under professional utility foresters and use modern arboriculture techniques during trimmings.

“We developed a program which takes tree health into consideration through proper pruning techniques, as well as reducing power outages and improving service reliability,” Salter wrote to customers. “SWEPCO is committed to balancing the importance of trees with the equally important need to provide reliable electricity to our customers.”

“When arborists trim the trees, they take the health of the tree into consideration. They follow guidelines,” Swepco’s Scott McCloud told The Times. “The side trim and V trim are for the health of the tree. They’re using methods that have been approved.”

“We’ve got more problems ahead,” noted Broadmoor Neighborhood Association’s Rob Broussard in 2016. “The city is launching its infrastructure repairs, and that’s going to impact the trees,” Broussard said. “There’s the potential that Broadmoor will get a double hit, one from Swepco and one from the EPA.”

“We need a city forester,” says Curtis, who remembers that in the 1980’s, Shreveport had two foresters. An ordinance protecting heritage trees has been on the city’s agenda, but alas, not enough votes for such a statute can been found. “The Home Builder’s Association has vigorously opposed it. It all came down to the dollar,” says Curtis.

When it comes to the dollar, trees are in the balance in several ways. Development of the Riverscape Apartment Homes on Clyde Fant Parkway is one of many examples, as the housing site was cleared of trees before construction began. Rain-driven run-off from the neighborhood will flow into nearby woods unimpeded by the trees that once stood on the site, points out Jon Soul, friend of the Coates Bluff Nature Trail. Why don’t homeowners simply plant new trees when they buy into such a bargain development? Hopefully, they will, but “older trees handle drought better,” says Curtis. “Newer trees are struggling to build a support system.”

While the developer may see clearing trees as a plus, the destruction of trees for housing impacts the city as well as the home buyers. Simply put, trees make people feel better. “Whether tree-lined streets or pocket parks, trees send the signal that businesses care, which ultimately helps businesses attract shoppers,” says a study noted by the American Nursery & Landscape Association. Curtis also pointed out that trees enhance property value, to the figure of 16% per well-placed tree.
Measuring respondents’ heart rates and brain waves indicates that “trees calm you. They offer relief from anxiety,” according to Shreveport Green. “The absence of trees is a burden that falls on the most vulnerable people,” notes Curtis. Impoverished neighborhoods are not typically flush with large trees.

One economic advantage of trees particularly germane to Shreveport is that “they’re like giant air conditioners,” says Curtis. “They cool people and buildings in the summer. They moderate wind and cold air in the winter,” reminds Curtis.

LSU forestry professor Dr. Hallie Dozier was raised in Shreveport and knows that, “People are passionate about trees in Shreveport.” In 2009, 2010 and 2011 Dozier led bicycle tours (velo) that focused on local trees (dendro) called the Velo Dendro. Joined by co-organizer Matthew Linn and others, each October tour drew 75 to 100 riders. Dozier said she was influenced by similar tours promoted by the Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets.

Perhaps it is time to combine the city’s bike lane vibe and need to educate people about how to maintain the city’s trees. The Velo Dendros of 2009-2012 were run by volunteers and required little cash to produce. Might you or your organization want to consider sponsoring such a consciousness-raising family-oriented bicycle tour?

When asked on social media to tell Shreveport Magazine about their favorite tree some two hundred people responded. The “Slattery oak,” a landmark at the corner of Slattery Blvd and Highland Ave, was the most frequently-mentioned tree. Brett Malone said, “Would love to know the story behind the ‘Slattery tree’ near the corner of Highland. It’s pretty magical looking. Suspect it has many memories from current and past residents.” Kylie Flowers wrote, “That’s my favorite tree in Shreveport. I just wish I could climb in it and read a book.”

Moon’s Tree Service has taken care of the Slattery oak since the mid-1960’s, according to Benjamin Moon. He says that the oak is about 100 years old. When speaking of the stunning spread of branches, he explained that, “It’s the nature of live oaks to occupy as much space as possible.” Mike and Jill Kantrow occupied the house while they were raising children. Jill remembers hearing that, “The person who built the two houses where the oak spreads received the seeds from someone who brought them from China.” Between sessions of climbing on their tree, the Kantrows watched others enjoy it. Kantrow remembers “a young man proposed to his girlfriend there. We all watched from the window with tears running down our cheeks.” Another story was when their “neighbors were selling their house, the sign read, ‘Tree for sale / house included.’” In the ice storm of 1972 a giant limb on the Slattery oak was broken by the ice. Moon’s father went to work. “He wired the branch and pinned the limb into place. It worked.”

The state champion sycamore tree with its 19’ circumference and 102’ height—towers over the playing fields of A.C. Steere park. It, too, has a place in the hearts and memories of many Shreveporters. Rae Anne Scruggs said, “Caleb Phillips and I love the giant sycamore in A.C. Steere Park! That is where we got engaged.”

Ania Swiergiel, a native Shreveporter now in NYC, said, “I used to walk my dog at A.C. Steere Park every day for years, and it never failed to awe me. Some early mornings, before the neighborhood had even thought of waking up, there would be a fog hanging over the field, with the tree the only perfectly clear thing rising out of it like a skyscraper. That’s when you can really see it’s true size.”

Sycamores are a visually arresting tree and a common sight in the riparian (near a river) environment of Shreveport. Maria Schmelz noticed a concentration of them, “near Fern Ave & Ockley Dr., alongside Bayou Pierre.” She added, “I don’t know my trees, but they are two-toned and were just gorgeous this past fall.” The sycamore has a brown lower bark, and as the tree grows, the bark sloughs to the ground because it lacks the needed elasticity. The wood of the upper part of the tree is white. Kids can be taught to identify the sycamore by looking into the overstory of trees and finding the ones with a shining, white bark. Sycamores are among the tallest of local trees, as seen in the state champion tree at A.C. Steere park. One more identifier—their leaves look like a maple and are usually quite large.

Numerous respondents, such as Myron Griffing, cited the “McCormick Blvd. live oak canopy.” In the 800 and 900 blocks of McCormick—between Fairfield and Line Ave—is what may be Shreveport’s perfect boulevard photo op. Between the Montessori School for Shreveport and Caddo Magnet HS is a tree-shrouded woods walk called the Coates Bluff Nature Trail. Amidst the canopy made by willow, pecan and cottonwood trees is a tree whose middle has curved into a horizontal pedestal. “That is a bois d’arc tree,” explains Jon Soul. The bois d’arc, aka the Osage Orange, is a tree that was native to the Red River valley. Caddo people used the hard wood of the tree to make bows. “The name bois d’arc, or “bow-wood”, came from early French settlers who observed the wood being used for war clubs and bow-making by Native Americans.” Shreveport also has a state champion Osage Orange tree (aka the Horse Apple) on University Dr. Magnolias thrust their boat-like leaves into the sky in every part of Shreveport. Margie Caplis commented that “the two most important trees to plant, if you have children, are mimosas and magnolias. Their branches grow close to the ground and are inviting for tree climbers.” Ben Moon adds, “magical things happen when people do not trim their lower branches.”

Moon is like Caplis in encouraging youngsters to explore trees. One of the impressive magnolias of Broadmoor is “behind” the Regions Bank on Youree. Susan Whitley Abney said, “There is a magnolia tree behind the bank on the corner of Albany and Youree. When my boys were young, we’d drive down, park at the bank, then I’d let them climb the tree. It’s massive and perfect for climbing.”

Light color enters the green world of Broadmoor via golden gingkos when, as Alice Normand notes, “Albany Ave between Fern and Youree is sprinkled with ginkgoes.” Brad Campbell added, “I love the gingkoes in Broadmoor and Shreve Island. They always go out with a bang!”

Tiffany Sandifer said, “My favorite are the cypress trees in Ford Park! No photos in hand, but absolutely beautiful.” Ford Park, at the edge of Cross Lake, is a virtual cypress sanctuary. Though at the mention of cypress many will immediately think of the tall cypress trees of Betty Virginia Park. Those giant specimens have long been fed by the springs that lie beneath the park’s soil.

While the courthouse oaks are notable downtown trees, the best tree stand in the heart of Shreveport is historic Oakland Cemetery. A similar bank of historic trees in Broadmoor can be found at Querbes Golf Course. Kathryn Usher said, “The view from the veranda at Querbes Golf Clubhouse is spectacular. And the beverages are cold and the food is tasty.”

Why are crepe myrtles so common across the city? They suit the territory by blooming during the hot months, possess an appealing trunk and are generally suitable for warm climates. Surely the landscape designer at LSUS saw a field of blooms when planning the colonnades of trees at the entrance. Jackie Day Whaley remembered, “I was a student at LSUS when they planted these crepe myrtles along the walkway. They aren’t breathtaking or anything like that, but they definitely made a great spot for senior pictures!” The pruning of crepe myrtles is a powerful argument-starter in this city. Whaley said, “Although I don’t think they have been pruned properly over the years, I am so glad they are not cut back like some of the trees I see in town.” Today crepe myrtles in the region are widely suffering a white scale infestation accompanied by black soot. It is treatable and not considered fatal.

Looking at up-lighted trees along Fairfield Ave and at the massive live oak in front of A.C. Steere Elementary School, one would like to agree with Dan T. Cooke, who commented, “I have thought about an idea to light trees in Shreveport with solar powered LED fiber optics to make a display that displays the architecture of the trees visible at night in an unobtrusive way.” Planting trees also ought to be mentioned as a virtuous pursuit. One example came from Elizabeth Gallagher. “The cypress trees at the duck pond in Broadmoor were planted by my son, Travis Pulley, and his scout troop as his Eagle project—along with the city parks’ direction. They stand nice and tall to shade the area.”

Among the leading tree planting institutions of the city is the R.W. Norton Foundation. Lewis Norton’s landscaper is Ms. Kip Dehart. “We have planted 40 or so trees each year for the past 8 years. We have added oaks, maple, cypress, pistacia, ginkgo, and elm as well as some native pines,” noted Dehart. “Many were added to restore the canopy that has been damaged from the loss of so many trees. Some of these were planted to add fall color to the gardens.” Norton’s grounds are an example of the considerable effect of the droughts.

Amidst Norton’s 40 acres of gardens are several deceased and felled trees. “The fallen trees were left in place in areas where the walking traffic is low. The wildlife love them,” says Dehart. Another way Norton has enhanced visitors’ views of the canopy is by hanging a set of wind chimes in the upper branches of a tree near the middle of the grounds. “The wind chimes were added several years back to add sound to the garden. It has been a great addition—people love to watch everyone trying to find them.”

From the avowed tree-hugger Dehart: “My tree wisdom? My advice is to replant the trees we have lost now. It will take a life time to replace them for the enjoyment of the next generation.”

Another nickname for Shreveport arrived in the barrage of social media replies: Treesport. “When I was in elementary school, my also elementary-school-aged cousin from Mangham always said, “Treesport,” commented Fr Jonah Bruce. “I guess he was more aware than I gave him credit for.”