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Tuesday, July 05, 2022
<p>A worker with Gaston's Tree Services uses a chainsaw to remove a limb from Bert, a large bluff oak tree behind UF's Nuclear Sciences Building, on Aug 15. Construction plans called for trees, including Bert, a student favorite estimated to be at least 150 years old, to be cut down.</p>

A worker with Gaston's Tree Services uses a chainsaw to remove a limb from Bert, a large bluff oak tree behind UF's Nuclear Sciences Building, on Aug 15. Construction plans called for trees, including Bert, a student favorite estimated to be at least 150 years old, to be cut down.

He stood tall for months, surrounded with love and support from many.

But on Aug. 15, Bert the bluff oak fell.

The tree was about 150 years old and too tall to be cut down in one swift motion. The 81-foot-tall Bert was trimmed limb by limb as students and Gainesville residents watched.

Before his fall, students and UF alumni tweeted to @SaveOurBert, a Twitter account created on behalf of the giant tree.

Van Truong, one of the students who ran the account, live tweeted the tree’s destruction. She didn’t think anything more could be done for Bert, but she said she still hoped things would change last minute.

But they didn’t. Before 9 a.m., the chainsaw began to roar.

Jason Smith, a UF forest pathology professor, advocated for more than two years to save Bert, since the addition plan was first announced.

"For me, there is an emotional connect," he said. "Trees are very important to me… and I do feel like seeing it gone was just a sad moment."

He said he hopes to receive a cross section from the base of Bert, which would allow him to count the number of rings within the stem and determine the tree’s exact age.

Based upon a core sample from Bert in April, the School of Forest Resources and Conservation estimated Bert was about 150 years old, Smith said.

But it was a conservative guess, he said, because the sample couldn’t reach three-and-a-half inches of the inner stem due to its thickness. Smith said Bert could have been much older.

The exact age could be determined if he received a cross section of Bert’s trunk, he said, adding that he was waiting for approval from UF administration to receive the section.

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Based upon his observation of the tree, Smith said that Bert appeared strong and healthy and could have lived for at least another 100 years had he been left alone.

Bert was in the way of UF’s Nexus building addition, which UF spokesman Steve Orlando said the university hopes will keep engineering students interested in the field with new features such as research lab space.

A date to begin constructing the $53 million addition has not yet been decided, Orlando said. Nor have the needed funds been fully met.

In a letter to the University Lakes, Vegetation and Landscape Committee chairman, Vice President for Business Affairs Curtis Reynolds said the decision to cut down Bert and other heritage trees so early was to prepare for the legislative start date and to avoid the possibility of construction cost increases.

To mitigate the losses, heritage trees will be replaced with six trees, and, depending on their size, other trees cut down will be replaced with two or four trees.

The selected design plan was one of many created by the the design team. The team tried to save the trees but ultimately decided on the plan that met the building requirements and needs while also cutting the most heritage trees down, according to the minutes from the May 14 UF Lakes, Vegetation and Landscape Committee meeting.

"We certainly understand and appreciate the passion surrounding our campus trees," Orlando wrote in an email. "As much as we value conservation and the environment, though, the university’s primary role is educating students."

While Bert may be gone, Truong and other students aren’t done advocating for the conservation and well-being of trees.

Truong said she and a few other students are in the process of creating an interactive map that shows all the trees on campus. This, she said, would make the university accountable for transparency.

"I think it would be great to be able to go to a place and see what trees have been removed over the years at the university and then what new trees have sprung up according to mitigation promises," Truong said.

Staff writer Alexandra Fernandez contributed to this report.

A worker with Gaston's Tree Services uses a chainsaw to remove a limb from Bert, a large bluff oak tree behind UF's Nuclear Sciences Building, on Aug 15. Construction plans called for trees, including Bert, a student favorite estimated to be at least 150 years old, to be cut down.

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