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TAKE ACTION: Attend Brackenridge Tree ‘Chop’ Hearing and Walking Tour

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Against the “chop.” Resident express opposition to Parks plan at Brackenridge at a recent demonstration. Image: Greg Harman

A plan to remove 104 trees from the heart of Brackenridge Park, headwaters of the San Antonio River, was approved by San Antonio’s Planning Commission last month. But an important kink has developed on the pathway to a final vote that concerned residents should take advantage of.

Greg Harman

The proposal approved by San Antonio’s Planning Commission on January 26, 2022, was ostensibly all about repairing historic structures and rooted in voter-approved 2017 City bond language. The river wall, the pump house, the upstream acequia. “This current state of the some of these cultural resources [in Brackenridge Park] has led to them being closed off from public access and have become a health, safety and welfare issue that needs to be addressed,” Public Works Project Manager Jamaal Moreno wrote Commissioners.

But, as Deceleration noted in our January 31 story, the director of San Antonio’s Parks Department wouldn’t stop talking about birds at that meeting. He stood in support of the requested variance to allow a massive tree clearing for an otherwise undisclosed “benefit”: taking away the trees, he said, would eliminate habitat for thousands of migratory birds. And that’s a good thing, he said. Because amenities. (It’s as if moving a playground never occurred to this bunch.)

The proposal would likely have cleared its final hurdle at Historic and Design Review Committee (HDRC) on February 2, 2022, with too many questions unanswered, but for a midnight intervention to allow time for public dialogue. In truth, the project has proved hard to navigate because it holds a snarl of interests, some reasonable (a collapsing wall), others repugnant (killing elder trees to evict migratory birds). These mixed interests need to be cracked open in the light of day.

Councilmembers for District One and Two have worked to create space for more community discussion ahead of what would be a hurdle-clearing vote for the project next week, including…

Brackenridge Park Tree Plan Virtual Town Hall

Join the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, District 1 and District 2 for information and Q&A

Thursday, Feb. 10
JOIN: https://bit.ly/Brack12
For event inquiries:

Brackenridge Park Historic & Cultural Resources Walking Tour

Learn about the cultural resources at the park that date back to 1776 and how the Brackenridge Park 2017 Bond Project will restore and preserve these historic features.

Saturday, Feb 12
Meet near the Lambert Field and Pump House
Event flyer (pdf)

On February 2, District 2 Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez wrote:

“Good news! The request to remove trees at Brackenridge Park has been withdrawn. Our office’s plan is to work with community members and city departments to ensure that any future requests adhere to OUR community’s request for respect of our environment and true public engagement.”

Be aware: Though the public hearing, and a public weekend site tour being organized by D1’s Mario Bravo, offer an important detour allowing for the potential of community influence, the project is very much alive and headed toward a rescheduled vote at HDRC on February 16.

February 16 Preliminary HDRC Agenda. Screenshot 4:40PM Wednesday, February 9.

The “chop” may be small when weighed in terms of timber against the recently Council-approved Microsoft clearcut of more than 2,600 trees. But it is a deadly cut located controversially in the sacred headwaters of the San Antonio River, known by Native peoples traditionally as Yanawana, “land of the spirit waters.”

Against a backdrop of growing project skepticism and a coalescing “Stop the Chop” campaign, the project is advancing to the HDRC with broader justifying language that more accurately reflects the diverse project goals of City players.

“The proposed tree removal plan is to prevent further damage to above-ground historic resources; to prevent rookeries from developing and causing unhealthy environments; to provide regular tree maintenance, including dead tree removal; and to enhance the view shed in conjunction with the proposed Brackenridge Park 2017 Bond project.”

Project Description, HDRC

Which trees are being targeted because of their entangling with so-called historic resources? Which are targeted for harboring migratory birds? Which are purely matters of aesthetics or “view shed”? These are questions that will hopefully be addressed Thursday night when the Parks Department along with District 1 and District 2 Council Offices convene a public meeting on the matter.

Our hope is that the bird harassment, ongoing since the total destruction of a healthy rookery at Elmendorf in 2019, will be disaggregated from the conversation about historic structures and set on a pathway for slower and considered community discussion capable of helping us earn our current declared Bird City Texas bona fides.

[READ: “In Praise of Nusiance Heronries: How the slow attention of local women exposed an institutional war on the birds of San Antonio.”]

[UPDATE: Although “preventing rookeries” is part of the project language going to HDRC next week, the Parks Department published a FAQ sheet this week claiming that trees are not being removed with the intention of reducing bird habitat. Habitat reduction is a side benefit, of their own admission, serving an established goal of destroying the rookery (which is in the actual project description language sitting w/ the HDRC).]

Objections (often hashtagged #StoptheChop) have been raised for a variety concerns, including the failure to adequately engage the public, the dubious wisdom of targeting established hundreds-of-years-old carbon-sequestering trees in an era of climate disruption, and a clear-cut rejection of harassing behaviors intended to evict the thousands of birds that are welcomed and celebrated seasonally by thousands in San Antonio.

Deceleration has interviewed many about their objections and all share a sense of being excluded by the process. Many who identify as Indigenous to this area (as many aligned in opposition do) chafe at not having been consulted. Gary Perez, best known for his research into the White Shaman rock art, which he says served the original people of the land as both a map of the region and a cosmic clock, warns that moving ahead with the planned tree clearing would bring ‘cosmological harm’ to the community.

George Perez on the Brackenridge Tree Removal Plan

Though McKee-Rodriguez was tied up in B Session while we were compiling this update, his position was clearly stated on that Facebook post when he wrote that:

“My goal is a revised plan that does not include the removal of trees! If Parks’ plan ever deviates from that, I expect a robust public engagement process.”

On that same thread Grace Rose Gonzales pointed out that the project was still slated for a vote only days after what would be the first public hearing of the issue.

“What kind of meaningful dialogue will be had?” she wrote. “stop the chop.”

While Brackenridge belongs to the whole city, its territory is technically split between D2 and D1. So Bravo and McKee-Rodriguez are both engaged and are inviting community input. We will provide updates as they come on Deceleration’s social media channels.

See you Thursday (and Saturday).


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