By Diane Joy Schmidt
A beloved cottonwood that graced Corrales Road at Uva Road to the west was cut down on
September 7th. Irate tree lovers left notes and flowers on the stump for weeks, including
prominent cardboard signs, one read ‘murderer.’ A final note provocatively asked “WTF?”
Did this impressive tree have to be completely cut down? Who was responsible? What does
this mean going forward with other trees along Corrales Road?
The tree was on a right of way that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
(MRGCD) is responsible for. From Uva to Mira Sol Road the easement is barren. At Mira Sol,
the ditch and the district’s easement veers away from the road, and the right of way becomes the
provenance of New Mexico State Highway 448, aka Corrales Road. This can be seen on a state
survey map, provided to the paper by Corrales P&Z administrator Laurie Stout.
At that point, a lush if unpruned canopy of cottonwoods provides a peaceful coolness as
the road continues into Corrales. The cottonwoods coexist with the telephone lines running
through them. On the east side of Corrales Road are the high voltage power lines that are the
responsibility of PNM.
MRGCD CEO Jason Casuga said, “We went to look at the the tree and saw it was was
within our right of way and overhanging the road. We’ve recently had several claims related to
trees from our right of way, that overhang private property and we’ve ended up being responsible
for those trees. We had the tree assessed by an arborist, who found that 50% of the tree was
hollowed and dying in the structure, and there could be a structural integrity issue.” Based on this
report, he said that once they knew this, the agency had no other choice than to have the tree
Casuga said he prefers not to cut down trees—he cited a situation in the North Valley
where an arborist came out to look at a tree overhanging a home. The arborist said “‘this tree is
structurally fine. Just take these limbs down, and the tree has got many year left.’ We paid the
money to have the tree limbs just trimmed and the tree stayed.”
In the case of the Corrales cottonwood, they had to make a determination, that if the tree
was a hazard going forward, that just trimming the overhanging limbs was not recommended.
Casuga pointed out that no one likes seeing a tree cut down, “But what happens if we don’t cut it
down and then it hurts somebody? Which is worse?”
Corrales Fire Chief Anthony Martinez said that the MRGCD contacted him to remove the
tree. He said that they work together and that the fire department maintains the trees on both
rights of way in conjunction with their Public Works Department. Martinez said, “We’ve seen a
need over the years, of trees encroaching on roadways,” and where they interfere with fire
equipment access. “So, years ago, we applied for funding to try to get a truck with a boom. We
don’t have the resources or budget to hire an arborist or a tree trimmer.”
Finally the legislature came through with funds, and they were able to make the purchase
of an urban forestry truck. “We’ve been training, and last year alone I calculated, we probably
saved the village between seventy and eighty thousand dollars.” Chief Martinez added, “I own
it. I’m the one who cut it down. If there’s a hazard tree, and it’s dangerous, then we just want to
Chief Martinez said that last spring when there were high winds, that trees were sparking
on power lines, and “we had multiple fires from power lines with trees.” He is very concerned
about what could happen. He said he goes out with his 500-gallon water truck and waters trees in
the bosque regularly, and they have a pilot program planting new trees.
In Ruidoso, a tree fell on a power line and started a fire that eventually burned 200
homes. Two older residents died. A state agency report later determined that “wind gusts of up
to 80 mph toppled a 49-foot-tall drought-stressed tree on April 12, causing electrical lines to arc
and ignite the fire,” as reported in the Albuquerque Journal. Lawsuits have ensued against the
Chief Martinez would like private owners made responsible for their trees, throughout the
Our drought-stressed trees are drying out. Thomas Neiman, a long-time Corrales resident,
certified tree arborist and master gardener said, “We are in a drought. And winter drought is
really awful. In the wintertime the trees are really suffering with more stress.” He said that during winter months, trees should be watered once a month when the ground is not frozen.
“Tree roots can die in the winter just as they can in the summer.”
Neiman was shown the arborist’s report to the MRGCD, and concurred with their
decision that the cottonwood had to come down. He said “it’s always going to be a question of
“point-counterpoint.” Neiman recalled the controversy many years ago over an historic
cottonwood at the Old Church that was dropping limbs. Two separated arborists determined that
it had to come down. Nevertheless, when it was cut down, the village tree committee resigned in
Chief Martinez was asked if the canopy of Cottonwood trees heading further north from
Mira Sol could be a problem. He indicated that in the future they could be slated for removal.
What can be done proactively? We all admire our leafy corridor. Could the citizens of
Corrales come together and raise funds to prune and care for these trees along our public
roadways that we so admire, to ensure the beauty of our village?