Thief nabs precious tree from GG Park

March 25, 2008 7:40:13 PM PDT
There's a tree thief on the loose who brazenly stole a beautiful flowering magnolia from Golden Gate Park. The theft not only broke the hearts of those who tended the tree, but the tree itself is probably going to die now.

Along Chain of Lakes Drive toward the western end of Golden Gate Park, where there once was a young tree, there's now just a sign.

"It was a goner. I just looked at the root system and thought, 'oh well that's a real shame'," says park gardener Stephanie Roetken.

Roetken made the "prevent tree theft" sign. She has taken care of 30 acres of Golden Gate Park for 15 years. She planted the magnolia cambalie and discovered it missing last week. Because the root system is secured underground, the stolen tree won't survive.

"You saw the sign. I was angry. I cried. I was so angry, I wanted to leave, but I stuck it out," says Roetken. The magnolia cambalie street is prized for its large pink blossoms, like the ones at the east end of the park. The stolen tree was blooming when it was taken.

This type of magnolia is very slow growing. It has to spend years in the nursery before being transplanted. A mature one is probably at least 80 years old.

"I wanted to add three for generations to come, but now it looks like there will only be two," says Roetken. Professional artists Chris Olsen and Matthew Silevrberg have been painting trees in Golden Gate Park for years. On Tuesday, their subjects were ornamental cherries around the corner from the magnolias.

"We think that it's somebody who has no sense of social responsibility. It's stupid, unthinking," says Matthew Silverberg.

A proper punishment?

"How about cleaning up the park? Doing some service for the harm they did to the rest of us for taking away a tree," says Chris Olson.

The city says thieves seem to like the park's trees and flowers as much as everyone else. Thefts like this one are not uncommon.

"Be respectful, this is mother earth. It's inappropriate to be running around, you know, messing stuff up," says Marie Dennis of San Francisco Parks and Recreation.

The stolen tree costs $350 dollars. It will not be replaced.


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