The theft of dozens of foot-tall tree starts from a wetlands restoration project has left Juneau police and city officials baffled.
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Nearly 75 red-twig dogwood trees, or Cornus sericea, were recently removed from the site of the Nancy Street stream restoration and wildlife enhancement project. The theft, discovered Tuesday, is a setback for the multi-agency project off Mendenhall Loop Road.
"It certainly does look like someone actually removed them, and not just ripped them out of the ground, but took some time and effort to get the whole root ball," said Samia Savell, a watershed planner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Michele Elfers, a landscape architecture intern for the city, said nearly 200 dogwood trees were planted at the site. The city bought them from a nursery in British Columbia earlier this year. She said the trees appear to have been targeted because none of the other plants that were transplanted from other parts of Juneau for the project were taken.
"It was like they were plucked out very gingerly," Elfers said. "It was just these plants that we purchased that were taken, which led me to believe that it was someone who knew what they were doing."
Although they have no idea where the dogwoods have been taken, she said it is obvious that someone went to a lot of trouble to relocate the trees.
"It was definitely organized and planned because they were so nicely removed," Elfers said.
A police report has been filed but the cops are also puzzled as to who would steal 75 young trees, Capt. Jerry Nankervis said.
"They estimated they were valued at $700, which makes it a felony offense," he said. "We have no idea who might have done it or where those plants might be."
The site of the project, spearheaded by city, state and federal agencies, is on the property of the Church of the Nazarene. Youth pastor Mike Powers said vandalism and thefts are nothing new to churches.
"It's not a surprise when that kind of stuff happens," he said. "It's sad and unfortunate, but that's the way it is."
Powers said this is relatively minor in the scope of world problems, though stealing is still a sin.
"The church's viewpoint is people are bent and they're not the way God wants them to be," he said.
The wetlands restoration project was launched in 2005 with excavated fill from the new Mendenhall Valley high school site. The rocks and dirt were used to shape and fill in one of three gravel pits from the 1950s that turned into a murky pond, which has been nearly void of wildlife for half a century.
The missing trees were taken from the side of a pond, leaving a vacant patch with small holes where the dogwoods once stood.
"We planted them for erosion control as well as wildlife enhancement," Elfers, the city intern, said.
Savell, the watershed planner, said she can't imagine who would want to take the of trees and for what purpose.
"It's so bizarre," she said. "I wouldn't even want to speculate on why. It is pretty strange why just this one species was targeted in that one area."
The added insult is that so many organizations and volunteers have been a part of the project, Savell said.
"It's not so much the financial cost of the dogwoods. It's just this project has involved so many people," she said. "To have portions of it vandalized or stolen, it takes away from the site itself and it kind of damages a lot of people's time and effort."
Elfers said she is not sure what will happen to the section where the trees were taken because dogwoods are difficult to find this late in the season. She said they will possibly transplant other plants or trees from around Juneau or will possibly wait until the trees grow and they can transplant clippings.
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