I have spent the last three months interning here at American Forests. In the next week, I will be returning to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., to complete my senior year with a wealth of knowledge of trees, forests and the environment that I have learned in these past months. I feel like I have gained so much appreciation for trees and their benefits, so when I received an email on Monday of a press release out of Blacksburg regarding the cutting down of an 85-foot tree in the old-growth forests behind my apartment at school, it hit close to home — in multiple ways.

Virginia Tech's Stadium Woods
A satellite view of the Virginia Tech campus, showing Lane Stadium the lower left with Stadium Woods running along the right of the image. The area outlined in orange is site proposed for the new practice facility. Credit: Google Maps

In April, Loose Leaf talked about the plans that Virginia Tech’s Athletic Department has to cut down the old-growth forest, Stadium Woods, that lies adjacent to the football stadium in order to build a new indoor athletics practice facility. The release about the felled oak Monday is some of the only news on the status of this project since last spring. The release states, “Virginia Tech President Charles Steger has not made an announcement stating if the university will preserve the old-growth Stadium Woods, as the appointed review committee recommended in May 2012, or allow its destruction by building the proposed indoor athletic facility.” With no announcement made about the plans for the facility, we can only hope that the death last week of this ancient tree will bring attention to the serious matter at hand.

The tree, known as number 131, represents the history and diversity of the 11 acres of old-growth forest that will be destroyed if plans for the facility go through. Rebekah Paulson, executive director of Friends of Stadium Woods, thinks that the death of this tree reveals a sad future for the still-standing forest: “Virginia Tech officials seem intent on erecting the proposed indoor practice facility for the football team no matter the environmental cost. Ignoring all requests to delay the removal of tree number 131, one of the largest trees in Stadium Woods, is another indication of the administration’s lack of respect for the old-growth trees and the integrity of the woods.” According to university officials, the tree was removed for safety reasons, as independent, certified arborists determined that number 131 had 10-foot-long hollow area near its base, making the tree unstable. However, some members of the university’s Arboretum Committee, which requested the evaluation, had asked for a reprieve for 131 while the bigger issue of Stadium Woods is being debated.

As a Hokie football fan and tree lover, this story pulls me in all directions. But I must side with the trees this time. Hopefully, number 131 will be the only tragedy this old-growth forest will have to endure in the coming years. If you would like to know more about the issue or sign the petition, you can visit http://www.savestadiumwoods.com/.