By Michelle Werts

Nature can be hard on trees. There are floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Then, there are bugs and disease. Basically, trees are fighting a lot of forces to survive, which is why it’s so disheartening when trees are lost deliberately to human folly. While there can be a lot of human folly to discuss, I want to talk specifically about arson.

A year ago, Florida lost its famed 3,500-year-old big tree, The Senator, when police report that a local woman lit a fire to “see better,” which promptly spiraled out of control and claimed the bald cypress.

Watercolor painting by Albert Namatjira
Watercolor painting by Albert Namatjira

Now, Australia is suffering a similar loss. Last week, police in Alice Springs discovered that two famed ghost gum trees had died in a December 30th fire … and they suspect arson. The ghost gums gained attention when they became the focal point for a series of watercolors by Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira. As related to the BBC by the Northern Territory’s Minister for Indigenous Advancement, Alison Anderson, “It’s the two trees that brought this man to prominence and brought the Northern Territory and Central Australia to prominence and put us on the world map.”

The trees were so special to the Northern Territory, not to mention its indigenous people, that the government had just finished work to protect the trees from natural bush fires and were preparing to put the trees on a national heritage register. A tribal elder, Baydon Williams, told the BBC that “Those two trees symbolized a lot of sacred areas and songlines and marking of boundaries of different skin groups and different clans.”

While American Forests first and foremost looks to protect and restore forests as a whole, we have a long connection to special, individual trees through our Big Tree program, and stories like this break our heart.