Tree Warden on Norway Maple at Town Hall: ‘When Is the Right Thing the Right Thing?’


First, I would like to express my gratitude to the readers who spoke out in support of removing the Norway maple in favor of two matched sugar maples.

The Norway maple in front of Town Hall has emerged as the focal point of a disagreement between New Canaan Tree Warden Bruce Pauley and a resident, Andrea Sandor. Pauley wants to replace the Norway maple with a pair of sugar maples planted on either side of the walkway leading to the front entrance of Town Hall. He is calling for residents to support his decision prior to opening a public hearing on the matter, otherwise the Norway maple will remain. Credit: Michael Dinan

The Norway maple in front of Town Hall has emerged as the focal point of a disagreement between New Canaan Tree Warden Bruce Pauley and a resident, Andrea Sandor. Pauley wants to replace the Norway maple with a pair of sugar maples planted on either side of the walkway leading to the front entrance of Town Hall. He is calling for residents to support his decision prior to opening a public hearing on the matter, otherwise the Norway maple will remain. Credit: Michael Dinan

This would be the right thing to do for the town of New Canaan—you would think.

The Norway maple was introduced years ago in hope it would be a suitable replacement for the American elm that was becoming practically extinct because of Dutch elm disease.

Why a maple? They were groping and certainly were unaware of the inherent problems associated with the N. maple. Anyone who has had one during a storm can tell you what to expect. Beyond that, the Norway maple is considered “potentially invasive” as it takes over CT woodlands.

The sugar maple, on the other hand, is the quintessential New England tree.

As you pointed out in your article, the Norway maple is one of a pair that was planted some 40 or 50 years ago. The other never reached the size of the one still standing—it strangled itself with girdling roots, and died a couple of years ago.

When I had it removed, it struck me that they never should have been planted, and sugar maples would be a great choice.

After thinking about this for some time, I realized a few things. I have spent my entire working life as a Connecticut licensed arborist, for which I am both thankful and proud. I have always believed that I was doing something truly real and worthwhile.

How could I be alone in this? No, the person or persons responsible for planting the Norway maples fully believed they were doing the right thing; maybe it was some former Tree Warden. They were going by the best information at hand, and in all likelihood, would see the error in their thinking if they were here today. When I started, we made “flush cuts” and painted the wounds. This was done to the highest standard of the day.

We were dreadfully wrong. When former Tree Warden Warren Kelly planted Bradford pear trees all over town, he had a great reason: they were beautiful and disease free. Finally, someone developed a replacement for the Bartlett pear that, while equally beautiful, was extremely prone to fire blight, a particularly disfiguring disease. Warren had no idea these trees were doomed by their growth habit of co-dominant stems and the associated breakage.

Having known him, worked for him, and served on the Lakeview board of directors with him, I am confident that he would have been appalled at the decision made years before.

It is OK to make mistakes when your motives are pure. It Is OK. Having said that, equally OK is: We do not have to live with these mistakes, but rather, we should learn from them, correct them, and move on with our lives.

Some people cannot do this. They will find reasons, evidence, pay for expert opinion, drag you into court, and so on, just to appease their own sense of what the right thing is.

I have been your Tree Warden for over four years and I know I am a good one. I also know that all of my decisions are not popular. I understand this. Having had my own tree care business for 40 years, after working for other tree companies, I can safely say that trees are a highly emotional subject for most people. They should be.

However, we cannot be ruled by our emotions alone; logic, science, concern for safety, and doing the right thing has to be a large part of decision making. That is why we rely and trust experts. That is why one of the very first consumer protection laws, the CT arborist law, was passed in 1920, to ensure that the people entrusted to care for our trees knew what they were doing.

Now, here’s the thing: If you disagree with a decision I have made, if you don’t think a certain tree should be removed, by all means, let me know. As I have done many times, I will meet with you and explain my reasoning. I will show you the evidence, I will discuss possible solutions.

On very rare occasions, this is not how it happens. By state statute, anyone can ask for a public hearing regarding a decision and expect to have one. In over four years, I have had only one, demanded by the same person who demanded one over this maple tree. In both cases, no reason was given, no attempt at dialogue, no preamble, just the public hearing.

The last one was over some Bradford pear trees that were breaking apart, and a sycamore, more dead than alive. Prior to that, and before I became Tree Warden, it was the locust trees at the Post Office. If you have one, you will know that their roots are very close to the surface. The asphalt sidewalk was heaving and breaking apart making it extremely difficult to walk without tripping, especially for the elderly.

She, after losing at the hearing, brought suit. She lost, but it cost the town money in legal fees.

So, here I am, trying to decide: When is the right thing the right thing? After all, the tree poses no immediate threat. I just know it is the wrong tree and I can plant the right tree: A pair of specimen sugar maples that will provide beauty, shade, and a sense of what is right with nature for many future generations of New Canaan residents.

But I will not do this alone. I will not hold another public hearing where people who know what the right thing is fail to attend and voice their support. I will not cause the town to incur legal fees because of this or any other person if no one else cares enough to be heard. If enough people contact me through e-mail, through the New Canaanite, or by some other means, I will gladly re-post the tree for removal and plant the two sugar maples.

The nursery will hold them for me for a while, not forever. Some people have already asked me to remove the Norway maple, including my boss. I would like to, if this is what New Canaan residents want. It would be a shame to be quiet, wait and see, fail to do the right thing and let the very vocal minority decide New Canaan’s legacy.

Bruce S. Pauley

Connecticut Arborist

Tree Warden for the Town of New Canaan

29 thoughts on “Tree Warden on Norway Maple at Town Hall: ‘When Is the Right Thing the Right Thing?’

  1. Our family supports the removal of the Norway maple at the Town Hall and replacement with Sugar Maples, which will be safer, and more appropriate for the front of the new Town Hall. We pledge to attend a public hearing to support Mr. Pauley’s recommendation on this.

  2. Personally I don’t need any more meetings. However, the simple fact is Bruce Pauley is OUR Tree Warden and we should trust in his immense knowledge of trees and what to do with them. I stand behind his decision to remove the remaining Norway Maple at Town hall to be replaced with Sugar Maples. Yes, I will attend this meeting.

  3. I am no longer a resident, but was for many years. It is always nice to see matching trees on either side of a walkway. Sugar maples are beautiful and would look great in this location. It is sad that one know-it-all will ruin it for all of the residents. Trust your tree warden, this is his livelihood. On a second note, what kind of a tree is in the town seal?

  4. I have been a client of Bruce Pauley for decades and I trust him implicitly to make the right decisions about what trees are appropriate where. Sure, I can get sentimental about trees too, but in the end, decisions have to be made with the head, not the heart. There is nothing sadder than a tree that doesn’t belong where it was planted…

  5. My family and I support the decision and think the sugar maples would be a great addition to the downtown landscape. I would gladly come to a hearing to lend support

  6. Mike:

    think it is very important that you show all the views … not just 6 … we need to build some steam on this issue and show BP that many of us are with him.

  7. Just because a tree is growing somewhere now is not a reason it should remain. The long term look and character of the town was the goal in refurbishing Town Hall the way it was. Sugar Maples are a better choice for the long term appearance of our town. When a tree strangles itself with its own roots, the death is slow, but sure. We have gone to great lengths to make Town Hall beautiful and permanent. Why stop at the door?

  8. I support Bruce’s choice, and hope we can get those two sugar maples planted soon! If there is to be a hearing, be sure to let us all know so we can come to support you.

  9. Bruce—sometimes the public good is different than the private wish of an individual Do what makes sense for New Canaan long term. If there is a cost issue than that is money that certainly can be raised. I trust experience rather than emotion

  10. My family has been here over 10 generations, so I am sickened by the development of NC. Every tree torn down in the name of “progress” for huge houses on postage stamp size lots. That’s my mindset. Most tree lovers mourn the loss of any tree, but this Norway Maple is a mistake. I have worked at Town Hall for years and have watched the decline of both trees and wondered about these poor specimens. Any wind storm and in the back of my mind is “when is this tree going to come crashing through the building?”The first is gone and now the remaining tree’s (whether the Town does anything or not) days are numbered. Now is the time for a fresh start. I support Bruce(he is the expert) and the Town.

  11. We have lived in New Canaan for more than 17 years and recognize the care Bruce Pauley has taken with our town’s trees. We support the removal of the Norway Maple and replacement with two Sugar Maples.

  12. New Canaan is lucky to have a tree warden as informed and engaged as Bruce Pauley. I have used his firm for many years and endorse his proposal. With a great new Town Hall, let’s make the grounds as attractive as possible.

  13. Thanks, Bruce, for your informative, reasonable, and convincing statement. Your passion for “DOING THE RIGHT THING” is evident! I fully support your decision.

  14. I trust Bruce Pauley and support the removal of the Norway Maple and replacing it with two Sugar Maples.

  15. Bruce has our respect and support. He’s done work for us over the 30+ years we have lived in New Canaan. He has always advised us well. We’ve followed his career as Tree Warden and we’ve embraced his sound judgment for the Town of New Canaan. Let’s allow him to do his job in this case.

  16. I totally support the tree warden…let’s look to doing the right thing for the future. We are fortunate to live in an area with an abundance of trees. Taking this one down and replacing it with 2 proper trees is the best solution.

  17. There are 2 sides to every issue and it’s important to understand both sides. With this in mind, I researched information on the Norway maple to get an objective opinion.

    As stated by Mr. Pauley, this tree was brought to America by the famous botanist of Philadelphia, John Bartram. During the 1930s and 1940s when the streets of many cities lost their shade trees to Dutch Elm disease, Norway maple was widely used as a replacement because of its fast growth and deep shade.

    However, according to an article published by the International Society of Arboriculture in Hartford, Connecticut, the “Norway maples have a life expectancy between 60 and 80 years. Of 10 different species of trees studied Verticillium wilt is the best documented disease agent of the Norway maple.”

    According to Conservation Biologist Carole Sevilla Brown the Norway maples have shallow root systems and are prone to blow downs during storms.

    The tree in question may be near the end of its natural life expectancy. The question of its condition and its need for removal, however, should be up to our Tree Warden.

    It’s a sad commentary here in New Canaan when well-intended decisions of our Town officials are constantly under the “lawsuit microscope”. Civil discourse must take place outside of court and fear of a lawsuit should never guide one’s decision.

  18. As a registered Landscape Architect and resident of New Canaan I support Bruce Pauley’s decision to remove the invasive , non-native Norway Maple and plant two native shade trees (Sugar Maple).

  19. I fully support Bruce Pauley’s professional decision to replace the Norway maple at Town Hall. He has only the best interests of the Town at heart, and is willing and able to make tough decisions as Tree Warden on our behalf.
    If there is a public hearing on this issue, I am very willing to attend and express my support. I assume that anyone who objects to the removal of the tree will also attend and take the opportunity to voice their opinions. When all have had their say, a fully informed decision can be made. That is the way this matter should be handled in a civilized society without the expressed or implied threats of litigation.

  20. I am no longer a resident but my family lived in New Canaan for 80 years, and another generation of us now does too. I support Bruce Pauley’s choices and appreciate the many facets of his decisions that he shared in this posting. I hope the opposing person can see the wisdom of his choice to replace the Norway maple with two sugar maples.

  21. I believe that too many trees are removed in New Canaan for capricious reasons. That said, I am in favor of the proposal to replace the Norway maple with 2 sugar maples. We recently replaced our aging Norway maples as the roots began to girdle and weaken the 40+ year old specimens. One had died, one had nearly split in a fairly benign storm, and the others were showing signs of major stress.

    Considering that the town hall tree abuts a well-traveled thoroughfare, I believe that safety concerns alone are sufficient to justify the proposal to replace the older tree.

  22. Mr. Pauley cared about New Canaan trees long before he was made Tree Warden and we should absolutely trust his judgement and expertise.

  23. The speakers so far are all in favor of the removal of the Norway …. while the issue is hot, how do we get to the next step of a public meeting and a vote?

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