New sports arena necessitates mass tree removal

UAA campus is an ever-changing entity. The past four years have seen the construction of the ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building in 2009 and the Health Sciences Building last year.

People can now see all the way from Elmore straight to Providence and the dorms. Photo by Krystal Garrison/TNL

Now the university is gearing up for a new addition: the 2014 arrival of the Seawolf Sports Arena.

The past week has seen an explosion of activity as construction crews begin clearing out the designated arena land to the side of North Hall housing. Fourteen acres have been set aside and subsequently deforested, leaving the smell of pine hanging over the entire campus housing area.

A moose stands where a forest once stood. Photo by Krystal Garrison/TNL

UAA has been recognized with the One Tree Campus USA award for the past two years, which acknowledges the university’s dedication to forestry management and environmental stewardship. There is no requirement to avoid cutting down trees in order to maintain the award, but the university has to report the amount of trees cleared and why, according to Paula Williams, UAA Sustainability Office director.

The once-forested area held an estimated 445 trees per acre, according to Facilities & Campus Services — in the 14 acres cleared, approximately 6,230 trees have been felled. The entire project is expected to total $109 million. With the arena construction alone projected at $80 million, the deforestation, land clearing and further arena additions fill out the remaining $29 million.

“It’s really sad for me to see those trees go,” said Williams. “This is a large impact on the campus’s environment. The university has acted in the most sensitive way possible — they made sure to take down the trees before most birds’ nesting seasons. But there are still a lot of creatures out in those trees; the chickadees nest all year round. People don’t realize how populated those woods are.”

This area was not the complex’s original slated location, however. The new sports arena has been in the talks for over ten years, with a parcel of land across the road from East High and bordering APU land designated on UAA’s original master plan. Concerns over losing swathes of trail system through this forested area forestalled the development, and the Board of Regents eventually decided to move the arena to a more centralized and less disputed location on campus.

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Both the Athletics Department and the Facilities and Campus Services (F&CS) Department were consulted to give their recommendation for the arena’s official placement, but final decision rested with the Board of Regents.

“We were consulted but had no final say in the matter. That was the Board of Regents’ call,” said Dr. Steve Cobb, Athletic Director. “Honestly, we need a new arena so bad we would have taken one underground. We’re just happy to have one on campus.”

Cobb said the Athletic Department is pleased with the sports complex’s closeness to campus housing. The availability, he stated, allows for a great amount of the on-campus student body to attend Seawolves games.

Chris Turletes, Associate Vice Chancellor of F&CS, agreed with this statement by noting the closer location is more appealing to the university community as a whole.

Turletes and the F&CS have had a significant part in overseeing the tree-clearing project at hand. They have been keeping track of the acreage of land being cleared, rather than the tedious process of counting tree-by-tree, in order to determine the amount of felled forestation.

“A lot of universities have to try to maintain all sorts of legacy trees, significantly old trees and donor trees on their campuses,” Turletes said. “UAA doesn’t really have that problem. But these trees do have very important carbon sequestration functions, and it is necessary that we replace these back onto UA land.”

With this ideology in mind, Turletes proposed a No Net Tree Loss policy to the university system a couple of years ago. This unofficial policy states that whatever trees were cut down on UA land should be replaced with new trees on UA land. According to Williams, new trees utilize more carbon than mature trees because they are still growing, an additional benefit.

A majority of these trees will be planted on Kenai Peninsula university land, Williams said. In addition, the Sustainability crew has already planted 250 trees at the Palmer Experimental Farms, which equates to replacing about a half acre of lost trees.

As part of their plan to clear out the fallen timber collected at the site, the university opened the area up to UAA students and faculty on April 14 and the public on the 15th to collect firewood.  Other clearing processes will be implemented as needed.

For Cobb, progress is the name of the game when justifying the clearing of such a large number of trees.

“The bottom line is this: When you’re wanting to put in a big arena, you’re going to have to take down some trees,” Cobb said. “No way around it.”