The banyan tree located next to the Club Dining Services and barbecue pit is scheduled to be removed to provide space for the expansion of the cafeteria. More than 1,000 students and faculty have signed a petition to save the banyan tree to show their love for BYU-Hawaii and the environment.
Elaine McArthur, adjunct instructor in Spanish and a member of the university advisory committee, started the petition. “The tree just can’t get cut down without somebody saying something. I’m pretty sure there’s a design that hasn’t been considered yet. I hope it will be dialogued [to] find a creative solution to keep the tree.”
As of Oct. 30, the petition, which is on Change.org, has 1,464 signatures. It says, “We, concerned members of our university ohana, seek to promote designs for the cafeteria, that includes the safeguarding and conserving of the special old tree of ours as a central feature of our beautiful campus.
McArthur said she believes there’s a way to design the new cafeteria around the tree. She explained, “The idea is to preserve the tree... We just seek to promote a design for the cafeteria that includes the tree; work with the space they have and rethink it.”
The petition seeks to promote some alternatives to keep the beautiful feature of the tree, she added. “It is not logical to think that the only place to build the cafeteria is by cutting down the tree... Buildings come and go, but you can’t recreate trees.”
Dixie Johnson, a senior studying international cultural studies from Idaho who digitized the petition, said the banyan tree holds a lot of memories because it has been planted as long as the campus has been around.
She said the tree gives the campus character and beauty that cannot be immediately replaced. “On our petition, there are people who talked about the tree when they were little kids. They played around the tree and people would also come and have picnics under the tree,” Johnson added.
McArthur shared, “In my 22 years here, I’ve walked around it almost every day, and our kids played under it. I talked to community members about the tree, and the kids said, ‘Oh, The broccoli tree!’ The tree is distinctive. It has a name.”
One comment from someone who signed the petition says, “If Waikiki can build malls around old, majestic banyan trees, then BYUH can figure out a way to work the cafeteria around this beautiful piece of history.”
Phillip Bruner, an associate professor of biology, said he signed the petition even though he thinks the fate of the tree won’t change. “The thing is we don’t have the power to change things, but we can at least be heard. People have the right to voice out their opinion on what’s going on around here.”
Bruner suggested the cafeteria be built next to the road instead. “Besides the historical value of the tree, I’m also concerned on the shade people could get from it. If they start cutting down trees, then what do we have for shade?”
Johnson said, “We’re keeping it up. It’s not over. We just want people to be open minded about other possibilities of expanding the cafeteria without sacrificing the tree.”
Not all of the BYUH community supports keeping the tree. John Tippetts, a senior information systems major from Nevada, said he would be sad to see the tree removed but is fine with its removal. “I don’t really understand why the student body is up in arms about its removal. I pass by this tree all the time, and it’s not like it’s a focal point on campus. Nor is it a place where people hang out. It’s tucked away in a corner that is not really used.”
Tippetts pointed out the banyan tree isn’t native to Hawaii but was introduced in the late 1870s. “Also, the root systems of the banyan tree are huge and can cause significant damage to the foundations of the buildings nearby.”
Some are indifferent towards it being cut down. Dr. Russel Carlson, professor of Mathematics, said he feels it isn’t an old or endangered tree. “It’s not even native to Hawaii. It doesn’t have special cultural significance to BYUH, as far as I know.
“I don’t like cutting down trees in general, but I don’t see any special reason to save that particular tree.”
Tippets said his support for the removal comes from his support for the school’s mission. “Our school is growing and is updating the facilities here on campus, which means that it will be able to continue to offer an incredible education to people from all over the world for many years to come. I think it is important to preserve nature when and where it can be preserved reasonably, but I think that in this case money could be better spent in other areas.”
Tippetts offered a possible alternative where the school uses the wood from the tree to make benches and tables for the campus, or commemorative plaques and pens students and alumni could purchase.
If the petition had asked for donations to raise funds, Tippets thinks it would be more credible because the tree requires lots of money to maintain. “I think that if they can raise the money to save it, that would be awesome.”
In regards to possible solutions regarding the tree, Johnson suggested there are lots of people to get in contact with. She said, “Sister McArthur knows an arborist, and he found a way to protect trees along the highway. They were going to destroy the roads and cut down the trees, but he found a way to preserve both the road and trees.”
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Nov. 2017 print issue.