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Football Fan Brags He Poisoned Oaks on Auburn Campus

The two oaks flanking Toomer's Corner on the edge of the Auburn campus were purposely poisoned, apparently by a disgruntled Alabama football fan.
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Trees are a fairly frequently topic in our news. Sometimes it’s a case of a community trying to protect old trees threatened by new development, sometimes a report on disease killing off trees, or a city’s new tree ordinance. In this March 2011 LASN issue, for instance, there’s a news item regarding billboards in Georgia and how a state legislative committee voted yea to give billboard companies the right to clear-cut trees blocking their advertising.

CNN doesn’t “do” trees, nor does ESPN, but both are now reporting the arrest of a man for poisoning two 130-year-old live oaks on the Auburn University campus with the herbicide Spike 80DF. Soil samples show lethal levels of the herbicide.

School authorities learned of the poisoning when a man called a Birmingham, Alabama radio sports talk program and bragged he had had driven 30 miles to poison the trees. The trees are at “Toomer's Corner” on the edge of the Auburn campus. Since 1896, students have gathered here to celebrate Auburn football victories. Jan. 10, 2011 was a particular big night of celebration. Auburn had just beaten Oregon for the national title.

The man told the radio station the trees would definitely die. The  caller made it clear he was a die-hard Alabama football fan. Auburn edged Alabama 28-27 in a Nov. 26, 2010 game.

Local papers report Harvey Updyke Jr. has been arrested for poisoning the trees and charged with first-degree criminal mischief. Three attorneys begged off defending the man, but a fourth has agreed to take on the case. Updyke is out of jail on a $50,000 bond.

Stephen Enloe, assistant professor of agronomy and soils at Auburn, told the media the poison concentration left "a very low probability" of survival for the venerable trees.

The soil was treated with liquid activated charcoal to bind with the herbicide and render it less lethal. This reportedly has not worked, but a task force is at work. Tarps at the base of the trees are keeping the ground dry. The soil here is heavy clay, which helps impede the spread of the herbicide

Auburn fans organized a rally on Feb. 19 for the poisoned oaks. A "Toomer's Tree Hug" Facebook page had over 7,000 people indicating they would show up.

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December 7, 2019, 3:34 am PDT

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