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Company makes its mark saving trees

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Wal-Mart, spare that tree.

In building a store in Daphne, Ala., recently, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. painstakingly uprooted dozens of old trees _ dogwoods, live oaks and loblolly pines, some 200 years years old, 3 feet in diameter and 80 feet high _ and rearranged them on the site, rather than following the more typical construction technique of clear-cutting and replanting with saplings.

The giant retailer hired out the job to Environmental Design/Instant Shade, a Texas company that owns the world's largest tree-moving apparatus, a "tree spade," as the 200,000-pound apparatus is called.

Wal-Mart is one of dozens of Environmental Design corporate clients intent on preserving vegetation in response to landscape ordinances, environmental activism and people's penchant for the leafy green.

The larger the tree, the greater the pressure to save it these days. Most landscape ordinances are based on a point system whereby large, mature trees that are uprooted and reincorporated into real estate developments garner substantially more points than young trees hauled in from a nursery.

"Plus, very few people nowadays are willing to stomach a 50- to 100-year-old tree being laid to waste," said Tom Cox, 38, owner of Environmental Design, which is based in Tomball, Texas, near Houston. The privately held company expects revenues of about $3-million this year.

Like other companies in the business, Environmental Design uses equipment in a variety of sizes.

Its tree spade, which can dig 7 feet vertically into the earth and fits around 38-inch-diameter trunks, looks like an inverted tulip.

Hydraulic pumps force the petal-blades to open and then plunge them into the earth. Reversing the action, the blades collapse inward and lift the selected tree, root ball and all, out of the ground as if it were a garden daisy.

Once the tree is hoisted above ground, it can be immediately transported vertically to its nearby new destination with minimal trauma.

Trees relocated via the spade have a 95 percent survival rate, Cox said.