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Sam the tree

Preserving the Environment

How an environmental
dilemma was solved by
a community that values
its natural heritage

by Brian Anderson

ew organizations today are not faced with environmental issues—whether they be on the order of the waste of natural resources in day-to-day operations or the full-scale destruction of geographical regions for the sake of development.

Strategies and technology for protecting our planet are consistently being developed. As these become more accessible, they will increasingly be integrated into our everyday lives at home and at work.

Such was the case with the recent record-making preservation of a mammoth, century-old oak tree in Florida.

When the Church of Scientology planned to start major construction at the end of 1998 on a new facility in Clearwater, Florida—the home of its international advanced spiritual retreat—it was confronted with the question of what to do with the century-old, 65-foot oak tree that stood close to the middle of the lot. Construction around the tree was unfeasible.

The solution? Move it.

Moving Sam

Accomplished successfully, the feat of moving the 125-ton tree 120 feet across the lot has now been officially recorded by the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest tree ever moved.

The transplant of the oak, known familiarly as “Sam” to Clearwater residents, was engineered and executed over a four-month period by Westenberger Tree Service Inc., T&B House Movers of Clearwater, and Environmental Design, a Texas company.

Preparations to move the tree began as early as April 1998 when it was started on a diet of extra water and a blend of special nutrients to strengthen it. The tree’s roots were then gradually pruned back over a three-month period, leaving a 40-foot diameter rootball around its base.

To move the huge tree, a steel framework was first built underneath it and around its rootball to provide needed support. The tree was hydraulically lifted and wheels placed underneath so it could be hauled along a constructed roadbed. The total assembly weighed 412 tons and the move took several days.

“It took a lot of work to move this 100-year-old giant, but saving Sam was worth every bit of it,” said the arborist in charge of the move, Loren Westenberger.

With more than 25 years of experience in the green industry, Westenberger is the founder and past president of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Florida Arborists Association, and active member of numerous other local and international botanical and environmental bodies.

The historic event of the move attracted crowds of local citizens. “The move of this tree was incredible. It was inspiring to see it being preserved,” said JoEllyn King, lead Clearwater City Gardener.

Terry Mock, President of the Earth Restoration Foundation and member of the Governor’s Council on Florida’s Sustainability, acknowledged the feat at a concert sponsored by the Church in late 1998 to raise environmental awareness.

Mock presented Church of Scientology representative Pat Jones with a plaque acknowledging the Church “for your work in preserving the environment by saving and transplanting ‘Sam’, the largest living oak tree ever moved.”

A West Palm Beach resident and third-generation Floridian, Mock said he has observed a growing commitment in the church community worldwide toward environmental responsibility.

“But,” he added, “no church to my knowledge has made the kind of strong statement that the Church of Scientology has made in the town of Clearwater.”

The transplanting of Sam is now successful history. The tree’s roots are thriving, according to arborist Westenberger.

“Of all the live oaks on the property where Sam resides, Sam is the only one to recently bear acorns,” he said. “That’s a sure sign of health.” Westenberger has given out hundreds of Sam’s acorns to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other young people and adults, asking them to set an example and plant their own live oak tree somewhere in Clearwater. “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the next best time is now,” he quipped.

Moving Sam
Moving “Sam”: The Church of Scientology employed the latest in environmental technology to move a century-old, 125-ton oak tree 120 feet across a lot to make way for construction of a new facility in Clearwater, Florida. The tree’s relocation was recorded by the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest tree ever to be moved.

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