From the Urban Forestry Files: The Statesman is reporting that the City of Austin has picked an Oak at the Heart Hospital of Austin and a Persimmon in Pease Park as its 2008 winners for “Tree of the Year.”

Thats right folks, Tree of the Year! And you didn’t even know there was a contest?

It’s a pretty sweet deal for the owners of the trees — but not so much for the taxpayers. It seems that the City of Austin is going to drop a grand, $500 dollars per tree, to put up fancy bronze plaques next to each. Five judges, led by city arborist Michael Embesi, combed through 20 nominations from the public for the second annual contest.

The award’s aim, Embesi said, is to “recognize the importance of trees in our community, encourage proper tree selection and promote proper tree care.”

Seriously? Is $1000 worth of bronze the best way to encourage proper tree care? I’ve got no problem with tree-hugging (though it does make me chuckle), and I have little doubt that these two are beautiful trees.

But kneeling at their roots to worship them is something that should be left to private citizens using their own funds, not taxpayer dollars. But the real shame here isn’t just the money.

Now that the big government Austin bureaucracy has stepped up to say that they’ll take care of the trees, its unlikely private tree-lovers will choose to act at all. After all, taking care of the trees is the government’s responsibility, isn’t it?

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.