Keesler's Tree Cutting Angers Biloxi Resident

"This picture was taken on the 15th of April," said Virginia Ehrlich, "Apparently this is their idea of protecting them."

Ehrlich was pointing to pictures of large trees that were cut down in Thrower Park, an Air Force property being developed into military housing.

She took plenty of pictures as a contractor cut down 81 trees at the Air Force construction site. Sizeable oaks and magnolias were among those removed.

"We lost so many live oaks during the storm. And now, to just cut them down randomly. The magnolia trees, the live oaks, for progress, I think is wrong," she said, pointing to more pictures of the clear cutting.

"It's unfathomable that they can come in and do this," said Ehrlich.

Her crusade to try and save the trees involved phone calls to congressmen and a plea to Keesler's commander.

A responding letter from Gen. Paul Capasso said the plan was to "minimize" the number of trees removed while "maximizing" the use of land available for housing construction.

Colonel Rodney Croslen is commander of the 81st Mission Support Group.

"We make every effort to protect the large trees. And in some cases, if you just drive around Keesler, you'll see examples of where we have done that. We have relocated roads, we have built facilities around trees just to protect those large trees," he said.

Keesler has a lengthy track record of supporting tree preservation. For 14 straight years, the base has been designated as a Tree City USA, a recognition sponsored by the National Arbor Day Foundation and U.S. Forest Service.

A large, healthy live oak outside Keesler Medical Center was transplanted just a few weeks ago from a storm-damaged housing area on base.

As for Thrower Park, Keesler promises to plant three new trees for each one taken down. But that answer's not enough for Virginia Ehrlich.

"The Air Force is saying they're going to be replanting three trees for every one they cut down. Well, how big? Are they this big?" she asked, pointing to the fallen trunk of a downed oak tree.

Since the land is federally owned, Keesler is exempt from following the City of Biloxi's tree ordinance.