Portland State isn’t the only campus that loves its trees

Portland might be known for its “tree-huggers” and “nature-lovers,” but this past Sunday, fans of the Auburn University in Alabama held a “Toomer’s Tree Hug” rally on their campus to honor a group of 130-year-old oak trees.

Portland might be known for its “tree-huggers” and “nature-lovers,” but this past Sunday, fans of the Auburn University in Alabama held a “Toomer’s Tree Hug” rally on their campus to honor a group of 130-year-old oak trees.

For generations, it has been tradition for the Auburn faithful to celebrate after games at Toomer’s Corner, a small grass field on campus where the sacred trees are located, but it is likely that the trees will soon die. The oaks were recently poisoned by a rival fan.

“It’s an awful act, a terrible thing to do,” University of Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore said in a statement. “A lot of what makes [college rivalries] so special are the many unique traditions.”

All the tree hysteria began when a radio-show caller, identifying himself as “Al from Dadeville,” phoned into local Alabama sports talk show hosted by Paul Finebaum and said that he sprayed the 130-year-old oaks with a lethal herbicide. The trees were tested by Auburn scientists, who found the chemical Spike 80DF, or tebuthiuron, present in the trees and gave them almost no chance of surviving. The amount of herbicide detected in four samples ranged from 0.78 parts per million—described by Auburn as “a very lethal dose”—to 51 parts per million.

“We will take every step we can to save the Toomer’s oaks, which have been the home of countless celebrations and a symbol of the Auburn spirit for generations of Auburn students, fans, alumni and the community,” university President Jay Gogue said in a statement.

According to several news outlets, Almorn Updyke was arrested on Saturday and charged with first-degree criminal mischief after admitting to the crimes. Updyke was held in a local jail cell overnight before being released on bail. The 62-year-old Updyke is a father of two, a former Texas state trooper and an avid fan of rival University of Alabama.

“He was always fun-loving and enjoyed laughter,” said Dadeville resident Howard Wayne Barnes.

“I don’t understand why anybody would just maliciously [destroy]…a tree that’s not bothering anybody,” said F.O. Ferguson, a long-time Auburn fan, in a recent ESPN article. “I don’t know. We’ve got some crazies in this world.”

The incident has sparked conversation and debate throughout the airwaves and various online blogs across the nation. Finebaum said on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” that he predicts Tiger fans will retaliate against the Crimson Tide. Auburn’s president expressed hope that the rivalry doesn’t escalate more, and urged fans to “live up to the example we set in becoming national champions and the beliefs expressed in our Auburn Creed.”

Cross-state rivals Auburn and Alabama battle every season in the Iron Bowl, one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports. Before the 2005 Iron Bowl, a man was charged with stabbing three Auburn fraternity members after apparently triggering a fight by yelling “Roll Tide,” and in 1993 the Toomer Trees were set ablaze but fortunately salvaged by the local fire department.

So far, things have remained peaceful between the two school’s sides. Donations have poured in from many different sources to help re-grow the trees and charity has even come from the Crimson Tide, as one Alabama fan has already started a fundraiser. At the Toomer Tree Hug, thousands of people gathered around the trees and covered them with streams of toilet paper (another age-old Auburn tradition), as they united to honor the natural landmark that’s had so much meaning to them throughout the years.

“The guy that did this was crazy,” said Sean Phillips, a current Alabama student, in an interview with ESPN. “There might be animosity between the schools, but there’s always that connection because we’re all from Alabama. We’re all in this together.” ?