Protesters gathered in Rome’s Piazza Venezia to voice their concerns about the disappearing umbrella pine trees that have adorned the city for centuries. The trees, celebrated in music and art and cherished by ancient Romans, are an integral part of Rome’s identity. The cause of the disappearing trees is an infestation of the pine tortoise scale, an invasive pest that entered Italy about a decade ago. However, some blame the city government for its failure to provide essential services such as garbage collection and accuse them of indiscriminately cutting down trees that could have been saved.
Activists claim that at least 4,000 potentially curable trees have been chopped down in the past two years. Many acres of pine forests in the city’s outskirts have also been destroyed by the pest. Protesters express their sadness and frustration at the loss of these trees that hold memories and significance for many Romans. They demand transparency and documentation for the trees that have been removed, questioning whether they really needed to be cut down.
Critics argue that while Rome’s municipal government may not be directly responsible for the pest infestation, it could do more to preserve the umbrella pines. The department overseeing parks and green areas is seen as inadequate, lacking personnel, expertise, and a long-term maintenance plan. Maintenance contracts are often outsourced to private vendors without sufficient oversight from city officials.
The depletion of the umbrella pines is a blow to Rome’s sense of self. The trees offer shade, filter pollution, and provide relief from the city’s scorching heat. Their unique shapes complement the beauty of Rome and its iconic architecture. The pine tortoise scale, native to North America, has devastated the trees, turning them into ghostly brown remnants of their former selves.
Currently, the primary method to counter the pest involves injecting insecticide into the trees. However, researchers are exploring alternative techniques such as introducing the pest’s natural predators from North America or identifying local species that can combat it. Although a complete solution may not be possible, the goal is to manage the pest problem so that the trees no longer suffer.
In response to the protests, Rome’s City Council has set aside 100 million euros over three years to care for the city’s green spaces, including the pine trees. Representatives of the protesters have presented a list of demands, including treating all infested trees, conducting a census of the pine population, prioritizing their care, and implementing a moratorium on cutting down treated trees. The city claims to have treated all infected trees but acknowledges that some could not be saved.
The fate of Rome’s pine trees is a significant concern for its residents and the city’s identity. The hope is to find a balance between preserving the trees’ historical and cultural significance and effectively managing the pest infestation.