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The only entry, Wal-Mart wins Arbor Day award

The retailer earns an award for transplanting trees to man-made wetlands, even though 83 trees died in the process.

Published September 19, 2005

OLDSMAR - The National Arbor Day Foundation is set to honor Wal-Mart for transplanting trees that were in the way of building a superstore here.

The Award of Excellence, to be given today, salutes Wal-Mart for moving the trees from a 5-acre wetland destroyed by the store and its parking lot.

But records show many of the transplanted trees died in what critics say is an example of the problems with the nation's approach to protecting wetlands.

Wal-Mart says 25 of the 1,400 trees died, a 98 percent success rate. But reports Wal-Mart filed with the Southwest Florida Water Management District found at least 83 dead trees. So many transplants died in one area that three years ago the agency recommended Wal-Mart replace them with new trees.

Wal-Mart executive Don Moseley, who oversaw the Oldsmar project, called the differing claims of tree survival as "minutiae."

"I think getting lost in these little bitty numbers loses sight of the accomplishment," he said.

Transplanting the trees into man-made wetlands was crucial to Wal-Mart getting state and federal approval to build the store five years ago. The store had to offset the loss of natural wetlands by creating new ones that mimic the original.

But man-made wetlands, known as mitigation, often fail.

Sydney Bacchus, a hydrogeologist who examined the site in January with the St. Petersburg Times , scoffed at Wal-Mart's award.

"An award-winner? It depends on what for. If it's for the most absurd suggestion of mitigation, then yes, it would be an award-winner," Bacchus said.

National Arbor Day Foundation Vice President Dan Lambe said the contest judges took Wal-Mart's word for its success rate.

Lambe said his staff is "gathering all the information we can" about whether Wal-Mart should get the award but said their options are limited.

Wal-Mart was the only entry.

[Last modified September 19, 2005, 01:08:18]

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