Cut down: Brooklyn Botanic Garden fires arborist for trying to save trees, former garden worker claims

Tree’s removal cuts deep: Botanic Garden members cry foul over plan to replace old plant with young sapling
Holed up: Kids found a refuge from their nosey parents inside a hollow in the trunk of the tree, but arborists at the horticultural reserve claimed the hideaway could cause it to collapse, leading stewards to cut the plant down.
Andrew Porter

He tried to save a tree — so they gave him the ax.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden fired one of its arborists for trying to thwart park brass in their scheme to destroy a beloved tree at the world-class plant preserve, according to a former garden worker and friend of the fired tree expert.

“One of the arborists at Brooklyn Botanic Garden was indeed fired for his activism,” said LaShaun Ellis, who formerly performed seasonal work at the garden as a teacher.

Leadership at the horticultural museum unceremoniously dumped tree surgeon Alec Baxt on July 31 after eight years with the garden, according to a fellow arborist, who described his former colleague as a first-rate green thumb in a Facebook post announcing the firing.

“Alec is among most honest, hard-working, and ethical people you could meet,” Christopher Roddick wrote on social media on July 31.

The canned arborist had a reputation for butting heads with Botanic Garden honchos whenever it came to chopping down a good tree, and he once secretly nominated a 93-foot-tall post oak tree on the premises to the state’s Big Tree Register to prevent the garden from felling it to make way for a service road in 2017, Ellis said.

“He was able to register it and save the tree,” she said.

More recently, Baxt was involved in an effort to publicize the garden’s plan to chop down a beloved London plane tree that stood nearby some of the park’s conifer collection, and helped manage a social-media account for the tree in an effort to rile up members of the garden, according to Ellis.

“He was letting people know that this tree was in danger, and trying to mobilize them,” she said.

In fact, Baxt and his cohorts fought so hard to preserve the tree, that Ellis claims garden president Scot Medbury hired an outside contractor to chop it down behind the tree surgeons’ backs.

“Scot Medbury hired a contractor to cut the tree down while the arborists were eating lunch,” she said.

Ellis’s account contradicts the garden’s official statement on the tree’s destruction, which a spokeswoman said was cut down on the advice of green-space arborists.

In his Facebook post, Roddick described Baxt’s firing as emblematic of garden leadership’s disregard for their experts’ advice, and suggested his axing may constitute wrongful termination.

“The erosion of due process is disturbing, as is the declining ability for people to express opinions,” Roddick wrote.

Garden spokeswoman Elizabeth Reina-Longoria declined to comment regarding personnel matters, but said that “some” of Ellis’s accusations were “simply false.”

Baxt declined to comment.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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