Two famed oak trees at Auburn University in Alabama will probably die after being poisoned by an angry football fan, the latest salvo in a bitter state rivalry, the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga., reports.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that an arrest has been made. Harvey Almorn Updyke, 62, of Dadeville, has been charged with criminal mischief.
Auburn University and the University of Alabama have a long-standing sports rivalry, which has lately bloomed into outright "hate," according to the sports site, Fanhouse.
That hatred — normally reserved for raiding the opposing teams' campuses — took an ugly turn when a University of Alabama fan reportedly poisoned the 130-year-old trees at Toomer's Corner, named after a nearby drug store by the same name. It's tradition for Auburn fans to celebrate under the Toomer's Corner oaks, draping them with toilet paper. In recent years, Alabama fans have been known to light the toilet paper on fire.
The crimes were discovered after a person identifying himself as "Al from Dadeville" called sports commentator Paul Finebaum's radio show on Jan. 27, announcing that he had applied an herbicide to the trees:
"The weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn, Alabama, 'cause I live 30 miles away, and I poisoned the two Toomer's trees. I put Spike 80DF in them."
The Iron Bowl is the annual Alabama-Auburn game, held most recently on Nov. 26.
Spike 80DF, also known as tebuthiuron, is an herbicide often used to kill oak trees, sagebrush and other unwanted plants in ranges and pastures to improve grazing land. It is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is only approved for use in Texas, New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. The poison is applied to the soil near a tree's roots, where it is absorbed and carried through the rest of the tree.
Because the herbicide is slow-acting, Auburn University officials did not realize the trees had been poisoned until after the radio program aired. They tested the soil around the trees the next day and found what they called "lethal amounts" of the herbicide.
In a statement, Auburn University President Jay Gogue said, "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."
"We are assessing the extent of the damage and proceeding as if we have a chance to save the trees," Gary Keever, Auburn professor of horticulture, told the Associated Press. "We are also focused on protecting the other trees and shrubs in Samford Park. At this level the impact could be much greater than just the oaks on the corner, as Spike moves through the soil to a wide area." He said the poison is likely to remain in the soil for up to five years.
Auburn tree experts have applied activated charcoal to the soil around the oaks to absorb as much of the poison as possible. As spring approaches, they will be looking for yellowing leaves, a sure sign that the trees are dying.