Archdiocese warns oak galls forcing changes to St. Louis cemeteries

ST. LOUIS - The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Archdiocese of St. Louis have identified at least 600 pin oak trees in its 17 cemeteries that must be cut down in order to keep the spaces as immaculate as they are sacred.

The massive, 80-year-old pin oaks are dying, diseased with oak galls. The Archdiocese said the trees must be cut down before they come crashing down on their own, possibly harming headstones lying in their shadows or people visiting the gravesites of loved ones.

"We don't want people to get hurt when they're mourning loved ones and we're also doing it so that we can mow," said Gabe Jones, Archdiocese of St. Louis Media Relations Specialist.

Before cutting the trees, the grounds crew must lay down each surrounding headstone to avoid them being damaged in the process.

"In a cemetery, you'll know that one tree may be surrounded by hundreds of headstones, so to protect all of those you have to lay each one down, each weighing thousands of pounds," Jones said.

Jones said it's a long and grueling process to lay them down, cut the trees, remove the debris and replace the headstones. Groundskeepers use the help of heavy machinery and heavy-duty straps to move the often 4,000-pound markers. He said that they have been working on the project for at least five years, working in all kinds of weather, even the freezing cold, rain and snow to get the job done.

For every tree they cut down, The grounds crew replaces every tree cut down with two new trees of several different varieties and they heat all their service buildings with the wood of the dead trees.