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Jeonju city, civic groups at loggerheads over willow tree 'massacre'

March 4, 2024 - 18:49 By Lim Jae-seong
The willows and Namcheon Bridge before the willows were cut down (left) and a stump remaining after the trees were cut down on Thursday (X account @cometojeonju, Yonhap)

A Jeonju city government development project for Jeonju Stream has raised criticism from local civic and environmental groups, with complaints over the cutting down of a grove of hundreds of beloved willow trees that have been a vital part of the stream's famous scenery near Namcheon Bridge.

Some 30 members of environmental groups and civil organizations based in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, held a protest in front of Jeonju City Hall Monday, urging the city to "publicly apologize for the massacre of the willow trees." The groups demanded an official response from Jeonju Mayor Woo Beom-ki, opposing the city's plan to cut down the trees.

The civic groups decried the city’s decision to cut down 35 willow trees from the stream's banks at 6 a.m. on Thursday, resuming a development project under the premise of "river maintenance" that had commenced March last year and already entailed the cutting down of 260 of the trees.

Officials have claimed that cutting down the trees is essential to preventing them from being uprooted during heavy rains and thus inflicting damage. They argued torrential rains or storms could cause the trees to fall and get caught under the bridge along with other materials flowing downstream, leading to the flooding of the stream.

The development project has sparked strong opposition from the local community, as the willows, which were near the city’s signature attraction of Jeonju Hanok Village, were widely beloved by both residents and tourists.

Over 4,000 people had signed an online petition to stop the deforestation project, while several others had filed civil complaints against the city government.

The Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, along with the minor opposition Jinbo Party and Justice Party, said the city has now destroyed decades-long efforts by Jeonju residents to resuscitate the stream’s ecosystem, at their press conference Monday.

They also called the city’s claim that the willows would have caused flooding groundless, and demanded an investigation into the city’s decision to cut down the trees.