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Advocates working for tree retention

A draft forestry plan sets goals for ‘canopy cover’ in island neighborhoods.

As Bob Conoley enjoyed breakfast at the Streamliner Diner on Winslow Way, he used to enjoy gazing at a 40-year-old Japanese maple tree across the street as it turned a rich red in the fall.

Hearing that the tree would be axed to make way for a new development there, and deciding that “tree regulations were nonexistent,” Conoley appealed to the project developer and City Hall. The tree was moved to its current location in front of the Playhouse in 2002.

Yet with current zoning, “the downtown could be completely without trees,” said Sally Adams, a member of the city’s Community Forestry Commission. “We’re working on getting a picture of what the island can be (as it grows).”

A new Community Forest Management Plan will guide creation of a future incentives, educational programs and regulation which the city’s Community Forestry Commission hopes will save more trees all over the island.

In particular, Winslow has seen much development activity and diminishing tree cover in recent years.

A draft of the Community Forest Management Plan is now complete and available on the city website at www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us/CFCmgtplan.asp. The commission wants to hear the public’s feedback by Oct. 27, in time for its public hearing with the Planning Commission.

As part of the plan, volunteers counted Winslow’s public street trees and a 2004 study analyzed the island’s forest cover, structure and health.

Advocates say trees benefit residents in many ways: they prevent soil erosion and run off, cut summer energy bills with its cooling shade, provide animal habitat, convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, and more intangibly, contribute to the mental well-being of residents. Some studies say a tree-lined retail area encourages shoppers to hang around and buy more.

The frustration for the island’s tree lovers is not so much people not caring about trees, but killing trees through ignorance. One example is trees that were damaged during a playground upgrade in Waterfront Park.

“What we’ve come upon repeated occasions is people not aware that their actions are harming trees,” Adams said. “People do things without sufficient knowledge to protect.”

A key component of the final plan will be a “best management practices” to guide the city and landowners with specific recommendations to follow for successfully saving trees, which the commission says is already under way.

Toward that goal and a five-year work plan, the draft plan recommends hiring a city arborist or urban forester.

The plan also lays out six policies for a sustainable “green infrastructure” on the island.

These include restoring existing vegetation, promoting urban tree management, educating the public of the benefits of trees, encouraging use of “best management practices,” controlling invasive species and periodically revising policies based on island forest conditions.

Forest canopy cover goals in different island zones are called for in the plan: 70 percent in low-density residential (75 percent in 2004); 50 percent for high-density residential (47 percent in 2004); 35 percent in neighborhood service centers (27 percent in 2004); 35 percent in the mixed-use town center and High School Road (42 percent in 2004); and 35 percent in the Winslow core (29 percent in 2004).

City planner Marja Preston said that the coverage goals are the starting point for discussions by residents.

At a public meeting on Sept. 21 that presented the plan, some attendees lamented that the plan did not actually propose regulation or penalties that would immediately prevent the loss of trees.

Councilor Debbie Vancil suggested taking related items to Winslow Tomorrow, the waterfront planning group or the Critical Areas Ordinance deliberations before the forestry plan is approved by council to take advantage of some “low-hanging fruit” quickly.

On the subject of regulations, the plan recommends unifying the scattered regulations in the municipal code into one section and clarifying ambiguous sections and plugging gaps, such as the tree retention requirement which applies only to non-urban areas of the island.

“I think the plan is overdue and cautious and vague in critical places,” Conoley said, “but it’s good to have rather than nothing.”

Trees, he said, “are living organisms similar to us, rooted to the place we live.”

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Keep ’em green, healthy

Despite the good intentions of people who plan construction projects around trees to save them, not understanding what sustains a tree may condemn it, tree advocates say. Hiring an expert arborist is best to ensure trees to be saved during a construction project will survive.

Kathy Wolf of the city’s Community Forestry Commission highlighted some lesser known, but important facts about how to keep trees healthy.

Protecting shallow roots: Trees have shallow roots that are easily injured by compaction and changing the grade around the tree — somewhat analogous to care of a drainfield. The tree’s “feeder roots” are located in the top 6-12 inches of soil and may stretch beyond the dripline. Scraping the soil around the tree, compacting it by running heavy equipment over it to remove shrubs and vegetation underneath, or leaving heavy materials or parked vehicles on the root system can cause permanent injury to a tree.

Sidewalk trees: The first five years of a sidewalk tree’s life are important to its longevity. Giving a sapling about 5 gallons of water once every two weeks during the dry summer months for its first three years and mulching the root zone protects the roots and feeds the tree with a slow, steady source of nutrients as the mulch breaks down. Structural pruning in its third to fifth years ensure a strong branch structure and healthy growth into a beautiful shape.

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No trees wasted

A copy of the draft management plan is available online at www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us/CFCmgtplan.asp

The city’s Planning Commission will study the plan at an Oct. 13 meeting followed by a public hearing on Oct. 27. The plan is expected to be presented to City Council in November. For more information, call Marja Preston, 842-2552 or visit www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us/Forestry_Commission2.asp.

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