Opinion

Downtown trees require care from all

It’s no particular secret that as community icons go, islanders place a premium on downtown trees.

You only have to think back a few years to the public outcry that arose when the city planned to ax a pair of broad-leaf maples on Winslow Way near the ferry terminal. The trees were diseased, damaged and weakened by neglect and poor pruning – they’d been topped at some point, and frankly looked like (heck) – and yet their imminent demise struck a sour visceral chord in many folks chagrined over the changing island landscape.

The city does have a decent track record of putting in new trees (or requiring builders to do so) where old ones are lost, and we are told, maintains an arborist on staff. But as we were reminded on our recent tour of downtown streets with

members of the Community Forestry Commission, the responsibility doesn’t end when a tree goes into the ground; a care regimen that includes water and pruning is required for a few summers, to ensure a tree’s health, growth and shape. Those allowed to become “water stressed” before they get established can be stunted for life, never growing to natural size or form and falling apart in a few years when they should be thriving.

Sadly, Winslow streets are dotted with specimens that were planted and left to fend for themselves, as the ongoing tree survey reveals. We’ll be interested to see if the survey’s findings move community sensibilities beyond tree preservation to actual tree stewardship.

Part of it would require a more mature understanding of what constitutes a tree worth saving. We shouldn’t be chaining ourselves to specimens in terrible shape, like some of those on High School Road. If that means replacing street trees that have been topped or badly pruned, let’s do so. We’ll have better tree cover in the long run.

Part of it, too, is instilling in the community a sense of collective responsibility to match our collective ownership. We recently chanced upon a neat booklet published by the Sacramento, Calif., Tree Foundation entitled “NeighborWoods Guidebook: Recipes for Community Action” (available for download at www.treelink.org/docs/neighborwoods/). Setting as its goal “a community of tree-lined streets, shaded parks and school grounds, and full-canopied neighborhoods,” the remarkably complete (62 pages) and thoughtful primer guides folks through strategies for bettering the trees andstreetscapes around them. Hallmarks of such NeighborWoods programs include bringing residents into the process of selecting street trees near their homes, while at the same time encouraging those residents to help with their care – perhaps by tending to the earth around the tree’s base, or running a hose out to it now and then, instead of just waiting for the city water truck to come by.

The city can do more for downtown street trees, but so can we all. Perhaps the tree survey can raise a new awareness to that end.

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