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Lewis Ginter’s new blog tackles urban tree issues

Frank Robinson, executive director of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, has waded into the urban tree discussion in a personal way — he’s posted on the new Lewis Ginter about his efforts to help save a stately willow oak tree on Seminary Avenue:

I stepped into this issue last week when I was asked to assist in saving an old Willow Oak on Seminary Avenue. It is a stately tree, but is has a problem – a crack down its trunk. I spoke with some passionate folks who want to save the tree, and I spoke with the City arborists, who were professional, informed and patient in answering my questions. I went home feeling there were no bad guys in this, but that something was amiss.

Much of the explanation about the tree’s removal was about lack of adequate funds and the liability a compromised tree is, once identified, to the City and its taxpayers. Basically, if a tree is compromised – in this case by maturity, a full canopy and the weight of an abundant acorn crop – it becomes a hazard. And, even if treated, should it fall and do property damage or kill someone, the City clearly has a problem. The tree needed to go because of risk management. Inadequate funds will be an issue we are all going to deal with in the near future, but the impact here is that the City arborists are stretched too thin to go back to monitor a doctored tree to see if it is improving or getting worse. Thus, once recognized as a potential risk, it has to go.

What I have been stewing about is the conflict of values between the risk management argument, which has merit, and the tree lovers, who are doing the City a favor by advocating for the trees.

The problem is that there is no discussion about the benefits trees bring to our environment. The policies are about removing trees, not about keeping them. This is the challenge to City leadership – to articulate and measure the value of trees to the City, and to communicate to the community why we want to keep as many as we can, and plant more.

4 comments

  1. #1 • Guy Meilleur •

    Thank you Frank for your thoughtful and compelling words on trees and risk. I agree that the City needs to integrate tree management into its overall tree risk management policy.

    The City does not tear out street lights when the bulbs burn out.

    The City does not close roads when potholes form.

    The City does not shut off water, gas and other utilities because leakage is a potential risk.

    The City manages all these risks without denying citizens the benefits of all this gray infrastructure. Other cities manage their trees, their green infrastructure, in a proactive manner. They preserve their life-enhancing tree canopy. Richmond can too.

    “Basically, if a tree is compromised – in this case by maturity, a full canopy and the weight of an abundant acorn crop – it becomes a hazard. And, even if treated, should it fall and do property damage or kill someone, the City clearly has a problem. The tree needed to go because of risk management.”

    I don’t know where this information came from, but there are inaccuracies:

    1. A “hazard” tree is one that is identified as needing management to reduce risk, just as streetlights, roads and utilities need management to reduce risk. Sometimes removal is the best solution, often other options–pruning, cabling, etc.– are more reasonable.

    2. The City or its contractors are responsible for inspecting roads and utilities, and there is staff in place to measure trees.

    3. The tree on Seminary is not gone yet. It will be assessed by an independent professional tree risk manager from outside the area tomorrow, Tuesday, at 9 a.m. If anyone is curious about how tree risk is systematically assessed, they are welcome to attend.

    The assessment will also be reviewed during the Tree Stewards class at 6:30 p.m., held at the roundhouse in Byrd Park that evening.

  2. #2 • tvnewsbadge •

    ” The City or its contractors are responsible for inspecting roads and utilities, and there is staff in place to measure trees.”
    Actually, that’s mis-leading. The city tree people themselves have told me that they lack the staff to do the job assigned them.
    I asked for a city tree in my front yard ( branches of which are almost over the roof of my house ) to be looked at back in 2006… they told me not to expect any action until 2008.

    Now they tell me that they don’t WHEN they can get to it.

    I don’t have dog in this hunt, but please, let’s tell it like it really IS.

    TvNB

  3. #3 • john roberts •

    I do not think this tree should go.

    It looks healthy, It is providing shade, summer cooooling, and acorns for wildlife, and branches for birds and squirrels.

    It is also beautiful, and well over 75 years old.

    I have become very discouraged about our urban forestry div. Last year when I contacted them about the volcano mulching on Brook, they denied knowning anyting about it even though Brook is only a few streets away from their offices.

    To date, nothing has been done about the volcano mulching.

    Enough is enough! We citizens must stand up for our trees!

    John Roberts

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