City may trim tree-trimming

Badly trimmed treeHere's a picture of an illegally cut tree in the Glassell Park area of Los Angeles, according to the photographer. Though the lack of foliage makes identification a bit tricky, this multilated tree might be a mature ficus tree, much like the verdant and healthy tree further down the block.

That tree -- the healthy one -- is providing the services that green infrastructure offers us in the city; giving shade and protection from urban heat; filtering particulate pollutants from the air; capturing, holding, and filtering a limited amount of rainwater in the soil if it's planted in the sidewalk, and providing a haven and sanctuary for birds, which, if we were near the tree, probably would be going delightedly and noisily about their business.

I bring this up because the city of Los Angeles, with a ballooning budget deficit, may be facing cuts of as many as three thousand jobs and may eliminate city services such as tree trimming

This is bad news, not just for city employees, but for all the city's residents. These are difficult times for the people of our city, and now, potentially, for the trees of our city as well, because of the threat of damage to our urban forest. In the nearly four decades that TreePeople has been at work in Los Angeles, we have been through several recessions. In bad times, the budget for tree-trimming is reduced, and as a result, tree-trimming is either deferred or the pruning that is done is often much too severe in an attempt to make the pruning last years longer. Trees can be butchered. Many die. Those that do survive lose much of their ability to provide vital and natural urban infrastructure services.

Our trees and urban forest are critical elements of our urban life-support system. This century we are going to have to rethink and rebuild that system. We need to pull together to protect our trees, but we must also recognize that the city as a whole is suffering, and we cannot let this budget struggle become a bureaucratic turf battle. We have to see the big picture.

Last week at an EPA briefing I heard that every year 3,100 people in the South Coast Air Basin die due to microscopic particles in air pollution. (This echoes many previous studies on the same subject, which show that an increase in fine particulates leads to an increase in death.) Once those tiny particulates are in the air, one of the most effective ways to remove them is through trees and shrubs.

But in an era of shrinking budgets, how do we keep our trees healthy and functioning?

The answer will involve some innovation, and possibly some reorganization as well as public-private partnerships. Instead of taxes, we may need to ask our citizens to put their sweat equity into their neighborhood trees, when it is practical and safe to do so.

As our community grapples with budget cuts, since the trees can't speak for themselves we will need to speak for them...and in doing so, for ourselves.