People need trees, trees need people

photo by @JulieandSteve via Flickr

Last week’s windstorm downed trees and wreaked havoc on our streets and landscapes, costing millions of dollars in property damage. Equally as devastating was the costly damage to a critical part of our community infrastructure: the urban forest. Kudos to all the arborists, the professional tree people, who've just performed the heroic, high-risk work of rapid cleanup. These are people who until recent municipal budget cuts were regularly employed keeping our trees safe and healthy.

We need trees in cities more than ever. We need them to protect us from heat, flooding, air pollution, drought - health and safety hazards far more common than a uncharacteristic wind storm. We need them to provide us with oxygen, shade, beauty, natural habitat, energy savings, and carbon dioxide sequestration. In losing the trees toppled by the storm we’ve lost vital services.

Could these losses have been prevented?  
This storm was far more powerful than our typical Santa Ana episode and some of the damage was unavoidable because of the most extreme conditions. But much of the damage was the result of insufficient tree care due to budget cuts and long term improper tree care due to lack of training of the general public and non-certified tree trimmers.  

There are a number of reasons that entire trees fall over, or have their trunks or branches break in strong winds. Some tree species require regular thinning to remove excess weight. Improper pruning cuts can result in decay in a branch or trunk which may result in breakage when under stress. Compounding this lack of proper pruning, we in Southern California tend to over-water our trees, directly, or by relying on lawn irrigation to water them. That may be the biggest culprit of all.  Lawn watering can super-saturate the soil causing tree roots to rot. Rotten roots can’t hold onto the soil well.  Also, frequent shallow watering results in a shallow root system, which doesn’t adequately anchor the tree when faced with major wind events.

photo by @JulieandSteve via Flickr

We can live safely with trees and reap all the benefits they give us, if we manage and properly care for them.

Citizens have three key roles to play: helping care for the trees around our homes, volunteering to care for young trees on public land (such as the parkway strip on our streets), and ensuring adequate funding of public tree care.  Non-profit organizations like TreePeople offer basic training for in tree care and tree planting  (to replace what we’ve lost) and organize public tree care events.   Equally important is letting local lawmakers know that tree care is an essential service that can’t be cut without putting the public’s health and safety at risk.

In our cities’ harsh economy and increasingly unstable climate,  people need trees and trees need people.  It's time we all work together and do our parts.

Photos by @JulieandSteve via Flickr