By Don Shor, Greg McPherson, Dave Robinson and Laura Westrup
Scientists call it your urban forest: the whole ecosystem of trees that a community enjoys and values. Many community leaders and residents agree that Davis has a remarkable urban forest that deserves protection, preservation and enhancement, but this urban treasure is in jeopardy.
Trees themselves have value and provide many benefits to residents, wildlife and the environment, but they require professional care. Poorly maintained trees can go from being an asset to being a liability.
We are all aware of the city’s dire fiscal condition. The city’s tree services have been drastically reduced. The city of Davis now has one single person overseeing the care of 21,000 trees, anticipated to be 25,000 in 2018. The urban forest manager oversees the contract with West Coast Arborists, which provides tree maintenance services to the city, and under the current budget proposal is slated for a 25 percent reduction.
If the proposed half-percent sales tax is not approved by voters on June 3, the urban forest manager position will be reduced to three-quarters time, making it nearly impossible to accomplish the many tasks required to tend to our community forest. These cutbacks will result in more trees that are more susceptible to wind, drought, pests, disease and vandalism. Budget savings will soon be outpaced by increased emergency spending to remove fallen trees and trim broken branches. The backlog of tree care work needed to keep our streets safe will escalate.
Maintenance of our city’s trees is just one factor keeping that canopy healthy and growing. The city needs to plan for replacement of trees that are threatened by development, age and disease. We need to provide the after-care of young trees that have been planted. And we need to preserve and protect existing trees where new housing and business projects are planned. Davis is very fortunate to have the nonprofit Tree Davis organization assist with young tree pruning, planting and education, but counting on this small organization alone to care for our urban forest is just not sustainable.
Soon, you will start to see trees, many of them oaks, at The Cannery project site being removed, making way for new development; more than 4,100 young trees will be planted as mitigation on site. Another development, but on a much smaller scale, is the proposed Paso Fino project between Covell and Moore boulevards, an inholding in Wildhorse.
In 2009, the developer received approval for four homes on just over an acre and today is proposing eight homes. The new proposal would necessitate the removal of almost all of the 75 trees, some more than 60 years old, and a cluster of Canary Island pines that provide habitat for a suspected Swainson’s hawk. The Davis Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to consider this item on May 14.
Roughly two years ago, a business owner on Olive Drive removed several large healthy trees on city property valued at $47,000; the city collected only $12,000 as mitigation.
While we understand and appreciate that not all trees can be preserved, it is sad to see large, mature trees being removed without full consideration of their value or potential for incorporation into the site design. Mitigation of removed trees through planting of young ones should be the last resort, not the first choice.
The city has policies and practices in place for these things but there is a serious lack of commitment to protection and care of trees, a lack of resources for caring for young trees, and a lack of follow-through on mitigation of development projects that lead to significant loss of tree canopy.
The following policies need to be adopted and enforced if we are to value our urban forest for the carbon absorption, aesthetic and wildlife habitat value it provides:
* Removal of healthy trees on proposed development sites should be avoided. The city should work toward requiring developers to submit their tree removal plans for city review prior to development of their site plans, so trees most valued by the community can be designed into the project.
* Mitigation should factor the age and health of the tree proposed for removal: the investment in years for providing shade, increasing value and sequestering carbon, among other benefits.
* Mitigation needs to be prompt and effective. This requires staff oversight, and provision of after-care. If follow-up care is to be outsourced, it needs to be a budget item.
The public can support volunteer efforts to provide trees in public spaces but those volunteer efforts cannot be a substitute for managing an effective urban tree program. Pruning and care can be outsourced but staff resources have to be dedicated to the oversight involved in:
* Selecting a master list of tree species for new and replacement plantings;
* Monitoring existing trees, especially higher-care species, for appropriate levels of pruning, pest management and drought tolerance;
* Establishing priorities for tree replacement of aging trees; and
* Managing the city’s mitigation agreements with developers.
City staff has been cut to the marrow, with just one remaining employee overseeing our whole tree population. We believe budget cuts have fallen disproportionately on this valuable city program and it cannot bear any further reductions. It’s time for our City Council to reaffirm the community’s commitment to our trees.
— Don Shor owns Redwood Barn Nursery; Greg McPherson is with the U.S. Forest Service; Dave Robinson is president of Tree Davis; and Laura Westrup is chairman of the city of Davis Tree Commission.