Two Sundays ago we in Goshen were mostly lucky in the treatment that we received from storms that tore across the Midwest, creating widespread destruction in some places. I’m aware of only a small handful of trees, or parts of trees, that these storms blew down in town, causing damage. While the damage I saw — to cars, rain gutters and roofs — is certainly not insignificant to those who have to deal with it, we can all see that it could have been much worse.
There is no way to know exactly what will happen to trees and property during a storm. Our own experience with a small tornado in late June 2010 bears that out. In that storm we lost an estimated 110 trees across Goshen. In some cases beautiful, healthy trees came down next to weakened, suspect trees.
There are several lessons that I take from storm events like the one two Sundays ago. The first lesson I’ve basically spelled out already: It’s hard to predict accurately what trees will do in a storm. That’s pretty common sense. The second lesson is pretty common sense, as well: Some trees are going to be damaged, possibly seriously, and as a result will cause damage to nearby property. Again, there is no good way to predict which trees will be damaged, and how they will affect surrounding valuables. But if we look at the overall picture of Goshen — 13,000 street trees plus anywhere from double to quintuple that on private property — then its easy to guess some trees will be damaged and cause damage in a strong enough storm. Clearly the weaker the tree, the more likely it is to be damaged.
That last point is a really important one. It leads to the third lesson that I always review after storms: We have to react better to weakened trees in Goshen. The question is, how? In an ideal world the solutions are easy, ranging from eliminate all strong storms to eliminate all weak trees. Of course, in the real world, neither can be done, either because it’s geophysically impossible, logistically impossible or financially impossible. Nevertheless, since we can’t control the weather, we have to try to find and remove weakened trees as best we can.
Goshen’s 50/50 Street Tree Maintenance program exists to help with this large and complicated project. The 50/50 Program allows property owners to split street tree removal and other maintenance costs with the city. If you’ve got a street tree that you’re concerned about, call me or email me, and we’ll schedule a time for me to come evaluate the tree, and plan the best action.
With the number of street trees that we have in the city, it’s hard to keep an eye on all of them. It’s good for property owners to be vigilant and active. Our public tree inventory is another way that I try to keep on top of trees that are in bad shape. The 2011 analysis of this inventory listed 769 trees across Goshen as needing removal because of their condition. I try to be proactive in letting property owners know that a street tree on their property should be removed.
It’s not always easy to get a tree removed, even when it’s in bad shape. Our 50/50 Program is designed to require property owner participation. Sometimes a property owner is hard to get in touch with, sometimes a property owner doesn’t have the money to prioritize for a tree, sometimes a property owner just doesn’t believe that the tree is in bad shape. Negotiating these variables takes time and creativity. In extreme cases, the city can remove a tree and bill the property owner. That leaves a bad taste for everyone. We work hard to avoid that situation.
The city has budget constraints as well. In 2013 we budgeted $37,000 for street tree maintenance. To keep up with the known removal needs and other tree maintenance issues requires more in the neighborhood of $160,000 yearly.
How can we react better to our trees? We have to work cooperatively, public and private, and we need to be really creative. Call me at 537-0986 or email at email@example.com.
Aaron Sawatsky Kingsley is Goshen’s city forester. His column appears every other Sunday.