Volunteers, city to address Claremont’s drought-stressed trees

As the old saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed. And when the city recently called for volunteers to join its tree outreach program, there was no shortage of residents ready to lend a hand.

City officials met at the Hughes Center Tuesday night to launch the Claremont Tree Outreach program, asking the 50 or so people gathered in the aptly-named Grove Room to take a few days this week to begin a door-to-door endeavor alerting Claremonters that their city tree is on the “critical” list.

City staff—who have dubbed the undertaking “case management for our trees”—are providing more than just lip service with this latest effort. They’ve purchased about 600 water bags and soaker hoses combined to make it as easy as possible for the community to care for its city trees.

“We’ve sent out official notices, which people have ignored,” said Tony Ramos, Claremont city manager. “Some folks just aren’t understanding the need here.”

As the first step in implementation of the mandatory watering of city trees by homeowners, city staff has recruited as many as 35 volunteers to act as “care managers” for Claremont’s stressed urban forest. The first stage aims to address 101 trees deemed “critical” by the city arborist. Volunteers are armed with a tree toolbox, which includes either a 25-foot soaker hose or a water bag, like those used by the city to water parched trees in the Village merchant area.

“We don’t want to debate or argue with residents,” said Paul Cranmer, Claremont’s arborist and community services manager. “We just want to make it as easy as possible for people to water city trees in the parkways.”

Mr. Cranmer went through the door-to-door process step-by-step. A variety of scenarios were addressed, from approaching unwilling residents to those who don’t speak English to disabled or senior residents who may not be watering because of a physical limitation.

Volunteers will report to the city after meeting with residents to detail exchanges and, if the resident accepts the tree toolbox, to follow up in seven days and do a soil-check.

Interim Community Services Director Pat Malloy said that of the 688 trees deemed stressed last September, 489 have recovered because of the efforts made by the city through proper assessment and initiating use of the water bags. With 101 city trees currently deemed critical and 533 identified as severe, Mr. Malloy explained that more would be done to address the good health of Claremont’s trees. The city will ask the council to do a park tree assessment as well, he said, to identify and make action plans for any drought-stressed trees.

At the Tuesday, September 8 council meeting, city staff will present findings from several tree assessments done over the last year. The report will include a final tally of critical and stressed trees, as well as actions needed to keep Claremont’s leafscape thriving.

In addition to the soaker hose or water bag, the tree toolbox includes instructions on how to adequately water critical trees. Once a week for four hours is recommended for the soaker hose and filling the water bag once a week is enough water to rescue a tree, according to the city’s arborist. Mr. Cranmer said whether residents will be given a bag or hose depends on the level of stress and kind of tree.

After a four-hour slow drip, the 25-foot soaker hose will water 12 inches below the surface, if the hose is properly placed at the tree’s roots ends located at the outside of the canopy. The bag, which holds 15 gallons of water, will provide deep watering as the water trickles for about a two-hour duration. The city estimates it will cost residents a couple of dollars a month on their water bill to revive a stressed tree.

For three-year Claremont resident John Bradley, who left the meeting with five toolboxes, offering to help with the door-to-door campaign was a pretty simple decision.

“We have a tree that’s a little sad-looking. So, we’d like to help it,” he said, adding, “and the other trees, too.”

Volunteers will report back to the city by Tuesday, September 8 with information on the first 101 trees. Next week, more volunteers will receive toolboxes to visit 535 homes with severe city trees. Those results will be returned to the city by September 28. Until then, the city manager explained that watering in city parks will be increased to three times a week.

He recognizes the need to be compliant with the governor’s water reduction proclamation. But considering the town boasts the moniker “City of Trees” and holds a 30-year designation as a “Tree City USA,” staff and volunteers have no plans to ignore the issue.

“We love our trees. This is who we are,” Mr. Ramos said.

—Kathryn Dunn

editor@claremont-courier.com

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