VIEWPOINT: Claremont’s tree emergency

by Mark von Wodtke, FASLA

Our community is a risk of losing a lot of trees. If Claremont loses 1,000 trees, which may be valued on average at more than $10,000 each (a large Elm at Memorial Park has been valued at about $80,000), we risk losing as much as $10 million in assets.

These 1,000 trees provide natural services (cooling, air filtration, oxygen production, etc.) worth about $4,000 per tree (based on studies by the Center for Urban Forest Research in Davis).

Natural services provided by 1,000 trees are worth about $4 million. We can debate the economic value of trees as more trees become diseased and die, but this will only drive up the added liability risks of dealing with diseased limbs and dead trees as well as the cost of removal. The point is that our community could lose tens of millions of dollars of tree assets and millions of dollars of natural services as public and private trees die.

Trees define Claremont, the place each of us has selected to live. How we treat our trees expresses our environmental ethic as a community. Our urban forest contributes to our quality of life. Recent studies validate the subtle health benefits of trees. Trees also help address both causes and effects of a changing climate.

What can we do to protect this heritage? The city is having a tree assessment done to identify stressed trees and develop emergency “Treeage” strategies to save them. It’s like fighting a fire, except what’s happening is slower and the effects aren’t as dramatic.

Each of us needs to take responsibility for watering trees. The Tree Action Group (TAG) of Sustainable Claremont and the Tree Coalition coordinated by Claremont Heritage are distributing fliers on how to do this and we have also produced a video on saving water and trees. Please join in these volunteer efforts and ask people to water distressed trees.

City staff is working to reestablish emergency mobile watering capabilities, using a power-washer that has a small tank-on-a-trailer that could be filled from fire hydrants on each street with a mobile meter. Staff is also using a water-jetter truck. The 1,600-gallon tank could be filled with reclaimed water from the Tri-Valley water plant. Water basins with mulch and biochar can help retain emergency water in the root zones of established trees that are at risk. The city is using water bags on new trees. Water injectors could also help get emergency water into tree root zones.

At the same time, we should modify irrigation systems, especially where turf is being removed. Drip lines should surround stressed trees. As a stopgap, we could make immediate use of soaker hoses.

TAG is asking the city to reestablish Claremont’s Tree Fund. With this fund, the city could accept donations collected through Sustainable Claremont and Claremont Heritage. The city should also collect penalties from those who neglect or damage city trees, adding to this fund. Claremont may be able to get grant funds from sources such as Re-Leaf, which could go to this fund to sustain trees.

TAG is working with the city to implement an Adopt-a-Tree program aimed at rescuing the most significant trees and setting up ways for individuals, businesses and neighborhoods to support planting replacement trees, once we have an urban forest master plan.

Let’s come together as a community to sustain and regenerate our urban forest. Please support our mayor in declaring an emergency so the city staff can take more action. Let’s also encourage our city manager to hire a director of community services capable of dealing with this crisis, as well as developing and implementing an Urban Forest Master Plan to regenerate and sustain our valuable urban forest.

Claremont needs to plan our green infrastructure and build a team to become more proactive in dealing with drought, and heat waves, as well as flooding that is likely to come from a changing climate.

Most important now…Conserve water AND water trees, especially throughout August, September and October!

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