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Committee Hears Recommendations To Improve Oswego’s Tree Canopy

OSWEGO, NY – A partnership between the city of Oswego and the Tree Advisory Board continued to take root at Monday’s Physical Services Committee meeting.

However, things didn’t quite go as the board members thought.

They presented the committee with recommendations to improve the Port City’s trees and in the long-run save Oswego thousands of dollars. Following a lengthy discussion, the committee suggested the board take over several facets of the tree planting and care in the city and asked the board to meet with the mayor and DPW commissioner to work out further logistics.

Phil MacArthur, co-chair of the TAB, said the group was formed out of having a tree ordinance.

“The Oswego Tree Stewards have been caring for the city street and park trees for over 3 years now. About 1,200 city trees are healthier now because of this volunteer work,” he told the committee and other councilors present.

The city tree canopy has several well known stressors: wind, snow, ice, mowers, plows, vandals and, of course, drunks, he pointed out.

However, several additional problems have been identified by the Tree Advisory Board, he added.

They are problems that can be fixed with little or no money, he said.

According to MacArthur:

The DPW does not inspect trees coming in from nurseries. Last year more than 30 trees planted had severely distorted root systems due to poor nursery practice. These root problems result in poor growth and early tree death. With cost and labor Oswego invests around $300 per tree. Cost of this problem – at least $4,500 per year.

More than 70% of trees planted in the past 15 years by the DPW are planted 2 to 12 inches too deep. Even 1 inch causes damage, suckers, girdling roots, crown dieback. This depth problem results in poor growth and early tree death. Cost of this problem – at least $8,000 per year.

The DPW has no watering policy for new trees. Regular watering is described as “crucial” by Cornell University. Any week there isn’t a half inch of rain, new trees have to be watered. Cost of this problem – at least $6,000 per year.

Many young trees have been severely damaged by snow plowing or lawn mowing staff. This bark damage results in poor growth and early tree death. Cost of this problem – at least $2,000 per year.

“The evidence of these problems that I am talking about tonight is all over the city,” MacArthur said.

He offered to take the councilors on a walking tour of the city to show them what he was talking about.

The TAB has passed three recommendations to begin to address these problems, he continued.

“We base these recommendations on information provided to us by consultation with several International Society of Arborculturalists certified arborists, the Urban Forestry team at Cornell University, information given to us by attending three of the annual NYS Urban Forestry Conferences and our regular attendance at the monthly ReLeaf Seminars for the past 48 months,” he explained.

The results of having a healthy tree canopy are many and valuable to a city, he said.

“Cornell estimates that each mature tree provides at least $300 per year in direct environmental services, storm water handling, airborne particulate removal, oxygen generation and air conditioning,” he said. “Multiply that by the 100-year life span we should be getting from every tree. That makes every tree worth $30,000 each to this city.”

The DPW does do a general inspection of the trees the city receives for planting, DPW Commissioner Mike Smith, explained.

In his ward, when a new tree is planted, they ask the homeowner nearby to water it, committee chair Mike Myers said, adding there is no guarantee that always happens.

“It makes no sense to plant a tree if you’re not going to ensure it gets watered,” MacArthur said.

Myers read the TAB’s three recommendations – (1) the DPW water all newly planted trees for the first two seasons any week there isn’t at least a half inch of rain, (2) the TAB receive from the DPW at least one week notice of any planned tree removal, except in emergency situations, and (3) the TAB receive from the DPW a weekly summary of tree plantings.

Myers said they would have to work with the DPW on a watering schedule. The city has a trained tree person on staff that the TAB can work with regarding tree removals, he added. Since the city only plants trees a couple of months a year, he noted the weekly summary would work better as quarterly.

“I would recommend turning it all over to you guys,” Councilor Mike Todd told the TAB members, citing their experience. “Planting, watering, everything. That would free up the DPW.”

“That’s an interesting concept,” said Council President Ron Kaplewicz. “That may be something to look at.”

He also said it was a good idea to get the homeowners engaged, especially in the watering aspect. When the tree is planted the city should deliver a brochure on care and maintenance to the nearby homeowners.

“I think what we need to do is not make this a complicated situation,” Mayor Tom Gillen pointed out. “What I’m impressed with about the Tree Advisory Board is a sense of community volunteers. That’s exactly what we want. We have expertise here, people that are passionate about this. It’s a good investment for the city. We spend thousands of dollars on trees. If we’re going to buy trees that don’t survive more than a year or two then we’re not being very fiscally responsible.”

“When I get calls for trees, I send them over to Phil,” First Ward Council Fran Enwright said. “They’re the experts.”

The two sides will continue to meet to discuss mutually agreeable and beneficial options.