Trees an unfair culprit for power outages, but more can be done to prepare

Power outages and blackouts tied to late June thunderstorms in the Washington, DC, region have finally come to an end.

The raging storms – coupled with sweltering 100+ degree heat – left more than 2.5 million people without power. A handful of casualties were reported, with property damage spanning Maryland to West Virginia.

While the response of area utility providers has dominated the headlines, some have also cited the larger trees that knocked over power grids, blocked streets, and in some cases, damaged cars and homes. People have asked: are trees to blame for the loss of power? Could more have been done to protect people in their homes?

Trees are an unfair culprit. But there is a need for improvement in the pruning, management and care of urban trees, both in the DC region and throughout the country.

Due diligence is required to prepare urban trees for natural disasters, while recognizing that some damage cannot be anticipated. It is also critical to acknowledge the enormous benefits of trees to cities and towns.

One of those key benefits is the shading of homes, an area of increasing importance to utility providers like Entergy, which serves 2.8 million customers in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. The shade from mature, well-placed trees reduces household energy use by as much as 30 percent, allowing companies like Entergy to meet peak demand during hot summer months. The shading effect saves customers on their monthly bills too.

Entergy is among the 145 utility providers currently recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Line USA in honor of its commitment to proper tree planting, pruning and care. The program provides a baseline standard for providers, but as with the Foundation’s other programs, we encourage participants to exceed the core requirements and continually seek best practices in their service areas.

More and more utilities are seeing proper tree pruning and care as both good business and common sense. Healthy urban trees help with storm water management and reduce strain on infrastructure. They also absorb the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. One utility executive described investment in trees to us as a risk management tool, akin to homeowners buying fire insurance for their house. This is especially pertinent as climate change leads to more volatile weather patterns,

It is because of these benefits that the Foundation advocates for preserving mature trees in conjunction with new development. These trees often yield the greatest benefits, in addition to their aesthetic and quality-of-life contributions. But they also pose risks. Many of the trees that fell during last month’s storm were older and strained by urban environments. We encourage municipalities and utilities to take extra care to maintain these trees and adopt established pruning cycles. And, when a tree becomes unsafe, it ought to be removed and replaced with native species that fit with the surrounding community.

While some disasters cannot be prevented, trees can and should be part of the solution rather than the problem. And they will be if they continue to receive the care and attention they deserve.

Forest Service study shows major U.S. cities losing tree cover, but active tree planting can stem the tide

Earlier this month, Texas was reported to have lost 5.6 million urban trees due to last summer’s drought. Now, the U.S. Forest Service reports that the tree canopy in many other cities are similarly under stress.

In 17 of the 20 cities analyzed, tree cover declined, while impervious cover such as pavement and concrete increased in 16 of the 20. The cities experiencing the highest percentage of lost tree cover were Houston, Albuquerque and New Orleans. One city, Syracuse, New York, experienced a slight increase in existing tree cover, but that was due largely to the spread of the invasive European buckthorn.

Overall, existing tree cover in U.S. cities is declining by about 0.9 percent annually, and it comes at a cost. According to Forest Service estimates, urban trees provide a benefit worth three times the cost of tree care. Communities do not want to lose these benefits, which include reduced heating and cooling costs and improved storm water management, on top of the less quantifiable boost to quality of life.

There is some good news, however. The Forest Service study also showed that active tree planting and maintenance efforts are already making a difference. Said Forest researcher  David Nowak: “Tree cover loss would be higher if not for the tree planting efforts cities have undertaken in the past several years.”

To reverse the trend, continued tree planting and more active and comprehensive efforts to sustain urban tree canopies will be required.

Saving urban trees will take a lot of work, but thousands of communities – particularly the 3,462 currently designed as a Tree City USA – have already shown they are up to the task.

Photo credit: TreesAtlanta, via the U.S. Forest Service.

Summer drought costs Texas 5.6 million urban trees

A new report from the Texas Forest Service found that cities in the Lone Star State lost 5.6 million trees due to drought last year. The trees, comprising 10 percent of Texas’ urban forest, had become “too thirsty to live,” as the Austin American-Statesman put it.

The drought’s impact on trees has put Texas officials in a tough spot. The same report detailing the lost trees also pointed to $280 million in annual environmental and economic benefit from trees, and that’s in addition to the qualitative benefits. It’s hard to put a numeric value on the thousands of missing pine trees from Houston Memorial Park, for instance, but their loss is undoubtedly felt.

In urban areas especially, trees play a critical role in shading buildings and streets, reducing the risk of flooding and keeping pollution down.

Removing trees is expensive, though well worth the cost to avoid risking a fall on a car, a power line or a home. Getting rid of dead or dying trees will cost the state of Texas $560 million dollars, the report says.

Texas’ large metropolitan areas, such as Houston, Dallas and Austin (above), currently have a total of 60 million trees.

Last summer is on record as one of the longest and driest in Texas history, and the trend looks likely to continue. Broader changes in climate cannot be solved at the local level alone, but there is a lot that cities can do to mitigate the damage.

In Austin, for instance, the Texas live oak has been more drought-resistant because its natural reserves are a good fit for the area. City Arborist Michael Embesi told the American-Statesman that Austin had already shifted to planting less water-dependent trees in preparation for last summer. Planting the right species at the right time definitely helps.

Cities are strapped for resources, making watering trees a challenge, but the right infrastructure could tap dirty water – from car washes, local reservoirs or excess rain that would otherwise end up down the storm drain – during the summer. Additional watering will assist trees on the margins of survival in making it through the dry season.

It’s also beneficial to plan for replacing older trees.

Solutions like these emerge from a sustained commitment to managing urban trees. Texas already has 72 Tree City USAs, including most of its largest cities, so it is clear that both motivation and resources exist to respond to these challenges, along with the passion of concerned professionals and the communities they serve.

You can find out more about the Texas Forest Service’s study here.

Photo courtesy of Fine Austin Living.

 

Difference between Full Sun, Partial Sun, and Full Shade

One of the keys to Tree Care is planting the right tree in the right place.  The right tree in the right place can fall into many categories ranging from not planting tall trees under power lines to planting a tree that needs full shade in a full shade area.

I learned this lesson the hard way last summer.  I planted a Japanese Red Maple Tree in my wild flower garden. 

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The Secret to Healthy, Fast-Growing Trees

The Secret to Healthy, Fast-Growing Trees

The care you give your trees in the early stages of their growth will affect their shape, strength and life span. In their first few seasons, young trees expend a lot of energy to establish their roots in the soil. They are very susceptible to heat and drought so by following a few easy good –practice tree care tips you can provide your trees with the best environment for their growth and ensure they look their best.

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Older Tree Care

Question: I have a few older trees and I am concerned that they may not be safe.  What should I do?

Answer: Winter is a good time for safety inspections of older trees.  Trees with decay or other obvious problems and those in potentially dangerous locations should be inspected by a professional arborist.  You can find arborists in your area who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture and clicking on  Find an Arborist.

If you do you own visual inspection start at the top or bottom of the tree and work carefully to the other end.

Look for signs of trouble such as:

Cavities

Broken Branches

Branch Stubs

Limbs that Cross and Rub

Gouges or Unnaturally Loose or Peeling Bark

Bare branches at this time of year make it easier to spot problems.  Winter is also an excellent time to contact a tree care company to do any corrective pruning that will make your tree safer.  Most companies are less busy at this time of year, and in colder climates the frozen soil will help prevent soil compaction by workers or vehicles.  Then, too, insects and diseases are less likely to be attracted to branch cuts during dormancy.

Walnut Tree Thousand Cankers Disease

The spread of this tree diseases continues recently Thousand Cankers Disease was found in Eastern Tennessee.  According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture,  “the risk represents an estimated value loss of $1.37 billion in black walnuts in Tennessee alone. There are an estimated 26 million black walnut trees on Tennessee public and private timberland potentially valued as high as $1.47 billion.”  This of course doesn’t take into consideration of the additional benefits that these trees are providing for us including cleaner air, stormwater reduction, cleaner water, carbon sequestration…

But this is significant news because Thousand Cankers Disease was originally found in Colorado and is currently in the following nine states Washington, Oregon, California, Neveda, Idaho, Utah, Arizonia, New Mexico, and Colorado.   All of these states, as showcased on the map, are outside of the native black walnut range.  Meaning that the impact of this could be millions of trees as there has been no cure for this disease.

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The Most Important Tree Care Step: Right Tree, Right Place

A  few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Partners in Community Forestry National Conference in Philadelphia.  The three day conference brought together a diverse group of individuals that all take care of or build urban forest.  Groups included utility arborists, city foresters, non-profit tree planting organizations, city planners, and city employees (just to name a few).  While sitting in one seminar about the 2030 Shade plan for the City of Phoenix the point came back to me again about how important Right Tree, Right Place is.  The city is making a huge investment to increase their urban canopy from under 10% to 25% by 2030.  

The plan focuses much of its effort on Right Tree Right Place because so much of their current effort and budget is currently about fixing trees because they were Wrong Tree, Wrong Place. Read more…

Conifer Winter Tree Care

Colorado Blue Spruce in Winter

Q: Robert, since winter is quickly approaching can you give readers any general advice about winter tree care focusing on caring for conifers in winter?

The main problem we hear about in winter seems to be bent or broken limbs or trunks on young conifers (pine, evergreens, spruces…).  Don’t give up on these young plants.  As soon as possible after snow or ice bends them down, use rope, strong cord or wire to secure them upright to stakes or sturdy parts of the tree.  Spring growth will usually provide the strength needed to maintain the upright position.  At some point during the first or second summer, you should be able to remove the support system. Read more…

Autumn Tree Care

Autumn Tree Care

Cooler weather is a great time for planting trees and for the trees that you currently it is time to prepare them for the rapidly approaching winter months.

Here are some tips from our friends at Casey Trees in Washington DC.

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