Tree Protection: Troubles & Tools

Mature trees are being lost at unacceptable rates to development, drought, pests, and inattention. Yet trees are essential services for providing shade and nature access – especially in communities with few parks. 

Trees support wildlife habitat, cool neighborhoods and buildings, clean the air, reduce stormwater runoff, invite active living, and reflect the historic and unique characters of neighborhoods.

Turning Around the Troubles

Infill developments often remove large trees from older properties in order to maximize building space. The permits for these redevelopments often leave limited space for trees. Developers present a false “either/or” choice for trees, pitting them against affordable, smaller housing. With a bit of creativity, however, development permits can easily provide irrigated parkways, street tree planting, and front yard spaces so that public greenspace is enjoyed by neighborhood residents.

Especially during droughts, it is important to continue watering trees and keep them healthy in order to protect our communities. The benefits of mature trees, including their cooling abilities, make watering them a responsible use of resources, even during a drought. If mature trees are lost during a dry season, it could take up to 50 years to regain those benefits in urban areas. A combination of slowly soaking tree roots and generously mulching help conserve water while still helping our trees grow and thrive. 

Trees sometimes develop conflicts with infrastructure, especially when trees were planted in spaces too small for their mature tree size. Often, sidewalks are wider than necessary and can simply be repaired by enlarging the tree pit, giving the tree more room to grow. Uneven concrete panels can also be lifted up and shaved down in order to create a smooth surface, at a quarter of the cost of replacement. Sidewalk repairs can preserve trees and save neighborhood shade.    

Resources and Readings

California ReLeaf has additional information on watering trees during a drought. 

“How Do You Mourn a 250-Year-Old Tree?”  New York Times opinion by Margaret Renkl. “To truly protect trees, we need to … stop thinking of trees as objects that belong to us and come to understand them as long-lived ecosystems temporarily under our protection.”

“Illegal Heritage Tree Removal Highlights Need for Stronger Tree Protections,” from Casey Trees. “Because of a well-documented loophole in [Washington, DC] law, the City’s arborists are powerless to stop illegal tree removals, and this magnificent century-old giant [85 ft, 40” dbh] is now a pile of hardwood mulch.”

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