Opinion

Cant see the city for the trees

by Bill Blake
Assistant Director
of Community
Development Natural Resource Manager
City of Arlington

Most of us can remember Sunday drives where the trees from both sides of the road joined to form a canopy over the road, like a tunnel alive with birds and color. The time spent under a shade tree on a hot summer day. Carving the initials of that special someone to tell the world of your love.
Over the past few years we have watched our backyard forests and our green walls of privacy disappearing as Arlington has been engulfed by suburbia. It seems as though it would be a simple task to save the big beautiful trees of Arlington, and we at the city have made some effort to that end.
The city of Arlington made the choice in 2003 to become a Tree City USA, a National Arbor Day Association project. We adopted new land use rules in October of 2003 that call for the identification of significant trees or stands of trees to help make informed decisions reflecting the communitys values and priorities about trees.
The last large development that was approved under the old rules lacking tree protection was built with many complaints from the surrounding neighborhood. The greenbelt they assumed would be there forever is gone. Now, the new rules enable the city to negotiate keeping as many of the existing trees as possible. We may not be able to keep all the taller, oldest trees, if they present danger during windstorms, but we should be able to keep younger recruitment trees and shrubs.
The concept the city has applied to save trees in a safe manner is a compromise. A developer thins out the taller trees, while leaving the 5 25-foot younger trees to grow in a more open environment. This not only allows the existing wildlife some habitat to remain in the neighborhood, but also enables retention of the forest floor duff. It also helps reduce stormwater impacts as well as protecting ground-nesting birds such as grouse and Rufous-sided towhees.
Overall the developer saves money by not clearing as much land and reducing costs of purchasing and planting required buffers. The landowner can gain income from logging the larger trees even though they are required to use low-impact selective cutting methods.
The city also offers assistance to individuals with problem trees in their yard. If we do not have the expertise to provide a solution, we will recommend a certified arborist. People can also contact the WSU Cooperative Extension office with questions.
Probably the most common mistake landowners make is to trim the top of native Douglas fir and cedar trees. Topping these big monolith trees can create an even more dangerous situation. The topped tree will sprout numerous new tops that will begin to shed over time. Old-time loggers called the trees with numerous tops widow makers as they will certainly be falling out of the sky at some point in the future.
One rule we all grew up with around Arlington is that you dont go for a walk in the woods on a windy day.
Another thing to avoid is damaging the roots of your favorite trees. Its best not to dig and move dirt between the trunk of the tree and the drip line. A good way to determine the drip line is to stand under the tree during a heavy rain. Rain normally makes its way down toward the ground on the outside of the branches. In order to get water, the roots extend out at the same pace as the tree and its drip line grow bigger. If you dig between the stump and the drip line there is a good chance that your tree could die from being cut-off from its water supply and nutrients.
We probably all have a tree that holds a special place in our memories, but preserving trees is not strictly a sentimental proposition. Along with memories and beauty, trees also provide us with oxygen, shade, privacy, firewood, houses, paper, food and slope stabilization as well. Trees also provide shelter and food for birds and wildlife, which provide a whole range of other benefits.
We can only imagine what it would be like here in Arlington if the pioneers of 100 years ago had left us a small forest of the giant trees that dominated this place at that time. Even the tall trees in Terrace Park were youngsters at that time. By working together now as a community to protect existing trees and planting new ones, we can provide future residents the opportunity to know big trees as we remember them in our past.
The city of Arlington has also introduced a Heritage Tree Program. Residents are invited to nominate their favorite trees around town and once they have been approved by the Arlington Tree Board and the owners, they will be identified with a brass plaque.
For information call Sarah Hegge at 360-403-3448.
Please join us at Arlingtons Arbor Day Celebration in Jensen Park, at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 14, to celebrate being a Tree City USA and bring your shovels to help plant trees that will be giants one day.

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