I recently read an article in the NY Times about the backlog of deferred maintenance in National Parks. The article argued that this backlog threatens the resources that the National Park Service was created to protect. It goes on to question whether it is wise to acquire more land without first creating protocols that would fund perpetual maintenance.

It is not unusual for urban forests, like National Parks, to operate with a backlog of maintenance needs. Communities looking to gain environmental, social, and economic benefits from trees continue to plant, but neglect to develop systems for long-term care. Without these systems in place, communities may actually be planting short term benefits that lead to future problems. Trees need to be carefully planned for, planted with care in locations that will accommodate both root and canopy growth, watered during establishment and monitored to determine whether structural pruning is needed (which is the case in most trees for a minimum of the first ten years).

Tree Planting Graphs-2
Tree planting cost/benefit from the Idaho Dept. of Lands.

When systems to plan, plant, care for and maintain trees are inadequate, trees may live but not thrive, may perish from lack of water, may develop root systems that compromise their long-term structural integrity, or may develop a canopy structure that is susceptible to storm damage. When trees expected to live for decades are prematurely replaced, the result is negative budget impacts, as can be calculated in dollars or costs of lost time.

Urban forestry managers are wise to analyze the level of service required to grow a healthy community forest, and develop a realistic budget accordingly. Taking the time to plan will result in safe, healthy, long-lived trees that provide a multitude of benefits.

If you’d like to learn more about managing community trees, contact us at urban_forestry@dnr.wa.gov


By Linden J. Lampman, program manager, DNR Urban and Community Forestry Program