City officials are pushing for an inventory of Stamford’s urban forest

It’s a nudge on a branch.

But that’s for the trees.

City officials are therefore hoping the mayor’s office will respond to their first call for money in the 2023-24 budget to plant, maintain and inventory the Stamford Urban Forest.

The budget season doesn’t start for a few months, but members of the Council of Representatives’ operations committee on Monday passed a resolution asking that the administration fund a GIS survey of all trees on city property. , a water tanker, new plantings, and an additional parks worker to manage public trees.

Stamford’s tree keeper, parks planner, head of the Land Use Bureau and downtown district leaders joined city officials in making the request.

“This is a proactive step to let the administration know … that this council would like to invest more money in trees,” said city representative Nina Sherwood, who submitted the resolution with her colleagues. representatives Ines Saftic and Virgil de la Cruz.

“Taking this approach sends a signal early in the budget process to champion the things you want to see, rather than just cutting the things you don’t want to see at the end of the budget process,” which is the board’s usual role, said David Kooris, president of the Downtown Special Services District.

The DSSD has just completed an inventory of trees in the central business district, Kooris said.

“The inventory gives us a map” of the condition of existing trees and where to plant new trees, Kooris said. The same goes for pits where trees are planted in driveways, he said. Some pits are ready to be replanted, and others are tripping hazards that need to be repaired or replaced first.

“It gives clear recommendations on what species to plant and where to plant, so we can invest our money in the most strategic way to get the best results,” Kooris said.

It needs to happen citywide, said city representative Elise Coleman, whose district is affected by an asphalt plant, a stone yard, a stretch of Interstate 95 and other sources of atmospheric pollution.

“I had the state come in to look at our air quality…I asked them if they could put some trees in to block out all the dirt in the air,” Coleman said. “Please think of the East Side, West Side and South End when talking about this resolution. I know some downtown sidewalks are dangerous, but don’t remove people who breathe that air and might enjoy the trees.

Growth medium for trees

Knowledge of the benefits provided by trees is flourishing across the country as heat waves, droughts, storms, wildfires and floods intensify with the effects of climate change.

According to an August article by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a global nonprofit that seeks to improve public policy through research and analysis, cities are embracing trees as a solution.

The Pew article was written shortly after President Joe Biden signed the Cut Inflation Act, which includes $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, according to Pew. Proponents say the money could turn the program, now funded at $36 million, into a major source of nationwide tree planting and maintenance.

City planners are focusing on urban forestry as an effective and affordable way to make gains against the huge problem of climate change, reports Pew.

The movement is not lost within the Stamford Council of Representatives.

The council resolution states that the representatives recognize that “trees are a valuable natural resource and a major asset that provide aesthetic, economic, ecological, environmental and health benefits.”

The loss of trees leads to increased costs to control drainage and soil erosion, and to remove sedimentation from waterways, he says.

More concrete and fewer trees reduce the amount of rain that seeps through the ground to replenish groundwater; decreases air quality; increases dust; reduces wildlife habitat; and harms the visual character of the city, according to the resolution.

The loss of urban trees creates “heat islands” that negatively affect the health, safety and well-being of residents, he says.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, heat islands occur where a highly concentrated number of buildings, roads, and other structures absorb and re-radiate heat from the sun. Daytime temperatures in urban areas are 1 to 7 degrees higher than areas with natural landscapes such as forests and bodies of water, according to the EPA. At night, temperatures in urban areas are 2 to 5 degrees higher.

For the trees, a third try

If the full board approves the resolution at its November 7 meeting, it will be its third action urging action to combat the effects of global warming.

In April, representatives passed a resolution acknowledging a “climate emergency” and commending Mayor Caroline Simmons for establishing a Climate Council. He called for measures such as improving access to public transport to reduce reliance on vehicles, forcing developers to use green building techniques for urban projects and planting more trees.

In September, the board passed a related resolution advocating a tree planting and preservation program, saying urban trees remove harmful carbon dioxide from the air and replenish oxygen in areas where it is. most needed.

The latest resolution is different in that it asks for money for four specific items — a tree inventory, a water truck, a new hire to do the watering and specific plantings, Sherwood said Tuesday.

“Right now, we don’t have the manpower or the resources to properly maintain the longevity of the trees we spend taxpayer dollars on,” Sherwood said.

Stamford Parks Planner Erin McKenna told the meeting that she had been trying for 10 years to get the city to fund a tree inventory.

“We have a great tree resource in Stamford, and the inventory will help us manage it for the first time,” McKenna told the committee. “It will identify all the trees in the city’s rights-of-way, as well as large parks.”

There is no counting them

Without an inventory, the number of trees on city property is unknown, said Ron Markey, landscape specialist and city tree ranger.

“Stamford is 380 miles away. We have no idea how many city trees we have,” Markey said.

That doesn’t include parks, he said. Besides Markey, the town employs three tree climbers, as well as two seasonal workers during the summer.

City trees are battered by cars, storms, pests, drought and floods, their roots cut off and surrounded by asphalt or concrete.

City crews plant an average of 70 to 80 new trees a year, said Kevin Murray, operations manager for parks and facilities. The survival rate for new plantings has been around 85% in recent years, Murray said.

But, after planting last fall, the city lost 27 of 33 oak trees to summer drought and a lack of resources to water and maintain them regularly, Murray said. The dead trees were replaced under a warranty the city has with its vendor, he said.

An inventory would be valuable because it would provide up-to-date information that crews need to care for trees, Markey said.

“When we remove a tree, when we plant a tree, we inventory it. When a storm knocks down trees, it would be recorded,” he said. “At the moment, we have no way to follow.”

An inventory will help the crew preserve Stamford’s historic trees, such as a pair of red oaks on Clearview Avenue near Hope Street, estimated to be 48 inches in diameter and 250 years old.

Residents fought over the oak trees several years ago when the city wanted to remove them because their roots were growing on the sidewalks.

These trees are remarkable, Markey said.

“It’s something you find deep in the woods, not in a heavy urban area,” Markey said. “It’s amazing. You just don’t see it.

Young trees are too expensive to die

McKenna said the city would hire an inventory company that would send an arborist to every tree in the city to geotag it, photograph it, and record the species, size and condition. Her office will be asking for $250,000 for the work in the next budget, she said.

Bureau of Land Use Chief Ralph Blessing told the meeting that his office uses zoning regulations to replace trees lost to development.

“We have introduced a tree planting requirement for street trees for all new developments, and we have a replacement fund for when it is not possible to replant trees,” Blessing said.

This fund contains between $20,000 and $30,000. Combined with everything Simmons will include in the 2023-24 budget, it could “make a big difference in making Stamford greener,” Blessing said.

The system no longer works, Sherwood said.

“We spend $700 to buy and plant a new tree, but we have no way to water them because we don’t have a truck. We end up begging residents to water them,” Sherwood said. “The trees are dying. Are we sitting around and waiting for the mayor to put this in the budget, like we’ve done in the past, or do we really want to make a statement about trees? »

City Rep. David Watkins, the lone abstainer in the committee’s otherwise unanimous vote supporting the resolution, said he was reluctant to “stand in front of a budget and give the mayor our perspective on the decisions she should make.

This approach “can come back to bite us,” Watkins said.

“If the council is going down the road of picking and choosing what we like to issue a resolution on…why wouldn’t we do it for a noise ordinance?” Or the park police, which is another big topic? said Watkins. “I think it would be the start of an unfortunate process that will bury us with residents and department heads who want to put us by their side upstream.”

It’s a valid concern, said city representative Sean Boeger, but trees are a particular concern.

“It’s a way of looking at the most important things that we want to support, with a bigger voice,” Boeger said. “Let’s try. We’re not setting a precedent. If we don’t like it, we’ll stop it.