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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of October 15 - 21, 2003


Counting the trees

Bellevue completes tree inventory

Express Staff Writer

Bellevue tree committee workers Sallie Hanson and Carol Blackburn speak for the trees. Blackburn is a botanical consultant and Hanson is a student at the College of Southern Idaho in the horticultural department. They have walked every street in the city, including those in new subdivisions. The purpose of their journey is to complete an inventory of every tree in the city.

"Like Mutt and Jeff, we were up and down every street," said Blackburn.

People have called them wondering what they are up to snooping around people’s homes.

Carol Blackburn, left, and Sallie Hanso examine a crab apple tree in the new allee of the city park. The tree is one of the thousands the pair inventoried to help the Bellevue Tree Committee keep to its Tree City USA goals. Express photo by Matt Furber

The reason for the inventory is to look at the tree resource in the community, to help establish what benefits the "urban forest" has for the community in terms of oxygen emissions, shade and even beauty, said Hanson.

The concept of an urban forest is fairly new in the United States, but as Hanson’s professor David Kiesig says the need for urban foresters is growing.

"There is a world of difference between taking care of a natural forest stand (something the U.S. Forest Service manages) and an urban forest," he said. "It takes special training and we need the data."

Kiesig is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist and works in the field in addition to being a college professor. He explains that for communities with a focus on trees, there are many responsibilities that go along with having them. He specifically sites the problems that crop up if a tree breaks or falls and damages people or property.

"Somebody is liable when it comes down to a litigation issue," he said, stressing the importance of city participation in urban forest management.

Bellevue’s distinction as a Tree City USA is a big step in that direction, he said. "There are 60 cities in Idaho with a tree city designation. All have to have an ordinance and a management plan that becomes the law."

Part of the plan requires the inventory Hanson and Blackburn are wrapping up, so the city knows what’s out there. Hanson and Blackburn have made a map of the "specimen trees" on city property, which are examples of the best, the biggest and often the oldest of various species in the city. The map will soon be made available to the public so residents can learn more about their trees and the final numbers and locations of all trees on public and private land will be tallied and presented to the Bellevue City Council.

"The inventory will help the city make decisions about revitalization, maintenance and the addition of trees," said Hanson.

To complete the inventory, Hanson and Blackburn determined which trees were city trees and which trees were on private property by measuring from the center of the street to the edge of the 80-foot city easement.

"Any tree or plant in the city right of way becomes the responsibility of the city," she said.

As cities like Bellevue catch up on their tree responsibilities, it is the utility companies that are helping to lead the way to becoming aware of tree care by hiring arborists.

"The main issue for us is to keep trees out of the power lines," said Idaho Power chief arborist Craig Westling. "We promote right tree, right place for safety purposes."

Idaho power has the responsibility from the Idaho State Public Utility Commission to keep the area around high voltage lines clear.

"We try to notify everybody," he said. "We meet with cities and most residents."

Idaho Power always has an ISA certified arborist with its crews that travel throughout the state. In 2002 the utility company trimmed 78,000 trees and had to remove another 23,000. If a resident loses a tree the utility gives them a replacement voucher and a list of recommended trees.

The cost of maintaining trees can be substantial. For the utility the cost is part of doing business, for growing cities like Bellevue the costs must covered by taxes, grants and endowments. Making progress toward urban forest management is also required to keep the Tree City USA designation. Bellevue benefits from having a couple of certified arborists in it quiver of volunteers and one on the city council, Jon Wilkes.

The inventory is also an educational tool that can help people take an interest in urban trees, said Hanson. "It’s been a fun learning experience and makes me want to do it more."



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