There's a lot of dead wood in Salt Lake City, causing urban-forestry crews to act more like tree morticians than tree obstetricians.
Lack of money means that twice as many old, diseased or dying trees are being removed as are being replaced.City urban forestry officials say more than half of the city's 47,000 street trees and thousands more public park and golf course trees are in various stages of decline due to previous storm damage, serious infection, disease infestation and neglect, said Lloyd Siegendorf, chairman of the Salt Lake City Urban Forestry Board.
The city forester's office is responsible for planting, maintaining, removing, spraying and pruning city trees.
"The program is underfunded, but so are many city programs," said Sheryl Gillilan, a planning and policy analyst in the mayor's office. "City trees don't receive proper care in terms of trimming. It's a definite problem."
The city forester's office is removing from 800 to 1,200 trees per year, many before they reach their expected life span. Only 400 trees are being planted each year. Siegendorf said that at least 1,300 trees must be planted annually to renew the urban forest.
"We have 17,000 planting opportunities if we had the money right now," Siegendorf said.
"We are losing money on the value of our forest by not maintaining it," he said. Because the forester's office lacks money, he said, it is taking a "crisis management" approach to running its operation.
The office currently operates on a $408,500 annual budget, a $11,000 decrease from last year. Much of the money is spent responding to citizen requests to remove or prune dead and decaying trees. Siegendorf said massive workloads create delays of up to 12 months in responding to citizen requests.
A recent independent audit showed the urban forestry program is seriously underfunded and understaffed. According to the findings, the program needs money to contract with private firms to provide trimming and pruning services the city can't keep up with.
"It would take a $150,000 a year increase to go from crisis management to systematic management," Siegendorf said.
Gillilan said the program isn't likely to receive that much money in the mayor's next budget proposal, but over a period of several years the mayor might try to accommodate the request. She said there is a chance for additional funding in the mayor's upcoming budget proposal to the City Council. The council has final say on the city budget.
Siegendorf said only 1,800 trees are being trimmed each year, meaning city trees are pruned every 25 years. To maintain a healthy urban forest, he said, city trees should be trimmed every seven to 10 years, thus increasing their life span. There are still trees from an October snowstorm several years ago that have dead wood on them.
"Trees ought to be a priority in Salt Lake City," Siegendorf said. "If we want to improve our Olympic image, trees ought to be part of that improvement; not just for aesthetic purposes, but for environmental reasons."
An abundance of healthy trees would soak up smog and pollution, he said. The mayor's office and the forestry board agree that a mature, well-kept urban forest would do a great deal to enhance the image of a city in the running for the 1998 Olympics. Trees must be maintained for the benefit of those outside and inside of Utah, Gillilan said.