Limited funding is prompting City Forester Steve Schwab to pursue some creative alternatives to resolve Salt Lake City's tree problems.
Urban-forestry crews are pulling out twice as many trees as they are planting due to disease, insect infestation, storm damage, vandalism and a general lack of care. More than half of the city's 47,000 trees are in various stages of decline.To combat budget constraints, an admittedly frustrated Schwab is searching for new ways to manage the city's urban forest. Most of his ideas contain a common thread: They demand citizen involvement.
"People say, `Oh, the city will get to it. The city will get to it.' The city is not going to get to it," he said of the city's many trimming, planting, spraying and removal needs. "The public is not aware of the condition of the trees. That's definitely a great concern."
One of Schwab's plans is to propose a "tree improvement district" to the mayor and City Council. It would be set up in much the same way as special improvement districts managed by the Public Works Department. Instead of sidewalk repair and the like, tree care would be the primary emphasis.
If the mayor and council approve such a plan for a particular neighborhood, it would then be put to residents for a vote. A 51 percent majority would establish a tree improvement district. Residents would then be assessed a fee on either a one-time basis or a yearly basis, depending on the desires of the neighborhood.
"That's an intriguing idea," said Sheryl Gillilan, a planning and policy analyst in the mayor's office. "It's definitely one of those things we would want to look into."
Schwab has preliminarily discussed the proposal with Gillilan, but Mayor Palmer DePaulis has not yet been made aware of it. And until Schwab formally presents the plan and the mayor's office has time to study, Gillilan said she had no opinion on its feasibility.
"Tree trimming would be the No. 1 objective. And then, maybe we would consider tree planting in those districts and maybe some spraying," Schwab said. City trees are currently pruned every 25 years. This plan might reduce that time interval and free up money allowing the forester's office to concentrate on other sections of town in need of tree care.
"The key to it all is people taking their own special interest and making an individual commitment," W. Richard Hildreth, director of the state arboretum, said. Hildrethserved on former mayor Ted Wilson's city beautification committee and is still involved in the shaping of the urban forest.
"There has to be a realization by the general public of the value of trees in the urban setting," Hildreth said. Not only are trees pleasing to look at, he said, trees filter the air giving off oxygen, cut down on excessive sun, and ameliorate sound pollution and heat.
Monetarily, Schwab estimated the urban forest to be worth $72 million dollars.