By Bill Griffiths
It’s easy to pass by trees day after day, week after week, and while appreciating them, giving no thought whatsoever to the many purposes they serve or the complex effort involved in caring for them.
There are obviously a lot more trees in town than simply the ones owned by the City of Racine. The City has about 30,000 street trees, plus at least twice that many in the parks, cared for by the City Forester, Chuck Klimek, and his five full-time arborists.
While the trees provide beauty and shade much of the year, they also play a major role in controlling water runoff during storms. Trees' root systems absorb water over a large area. Additionally, the canopy of a tree slows the fall of rainwater so that the ground is capable of absorbing larger amounts than it otherwise would.
Trees are always growing, always aging and changing, and require structural pruning early in their lives to make them more storm resistant and help extend their life.
Years ago cities found that insects or disease could totally change the nature of an entire street or community with a major infestation or two. In the years immediately after Dutch Elm disease struck Racine a lot of fast growing Maples were planted.
Arborists today work to diversify the trees in any area, and Racine’s Forester has introduced a wide range of varieties into the mix, including: Linden, Hackberry, Kentucky Coffee, Bald Cypress, Gingko, Honey Locust, Ironwood, Serviceberry, Flowering Pear, Flowering Crab and others. The City buys trees from nurseries within 60 miles of here, in the same “hardiness” zone, so they can withstand the climate changes Racine experiences.
Periodically, the Forester takes an inventory of a particular type of tree to understand the risks and prevention efforts in the event something like the Emerald Ash Borer, which has had such a devastating effect in Michigan, should make its way here. (Here in SE Wisconsin, “EABs” have been found in Washington and Ozaukee Counties. See www.emeraldashborer.wi.gov or www.entomology.wisc.edu/emeraldashborer). A recent inventory of Racine’s ash trees yielded a count of about 2,100.
Insects and diseases in firewood moved here from other counties present a hazard to Racine’s trees, and while it is discouraged, movement is ultimately is state regulated.
The Forester and his team do tree removal year around (when splits, decay, disease or insect damage are found or reported, removing storm damaged trees and limbs, trees blocking the public right-of-way, etc.). Pruning is done in the summers as needed. Tree planting is done in the Spring and Fall. In the late Summer and early Fall, the arborists do a hazard tree survey looking at all the street AND park trees, looking for diseases, insects and structural defects.
Now all that is easy to write from the comfort of my desk, but if you take a good look at the paragraph you just read, this is VERY physical work. It can’t be done at a desk. It involves being in the field, being up in trees, safely handling tree trimming equipment and the resulting limbs or trunks … all in a wide variety of weather.
The Forester reports to the Parks Department here, and when Spring or Summer storms cause damage to 10 or 400 locations they get a lot of assistance from the Department of Public Works (which has the equipment and additional hands required to clear trees and limbs from streets).
The focus here is Racine’s multitude of City-owned trees and the care they get…that we who appreciate them easily overlook. As with any profession, the Forester and his team could easily fill a book with stories about storms and their effects; people encountered over the years; animals, birds, nests, concrete and steel found in caring for the trees; malicious vandalism; and mower and weed trimmer damage they’ve seen over the years.
So please, look after YOUR trees AND the trees in your parkways. Water them, make sure they have 3 inches of mulch (available free at three sites, from April through November, from the Department of Public Works. See “Green Racine” at www.cityofracine.org/depts/public_works/solid_waste_division.aspx). If you have questions or spot a City tree that presents a hazard call the Park department at (262) 636-9131.