In his acclaimed 1913 poem, “Trees,” the poet Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) wrote “…only God can make a tree.” The region learned, last week, that acts of God can devastate those same trees. The “leafy arms” holding “nests of robins” came crashing down, onto homes, power lines, thoroughfares and, sadly, people. Magnificent, decades-old hardwoods became little more than firewood in a matter of moments, almost without warning. What we do now, with chain saws still reverberating, will be important to the future well-being of our urban forest.
People love trees, sometimes to the point of deification, but trees can be hazardous and should be pruned or removed where they create serious problems. According to the Fairfax County Web site (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/environmental/treehazards.htm), conditions that should trigger a second look include dead branches in the tree or on the ground near the tree, excessive leaf loss or dead leaves in the crown of the tree, areas of rotten wood or cavities, and noticeable change in leaning of the tree. In the recent storm, many fallen trees had observable cavities or were hollow in the middle, but the leafy branches were full. A trained and certified arborist can diagnose a tree’s overall health and make recommendations about care, or if it should be removed.
Responsibility for hazardous trees generally rests with the property owner. Links on the above Web site address county parkland, stormwater ponds, public schools, county facilities, and near public streets and roads (VDOT tree emergency line is 1-800-FOR-ROAD (367-7623). The homeowner is responsible if a hazardous tree is on private property, and those neighbor-to-neighbor conversations can be contentious. Contacting a neighbor in a positive manner is a good start. If the offending tree is a problem for you, it might be a worry for the owner, too.
Before the recent storm, 40 percent of Fairfax County was covered by tree canopy, and even the loss of many mature trees probably did not reduce that percentage. However, the county’s goal is to increase canopy to 45 percent by 2037, and that requires planting an additional two million trees in the next 25 years. The community already plants an average of 21,000 trees per year, but nearly 84,000 trees per year will be needed to keep up. An individual homeowner can help: plant trees on your property. Be sure to plant the right tree (trees native to the area are preferred) in the right place. Plant at least 20 feet away from your home on the western exposures for maximum energy conservation. Try planting one tree per vehicle in your household to reduce your carbon footprint. Remember that all trees need to be maintained after they are planted. Arborists, plant nurseries, and the Virginia Department of Extension can provide more information about tree planting and maintenance.
Some of us may not be around in 25 years to sit in the shade of a tree planted today, but the next generation of Fairfax County’s children will appreciate our attention to improving the tree canopy now. And providing new inspiration for future poets!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org