by Marlene Berlin
Something I saw on my morning walk one day last week stopped me in my tracks. At 32nd and Davenport was an orange truck belonging to Asplundh, otherwise known as Pepco’s tree pruners (or hackers, one might call them).
The tree that the Pepco contractors had just finished butchering, a maple about 15 feet tall, was now sliced and diced to a crescent shape about half its former size.
I wondered how it would ever survive.
I suddenly thought of my own maple in the tree box area, whose top is very close to the top wires, and with other wires running through it. I had run out a few years ago to prevent Asplundh from doing a hack job on my tree and my neighbor’s. I stood outside until they left.
I wasn’t taking any chances concerning the fate of my maple, which I had watched grow up since we had moved to our house in 1989. I have enjoyed walking under its growing shade on the hot summer days, and watching its leaves change to a yellow orange, and then fall to the ground to reveal its bare architecture, and then bud forth in the spring.
Falling into the role of mother bear, I pondered whom I could call to get information about protecting my tree. I thought of tying a big sign around it saying “Do not prune this tree.” At last, inspiration struck – Casey Trees. They have become the premier organization of this city to protect our tree canopy. I went on their website and found Jim Woodworth, the director of the Casey’s Tree Planting Program. I sent him an email and we agreed to talk the next day.
Jim was very straight with me. Tree trimming has greatly improved in DC with both Pepco and UFA (DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration) over the years, he told me. Directions for pruning can get very specific, often with coordinated conversations between Pepco and UFA arborists, and should follow ANSI standards. Directions for each tree are managed by a contractor, UtiliMap, then provided to a tree pruning contractor.
Trees falling on lines in storms are not the only problem. Tree branches rubbing against power lines, which are the highest lines on poles, cause fires. Tree limbs are supposed to be trimmed to at least 10 feet from the power lines. And often the cut is made further back to a proper branch union.
The 10-foot rule really got me. That was going to decimate my maple tree. I blurted out that it would probably make sense to cut down all the trees on my block, mostly maples, and plant trees that will grow to a manageable height. Jim’s response shook me.
“It just might,” he said.
Still, he thought our neighborhood should be encouraging folks to plant big trees on their properties, away from the power lines running along our streets. Whether we like it or not, trees do pose a hazard to our getting reliable power. The future is in sending the lines underground, which also poses threats to trees, even smaller trees in tree box areas. So it is our responsibility as homeowners to preserve the canopy our large trees provide.
I must admit that this is a very bitter pill to swallow, but Casey is working with communities and homeowners to maintain and build our canopy. Go to CaseyTrees.org/programs/planting to see how we as a community can have a tree planting project, and receive subsidies or trees as homeowners.
Jim gave me the email address of Nathan McElroy, the staff forester for Pepco, to find out their plans for pruning my block. I emailed him that day, a Friday, and Monday morning Vera Ertem, an Urban Forestry arborist who works with Pepco, knocked on my door. Nathan was outside on the street, looking up at my maple. The three of us looked at the tree together, and he explained what would be pruned and the challenges given the architecture of this tree. Up to 40 percent of the tree could be pruned away from the electrical wires.
Vera said that the wrong trees had been planted on this block, and UFA is replacing many of these trees across the city. So we talked about chopping down my maple tree and replacing it with two smaller trees. Since the pruners could be coming as soon as this week, we decided to make a decision about replacing the tree after the tree had been pruned. Vera offered to provide me a list of acceptable trees if I decided to replace this tree.
An extra bonus to the visit was that Nathan saw old electrical wires leading to my house that are at risk of causing an outage for the whole block. So we will get new wiring and remove this weak link.
A thank you to Jim, Nathan and Vera for educating me about our street trees. I promised Nathan and Vera that I would prepare my neighbors for the upcoming pruning.