by Kate Yonkers
Last summer and early fall gave us a taste of the heavy, enduring rain which will become more commonplace as the climate warms. We have lost many large trees in the neighborhood, over 30 alone in 2018 according to the DC Urban Forestry division. Oversaturation and high winds are surely to blame, but so are development and landscaping projects.
Walking through the hills, I see increasing spots of sunlight in previously shaded streets, and I would like to encourage all of you to consider your own role in keeping our neighborhood’s canopy intact. We can adapt to the changes ahead, and we owe future generations the tree canopy we currently enjoy. In order to keep it thriving, we must plant and replace it.
The name of our neighborhood is Forest Hills. Not “Parkland Hills.” What attracts owls, hawks, many bird species and keeps our neighborhood cooler than the surrounding city is not just proximity to Rock Creek park, but the proliferation of large ash, oak, poplar and hickory trees scattered on both the private and public lands. These trees gave us the name “Forest,” and unfortunately we are losing them at a far higher rate than they are being replaced, according to Bill Eck of Bartlett Trees, who often works on trees in the area.
When a large tree comes down, many homeowners decide to replace the tree with smaller, flowering species instead. What is lost when these heritage trees come down is what is necessary for a healthy, biodiverse forest to take root and hold. When you plant a dogwood or redbud, you invest perhaps for 30 years. When you plant an oak tree, you invest for hundreds. One oak tree, for example, can support literally hundreds of species of birds, insects and mammals. In fact, last fall you may have noticed an increased shedding of acorns and it was not your imagination. This is a process called “masting” (which is not fully understood) in which trees overproduce their acorns so the abundance distracts squirrels and birds from some nuts and allows new oaks to seed and grow.
So what can you do? There are three approaches you can take today:
1. Visit CaseyTrees.org and register your house (or apartment building) with the DC Urban Forestry division. They work with Casey Trees to come and evaluate your land, and advise you on what native trees to plant. The consultation is free, and the tree is often in the range of $50. This process may take six months. I listed my own house in the DC Urban Forestry registry and will be willing to share my experience once the program is under way in a future post.
2. If you have recently lost a tree and/or are ready to plant, you can buy a small tree at most local nurseries. A small tree means it has a two-inch or less caliper (also known as its establishment of one inch/per year of growth). The nursery can come to you and plant the tree. If you want to plant something a little bigger (medium, or two to four-inch caliper), places like Bartlett and Mayfield can come to you and plant the trees for a fee.
3. If you are lucky enough to be the guardian of some of our largest trees, please take care of them. Have them trimmed and keep them from being covered and strangled with ivy. They will take generations to replace.