An all-volunteer group guided by local officials and experts is preparing to launch a vital town-wide survey that’s designed to make New Canaan a safer, more beautiful and environmentally healthy place.
By the end of May, the Public Tree Board (see photo) hopes to kickstart the data collection on a continually updated inventory of trees that stand along public roads in town.
No one living in New Canaan six months ago will soon forget the outages that persisted for days in the wake of Hurricane Sandy—and understanding the health of trees whose branches or entire trunks took out the power lines that triggered those outages is one important part of how the inventory will be used, according to Tree Warden Bruce Pauley, who is helping advise the board.
“What this will do is track the health or decline of trees,” Pauley said following the board’s regular meeting at Lapham Community Center Wednesday.
For board member Tonya Gwynn, safety and tree health are two of many factors driving the inventory.
“I think it’s important to understand what the tree canopy is along the road,” Gwynn said. “What it is for aesthetics, for one. It’s about safety, yes, and the maintenance and health of those trees, in part, because there are obviously environmentally positive effects of having them.”
Board members and about 15 volunteers are slated to get formal training in tree identification and how to spot signs that will indicate a tree’s health—all to be collected in a database whose fields have yet to be finalized.
One thing the board knows now is that more volunteers would be welcome to lend a hand with the project, and those interested should contact Brad Johnson at Johnson.firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to getting an education on trees and a new perspective on the town, volunteers will be trained in logging the data they receive through wireless handheld devices and should be prepared to commit to the project.
And it’s a big project.
As board member Richard Bergmann noted, there are about 120 miles of town roads in New Canaan, and since a road is typically closed on two sides, that’s roughly 240 miles worth of trees to track. Board member Roy Abramowitz said the group is taking an inventory of trees on public property, and one guideline for trees to be counted is that they’re located within 25 feet from the center line of the road.
For Pauley, what’s critical is to have useful information about tree health.
“I think it’s more important to know if a tree has numerous dead limbs or decay around the base than to know if it’s a maple or an oak,” he said.
According to Pauley, from the perspective of the solid waste and required tree work it generated, Hurricane Sandy stood out. For example, between highways in New Canaan and the town’s parks, more than $620,000 was spent on tree work, including removal, in the storm’s wake (and that’s work paid for by FEMA and an insurer, respectively, not with locally collected taxpayer dollars).
Though residents may look at a tree that endured Sandy and feel that the three somehow through its survival last fall has earned the right to be spared, as Pauley said, every tree that came down during Sandy had survived Hurricane Irene, and every tree that came during Irene had survived the ice storm of March 2010.
“Sooner or later every tree dies or every tree fails, or both,” he said. “Something happens, because they are growing they are not stagnant, they are getting heavier or weaker or decay is spreading. You have to be aware of these trees and if I have decided it’s a hazard, it’s not whimsical. A hazardous tree is defined by a known risk.”