By Richard Heller
On one side of this tree debate are the dedicated tree huggers who want to preserve everything except clearly sick trees. On the other side are those who want the right to take out a tree to get more light to their vegetable gardens, or who perhaps, because they don't know much about trees, see only those that occasionally fall on cars, houses and power lines.
Locally all these elements came into play in one short summer on Benedict Place. A tree on our property that did not leaf out on one side needed to be removed. Only a few weeks later, a sharp wind brought down a large branch, perilously close to a small child . Fortunately he was not hurt but two cars sustained a total of $ 15,000 dollars damage. We took down the tree and two pines that were dropping branches on our roof. Clearly these were more of a risk than a benefit.
Recently, the Village of Pelham has proposed that some stunted maples (12'-14') growing on Village property near Village walls be removed. Opinions range from passionate pleas for preservation to acceptance of the Village's position. Ironically, during this discussion, a large tree on a property line came down on the power lines, taking out electricity for many of the debaters. There was no storm, no hurricane, just a tree that had not had its needs met, had rotted out, and downed a power line.
Fair to say that those who try to preserve trees want what is best for the ecology and the community. This is also true of those who want to take trees down to prevent damage to individuals and personal property.
The value of large hardwood trees, ecologically speaking, is tremendous, much more so than that of trees 18' and under. The value for the community is lower energy costs and higher property values. Columbia University did a study several years ago that indicated that areas with low or no tree coverage were 10% warmer than communities with a solid tree canopy. More info here. A study at Ohio State University estimates that a mature tree canopy on a property can increase its real estate value by as much as $ 20,000 (more info here).
Conversely, it is difficult to estimate the costs of damage caused by trees in poor condition. Con Ed (owned by Exelon, a national power company) is reluctant to reveal figures, probably from a concern about the argument for burying power lines. However, a guesstimate of the Benedict Place occurrence would be close to $ 10,000 for police, emergency tree removal, Con Ed Emergency service with OT; this does NOT include spoiled food and discomfort for those who have no generators.
We all assume trees can take care of themselves as they do in the forest. Wrong. They fall in the forest as well. We do not live in an integrated eco-system like the forest. We live in the “built environment” which currently means a heavily interrupted ecosystem. Dealing with plant material in such an area brings up several considerations:
1) What is the function of the space?
2) Does whatever is in the space enhance or detract from its function and beauty?
3) What is the most ecologically sound means of enhancing the function of the space?
Large trees enhance property value and save energy. At the same time they must be cared for like any other living thing. The ecosystem in the Northeast is built upon large hardwood trees, with each tree hosting hundreds of beneficial insects. They also absorb 35 gallons of water a week to help manage storm water and support animals and migratory birds. If trees don't get the water they need and/or they are not fed properly, pruned properly, or checked for their overall health, if they have dead branches or are rotting from the inside. they are at risk and as such become a risk to public health and well being.
Therefore, it is in all of our best interests—individually and as a community alike— to preserve large trees and care for them. Many communities have legislated tree planting, care, protection, and removal guidelines to this end, though not yet in the Pelhams.One property with several trees does not a tree canopy make; it is the overall tree population of a community that provides real value and aesthetic gratification. Some tree legislation may be in the best interest of the community of Pelham.