YOUR VIEWS | Save Alexandrias Urban Forest

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To the editor,

In this trying economic time, the Alexandria City Council is being forced to make many budget cuts, even in some vital areas. Yet it is critical that those cuts be made in ways that limit any damage so that we dont end up paying much more in the future to fix it.

In that context, the proposed cuts to the tree budget appear to be shortsighted. The proposed fiscal year 2010 budget could effectively eliminate tree pruning by contractors the people who perform most of the tree care on city streets and in parks and other public areas.

Proper care is critical to the health of an urban forest. Lack of care undermines the investment made in planting trees in the first place.

The citys draft Urban Forestry Master Plan makes clear that the city has been significantly under investing in tree care for a long time, and that this is contributing to the declining health of the citys urban forest as a whole.

The plan also makes clear that while the city has been busy designing an Eco-City Charter and an Environmental Action Plan and winning awards for its green initiatives, Alexandria has actually become less green literally.

In just this decade, the overall tree canopy has declined from 34 percent to 30 percent, and will probably decline even further without significant new spending that is called for in the plan. According to the draft plan, Failure to make this investment could have serious long-term consequences for the citys environmental quality of life.

The loss of tree cover has already had serious environmental effects, including more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, more air and water pollution, and hotter summers.

I understand that the city is financially unable to make a major new investment right now. But we at least need to stop the bleeding. As the plan states, the citys urban forest is in a fragile state with declining health. We are at a critical juncture.

Currently, the tiny arborist staff is struggling to meet even its basic responsibilities. Virtually all of staff time is spent reacting to problems or potential problems. Virtually no time is devoted to proactive activities designed to enhance the urban forest.

I urge the City Council to ask staff for creative ways that would allow us to move forward planting more trees and caring for more trees even in a difficult fiscal environment.
Could the day-to-day responsibilities of our three arborists be altered in ways that allow them to focus more on tasks that will enhance our urban forest?

What is the possibility of developing public-private partnerships with civic or business groups to plant more trees and care for more trees?

How can we make more effective the contributions of the budding volunteer group, the Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria?

I commend the City Council for its recent environmental initiatives. But without a serious commitment to implementing them and yes, a serious amount of new spending the city is unlikely to make much progress in becoming a greener city.

Bill Hendrickson
Member, Urban Forestry Steering Committee
Alexandria, VA

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