Your Views: Kudos to city for its tree-planting initiative

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To the editor:

It is sometimes worth the effort to step back and take note of the everyday good work being done by city staff.

One bit of good work is noticeable along Eisenhower Avenue between the Great Waves Water Park and the Metro yard. I am referring to our Urban Forestry Division’s planting of 75 native canopy trees in the median and along the bike-pedestrian trail since last fall.

This investment in green infrastructure will make the prospect of biking or jogging on the trail in the summertime much more appealing as the trees mature and begin to provide shade, beauty and a sense of separation from fast-moving traffic. Even better, these trees were properly planted and have watering bags on them that, one afternoon a week, have water in them.

This planting is part of a broader, and significant, effort to improve the city’s tree canopy. Over the past several years, the city has begun to put serious funding and energy into its tree planting program. By improvement, I am referring to the city’s increase from 378 trees planted in FY2015 to 1,115 trees planted in FY2019.

I believe a large part of that energy came from Mayor Allison Silberberg’s understanding of the ecological, aesthetic and quality of life benefits that come from a robust urban forest, and green space in general. I am deeply thankful she made improving our tree canopy a priority while in office and certainly hope the city continues to support this important work going forward.

I am just as thankful that our city has an Urban Forestry Team that has been able to take the ball and run with this increased investment. City staff’s job does not end with the signing of a contract for a landscape company to go plant “x” number of trees.

Unfortunately, there are wide-spread commercial landscaping practices that are harmful to the long-term viability of planted trees. As such, quality control has been and will continue to be a huge issue. To that end, city arborists John Noelle, Matt Barker and John Marlin work to improve the planting quality of the city’s contractors. As a result, we have begun to see more of the city’s contractor-planted trees planted correctly – at grade, with their root flares exposed and without a harmful mountain of mulch.

These outstanding city staffers have been on the run to oversee and improve contractor planting quality across the city while responding to multiple citizen requests for tree evaluations and maintenance every day and dealing with the unavoidable and widespread damage done by the Emerald Ash Borer. Three arborists do not constitute a huge enterprise but these three are stepping up in a big way on a daily basis.

In addition, there has been real responsiveness to the growing understanding of the ecological value provided by native species of trees. In the past several years our urban forestry staff has broadened its palette of trees planted to include more native trees, both in quantity and variety.

Lastly, while we all understand the appeal of having a system in which residents request street trees in front of their homes, it is heartening to see more city tree planting on parkland and school grounds – the very places with unpaved ground that can provide the best conditions for a long life, and thus a bigger return on the city’s investment.

The approximately 1,000 trees the city has planted just this fiscal year, will, as they mature, reduce heat island effect, intercept and clean stormwater and clean the air we breathe. They will make our city healthier for us and greatly increase the appeal of adopting an active lifestyle even in the heat of summer.

Let us all take a minute to be thankful for some of the things that are working well in Alexandria and encourage city leaders to continue this good work.

-Bonnie Petry, Alexandria

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