It hurts to see a tree company truck pull up in front of your house, then watch workers remove a beloved street tree -- all with no communication from the City of Salem about why the tree needed to be destroyed.
This happened to Heather Cohen, a resident of the Morningside neighborhood. The tree that was removed is the middle one in the photo below.
Cohen told me in an email, "Survived the wild fires, survived the ice storm, didn't survive the City of Salem."
Here's an email that Cohen sent to Mayor Chuck Bennett on April 13.
Yesterday the city of Salem took down the beautiful maple tree which shaded my house as well as other neighborhood trees. My maple had a few slightly damaged branches from the ice storm but was far from diseased. There were no power lines in proximity.I called the Forester and emailed the city of Salem pictures and have not received any communication back. They took down five trees (see images attached) on two streets (Anneka Loop and Chaparral Dr) in my Morningside neighborhood. It seems statistically unlikely there would be five irreparably damaged trees on two city blocks.For a city that supposedly values its trees, they seem to be cutting them down indiscriminately if they have any minor issues that require maintenance. That and the lack of communication with the community is very unprofessional.Almost three years living in my house, I’ve never received any communication from the city until they mow down a cherished maple tree without even a notification or a reason. I understand the city is under a lot of stress since the ice storm but I do think there are a lot more stories like mine that are very disturbing.I find it ironic that I cannot trim a city tree without being fined, but the city can mow them down without a second thought or a word to the neighbors. I would’ve gladly taken ownership and paid maintenance fees for the maple that the city killed. The city should not be in charge of our trees.
l feel Cohen's pain. It hurts to lose a tree that means a lot to you. It hurts even more when the loss isn't due to a natural event, but happens without notice from the City of Salem.
This shouldn't happen. But it did. A sad stump speaks silently about what happened.
Here's a message Cohen shared with me that she got from the Urban Forester, Milan Davis.
Heather, I am sorry to hear that you are upset with the city over our management of trees. There are six full time staff of the Urban Forestry Division and every one of us care deeply about the trees in Salem.
I can assure you we are taking steps to protect and retain as many trees as we can that have been damaged from the storm. As for your tree I did not make the inspection report for removal, but the determination was made that the two trees adjacent to that tree would have a better chance to thrive and live longer if the damaged tree were removed.
The tree closest to the driveway will now have an opportunity to grow with a central leader and develop in to a much more stable an[d] uniform tree. Had the two trees continued to compete, with the damaged tree not having a central leader many of the secondary branches could have contributed to future problems for that trees.
As for the other trees removed in your neighborhood, two of the birches were in very poor condition and had bronze birch borer infestations and the maple tree was a hazard considering it had lost a large lead and was susceptible to failure and should not be retained. I attached pictures of the trees we removed.
Please let me know if you have other concerns.
Urban Forester, Parks Supervisor III
City of Salem | Public Works Department
Cohen responded this way.
Aren’t you supposed to post a notification before removal? There was no warning and no communication with the community.
I would like to see the report documenting that the removal of five trees in a two block area was necessary. As for the tree across from me with an unstable lead[er], it was damaged more by previous trimming attempts by the city of Salem, not by the ice storm itself.There is supposed to be a process here and there was none.
I'm siding with Cohen. Here's why.
Section 86.090 of the Salem tree ordinance says: (dbh means diameter at breast height, 4.5 feet from the ground.)
(1) Where the City proposes to remove a City tree smaller than ten inches dbh, no posting shall be required.
(2) Where the City proposes to remove a City tree larger than ten inches dbh, the City shall post notice of the removal as near as practicable to the tree to be removed for a period of 15 days prior to the removal.
From a photo above, it sure looks like the tree that was removed had a rather large diameter. If it wasn't 10 inches at four and a half feet above the ground, it must have been darn close.
Regardless, this was a substantial tree, not a sapling.
City employees in the Urban Forestry Division should recognize that removing a generally healthy tree from in front of someone's house is a big deal to the resident, even though it may be business as usual for the employee.
It would have been easy for a City of Salem employee to contact Heather Cohen and other neighbors before the trees were removed. A little communication goes a long way.
Explain why the tree removals supposedly are necessary. Listen to the response from neighbors. Allow them to contact a licensed arborist for a second opinion if they want to pay for this.
It only takes a few minutes to cut down a tree. It takes many years for a replacement tree to grow to the same size. The City of Salem should err on the side of caution when removing street trees.
In this case, the Urban Forester acknowledged that the maple wasn't a danger or diseased. It had a few problems, as many trees do, and was growing close to two other trees.
So why not take a bit of extra time and reach out to nearby neighbors, rather than letting the roar of chainsaws be how the neighborhood learns five street trees are being killed?
Could it be possible the city has a plan for the overstocked non-native maples? We don’t know because of the lack of communication, but assuming bad intent does not help the situation nor resurrect the trees.
It sounded like Milan (good on Heather for getting a response by the way, I never have) explained the city’s reasoning quite clearly. I agree communication should be better, but these trees are not Heather’s property and you are not the urban forester. Trees are not permanent, and removing damaged and infested trees for the good of the stand was Milan’s call. Perhaps finding ways to support the city’s tree program (like advocating for more staff) rather than blast the actions you don’t personally agree with would be more productive.
Posted by: SoilLady | April 15, 2021 at 04:49 PM
I am astonished at the Salem urban forester's rationale for destroying a splendid, reportedly healthy and thriving specimen tree: that is, to give two scrawny, less-successful trees on either side more growing room. I'm disappointed but not surprised that our new forester acclimatized himself so quickly to the City of Salem staff's culture. This incident increases my doubts that our "civil" "servants" can be reformed.
Posted by: Les Margosian | April 16, 2021 at 09:22 PM