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Woodbury considers increasing tree canopy

We all know the basic benefits of greenery around us, but tree canopy has much more to offer than shade, cleaner air and the nice scenery.

A lengthy discussion at last Wednesday's Woodbury City Council workshop provided detailed information from experts on the benefits of added tree canopy in Woodbury, as well as the risks of Emerald Ash Borer.

"People have been planting trees for a very, very long time and they will continue to do so because they're beautiful," said Jill Johnson, coordinator of the Midwest Center for Urban and Community Forestry in St. Paul.

But trees offer much more than something nice to look at. Research shows trees reduce asthma rates in children, decrease hospital stays, make people more sociable, neighborhoods safer and lower crime rates, she added.

Trees help homeowners pay less for energy costs; they keep the temperature cooler and help with storm water management.

"All those layers of leaves can actually intercept and hold water" - as opposed to polluted water runoff on impervious surfaces, Johnson said.

On the business side, research has shown that trees around shops and restaurants entice people to stay in those areas longer, therefore stimulating the economy.

"So essentially, trees pay us back," Johnson said.

The city of Woodbury completed a tree canopy analysis as part of the 2030 comprehensive plan that includes a goal of increasing tree canopy coverage throughout the city.

About 23 percent of the city is covered by tree canopy, but the goal is to increase that percentage significantly while avoiding ash trees and properly maintaining the rest early on.

"The outlook is grim for ash trees and Emerald Ash Borer," said Whitney Olson, an urban forestry specialist.

The insect, once established, has the potential to kill virtually all species of ash trees in an infested area. According to environmental specialists, quarantines have been imposed to infected counties, but nothing to date has completely stopped the spread of the insect.

"It's only a matter of time before Emerald Ash Borer arrives in Woodbury," according to a report presented to the council.

Tree inventory shows ash trees are the most common in Woodbury at 17.5 percent. In neighborhoods like Park Hills, the percentage is 44 percent.

Those numbers only account for trees on public property, with similar percentages in private properties and wooded areas.

City Environmental Planner Steve Kernik said the staff recommends a pre-emptive removal of ash trees, starting with those in poor health, and eventually working up to replacing all ash trees on city property.

The rest of the tree discussion focused on growing existing inventory, so when the issue of replacing dead trees located in the right-of-way came up, the staff recommended changing its current policy.

In older neighborhoods such as Park Hills, trees planted in the right-of-way (eight feet from the curb) are the city's responsibility. When they die, the city removes them at an expense and offers replacement trees, but they must be planted outside the right-of-way.

The Public Works Department follows this policy to reduce its tree maintenance responsibilities. But the effects of the policy would eventually convert older neighborhoods to look like newer neighborhoods such as Pendryn Hills or Colby Lake.

Therefore staff recommended to the council the city should allow replacement trees to be planted in the right-of-way.

A different issue that came up was property owners, who, for now should be responsible for routine tree maintenance on city rights of way, except in cases where trees pose a danger to the public, or interfere with an aspect of city operations. In those cases, the city would do any necessary maintenance.

To maintain trees in all other public areas of the city, including parks and major roadways, staff also recommended a future increase in the budget to accommodate for the current workload as well as future growth.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.