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How's that tree holding up? City of Gillette aims to find out - Gillette News Record: News

How's that tree holding up? City of Gillette aims to find out

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Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 11:06 am, Tue Nov 5, 2013.

It's taken 100 years of effort, but Gillette can claim that it has an estimated 7,000 trees in its parks and boulevards.

But exactly what shape those trees are in is another question.

That's why the City Council has decided to spend $62,200 to inventory the trees on its lands to note which trees are in good shape and which are not. It will help the city's arborists form a plan to get rid of trees that have outlived their usefulness and are a danger to the community, and help them figure out what should be done to replace them, said Public Works Director Sawley Wilde.

City Arborist Janie Kuntz said there are probably about 30,000 trees in Gillette on private and public land combined. Her estimate is that on city land alone, there are about 7,000 trees.

For years she and her assistant have struggled to complete the study on their town in addition to all their regular responsibilities.

But at the rate they were going, by the time they'd finished analyzing the trees in one area of town, the information they collected at a prior section already was obsolete, Kuntz said.

"It takes a considerable amount of time to identify every tree, then map it, look for any defect or risk that might be a problem, and then assess the condition of the tree and whether or not we need to prioritize any treatments," Kuntz said.

The consultants will be able to complete the survey quickly and thoroughly, allowing the city to characterize its tree population by species, age, diameter, condition, location, and show how similar sized trees are distributed, Kuntz said.

Those details are all going to be collected and the location of each tree will be plotted, she said.

The information will help increase public safety and promote the health and sustainability of Gillette's urban forest, Kuntz said.

"We are gathering so much information," Kuntz said. "Then we can implement it."

The city's IT and GIS departments will help the arborists process the information the consultants gather, Wilde said.

"The assessment will be put into a software program so the city will have a total software package of all the city's trees," Wilde said.

Figuring out how to present information gathered by the consultants is still a work in progress, Kuntz said.

"I'm hoping to at some point show all this information to the public so they can look up a tree and see what type it is," she said.

The ongoing project also will eventually include a cost benefit analysis of the trees, giving the value of individual trees by showing what kind of benefit they're giving the city, as far as protecting pavement, shade, and saving costs in energy, she said.

The last time a tree inventory of this scale was completed was 1992 and the data collected from that study is obsolete by now, she said.

The oldest trees in the city were most likely planted in the 1920s, she said.

For those older trees and the ones requiring more thorough analysis, there are special techniques that can be used to better gauge their condition. If the consultants think there may be a problem with particular trees, like cavities in their trunks, they can whack it with a mallet and listen for a hollow sound. If they need to, they also can use techniques like increment boring, tomography and resistance drilling.

The costs could go up if the consultants find more trees than the city estimates that it has. But that won't be known until work starts this spring.

Councilman Kevin McGrath earlier expressed concerns about the cost, which at that point was $8.60 per tree and later was approved at $8.89 a tree.

"I realize that $60,000 really isn't much, but maybe we can do it in two years and let the in-house people do it," he said. "That's why we have arborists. Instead if hiring this out, split the town in half. I'm sure they (the consultants) are not going to bring in more than two or three people."

But Mayor Tom Murphy said he thought it was time to finish the project.

"I'm happy with them getting it done as quickly as possible so our arborists can do their jobs," Murphy said. "I don't know what we've got now, but I remember on 700 Warren Ave., where I grew up, there were 27 trees. We're talking thousands and thousands of trees."

Community Forestry Consultants Inc. will do the work.

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