Friday, January 02, 2009
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Trees that beautify Lincoln all part of a plan

Tree farm saves taxpayers money and earns 'Tree City USA' designation

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[January 02, 2009]  The city of Lincoln can be proud of its designation as a "Tree City USA."

The city has been receiving the distinguished National Arbor Day Foundation award since 2002 and received signage and a plaque for the 2001 calendar year. Tracy Jackson, street and alley superintendent, says that Lincoln has maintained the foundation's Tree City designation each year since.

Interest in the natural beauty that trees have to offer goes back much further in the city's history. For the last century or so, city and community leaders have prioritized their maintenance, and the city has been recognized as a community that has worked hard to preserve its trees. In late 1800s the town earned the nickname "Forest City" because so many of our streets were lined with beautiful shade trees. T

The continuation of such beauty has not been without challenges and has taken the dedication of city leaders and workers.

In the early 1900s, many of the city's large, stately shade trees were elms. By the early to mid-'40s, the Dutch elm disease that swept the country started killing off those trees. It is reported that by 1949 there were over 400 dead elm trees counted on city and private properties.

It was then that Carl Hembreiker and Violet Scully led the city and community in beginning an effective tree-planting program. A forestry tax was added to the city levy, and the money was used to bring in transplants of hardier, more disease-resistant varieties.

By the 1990s, Donnie Osborne, former street and alley superintendent, decided that the city needed to have its own tree farm, and he set to work to make it happen. Osborne's work deserves much of the credit for the start of the Tree City recognition.

Jackson remembers that they worked to find a good location for the farm. They didn't have a great deal of success until Les Plotner, who was superintendent of Lincoln Elementary District 27, made arrangements for the farm to be established on property belonging to the school district.

The tree farm was established on the north edge of the Adams School grounds. Jackson explained that the school district still owns the property, but they allow the city to farm their trees there free of charge.

The city of Lincoln has also received the Growth Award from the Arbor Day Foundation. Applications for these awards are extensive, requiring time and effort in tracking work by specific category, such as tree removal, replanting, trimming and so on; plus, there are requirements for public education and participation, to list just a very few of the requirements. (To find out more about the Tree City USA award and the Growth Award, use the Arbor Day Foundation link at the end of this article.)

Additional benefits of the city having its own tree farm are the savings to the taxpayer, which adds up to thousands of dollars annually. Jackson says that for the price of one ready-to-transplant tree from a nursery, he can purchase almost 100 seedlings. He adds that when the idea for the farm came about, the monetary savings to the taxpayer was the primary reason for doing it.

The city adds about 60 seedling trees to the farm annually. The mortality rate for the seedlings is around 75 percent.

The trees face several perils where they are planted now. Jackson explained that the farm is sitting on the edge of a flood plain. In years such as the one just past, trees have been lost to flooding.

Another cause of loss that is always going to be a concern no matter where they are located is damage from wildlife. Jackson pointed out a tree that had about 70 percent of its bark stripped off. He said that the deer like to eat the bark from the young trees and that rabbits chew on them as well.

Of the healthy, undamaged trees, approximately 30 per year are planted around town, primarily as replacements for trees that have had to be removed.

Jackson said that tree removal is based on criteria of "dead, dying, diseased or dangerous." Trees that are dead are obvious, Jackson says, but other criteria are a little more complicated.

A tree that appears to be dying may only need to have the dead part cut out so that the rest of the tree can thrive.

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Dangerous trees are those that may be hanging over a roof, causing issues in the street or along the sidewalk.

Jackson says that determining if a tree is diseased is the most complicated. Sometimes disease is obvious, such as when a tree has obvious fungus growing from it. Others are not quite so easy to diagnose.

Jackson says there are numerous diseases that can affect the city's trees. To help him stay abreast of all this, he has attended several classes on forestry. He also uses information provided by the Arbor Day Foundation. And he says he gets a lot help from Dr. Hildebrandt from the Department of Agriculture office in Havana.

Jackson says Hildebrandt holds a number of master's degrees in this field, and she is always willing to drive to Lincoln to look at and offer advice on the condition of a tree.

Assessment of the trees for removal applies only to those on city property and rights of way. If a homeowner has a tree that they are concerned about and wants to know whether or not it is on city property, Jackson says there is a good rule of thumb -- not always accurate but most times pretty close. Look for the water meter. The meter will be on the edge of the city right of way. Between the meter and the residence is homeowner responsibility; between the meter and curb belongs to the city.

There is one exception to the property rule, and that is if anyone has a concern about an ash tree. The property owner can contact Jackson, who will come out with John Fulton of the University of Illinois Extension office and check the tree for emerald ash borer. This borer is a new threat to many of our lovely trees. Infestation is difficult to identify, hard to treat, and there is little success. Eradication plans include removal of infested trees. (See article: Emerald ash borers found in central Illinois)

When asked about the future of the tree farm, Jackson says that he would like to expand the farm, which would require a different location.

He also says that he would like to work with a wider variety of tree species. He cites the Kentucky coffee tree as being one example of several species that he would like to replant in the city.

The Kentucky coffee tree is a hardy tree that has tremendous resistance to ice, offers moderate shade and produces a pod that stays on the tree through much of the winter. It is officially "Gymnocladus diocus" but got its nickname of coffee tree because the beans in the pods were used by pioneers to brew a coffeelike drink when real coffee was not available.

Jackson says he would like to see the treescape of the city returned to what it was a hundred years ago, when trees such as the coffee tree were plentiful.


Information sources and related sites on the Web:

Do you know what the state tree is?
Look here for the answer.

The turn-of-the-century picture postcard and 2003 picture of the same street are borrowed from D. Leigh Henson. Read more about the city's battle with Dutch elm disease and other interesting Lincoln facts from his Web pages:

Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA program:


Past related article

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