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home : current news : current news September 20, 2017


8/29/2017 6:53:00 PM
City, schools compromise on trees
A large ponderosa is marked for removal due to leaning, stem pressure, and heaving causing hazard to the adjacent building and SES playground. photo by Sue Stafford
+ click to enlarge
A large ponderosa is marked for removal due to leaning, stem pressure, and heaving causing hazard to the adjacent building and SES playground. photo by Sue Stafford

By Sue Stafford


The Sisters School District (SSD) and the City of Sisters have reached a compromise regarding the removal of trees on school district property.

As part of the current parking lot remodel project at Sisters Elementary School, a number of large ponderosa pine trees were recently removed from a public right-of-way located between East Cascade Avenue and the school parking lot.

The trees in public rights-of-way are under the jurisdiction of the City of Sisters under the advisement of the Urban Forestry Board (UFB) and the city forester. No request was made of the City for approval by either the school district or their contractor, Bear Mountain Fire, to remove the trees.

That incident prompted the City to request of the school district a copy of their Tree and Forestry Management Plan. They also asked for a review by City Forester Dan Galecki of Spindrift Forestry Consulting regarding proposed tree removals on all three school campuses, and a tour of the campuses by the UFB and Public Works prior to any more work.

The school district management plan is guided by three main goals: 1. Minimize risks to students, faculty, parents, visitors, and the general public through hazard tree and limb identification, and fire fuels mitigation; 2. Improve the health condition of currently established and future trees to promote a healthy, diverse, variable-age forest that will benefit current and future generations; and 3. Improve the safety of the SSD campuses by minimizing on-campus screening from trees, limbs, and foliage, thus creating and maintaining clear lines of sight across campuses to improve vehicle, pedestrian, and foot traffic, and to discourage potential human and animal predators, hostage situations, active shooter, and other law enforcement concerns.

Additionally, in the winter, trees shading parking lots and sidewalks hinder melting of ice and snow, slowing down efforts of district maintenance personnel to clear away the snow and ice.

Trees growing in close proximity to any solid surfaces such as parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks, give rise to heaving and lifting issues creating tripping hazards and increased costs to repair such areas.

Trees that are spaced further apart, allow larger mowers and fertilizing equipment to get in between the trees, eliminating slower handwork. Trees close to the school buildings create maintenance issues with needles accumulating in the gutters. This past winter, collected needles helped to create ice dams, which caused damage to the buildings. Particularly at the middle school, classrooms on the second floor do not receive much daylight due to the trees near the building. Teachers have complained about the lack of natural daylight in the classrooms.

The Urban Forestry Board is a requirement for recipients of the Tree City USA designation, which the City has received for the past 10 years. The board began meeting on a regular basis after the public outcry following removal of a number of trees in Creekside Campground several years ago.

The five-member UFB provides guidance for the management of the urban forest (those trees located within public rights-of-way, parks, and public places owned or controlled by the City), and provides recommendations to staff regarding City ordinances and codes involving trees. The Community Development Director can ask for their review of and recommendations for proposed tree removals in subdivisions being built in the city. The board works in concert with the contracted City Forester.

Dave Moyer is chairman of the UFB and has 42 years experience as an employee with the U. S. Forest Service. The other four members of the board all have experience in related fields.

On last week's tour of school grounds, the UFB heard from both Dave Vitelle of Bear Mountain Fire (who is donating the tree removal services) and from Galecki regarding the reasoning behind each of their recommendations for limbing and thinning of trees. Vitelle's initial recommendations for removal were all marked with a blue paint spot at the base of the tree. Galecki had indicated his suggested removals by circling the tree with blue tape so the UFB could easily compare the recommendations.

Generally speaking, Galecki's removal recommendations were far more conservative than Vitelle's, leaving more trees in place, and considering providing thickets and the occasional dead tree for wildlife habitat. Vitelle favored removal of almost all junipers due to their aggressive consumption of water, which he said negatively impacts surrounding ponderosas and other vegetation. Galecki and the UFB favored a more diverse forest, leaving those junipers that had space around them and removing those in close proximity to the ponderosas.

Vitelle recommended removal of any dead tree. Galecki suggested studying the cause of the tree's mortality and its particular placement before deciding to remove it. Vitelle's approach called for thinning to leave single trees with more open space around each tree. Galecki suggested leaving some clumps of trees and then spacing away from the clump, in addition to single trees.

Disagreement surfaced regarding the areas at the east end of the elementary school where the local deer are known to bed down. SSD Operations Director Ryan Stock said that school district personnel have to herd the deer out in the morning because children play in that area and he is concerned that deer/child interaction could lead to injuries. He also wanted a large number of the junipers removed to improve sight lines, as there have been reports of non-school-related people frequenting that area.

Galecki and the UFB disagreed with the aggressive removal of the juniper and suggested possibly fencing the area to separate it from the playground. That would leave more screening material between the school property and the adjacent neighborhood as well as protect important wildlife habitat.

Everyone agreed to the necessary removal of five large ponderosas located in the bus parking lot east of the elementary school. They have "co-dominant leads" (two tops) which give rise to splitting and subsequent bug infestation/disease and falling hazard. One of the trees is perilously leaning, causing stem pressure, heaving, and danger of falling on a school portable or the area where children play

basketball.

Several of the trees are directly adjacent to the fuel storage tanks and the propane tank, creating the danger of falling limbs, explosion, and fire hazard. That area is also the only place at the elementary school for storing snow that is removed from the parking lot and

sidewalks.

Following the tour, all parties met at City Hall and reached agreement on how to proceed. Rather than considering each individual tree as situations arise, Galecki encouraged "general methods and protocols" that will "guide decisions, taking into consideration esthetics, health and condition of the tree, proximity, and general safety."

Wildlife trees and thickets will be left when possible, depending on risk and liability. For now, Bear Mountain Fire will proceed with a light thinning, particularly at the middle school, and a reassessment will be made when it is completed.

Factors affecting removal include: sidewalk heaving; diseased and damaged trees, crowding, and split tops. Vitelle indicated that current work will address safety hazards first and will be conducted on the weekends over the next several months, until completed.









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