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City taking steps to manage trees

Posted: September 20, 2012 8:35 p.m.
Updated: September 21, 2012 5:00 a.m.
Denise Schnese/C-I

Urban Forester Liz Gilland points out the healthy 51-inch circumfrance of a Post Oak tree that has sat in Camden for more than 200 years.

When a tree falls in Camden, plenty of folks are likely to hear it.  When a “public tree” falls, Liz Gilland definitely hears about it.

But Gilland doesn’t mind when people contact her about trees – that’s her job.  Gilland, an Urban Forester, started working for the city in August 2010 and has brought with her a wealth of knowledge and a bubbly personality to boot. Gilland works for the City of Camden Public Works and reports to Department Director Tom Couch. Gilland’s primary responsibility is responding to requests regarding public trees.

So what exactly is a “public tree?”

The Camden Care of Public Tree Ordinance of 1987 outlines the parameters. It states that the city has the right to plant, prune, maintain, and remove trees, plants, and shrubs within the right-of-way line of all streets, alleys, avenues, lanes, squares, and public grounds. It further states that such actions may take place as to “insure public safety or to preserve or enhance the symmetry and beauty of such public grounds.”

According to Gilland, each street has a designated right-of-way. “Take the Camden historic district, for example, many of the streets within the district were laid out very wide with what we call tree lawns or grassy medians.  If you look at Chestnut Street, it has a 90 foot right of way total, so it would be about 45 feet from the center (street) line on each side.”

In a typical day, Gilland receives public requests which are called into the office and processed through forms called “Shade Tree Checks.”  A lot of the calls concern low hanging branches or site visibility.  The work that Gilland can do herself, she does, as long as it does not impede on utility lines.  If branches are close to the live lines (especially when they are damp) there is a possibility for arcing. Those cases are handled by the utility department.

When a tree falls in the city blocking public rights-of-way, removal is necessary.  However, if a tree is still standing, the removal decision becomes more complicated.  Health and structure are considerations when deciding on pruning versus removal. 

“I look at the canopy, amount of deadwood, amount of pruning that has already occurred because of the utility line clearance,” Gilland said. “If 50 percent or more of the canopy is gone from what I envision was the total canopy then that certainly goes into the consideration.  I also look at the size of the leaves, the color of the leaves.  If there has been any construction activity in the root zone.  If any part of the root zone is compromised then that affects the health of the tree. Structurally I look and see how well the branches are spaced, the branch angles.  Branches that have between 90 and 45 degrees are sounder than the branches of say a Bradford Pear tree.” 

Gilland also said that she looks to see “if there are any open cavities. I try and record my observations on my Shade Tree Forms so it is not just the type of defects, the number of defects, and the location of the defects as well as the species of the tree.  Location of the tree, traffic volume, if it is on the route to a hospital or school, or adjacent to power lines …  I keep such trees on my watch list because they may be more likely to fail in a storm. These ‘risk trees’ have serious defects for imminent failure and a target. A tree in the woods, if it falls, is not going to hurt anything – there are no targets.  In populated areas, it is different.” 

She advised to keep an eye out for our local Urban Forester and the Camden Department of Public Works tree crew who will be working diligently for the next three months to perform deadwood pruning and tree removals. Gilland can currently be reached by phone at 425-6045. However, she hopes to be more accessible to the public through the city website in the near future. 

“I would like to start to put pictures of the newly planted trees and the shade tree check form up so that folks can fill it out themselves and email it to me,” said Gilland. 

City Manager Kevin Bronson is working on that directive. 

According to Bronson’s assistant Caitlin Corbett, “We do plan on adding more information on urban forestry to the city website.  Items such as the Shade Tree Check and planting updates are definitely things that we will include.”

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