Vermonters Told Regular Tree Pruning Helps Reduce Storm Damage

September 11, 2007

When a sudden storm whipped through Brookfield, Vermont two weeks ago, it wreaked havoc. Chunks of century-old maples were ripped down, felling power lines and leaving piles of debris across roads.

“We’ve been at it for a week, and we probably have another four to five days to go,” road foreman David Gilderdale said. “One of the bigger problems was getting the power people here to get the lines out of the trees to get them cleaned up.”

Experts say regular pruning could have prevented some of the damage.

“We always suggest regular pruning cycles, regular pruning,” said Kate Forrer of the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program. “Removing all the dead wood and starting to actually thin back or head back some of these large lateral branches so with the proper pruning cuts you can actually take some of the weight off of these branches.

“But the best thing to do really is to prune them when they’re young,” she said.

With a higher than usual number of severe storms this summer, the state Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation and University of Vermont Extension has organized a Sept. 19 workshop to help prevent or at least minimize some of that tree damage.

Called “Storms over the Urban Forest,” the daylong conference for town officials, tree wardens and foresters will cover how to plan for a disaster, prune and maintain trees and which trees to plant, and which to avoid.

David Schneider, the Rutland city arborist, knows firsthand the importance of each.

In the last five months, that city has been hit with four storms, including an April 16 nor’easter that felled more than 2,000 trees.

“It seems to be higher than the normal amount, but certainly the storms have been characterized as being much more destructive and intense,” he said.

The April storm packed winds and pelting rains destroyed nearly 100 city trees and an estimated 2,000 more on private property. Uprooted and blown down, trees toppled power lines, knocking out electricity to three-quarters of the city, he said.

During such storms, the top priority is to clear access to emergency services. “What made this effort successful was close coordination with our local electric service provider, CVPS. We had a wonderful emergency management team put together to help us with the logistics,” Schneider said.

Most of the damaged trees were in backyards, where they tend to get little care, Schneider said.

Without maintenance trees can take wind in different ways and can be a menace not only to themselves but to others.

Whole hedgerows were blown down all in the same direction, he said.

About half of the damaged city trees were struck by power lines, poles or private trees.

“Even the best kept-trees were damaged inadvertently by other factors,” he said.

Officials recommend periodic inspections to identify weak points or signs of stress. They also take into account the tree’s height at maturity, its proximity to power lines and structures, disease resistance, strength and the potential size of its root system when choosing trees for public spaces.

Rutland has already set to work replacing trees lost to the winds. With $20,000 from the Agency of Natural Resources, the city has planted 99 since April, and will plant about 25 more.

“They’re all prized trees to me,” Schneider said.

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