Trees in need

The urban forest is becoming hazardous in the wake of the tree crew’s demise

If it seems like you’ve noticed more fallen tree limbs this summer, we’re right there with you. In fact, a couple of us at CN&R headquarters at Second and Flume streets had a close call with two large sycamore branches that came crashing down. And we’ve heard of other near misses in recent weeks.

Trees are susceptible to a phenomenon called “sudden limb drop” this time of year—ostensibly because of the heat. Plus, there’s the added stress to trees due to the drought. Those issues are beyond the city’s control, of course. But what’s not is conducting regular maintenance of the urban forest, something that took place back when the city had a dedicated tree crew and an urban forester.

The layoffs at City Hall in 2013 have been devastating for city trees and parks. The proactive pruning by city workers was suspended and the mostly reactive cleanup of fallen and dangling limbs was contracted out to private tree service companies. What this means is that we are now surrounded by an urban forest in declining health.

That’s a problem for a number of reasons, including the fact that trees provide shade during Chico’s oppressive heat. But there’s a larger issue at this point, and it’s that the trees can become a hazard for residents. This is a public-safety issue.

In the coming weeks, an official in the Parks Division will present to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission a survey on the costs of adequately addressing the issues of the urban forest. We hope that when the members of the panel take a look at it they will recommend that the City Council prioritize this city asset by setting aside enough money to protect it. This should happen as soon as possible to avoid any more near misses—or worse.