By Michael Howell
Known in these parts as “Daly Cottonwoods” in honor of the man who brought them in vast numbers to be planted on his mansion grounds and on country lanes throughout the valley, the roughly 100 year old Carolina Poplars, shipped in by mining magnate Marcus Daly, are, en masse, reaching the end of their life spans all at the same time. The magnificent old giants, long viewed as historical landmarks in the valley, are now being looked on as liabilities as they come crashing down, limb by limb, in their old age. As a result, the county commissioners are making plans to begin their removal from the county’s road right of ways, beginning in the area where they are the most concentrated, northeast of Hamilton.
The danger posed by the decrepit old trees was first brought to the county’s attention when a limb smashed into a vehicle that was passing along Fairgrounds Road. The county had an assessment of the tree’s health made by a professional arborist and decided that many of them should probably be removed. However, it was only following the second accident in which a very large limb speared a passing vehicle smashing through the front windshield barely missing the driver, that the county decided to take action. The near fatality came as a wake up call to the county and its insurer and it was not long afterward that the old trees lining the edge of the Fairgrounds were taken out.
But Fairgrounds Road was not the only road in the county presenting such a hazard and under the guidance of Commission Chair J.R. Iman, the county has begun looking seriously at doing a major tree removal project in an area northeast of Hamilton where there is an extreme number of the trees in the county road right away along Tammany Lane, Old Corral Road, Kurtz Lane and Freeze Lane.
As a first step the county invited property owners in the area along those roads to a meeting last Tuesday, November 29, to open a discussion on proceeding jointly to address the need for removing possibly up to 450 trees along Tammany Lane alone.
Commission Chairman J.R. Iman told those who gathered for the discussion that the county wanted to avoid getting bogged down in questions of right-of-way and having to make the determination by survey as to whether the trees stood on private property alone or if they were in the actual public right of way. Iman said the county was looking to be more pro-active in addressing the situation and work with willing landowners in a joint removal project.
The initial plan is to have the county contract felling the trees and then use resources from the county road department to remove the debris. The cooperation from landowners would involve permission to let the trees fall on their private property rather than in the public right of way so that traffic could proceed uninterrupted. It would save on costs of traffic control and save on public inconvenience during the process. The removal of the trees would take place in winter when the ground is frozen. He said that removal of the stumps might be delayed until spring or summer. Removal of the stumps is complicated by buried utility lines, irrigation ditches and other factors.
Iman said that the project was expensive. Bids on removal of the trees along Fairgrounds Road ranged from $300 to $400 per tree up to $3,500 per tree depending upon whether they could be felled or had to be taken down incrementally due to surroundings.
Landowners expressed concerns about livestock and fencing issues during the process. One landowner who recently spent a large sum of money having her trees trimmed said that the work may have extended the life of the trees for another decade. She wondered if they would be taken out along with dead, dying trees.
“My idea is to take the worst first,” Iman told the group which consisted of about five property owners and five contractors interested in the project.
One member of the public spoke on behalf of the old giants, pointing out that although at the end of their lifespan they were at the peak of production in terms of wildlife habitat. He said old cottonwoods have three times the wildlife value of any tree that might be put in its place. He suggested that an ornithologist accompany the arborist when examining the trees. He also noted the very real historic value that that they represent. He said the archway of trees along Tammany Lane is a very rare thing in the modern world.
Iman said that concentrating on the worst first, the real ‘skeleton’ trees that are already completely dead, would take the county quite a while and would be a good way to get started.
“We don’t have the money to do it all at once anyway,” said Iman. He also stated that any replanting would have to involve the landowners because no trees would be replanted in the public right of way.
No decision was made or planned to be made at the meeting. It was simply the opening of a discussion with potentially affected landowners and the potential contractors for the job.