By Michael Howell
At its March 13, meeting the Stevensville Town Council voted to initiate a membership application to the Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC) Tree City USA program.
Over 44 Montana cities and towns have joined Tree City USA. Membership is free but certain requirements must be met that could take the better part of a year to put into place. The town must create a tree board or department specifically in charge of caring for the town’s trees and create a tree care ordinance designating the responsible authority for planting and maintaining trees and a plan to do so. The town must also have a fund to implement the plan equal to $2 per resident, which for Stevensville would amount to about $3,600, or they must be willing to contribute in-kind labor to that extent. Another requirement is for the town to make an Arbor Day Proclamation and sponsor an official celebration of Arbor Day.
The town has already taken a big step forward in developing the required plan by having a tree inventory done in 2013. That summer, two DNRC employees conducted a complete inventory and identified 624 publicly owned trees in Stevensville.
Author of the inventory, Edie Dooley, Urban Forestry Program Specialist from the Forestry Assistance Bureau of DNRC, gave the Council an overview of the study.
Of the town’s 624 publicly owned trees, she said, only ten percent are located in city parks.
The canopy of this urban forest covers 14 acres, which is 1.73% of the total municipal land area, and 3.18% of the right-of-way area. The total replacement value of this urban forest is estimated at $3,963,794.
The study identified 19 trees that were deemed “critical concern for public safety” and recommended for further evaluation as soon as possible. Seventy-seven trees were identified as needing further evaluation for treatment options. Ten trees were identified for removal.
In addition 438 planting spots along city right of ways were recorded and mapped. According to the analysis Stevensville has an overabundance of Norway maples. A common rule of thumb is that an urban forest should not be comprised of greater than 20% of any one genus, or greater than 10% of any one species. Diversity is a good thing as some tree species may get entirely wiped out by disease or pests. Since Norway maples comprise 31% of the Stevensville urban forest, future planting of Norway maples is discouraged. Trees that appear to perform well in the town are plum, honeylocust, northern hackberry, Canadian cherry, northern catalpa, and American basswood (linden).
The study also shows that overall, the condition of the town’s trees is, for the most part, good or fair.
According to the report, trees contribute environmental, health and aesthetic benefits that can be calculated. Stevensville’s publicly owned trees were computed to contribute $81,585 annually in benefits to the community.
According to the report, aesthetic benefits were the most prominent, “the presence of trees contributes to increases in property values, and promote business and tourism. Stormwater benefits are also very important, and are calculated based on the reduction in volume of stormwater runoff due to absorption by trees,” states the report. The study found impressive energy benefits as well. Energy benefits are based on a tree’s ability to shelter buildings from wind and the corresponding decrease in natural gas use in winter, as well as a tree’s ability to create shade and thereby reduce the amount of electricity needed for air conditioning in summer. There is also an energy benefit related to the consumption of carbon dioxide and emission of oxygen by the trees.
“Overall Stevensville has a healthy, diverse population of trees,” the report concludes in its summary. “Several large street trees, while requiring maintenance, provide thousands of dollars in annual benefits and value, and contribute to Stevensville’s idyllic, small town character.”
Stevensville has one publicly owned tree for every three residents.
The report also notes that “Stevensville’s most pressing urban forestry issue” is the population of very large, old cottonwoods which should be examined, and either pruned or removed. Past planting efforts on the main street have been robust, and now these efforts ought to be transferred to the side streets where rights of way afford plenty of room to cultivate a tree-lined character for the town, according to the report.
A copy of the DNRC Public Tree Inventory 2013 for Stevensville can be viewed at the Town Hall.