Archive for Wednesday, November 27, 1991

TREES

November 27, 1991

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One of the saddest bits of news is that, as USA Today reports, cash-strapped cities are pruning their budgets and often axing tree programs in the process. What a horrid loss, if such a trend continues.

One can think of the many communities where trees and foliage line streets and boulevards, and add so much to the quality of life. One can grow depressed in a hurry over the prospect of deterioration of such scenery.

Consider Lawrence and the many locations where the city is enhanced and beautified by trees and accoutrements, many of which are the result of the longterm program headed by forester George Osborne. But there were people planting and nurturing trees long before Osborne came onto the scene here. May their tribe increase! Consider the many people who had a hand in the plantings that make the Kansas University campus so scenic and welcoming the year-around, with its marvelous blend of evergreen and deciduous flora. Consider Kansas City areas, such as Ward Parkway and parts of Swope Park, where long ago somebody with concern and vision set the stage for modern finery.

The bad news is that modern budget crises have cut urban tree programs across the nation, according to Dan Smith of the American Forestry Assn.'s Global Releaf campaign. ``Trees are a fundamental building block of a healthy urban environment,'' Smith says. ``Planting trees is one of the most cost-effective ways to attack carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere.''

But planting and maintaining trees and caring for them throughout the years is a costly proposition that demands continuity. And a USA Today survey of 20 cities from Seattle to Atlanta found that nearly 50 percent of these cities now have no tree-maintenance programs and that 70 percent of the others have cut back on programs in that category.

To be sure, private citizens and individual groups can launch forestation programs, and that has been a big factor in the commendable tree population in the Lawrence area. But in public or semi-public areas, that does not often work well. Consider the various parkway planting projects which have been attempted here but have gone for naught because there were no ongoing programs with the kind of continuity a city or county operation can provide.

Good-hearted and well-intentioned people can plant and plant and plant trees, and that can help. But there must be constant care and surveillance, and occasional replacement, to bring such efforts to full flower.

Lawrence will never have the kind of tree program that ambitious and imaginative people like George Osborne would prefer. Given their preferences, there even could be overkill, though that is preferable to nothing. But up to now, the community is blessed to have done as well as it has. It is hoped there will be no serious pullbacks like those hitting other cities such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta and other financially depressed sites. Imagine downtown Lawrence without the curbside trees that add so much to the picture.

It is difficult to walk through many sections of Lawrence and not be deeply appreciative of the trees that add so much to the landscape. We can all hope that our future in this important field is not as bleak as it appears to be in so many other money-short towns across America.

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