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Commitment to urban forestry benefits the community: Park Board Notes November 2017

November 9, 2017


This year’s fantastic fall leaf palette, by painting our surroundings in a collage of gold, orange and red, beautifully reminds us to treasure trees.

At Metro Parks Tacoma, there’s no doubt that we do.

A canopy of trees covers about 60 percent of the parks and natural areas that Metro Parks manages. Besides being attractive and providing habitat for wildlife, trees offer cooling shade in summer, filter stormwater, muffle sound, absorb atmospheric carbon and limit ozone pollution.

That’s not all. Studies on the effects of trees and other vegetation in cities have shown that they help people unwind, slowing heart beats, lowering blood pressure and relaxing brain wave patterns. Trees also have been associated with increased property values, reduced crime, plus a boost in civic pride and the quality of life.

So it’s not for lack of reasons that Metro Parks exercises a longstanding and continuing commitment to what we call urban forestry.

We cherish an outstanding and diverse collection of historic specimen trees in parks such as

Point Defiance, Wright, McKinley, Manitou, and Wapato. For our landscaped parks, urban forester Mark McDonough uses interactive mapping software and a related database to track the status of roughly 5,700 live trees. He inspects each tree at least once every five years for signs of disease, and to determine whether the tree poses a safety hazard, among other things.

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Additionally, Metro Parks manages about 1,200 acres of minimally developed land we call natural areas. In those places, we monitor trees along roads and trails, near buildings and shelters and in other spots that might be vulnerable to falling trees. Trail inspections in natural areas take place on a two- to six-week rotation.

In caring for the urban forest, we seek a balance between public safety and wildlife habitat needs. That’s how we prioritize tree maintenance, such as tree trimming or removal. Above all, we strive to conserve trees, especially mature specimens.

This ethic has influenced the design of a paved bike-pedestrian trail in Point Defiance Park and the recent decision to remove a yew tree to make room for new restrooms at the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. In the case of the trail, we’re trying to avoid cutting trees. As for the yew, it was one of several specimens in Wright Park; we took cuttings to replant after the Conservatory expansion is finished.

When trees fall, due to windstorms or otherwise, Metro Parks maintenance crews are typically first on the scene. Their first priority is to assess the risk. For example, a falling tree in dense woods may leave broken limbs hanging in adjacent branches. Sometimes trails are temporarily closed to prevent accidental harm. Workers may crank up chainsaws to cut out parts of trees blocking trails.

Besides being the time of year when storms threaten our forests, now is also the dormant season when Metro Parks plants native trees and shrubs—often several hundred. When mature trees come down, we typically replace them on a two-for-one basis or better.

This year, we kicked off planting during the annual Green Tacoma Day on Oct. 14, when volunteers put in 28 trees at Verlo Playfield on the Eastside. This week, at Wright Park, Metro Parks crews were scheduled to plant 20 deciduous trees, including plums and magnolias. Elsewhere, new trees will be planted in Titlow and Stewart Heights parks, plus six Garry oaks to stand outside the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum in Point Defiance Park.

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You can help us maintain trees. Consider joining CHIP-in!, or Citizens Helping Improve Parks. Regular Saturday work parties are scheduled year-round.

Want to learn more about Metro Parks’ most outstanding trees? Sign up for one or another of the monthly Tacoma Giants walks with arborist Mik Miazio in Point Defiance Park. Or take a self-guided tree tour of the Wright Park arboretum using a Champion Tree Tour Booklet available online. Pick up printed copies inside the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory.

You’ll find urban forest throughout the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma. When you visit a park, please take note of the trees. Aren’t they lovely?

Erik Hanberg has served on the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners since January 2010 and was re-elected in November 2017. He is one of five commissioners and has served in the roles of clerk and president. He and his wife have two children and can regularly be found playing with them at one of Tacoma’s great parks.