Balancing green and growth

By Jim Schlosser
Greensboro, NC (July 29, 2007)- The thermometer stood at 97. The stench of dead fish rotting in a dried lake overwhelmed. Dust filled the air from heavy machinery operated by Chris Henderson, who was ripping down sweet gums, maples and ash trees. Henderson, grading land off New Garden Road for an 18-unit townhouse project, yelled to Mike Cusimano, the city’s urban forester, to feel free to look around.

But, Henderson added, seriously, “watch out for those snakes down there, copperheads and moccasins. There are a bunch of them.” “Everyone thinks I have the best job in town, and I may have,” Cusimano said, walking toward a black fence that’s the boundary between the project and the trees the developer must save under a city ordinance.
Everyone wants to be a forester. Wear jeans and worn brogans every day. Enjoy woods and sunshine. (Forget the mud after a storm, he said). Some days, however, Cusimano’s phone in the city planning office keeps him indoors. Callers express outrage the city didn’t stop Starmount Co. from downing towering oaks at Friendly Center.
Some consider the title “urban forester” an oxymoron. A recent News & Record story reported the city lost 18 percent of its tree canopy between 1986 and 2000. In 1986, 32 percent of the tree canopy remained. A new survey, expected to begin in September and using more advanced photo technology, will determine what’s happened since then.
Robert Bardon, extension specialist at N.C. State, said despite heavy tree loss in the United States, forests are more abundant now than in colonial times when European settlers did massive cuttings. He praises big cities, such as Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh, and smaller cities for “taking proactive steps to protect trees. It is a balancing act between growth and preservation.”
Cusimano says the 1986-2000 study alerted the city to the extent of the tree loss. The new study and future ones should enable better canopy monitoring and action to slow losses. The quality of photos will be such, Cusimano said, “that we’ll be able to tell what time it is from your watch if you’re in the picture.”
Trees will be classified as lowland hardwoods, highland hardwoods, and pines. From photos, height, density and age of trees can be determined. Findings will help with the planning for stormwater run-off, parks and development. And, he says, the trees supply oxygen that keeps us alive and absorb pollutants that would kill us.
He knows trees must be sacrificed at times. And he doesn’t look at developers as evildoers, although confrontations occur, and he has cited several for tree ordinance violations. If no trees were cut, Greensboro wouldn’t be growing and prospering. The key is balance.
City planners, American Express and Greensboro Beautiful will soon announce this year’s winner of “Neighborwoods.” A neighborhood is chosen annually to receive up to 150 trees of various species in rights of way, lawns and parks. Westerwood was last year’s recipient.
For the full article, visit the Greensboro News Record.