Benicia to tend to its urban forests

By Tony Burchyns

Benicia, CA (June 16, 2010)- An ambitious plan is taking root to count every tree on city lands and grow strategies, neighborhood by neighborhood, for improving Benicia’s urban forest. The effort, approved Tuesday, will include creating an inventory of an estimated 4,200 existing trees this summer, and sharing that information on a public website. Also, a report detailing the findings will be released. It will identify what kinds of trees are growing in various parks and neighborhoods, leading to planting and pruning recommendations

The city’s biggest air-polluter, Valero Refinery, is paying for half of the $75,000 project. The other half is coming from a grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. On Tuesday night the City Council hired West Coast Arborists to do the work.

Benicia is not charting new waters. Other cities have done similar urban forestry plans, including Davis, Sacramento and Los Angeles. “That’s one reason CAL Fire has this grant,” said Benicia parks and recreation analyst Mario Giuliani. “You can’t do effective planting without an inventory. This is a necessary first step.”

The work will include going tree-by-tree and giving a description of the characteristics of each. “From that they are going to identify priority trees that need maintenance now,” Giuliani added. In the past, the city has only done pruning on an emergency basis, such as after a storm blows through. By putting an urban forestry plan into place, city officials hope to improve the health of the city’s greenest infrastructure – its tree populations.

It’s one of several green projects Valero is funding through a settlement with the community over its environmental impacts. The oil company also paid for pruning this month along First Street and the entire civic campus, including City Hall and the library, youth center and swimming pool.

Approving the inventory was the first step in developing a citywide tree-planting master plan. City officials say the plan will be developed with an understanding of public attitudes as well as the city’s environmental goals. The plan will recommend planting patterns for various corridors, including what kinds of trees should be allowed in different districts. City officials plan to gather public feedback in meetings to be held in September and October in the industrial, Southampton, downtown and Arsenal neighborhoods.

The final urban-forest report is expected to be presented to the council in December. The tree count will get started during the first part of the summer and take about 20 days to complete. A website with the findings is set to be launched in September.

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Benicia to tend to its urban forests