By Carol Crump
Casper, WY (April 8, 2009)- Thirteen thousand of Wyoming’s 1.4 million trees are owned by the City of Casper. They’re located on public property like ball fields, parks and Highland Park cemetery, around city buildings and in the boulevards between the sidewalks and the streets.
As beneficial as the city’s large canopy trees are for shade, cooling, wind blocks, and aesthetics, they can’t live forever. Most of the cottonwoods, green ash, or Blue Spruce that make up the city’s urban forest are near or past their life span.
The city hopes to address the potential for tree loss with a proactive solution: its own tree farm. The idea of developing a tree farm first surfaced 11 years ago when Casper achieved status as an Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA. During 2006, Casper was the first city in the country to use a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have city staff conduct a UFORE (Urban Forest Effects) study.
The resulting inventory of all the vegetation within a 10-foot radius of 251 randomly selected plots identified the number and density of public trees in Casper, their species and health and other pertinent information such as carbon footprint and potential threats from diseases such as Dutch Elm Disease.
The proposed tree farm would use the UFORE information to diversify and sustain the city’s urban forest. “We want a healthy, vital urban forest,” said Jolene Martinez, administrative analyst in the Parks and Streets Department. There are few kinds of trees available from commercial suppliers and what is available has to be acclimated to Casper’s harsh growing climate and poor soils.
“Casper is not tree-friendly,” said Martinez, who also is the Keep Casper Beautiful director.
The plan, proposed by the City’s Parks Department, takes advantage of property that the city initially purchased to protect the Regional Water well field near the westside water treatment plant. A small house on the property has been used for dormitory-style living for some of the Casper Police Department’s newly hired police officers who came from out of state. The open space on what the city calls the Miller property eventually could become a seven-acre tree farm with approximately 900 trees. The sheltered property near the river, with an available water supply is perfect, Martinez said.
Growing the trees from 2 1/2-inch diameter seedlings to trees for planting on city sites will take approximately six years.
There are three big reasons for a tree farm: diversity and sustainability, scheduling, and cost savings, Martinez said.
Casper’s most common trees are often the wrong tree in the wrong place, Martinez explained. When some of the city’s most prevalent cottonwoods and Blue Spruce were planted, not enough thought was given to mature height and width and the power lines that eventually ran above and through them.
The lack of diversity of species also left too many trees susceptible to a single disease. The proposed tree farm would give the Forestry Division an opportunity to grow less common trees that would still thrive in Casper like hawthornes, burr oaks and disease-resistant American elms. The trees would be available when needed and according to the city’s work schedule.
City-farmed trees also would cost significantly less- about 93 percent less- than the trees the city currently orders far in advance from vendors. According to Martinez, the average cost of a commercially-purchased tree is $177; a tree raised on city property by city forestry staff is projected to cost about $12.
All of the trees grown will be used on city property. For now, the proposed tree farm property is being used as a staging area for city planting activities. The approval to move forward with what would be a multi-phased project to grow its own trees depends on the Casper City Council’s 2009-10 budget approval.
The initial cost is approximately $63,000 to upgrade and renovate an irrigation well house on the property and plant approximately 525 seedlings.
A second phase of irrigation work and planting of a new block of about 375 trees would need an additional expenditure of approximately $15,000 in the 2011-12 budget cycle. A tree farm is “just a natural progression for the Parks division,” Martinez said. “Trees are very much a part of the city’s infrastructure. They age just like the water lines.”
Casper Journal- City plans new tree farm