Coming out for trees in Hartford

By Rick Green
Hartford, CT (October 20, 2009)- I wrote in my column Tuesday that it appeared other cities, including New Haven and Providence, were doing far more than Hartford to nurture their forests. But there are hopeful signs that things might change in Hartford, a city with 450,000 trees.

Jack Hale, the former director of the Knox Parks Foundation, contacted me to talk about the proposed effort to create a “tree ordinance” in the city. Hale and others told me local laws to protect trees are becoming more common as cities realize that urban forests provide important economic and health benefits.
“We know that those trees make our neighborhoods habitable. They slow down traffic. They make our air healthier. They even increase the lifespan of pavement,” Hale said. “It makes sense to pay attention to them specifically. Trees have a specific and important set of roles to play in the community. They need to be considered separate from other things.”
The ordinance, which council members Luis Cotto and Jim Boucher plan to introduce, would provide specific protection for Hartford’s trees. It would set up a citizen tree advisory commission and a city forester position and create a master plan for the city’s trees. Significantly- and this may be controversial- property owners would not be allowed to remove large trees without obtaining a permit from the city. A special fund to pay for new trees would be financed through permits required for tree removal and fines for illegal cutting of protected trees.
Cotto said he hoped the full city council would discuss the ordinance soon. “I’ve evolved into more of a nature person. I grew up in a typical ghetto kid,” said Cotto. “We are working with people who are diehard tree people. We should be encouraging this.”
Meanwhile, others called to tell me about an ongoing aerial study of the city’s tree canopy that will provide new data about the state of the forest. The University of Vermont study, paid for by the federal government, will help assess what trees are most in need.
Another reader wrote to me suggesting The Courant organize an adopt-a-tree program for Hartford. She volunteered to make the first donation to pay for the planting of a tree in the city.
Ron Pitz of Knox Parks said they welcome contributions of any amount to their “Plant a Tree Fund.” Pitz told me that for a $500 donation, Knox will remove a stump from one of the many empty sidewalk tree wells in downtown Hartford. They will replace the soil and plant a healthy tree.
Michael Millane, president of Millane Nurseries in Cromwell and a supplier of trees to cities throughout the Northeast, reminded me that “trees don’t just make people feel good, they also provide jobs- and jobs are what we need right now.”
Related Resources:
Hartford Courant- Coming out for trees in Hartford