Effort to save trees takes root

By Diana Nelson Jones
Pittsburgh, Pa. (March 13, 2010)- Fifteen companies have volunteered to fix the damage in North Side park. Tony Gilch, of Indianola, examines a tree for damaged limbs to be cut. Mr. Gilch, of Keelen Brothers, was working in West Park with several other volunteer arborists taking care of the tree damage caused by the February snowfall and getting them prepared for a tree-climbing competition in May. Fifteen tree companies put in the equivalent of $30,000 in volunteer labor Friday at Allegheny Commons Park, removing 15 trees and repairing damage to more than 50 wounded in February’s snowstorms.

Matt Erb, arborist for Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest, organized what one arborist called “a massive effort” in the North Side park. “All the arborists are out,” said Phil Gruszka, arborist and maintenance director for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Public works employees and contractors have been repairing and cleaning up tree damage throughout the region in recent days. Some of the hardest-hit places include lower Frick Park, South Park and Camp Guyasuta in O’Hara, according to several arborists.
At 7:30 Friday morning, the trucks started rolling in — aerial bucket trucks, chippers large and small, stump grinders and pickups full of guys with ropes and saws. “We were one of the first crews called up after the storm damage,” said Joel Keefer, co-owner of Keelen Brothers Inc. “When we drove by this park we said, ‘Oh my God.’ ”
All the damage was caused by the storms, said city forester David Jahn. The city’s oldest park is home to hundreds of elderly trees that are vulnerable in large storms of heavy snow. “They were high on the candidate list,” he said. Two crews worked specifically on trees north of the National Aviary. Those trees will be climbed in the International Society of Arboriculture Penn-Del Chapter’s Western Tree Climbing Championship in May. Volunteer arborists have shored up trees for that competition in years past, but Friday’s effort was beefed up.
“I wanted to expand our clean-up to have a bigger impact for the community,” said Mr. Erb. One of the casualties was a black gum splayed from both forks. A grandiose elm, one of the park’s signature trees, took what looked like a severe hit “but that tree is not going anywhere anytime soon,” said Mr. Gruszka.
When a tree branch is ripped, the wound leaves the tree open to disease, rot and insects. The storm ripped many large branches close to the collars they form with a main trunk. A good pruning just off that junction will allow that branch to heal. Good pruning is crucial to tree health and should start early, but budgetary restrictions and the number of trees that need pruning has left skimpy municipal crews playing catch-up.
On Tuesday, 65 public works employees from the city, the county and surrounding boroughs attended a pruning workshop in Schenley Park. Damaged trees served the demonstration, and the demonstration served the damaged trees. Mr. Gruszka, who conducted the workshop, said it was a review for some people, introduction for others. “We sustained a lot of tree damage and knew crews would be getting out to do finer pruning work,” he said. “We wanted to take the opportunity to review proper techniques, to talk about plant physiology and how pruning impacts the health of trees.”
On the heels of the workshop, a city crew Wednesday pruned damage on Reynolds Street in Frick Park “doing exactly what we discussed,” Mr. Gruszka said. Those trees suffered damage, “but we didn’t lose any.” Allegheny Commons has more than 1,000 trees representing 100 species. “We are extremely grateful to these generous companies,” said Alida Baker, project director for the Allegheny Commons Initiative, a park restoration effort. “The morning after the storm, the park was littered with broken limbs, splintered branches and wounded trunks. I knew our tree care budget, already stretched thin, would never cover it all.”
While a small crew from Keelen Brothers was feeding limbs into a chipper, Mr. Keefer said some of his guys declined to volunteer. “They didn’t get it,” he said. “These guys do. I’ll probably tip ’em, but I won’t tell ’em until tomorrow.”
Related Resources:
Effort to save trees takes root
Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest