By Laura Christman
Redding, CA (February 2, 2008)- Trees do amazing things– purify air, provide shade and add beauty to our lives. One thing they do not do, however, is speak up for themselves. Too bad. If trees were willing to take matters into their own branches, like the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter books, it could be to their benefit. Show some attitude. If someone tries to cut your limbs down to stubs, whack the chain saw right out of his hands. If a gardener attempts to plant you in a location where you don’t stand a chance, give a quick whip.
But, alas, trees are passive. They need others to look out for them. A group forming in the Redding area aims to do just that. Arborist Rico Montenegro (former horticulturist at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding and head of the arboretum at Cal State Fullerton prior to that), is putting together a tree advocacy group.
He’s met with representatives of agencies, organizations and others with a stake in trees (so to speak) twice in recent months. The idea is to boost awareness of the value of trees and provide information about selecting, planting and caring for them. That might mean handouts, classes and planting days.
As a consulting arborist, Montenegro sees a lot of mistakes: Trees planted in cramped spaces, overwatered trees, parched trees, hacked-and-slashed trees. When a tree is in the wrong location, watered incorrectly, staked too tightly or pruned miserably, it suffers. And a suffering tree is a magnet for disease and pests. Montenegro says the tree group– which does not yet have a name– can spread the word about treating trees better and purchasing the right trees in the first place.
It’s not a unique concept. Tree groups are sprouting up all over. California Releaf, a nonprofit organization that provides support to community tree groups, lists 92 groups on its Web site. Montenegro has been working with California Releaf and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to establish the nonprofit tree group here.
John Melvin, regional urban forester with Cal Fire’s urban forestry program in Davis, said trees in a city reduce storm runoff, save electricity by shading homes and businesses and make the air cleaner (they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen). “A big part of these nonprofit groups is pushing trees as part of the infrastructure of the city,” Melvin said. “… I guess it’s putting the green infrastructure on par with the gray infrastructure in a city. Both are important to people.“
In metropolitan areas, the urban forest is mostly ornamental trees. In the Redding area, the urban forest includes ornamental trees planted near homes and businesses, as well as native oaks and pines growing in undeveloped places.
Lots of native trees in the north state have been lost to construction of homes, stores and roads. Scraping parcels clear of oaks certainly has kicked up dust in recent years. Montenegro acknowledged that “there are a lot of angry people in the community” concerned about the loss of native trees.
But the tree group is not going there. It is not an anti-growth, anti-development group. “You can’t tell the community not to grow,” Montenegro said. The goal is education, which could encompass teaching about how trenching and construction equipment hurt tree roots. Or about how native oaks in a yard need to be isolated from lawns and other highly irrigated plants to prevent root rot. “The intent is to be positive. To provide information and education,” Montenegro said.
If the group succeeds in getting more people to place a higher value on trees, then the way the community grows might be shaped by concern for trees. It could happen. It’s definitely more realistic that sitting around waiting for trees to correct their misfortunes by turning all Harry Potter-ish.