Forester for the trees

By Lowell Brown

Denton, TX (November 27, 2011)- Angie Kralik grew up climbing trees in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. She doesn’t climb trees anymore, but she’s hardly left them behind. “I attribute those years of running around in the woods to becoming a forester later,” said Kralik, Denton’s new urban forester. “That’s when I did my tree climbing, and I probably developed a big imagination out there, too.”

Today, Kralik has her mind set on preserving and increasing the number of trees in Denton. Since her hiring in July, she’s balanced everyday duties like plan reviews and site visits with big-picture goals like developing an urban forest master plan. Kralik’s work could be crucial to the city’s success as it tries to strengthen the tree code and better enforce preservation rules.

Her work could also affect the way Denton looks for decades, since the master plan would set a goal for citywide tree canopy coverage. A 2010 tree canopy survey found 19 percent of Denton covered by trees. “I know I’m enforcing preservation here, but as a forester in general, tree planting is very important,” Kralik said. “That’s one thing I’m doing in the master plan, finding out the percentage we want and how to get there by planting trees.”

Kralik replaced E.J. Cochrum, the city’s first urban forester, who left Denton in April to work for a utility company in Arizona. The city created the job in 2007 to enforce and help update the tree preservation and mitigation code, which is still under review for revisions. More than a dozen people applied to replace Cochrum, but city planning officials said they chose Kralik for her experience.

A Texan since 1989, she holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Stephen F. Austin State University and spent four years as a municipal forester in Fort Worth. Kralik spent six years as the conservation education coordinator for the Texas Forest Service in College Station before quitting last year to study at a women’s Jewish college in Jerusalem. She applied for the Denton job after returning to Texas in April. Her job includes providing public information about urban forest management, reviewing development activities for tree code compliance and investigating tree removal complaints.

Residents called for tighter tree protections in 2003 after a developer razed more than 100 oak trees to build apartments on the old Flow Memorial Hospital site near the University of North Texas. The City Council responded with a new code in October 2004, but tree advocates say it encourages mitigation over protection. Developers say they could preserve more trees if the code offered more site-design flexibility. A consulting firm released four major drafts of a revised code in 2008, but none gained traction. Kralik knows about the stop-and-start efforts and wants to overcome them.

“We want to make sure we create a code that will pass this time and, hopefully, be a good common ground,” she said. Rick Baria, a landscape designer, has worked with Kralik through the Planning and Zoning Commission’s tree code subcommittee, which recently issued a set of recommendations. “She’s displayed quite a bit of initiative,” Baria said. “I think she’s very knowledgeable. I think most everyone on the committee is quite pleased.”

Kralik speaks up during meetings more than Cochrum did and is quick to offer opinions, Baria said. She also hasn’t been shy about enforcing the code at construction sites, he said. One example stands out for Kralik as a high point on the job so far. Responding to a tip, she visited a construction site at Bell Avenue and Mulberry Street and found the developer was about to pour a concrete drive over a large pecan tree’s critical root zone. The tree had been marked for preservation, but someone removed the protective fencing, she said. Kralik ordered work stopped at the site until engineers developed new plans for the drive.

“I really like that we all came together – the developer, the engineer and the city – to do what it took to save the tree,” she said. In her work, Kralik shares a philosophy with Gifford Pinchot, a leading American forester and the first U.S. Forest Service director. Pinchot, who died in 1946, adopted the utilitarian concept of “the greatest good for the greatest number” and is credited with adding “in the long run” to the phrase.

“That [philosophy] holds true for me, especially as a public servant,” Kralik said. Along with aesthetic value, trees help cool the environment, clean the air and control storm water runoff, she said. “For some people, trees are in the way; they’re slowing progress and things like that,” she said. “For me, I see a bigger picture.”

Related Resources:
Denton Record-Chronicle- Forester for the trees