Power supply often trumps beauty

Even essential pruning can leave ugly scars

By The Mercury

Homeowners have something of a love-hate relationship with tree trimmers. After storms, trimmers are heroes. At other times storms, they can be villains.

After the ice storm that struck the Flint Hills five Decembers ago, those bucket trucks were the cavalry riding to the rescue.  Their work clearing trees and limbs from power lines allowed Westar Energy to restore electricity — warmth and light — for thousands of area residents. Homeowners might even have forgiven the occasional hatchet job.

Not surprisingly, those same crews, doing largely the same work for Westar, aren’t quite as welcome when they descend with chainsaws on neighborhoods on other occasions. Horror stories abound —some legitimate, others exaggerated — of mature trees stripped of the beauty and left resembling unfinished totem poles.

We’d like to think such stories can be eliminated, but that’s unlikely. What is possible, however, is eliminating homeowners’ shock at coming home to see their trees cut down or butchered without warning or explanation. Preventing that is a responsibility they, the cutters and utility companies share, as was apparent when Westar representatives told the Manhattan City Commission that crews will be moving through the city pruning branches that threaten power lines.

Certainly, homeowners could avoid distress by not planting trees in power company easements, as Mayor Loren Pepperd pointed out. They also should plant wisely even outside easements, recognizing that trees that don’t interfere with power lines today might in a few years. Property owners also would be prudent, when they see the bucket trucks in their neighborhood, to take the initiative and speak with a foreman about the work to be done.

As for utility firms and contracted pruners, their responsibilities involve giving homeowners notice and explanations about the work to be done. When possible, pruners should walk through yards with homeowners and point out which trees and branches will be cut back, why and by how much.

One tree might look like another to trimmers — just another job in another yard — but a single tree can matter dearly to a homeowner for reasons of shade and sentiment as well as property value. Pruners often won’t be able to accommodate homeowners, but given that pruners are performing surgery that in many cases will leave ugly, long-lasting scars, they should limit their cutting to that which is necessary to protect utility service.

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