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Tree trimmers save power lines, forget streets

By Corene Brisendine

Tree trimming is good. Trimming too far, not so much.

Just a quick glance at some older trees in downtown Manhattan that essentially have been in cut in half might suggest that there’s been some odd hacking and slashing.

Several trees have been cut totally clean on the sidewalk side of city streets, with the rest of the tree left to hang across the roadway.

It looks scary to passing pedestrians and motorists and, it turns out, the one-sided pruning isn’t even healthy for the tree.

J. David Mattox, forestry supervisor for Manhattan, said when trees are trimmed back too much, it can actually weaken them.

Asplundh Tree Expert Service has been trimming trees in the downtown area over the last few weeks for Westar Energy.

They’re trimming trees that have grown too close to power lines as part of Westar’s Relibilitree program.

Mattox said he spoke with representatives from Westar and Asplundh several times about how the trees are being trimmed. “I told them on numerous occasions to trim the trees more artfully,” he said. “But they have their requirements, too.”

He said Asplundh must trim trees back far enough from the power lines that the trees will not grow back into them within four years, which is about 20 feet of clearance.

As a result, some trees are over-pruned.

For instance, several trees along Fifth Street between Osage Street and Bluemont Avenue look utterly bizarre.

Mattox said Asplundh should have contacted him prior to trimming at least four trees along Fifth because the end result is that several trees will need to be removed and others planted.

“If their standards require leaving this, then that’s a removal option,” he said. “Those are big wounds and they may never close. And if they don’t close, they will decay. And you’ve got a tree that’s set up to have problems down the road.”

Mattox said he inspects the trees after Asplundh trims, and if a tree should have been removed rather than trimmed, he contacts them to come back and remove the trees.

“They really need to be evaluated on a case by case basis,” he said.

If Asplundh cannot remove the tree, then city crews remove it.

After the trees are gone, Mattox has several varieties of trees available to plant in any downed tree’s place.

A silver maple in the middle of the block on Fifth Street between Osage and Fremont will need to be removed.

Mattox said he cannot plant the same tree in its place because it grows too tall, but he has shorter trees available. He said most available trees are ornamental: redbuds, crabapples and Japanese species.

Mattox said the only way to keep trees from growing into the lines is to prune them. But when a tree grows too tall, the only solution is to remove it and plant a more appropriate species.

“A lot of times it’s startling to people,” he said. “At times, it is even startling to me.”

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