Trees Play Major Role in Enhancement of Downtowns

Judy Drabicki

At the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), our division of Lands and Forests is actively working on conservation easements, forest preserve management in the Adirondack and Catskill parks, state land management, and urban forestry. At DEC, we do this for more than regulatory reasons. Trees play a major role in producing the oxygen we breathe and clean carbon dioxide out of the air. A walk in the woods is scientifically proven to slow heartbeats and lower blood pressure. Trees also prevent soil erosion and sequester carbon. In addition, trees provide habitat and food for birds and other animals.

    On a much smaller scale, urban forests do the same. Urban forestry is the care and management of single trees and tree populations in urban settings.

    In terms of downtown development, tree planting is a relatively economical way to make simple and long-lasting improvements to the landscape. Last year in the city of Watertown, nearly 230 new trees were added to the landscape. The city’s planning department oversees the Tree Watertown advisory group comprised of concerned citizens, department of public works officials, and of course, DEC Region 6 Forester Glen Roberts.

    Roberts became involved with Tree Watertown after the 1998 ice storm, which decimated hundreds of trees across the city. “Glen’s value is in his professional expertise as a forester,” says Mike Lumbis, city planner. Roberts guides species selection and shares advice when trees need to be removed due to disease or damage. He has also helped train staff and volunteers in planting. “Glen makes sure our trees are off to a good start, which gives them a better chance at survival,” says Lumbis.

    Roberts estimates that Watertown and its partners have planted more than 6,000 trees throughout the city and its parks. To its credit, for nearly 20 years, the city of Watertown has been identified by the National Arbor Day Foundation as a “Tree City USA.”

    Watertown has also received an Urban and Community Forestry grant for tree inventory, allowing it to create a citywide community forest management plan. The city’s inventory will be implemented this spring.

DEC involvement doesn’t end at advice and planting. Roberts and colleague Mike Giocondo, also a DEC forester, hold pruning workshops for the city’s public works staff and other municipalities in Jefferson County. These workshops provide an overview of tree anatomy, proper pruning techniques, methods, and evaluation of trees for pruning. The main focus is on younger trees and proper training to develop good structure.

In addition, at Governor Andrew Cuomo’s direction, New York State is investing in efforts to limit the spread of invasive pests such as the emerald ash borer (EAB). Across the state, DEC foresters are combatting the effects of EAB, and in DEC’s Region 6 are working closely with Tree Watertown on EAB education and preparedness, sharing tips for early detection and management with landowners.

    An invasive pest first discovered in Michigan in 2002, EAB has destroyed millions of ash trees across in the United States. In New York, EAB was discovered in Cattaraugus County in 2009, and along the Hudson River Valley in 2010. By 2017, this pest was found in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties. New York has committed $13 million to combat the spread of invasive species that threaten our environment.

    As with so many things, DEC is more effective when we partner with others. The city of Watertown has demonstrated its commitment to—and understanding of—the value of urban forests, and DEC is pleased to be a long-term partner with the city on this and many other efforts.

Judy Drabicki is regional director, Region 6 NYSDEC, with a career that spans three decades of ensuring the natural beauty of the north country is protected and enjoyed for generations to come. She oversees a staff of more than 200 people, including engineers, biologists, permit writers, Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation officers, operations staff, and many others.