Managing an urban forest isn’t rocket science, but it does utilize some of the interdisciplinary trappings of horticulture and botany. It also requires attention to managerial detail and the needs of the environment and public safety. New Haven has all of this covered, as evidenced by their city webpage.
After Jane’s near-death encounter with a falling tree on Leetes Island Road (pictures are published in other posts on this website), I attempted to determine the status of Branford’s forest management, particularly along Branford’s roads. The conclusion isn’t favorable – there is no management process, no plan, no record keeping and no verifiable state certified tree warden. Branford roadside tree management isn’t even an afterthought. Jane’s accident didn’t even make it into the September 6, 2022 records of public works as verified by a FOIA request.
To answer the question of why this issue is important beyond one random near-fatality involving a roadside tree, there are multiple examples. In 2018 the state reached a multi-million-dollar settlement with the estate of a Pelham, N.Y. couple who died in a 2007 incident on the Merritt Parkway in which a 70-foot tree fell on their vehicle, from which their two children escaped. The family through their attorney David Hill of Glastonbury argued that the state knew or should have known about rotting and other defects of the tree and cut the tree down. The DEEP has conducted an extensive hazardous tree removal program in state parks due to three tree related deaths, several injuries and resulting lawsuits. A month after Jane’s, accident, a woman was killed in Harrison, NY on I-95. If you Google tree related deaths in Connecticut, you will be shocked. In 2019 the CT DOT (and more recently in 2023 ) can’t keep up with roadside tree maintenance. Fairfield had two tree-related fatalities in 2022. Recently, a baby girl was killed in Massachusetts when a tree fell on their car while traveling with a Connecticut woman.
Finally, in response to municipal roadside tree maintenance costs, the state legislature is considering a DEEP fund to help towns. In response to calls for input by the state legislature, New Haven’s tree warden responded thusly:
CITY OF NEW HAVEN, TREE WARDEN, ANNIE MIXSELL supports this legislation as, “New Haven’s recent street tree inventory of just half our neighborhoods identified 1,987 street trees in poor, very poor, or standing dead condition. additional resources such as those that may be provided from this bill would allow New Haven to hire outside contractors to expedite tree removals and address the risks these trees pose”. “The funds provided by this bill would supplement municipal urban forest management plans through risk mitigation and addressing public health and safety”
How many Branford street trees are in poor, very poor, or standing dead condition? How many are on private property? One only need drive Leetes Island Road south of I-95 to be doubly concerned.
Of significant importance, but often overlooked, is access to Branford emergency evacuation shelters in the aftermath of coastal tropical storms.
Have the trees leading to these shelters been mapped and categorized?
Several Connecticut towns have STI maps (Hartford and Wallingford), but New Haven’s (just click on a tree in this link to see its data) is the most relevant. Other cities have similar products, such as Queens NYC.
There are a few steps to improving the safety of travelers along Branford streets while also improving Branford’s forest canopy.
There are federal funds now available. State funds may be available.
Here’s what New Haven did:
Noted above that the University of Vermont has expertise in tree-mapping and their analysis uses the local GIS database. “Notable projects have included more than 75 tree-canopy assessments in the United States and Canada, high-resolution land-cover mapping at state and regional scales, automated mapping of wetlands and other ecological features, and UAS missions for flooding events, stream-channel mapping, train derailments, and road-construction monitoring.”
Recent 5-12-23 edit: A publication by SCRCOG outlines the benefits of tree canopy assessments, which use the University of Vermont SAL analysis.
Recent 5-13-23 edit: What’s new, and a surprise to many, is in recognition of storm-induced falling-tree risks, Branford, in a recent February, 10, 2023 annex submission to the South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG), revealed the following: “Tree related hazards are among the Town’s most significant recurring and widespread issues, particularly the downing of electric and communication lines during hurricane/tropical storm and severe winter storm events.”
In this era of climate change’s stress (wind and disease) on urban forests, Branford must elevate the professional level of town personnel devoted to urban forest management.