Forestry plan will nurture town

Residents’ input sought on planting and care

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

As the weather warms each spring, buds emerge on trees throughout Williston. The town is trying to ensure those trees continue their annual renewal for years to come.

A committee is currently formulating a community forestry plan. The plan will outline a strategy for nurturing the town’s more than 1,300 public trees.

Those trees are in good shape overall, according to an inventory done over the past two summers. But there are some problems, said Carrie Deegan, Williston’s environmental planner.

The inventory found too many trees of the same species in some neighborhoods, making them vulnerable to disease, Deegan said. Some trees need better pruning and maintenance.

Meanwhile, the town is responsible for the many young trees in new subdivisions that have sprouted in Williston in recent years.

So, with the help of a $4,000 state grant, a committee was formed to write a forestry plan. Williston planners are also in the process of rewriting the town’s zoning ordinance, which Deegan said would address the issue by guiding tree types and placements in new developments.

Public trees are located in parks and cemeteries as well as on schools grounds and at town offices. They also include trees in the public right of way.

The right of way varies according to the street or road. But starting from the centerline, it typically extends 30 to 35 feet toward each side of a road.

Trees in the right of way, which can include the grassy island sandwiched between curb and sidewalk often found in subdivisions, are owned by the landowner. But under state law, landowners cannot cut down or even prune those trees without the town’s permission.

“A tree’s status depends on where it is located,” wrote attorney Paul Gillies in a briefing for the Vermont Institute for Government. “If it’s in the public right-of-way … it isn’t yours to cut or split into cordwood without permission of a public official.”

Residents rarely cut down trees in the right of way or on municipal land without the town’s permission, Deegan said. But improper maintenance isn’t unusual.

The problems include “mulch volcanoes” where mulch is piled up around the base of a tree, causing improper root growth and trunk rot; and incorrect pruning, which can cause weak forks and branches.

The tree inventory found other problems. Heritage Meadows, for example, had only one type of tree in the right of way. If insects or disease strike, all those trees could be wiped out.

In Brennan Woods, many of the trees have been improperly planted and maintained, the inventory found. That neighborhood also has limited tree diversity.

About 65 Vermont communities have forestry plans, said Danielle Fitzko, who coordinates the state’s urban and community forestry program. She said the key to making plans work is having consistent funding through the municipal budget and oversight by paid town staff.

Williston’s relatively rapid growth means that a forestry plan will be especially helpful in catching up on tree maintenance and correcting problems, Fitzko said.

Though the town is ultimately responsible for maintenance of trees on public land and in the right of way, Deegan emphasized that she wants to work with homeowners associations and other groups to encourage proper care.

The committee is about halfway to completing a draft of the forestry plan. Deegan expects the plan will be finished in June, after which a public hearing will be held.

In the meantime, she welcomes comments from residents on where they would like to see new trees planted and what subjects should be covered during future workshops. The town is also looking for volunteers to work with trees.

“We’re really at the point where we really could use some public input about where people want to see trees planted in the future,” Deegan said.