I get very discouraged every year when the village’s OP/FYI newsletter arrives in January to remind us of the winter pruning of our parkway trees.
My personal efforts to have the program reassessed seem to have failed. I challenged the forestry superintendent about the work on my block in 2011 and again in 2015, also writing a letter to the editor. The unnecessary pruning happened again at my house a year ago, Jan. 15, 2019. The irreversible damage was done in minutes while I was away for a short time.
I once more wrote a letter to the editor, this time sending it and backup documents and photographs to the forestry division and the village trustees. To make matters worse, the Forestry Division announced that the pruning cycle would take place every three years instead of every four. I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the village to better understand the nature and cost of the pruning program.
It is not a pretty picture. In 2018 we paid almost $200,000 just for the pruning program. (Cutting down trees and stump removal are additional costs, as are tree purchasing and planting.) The pruning expense happens in just four months, January through April. Remember that this money is going to an outside contractor, which comes to $12,500 per week or $2,500 per day. Remember also that this amount does not include the salaries of the village’s forestry personnel.
Another major issue is supervision. Forestry no longer has its own citizen commission to guide and monitor its superintendent. Rather, forestry is now folded into the Community Design Commission, which is supposed to have at least two members who are arborists. I could find only one listed, and he did not respond to my inquiries.
The outside contractor supplies a supervisor for each work crew. When I tracked the guy down last year, he was in his car on his cellphone, while the workers acted on their own. He claimed they knew what to do because they had done it before. So these are non-professionals making judgement calls about sidewalk and street safety, property protection, and tree health. I can assure you that they are not considering the impact of their work on the benefits that your parkway trees afford you as a resident. On their own, most trees do not “need” to be pruned.
Oak Park has over 18,000 parkway trees, which means that this year’s target area has about 6,000 trees. In a 16-week period, that means evaluating 375 trees per week, or 75 trees per day. The contract stipulates that the workers prune at least 300 trees per week. I think it’s fair to assume that they don’t touch every available tree, but you can see how a small team of guys with pole saws and chair saws would be tempted to chop away to keep up the appearance of a professionally-determined form of pruning. To make matters worse, they also tend to cut off established branches at the trunk rather than from the tips, leaving the tree permanently damaged. Look around your neighborhood for evidence of their earlier work.
What can we do? This year’s target area is between Madison Street and Chicago Avenue and between Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue. First, you and the neighbors on your block can call the forestry superintendent at 708-358-5700 (public works) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to report that your parkway trees are just fine. Second, you can be alert for the no-parking signs that will appear, followed by a fleet of trucks with chippers and trucks with aerial lifts. If you can find the supervisor, ask for the plan for your block and challenge it if necessary.
Try talking with the workers. Some impromptu filming might be appropriate. You can always alert the village manager and the trustees.
We live in an “urban arboretum” that every year is invaded by a portable sawmill. It’s time for that to stop.
Bob Trezevant is a longtime resident of Oak Park.