For trees' sake, stop overpruning!

Opinion: Columns

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By Bob Trezevant

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Why, after living in the village for over 40 years, do I have to repeatedly whistle-blow during parkway tree-pruning season? Because each time the lone elm in my parkway in the 900 block of Highland Avenue gets seriously and unnecessarily diminished by having harmless limbs lopped off at the trunk, as happened again on Jan. 15. There is no do-not-trim list, and complaining to the village does not prevent the process from being repeated. 

I wish Kathryn Jonas were still alive to join my protest. 

All I can do now is lament the demise of four branches that made my tree attractive and useful as a shade tree. As per American National Standards Institute guidelines for tree care, my tree is healthy, is not a threat to anyone's safety, and is not a danger to anyone's property (either my house or power lines). Nothing about it impedes vehicle or pedestrian traffic. I pay a tree service for annual treatment for it, and I pay a landscape person to keep it trimmed away from my house and the power lines. Yet one third of the tree's major branches were cut off at the trunk, not trimmed back from the tips. Two of them were about 7 inches in diameter, and the other two about 4 inches, with the corresponding lengthy foliage. 

 Why does it matter to me? I've lost a significant amount of shade for my small, two-story house. I've also lost a natural screen that distanced me from looking down a two-block-long alley and at the three-story apartment building across the street. The tree also gave me significant privacy from the view of apartment dwellers. 

 Each time this happens, the tree looks more bizarre. And I see the same process up and down my block and along our streets. It's called "lollypopping" the tree. You can see it all over Oak Park.

 I thought we were an arboretum of some sort. Yet our own village sends out a squad of chainsaw commandos (contract workers from Haney and Davis) to hack away, with seemingly no regard as to how our trees actually can enhance our dwellings. Are these people paid by number of cubic yards of chips they can generate in a day? How much is it costing us? Where is the oversight here? Damage is done that is irreparable, and the results are pathetic. 

 I'll humbly suggest a citizen advisory committee for the forestry department. Those 18,000 trees are, after all, ours. We could also set up a program for residents to adopt the tree(s) on their parkways so that any treatment would have to be mutually agreed upon. Meanwhile, I'll hope to have them put my tree out of its misery and replace it with an undamaged one that can provide the beauty, shade, and screening that has vanished.

Bob Trezevant is a longtime resident of Oak Park and a former teacher in District 97. 

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Reader Comments

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Elizabeth Titus Rexford from OakPark  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 9:26 AM

Scott Concertman is obviously an expert and made some great points. I don't know much about trees, but I do know that the village seems to totally trash the appearance of our beautiful trees. It's just so UGLY!! Thanks to Bob Trezevant for the push back and investigation into this important problem. Out-sourcing done by less-than-experts seems to have done a lot of harm. How can we effect some changes?

Scott Concertman from OPRF  

Posted: October 3rd, 2019 9:46 PM

I became an arborist, so I would never have to only rely on what others say. And now 40 years later as a public tree advocate helping to educate both community residence and municipal caretakers, I'm starting to wish I never learn anything about trees in the first place. Professionals would tell you the reason trees have to be over pruned, is because Oak Park is a big city now. The real fact is, most every tree we have planted over past 45 years. Had failed to receive structural pruning during their first most important 15 years. Like pruning already getting when they were still in the nursery. Thus, structurally distorted trees producing multiple trunks rather than slower-growing laterals must unfortunately be totally over pruned again and again throughout its short life just to mitigate safety problems. Yet low branches are most beautiful things about trees. All one needs to do is observe trees planted 60 years ago and more, which obviously have one strong main trunk and a high crown expanding like a firework in the sky. Resulting from either receiving structural pruning during formative years, or planted when age 14 instead of age 6. Receiving longer structural pruning in the nursery. Additionally today we select cultivars for fall color beauty, compared to the old days when we selected for strong apical growth dominance. Worst of all rather than pay a little extra to manage already established trees which just spent their first hundred and twenty years preparing to live out next century or more. Especially because scientists define fully maturing specimens as one's local neighborhood ecosystem. Thinking replacement with new will prevent any further problems. Unfortunately because an embarrassing 99% of new trees arrive with trunks already too deep in root ball. And because experts presently State how more trees will be lost 2 today's wowfully outdated landscape practices, then total trees killed to both EAB & DED combined. Average lifespan is now 7

Karen Barg Baldwin  

Posted: January 25th, 2019 12:18 AM

I agree. I live on a corner and the Lexington side trees have been trimmed way back for the past 3 or 4 years (in a row). The street lights now glare into our home. Meanwhile, I see other trees on my walks on north/south streets that seem to never get trimmed. It does seems random and a bit too much. Oak Park used to have beautiful tall trees that created arches over the streets AND gave us nice shade cover. Please stop over-pruning.

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