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EDITORIAL: Tree Dichotomy

Embraced by branches. Photo Virginia Lawrence.
Click on photo to enlarge.

We seem to have a love-hate relationship with our trees. Certainly we cherish Del Mar’s heavily treed environment. Our urban forest provides us with enormous benefits. Trees keep our homes shaded and cool – saving energy; they clean our air, beautify our streets and yards, and sequester carbon emissions to combat climate change; they prevent soil erosion, save water and prevent runoff pollution; they create a canopy and habitat for birds and other wildlife; and, they can provide screening and privacy from our neighbors.

Then, again, trees can sometimes be not only a nuisance but also a real danger. As we have recently seen, falling trees can cause significant property damage, and even endanger our lives. With perennial drought conditions, wild fires fueled by our trees are a constant threat. From an economic perspective, removal of dead trees due to age or infestation can be costly. The nuisance of fallen needles and leaves, and the annual heavy dusting of pollen on our cars and outdoor furniture are also something we could live without – not to mention the large pinecone missiles that bombard our decks and roofs. While trees may provide privacy buffers between homes, they can also cause neighborhood friction when their continued growth blocks precious ocean views.

In our view, the love must outweigh the hate. Trees are our valued friends – and like our human friends, they may sometimes be annoying – but we would never abandon them. Fortunately, trees can be managed to mitigate the potential dangers and annoyances that they may present. The City of Del Mar has developed an Urban Forest Management and Fire Safety Strategic Plan* informing and advising us on objectives and strategies for sustaining and protecting our treed environment. It has also prepared a Public Tree Policy Manual**, recommending its use as a reference tool for selecting, planting and maintaining trees within the City. Encouraged trees and discouraged trees, such as the non-native Eucalyptus, are listed in the manual.

Some critical lessons such as maintaining “defensible” space” between our trees and our homes, can decrease the risk of fire or fallen tree damage. Sensible watering strategies can also help keep trees such as our native Torrey Pines to their natural limited size. While over watering trees is a problem, under watering can also be a problem, since drought-stressed trees are more vulnerable to problems like bark-beetle infestations. Judicious lacing of trees can keep our trees healthy, reduce the occurrence of fallen trees, and improve the views beyond as well, but excessive or unbalanced pruning can be detrimental to the tree’s health. If a tree dies or is taken down for other reasons, there are a number of recommended species that can replace it, to maintain or improve the nature of our neighborhoods and our urban forest.

Our tree canopy is Del Mar’s signature--it differentiates us from most other communities-and is a way of signaling our green values, and like any other primary asset needs careful, active management. Our trees are a valuable community resource. If we treat them properly, they will be our friends forever.

* www.delmar.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/246
** www.delmar.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/264

 

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