Saturday, December 12, 2009

MoCo's Street Tree Budget Gets AXED

Citizens and tree lovers all over Montgomery County are up in arms about a budget cut which was pushed through very quietly right around Thanksgiving. The county’s street tree planting program, which is run by the Department of Transportation, has had its entire planting budget zeroed, removed, AXED.

The DOT’s street tree office performs an important role in the county. When trees along the right-of-ways or ROWs in the county have to be cut down due to disease or damage, the DOT replaces them. According to the county's own website, the office plants about 1800 trees a year. Residents can also request a tree for the ROW in front of their home and if the ROW can safely have one, the office will plant one for free using trees which are grown in municipal nurseries.

This is especially important because residents can’t legally plant anything higher than 18 inches in these spaces. But the DOT *can* plant there, and can do so in a way that is safe and will avoid future conflicts with wires, etc. Their skilled and highly trained arborists oversee both the removal of the declining trees and the replanting of new ones. And sadly, many of the oldest street trees in the county’s ROWs are dying and will need to be replaced at a rapid rate if we are to maintain any kind of street tree canopy in the future.

The tree planting program has been popular, despite being anemically funded for several years. $247,000 is a small amount of money relative to the rest of the Montgomery County budget. In return for this small investment, the trees grow and perform many ecosystem services which are extremely valuable. These include:

-water filtration
-pollution reduction
-providing shade which can often reduce energy use for homeowners
-cooling the air by evapotranspiration
-providing habitat for many kinds of wildlife.

Mature trees can also increase the dollar value of homes; homes with well tended trees tend to attract more interest and can sometimes command a higher price than those on streets which lack leafy canopies.

Many who have voiced anger over the budget cut have expressed dismay at the disconnect between tree planting goals, such as the Million Trees for Maryland sponsored through out the state by Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, and the elimination of the street tree funding in Montgomery County.

Especially appalling is the way that the budget cut was kind of slipped through very quietly during the holidays. According to some sources, the office of County Executive Ike Leggett did not even seek the advice of its own Forest Conservation Advisory Committee before making the decision, and the group was not even alerted before the council vote took place on December 1.

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