The trees of Talent count
The trees of Talent are being measured and counted in a volunteer-led survey with a higher purpose — to thoughtfully create a new urban forest for the recovering city.
Talent Urban Forestry Committee will survey every public tree in the city of Talent within one year, said Mike Oxendine the committee’s chair.
“So far we have 700 street trees in the inventory, and that’s just a drop in the bucket,” Oxendine said.
The ambitious plan to count every public tree in town is driven by the time frame for a grant that is closing. The Oregon Department of Forestry’s Urban Forestry Division was awarded U.S. Forest Service funds to provide interested cities in Oregon with access to the software Tree Plotter, a program designed to create inventories of urban forests.
This survey, Oxendine said, will give Talent the data it needs to create a strategic plan for a new urban canopy — one designed to be fairly distributed, resilient to fire and pests and prepared for hot, dry summers ahead.
“There’s lots of studies that show kids do better in school if they have green space and trees outside their windows. People in hospitals that have a natural view heal faster than those who don’t. They’ve even done studies in prisons that show recidivism rates are lower for those who have access to windows that look out over natural areas,” he said.
“It lowers crime; it increases economic activity; trees are probably the No. 1 asset a city can provide for cost-benefit analysis.”
The master plan for Talent’s future urban canopy will be careful to distribute trees throughout low-income neighborhoods, he said, both those that survived the fire and those building back.
For a city building back on so many blackened and empty lots, fire resilience is vital. The urban forest master plan will consider the data available, but fire-wise urban landscaping is riddled with misconceptions and blind spots, Oxendine said.
Think about the last time you went camping and tried to add a pliable, still green branch to the campfire. Did it burn? Trees don’t like to burn, he said.
“All trees are resistant to fire,” he said, “It (Almeda) was a wind-driven fire. It was the buildings burning the trees, not the other way around.”
Even if you went through Talent immediately after the fire, you’d see so much of the fire’s best fuel — wood in the form of trees — was still standing. When the trees were cut down, they were charred on the outside and, in many cases, still alive and green on the inside.
Urban fires of this kind are something new. Paradise, California, was one of the first examples, with Almeda, Obenchain and many others following close behind. Data about how urban landscaping burns, for the most part, doesn’t exist yet.
“We’re mostly relying on wildland statistics. We’ve been fighting these wildfires in natural areas for 100 years,” he said. “But there’s no lawn out in the forest; there’s no sprinkler system.”
Talent’s urban forest will need to withstand not only fire, but pests and disease. The now infamous emerald ash borer was found in Oregon for the first time this year, Oxendine said.
The fluorescent green beetle is native to Asia and likely was brought to North America as accidental cargo in packing materials. It was discovered in 2002 and has already destroyed tens of millions of ash trees in 30 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.
The rule of thumb to prevent this kind of destruction is the 5-10-20 rule, Oxendine explained. Plant no more than 5% of one species, no more than 10% of one genus and no more than 20% of the same family. This way, something like the emerald ash borer can only eat through a percentage of the forest.
But protecting against some species is only half the equation. Talent’s trees also should offer protection to native species.
“The monarch butterfly was put on the endangered species list this year. We are on the monarch highway,” he said. “We need to make sure the urban forest provides what our native animals and insects need to survive.”
Fair distribution, fire resistance, fending off pests and inviting monarch butterflies — all of this is worth doing only if the trees can survive the dire projections of climate scientists, Oxendine said. They’ve been peeking into the future by looking down a few lines of latitude, into the urban forests near Redding, California.
“What survives in a slightly hotter and drier climate?” he said. “That’s what’s coming; that’s what Southern Oregon is going to look like.”
Trees also can combat these heat waves — they counteract asphalt’s ability to absorb sunlight and raise temperatures. They lower heating costs, create oxygen, improve water retention after rain — and then help create rain.
“Almost all clouds on Earth are created by two things: rainforests and trees, and evapo-transpiration off the ocean’s surface. Those are the only things on the planet that produce the clouds that produce the rain,” he said.
Before the city of Talent can achieve any of these other arboreal goals, the survey has to be finished. If you don’t know what you have, you can’t do anything, Oxendine explained. But the survey is slow-going. All the volunteers involved have full-time jobs.
Every tree counted has to be measured three ways — first the diameter at breast height. Then volunteers look up and estimate the height and sprawl of its branches, called its crown spread. The crown spread recorded along its y and x axis, he said, helps to determine how much shade each tree provides.
Volunteers will have to visit every public tree this way before the grant runs out, and every public tree includes those in parks, on city property — and private-property trees if they shade the street because those count as a public benefit, too.
Oxendine is optimistic that if they run out of time, the city of Talent will spring for the software — this, too, is important. He hopes residents will support his band of volunteers as they continue their topiary reconnaissance through the streets of Talent.
“If you see somebody walking around your neighborhood with a clipboard, they are inventorying trees; no need to get alarmed,” he said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.