Hi, Trees for Watertown members and friends:
Eversource (formerly NSTAR) is coming back to Watertown to utility-prune our street trees starting Monday, February 29. Citizen attention can really help to protect our street trees from damaging and disfiguring pruning during this utility pruning cycle.
Eversource’s official utility pruning standard specifies removal of all tree branches within 10 to 15 feet of high voltage wires. Utility pruning to Eversource’s standard results in canopy removal far in excess of recommended aboricultural guidelines for preserving street tree health.
Arboricultural guidelines recommend pruning no more than 25 percent of a young tree’s healthy canopy, less in older trees, and even less — if any — in mature trees stressed by poor soil or confined soil volume and limited moisture access. The majority of trees providing vital canopy over our urban streets fall in this category.
There is plenty of controversy about whether this draconian standard is effective at reducing total power outages — statistics show most power outages are due to aging utility infrastructure, not tree damage.
The pruning standard may even increase power outages by weakening and destabilizing nearby trees. Mature, stressed trees sicken and die as a result of excessive canopy removal. Removal of major branches can also compromise a tree’s ability to stand in a windstorm, both by sapping its health and by destabilizing the weight on its structural roots.
In Watertown, Chris Hayward asks Eversource to minimize utility pruning damage by pruning conservatively, and will give the crew some specific initial instruction. But past utility pruning outcomes in Watertown have shown that this work needs close supervision. The decision of how to cut conservatively is tree- and species-specific, and crew members often don’t have strong arboricultural training. Plus crew turnover means new members may not get Chris’s message at all. Ruinous canopy loss happens very fast with a chainsaw.
The best solution would be for Watertown to provide daily professional arboricultural supervision, but Watertown doesn’t yet make it a priority to protect public shade trees in this way, either from excessive pruning or from construction damage.
The Citizen Solution
In the absence of daily municipal oversight, citizen vigilance can make a huge difference. Major tree canopy has been saved in neighborhoods where Watertown citizens have called the Tree Warden and their town councilor immediately with a concern about utility pruning or construction damage.
If you’d like to help protect neighborhood trees during this Eversource pruning cycle, please take a look at the 2016 Spring Pruning Maps at http://www.watertown-ma.gov/Archive.aspx?ADID=3128. If streets in your neighborhood are marked in yellow on the maps, put Chris’s number near your phone so that you can call him immediately if you see pruning that concerns you. Please notify your town counselor immediately too.
Also go to Watertown’s Notify Me website at www.watertown-ma.gov/
If you have a tree in your neighborhood that you want to make sure gets the best protection possible, contact Chris Hayward now, before the pruners start down your street. He may be able to find time to give the crew specific instructions about that tree. If you can, email Chris a “before” picture of the tree showing the branches you’re concerned about.
TFW would be delighted to hear good news about this Eversource pruning cycle from citizens in impacted neighborhoods, and will also want to hear about any concerns and how they are resolved. Please let us know how it goes in your neighborhood.
Co-president, Trees for Watertown