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Cleveland's gift of 1,000 trees stirs memories of a Forest City

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/24/14 @ 9:45am  |  Posted in Clean air, Home landscaping, Plants & animals

Cleveland will plant 1,000 trees in five neighborhoods starting in Central this spring and continuing in Glenville this fall, says the city’s new arborist, Jennifer Braman.

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Cleveland, with the help of Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC), won a $250,000 grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to plant “the right tree for the right site,” Braman said, referring to a utility company program started 20 years ago that encourages trees which don’t grow tall enough to get entangled in overhead power lines.

How that aligns with the goals laid out by Braman, the head of the city’s Urban Forestry division, was discussed by Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Forest City work group—mostly naturalists, arborists and planners who met this week in the Mayor’s Red Room. The 2019 group wants the city to restore a forest canopy over public land, including treelawns and vacant lots. The city has an estimated 20,000 vacant lots, Braman says.

The city’s Urban Forestry department has a target of planting 500 trees annually, but the actual number planted depends largely on the city budget, or grants.

First priority for Cleveland is a permitting process so that Urban Forestry can protect the existing 120,000 trees in the public right of way, says Braman. In her first 8 months on the job, she has witnessed sidewalk repair contractors and utility companies hack away at tree branches and roots. Some turned out to be fatal blows. Currently the city has signed 1,800 permits for sidewalk repairs.

The city also needs help educating homeowners about the “ecological services” that tall trees provide such as shade, oxygen, reducing temperatures and preventing flooding, Braman says. It is this engagement with the homeowner, who has to water the sapling, that often determines if new trees survive past the first year.

The city won the GLRI grant because trees reduce flooding and water pollution flowing from the city into Lake Erie, says Sarah Ryzner at WRLC.

They will start planting trees this May on residential streets between E. 38th and E. 70th, an area around public housing estate, The Villages of Central, which is almost devoid of treelawn trees, she adds.

Braman would like the members of the 2019 group to offer technical assistance on which trees to plant. Jim Bissel, director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Natural Areas division, shared with me afterward that trees with native ties, like a red maple variety and the black gum tree, which appears on The Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity’s 2014 Native Plants of the Year, should be up for consideration.

To narrow down sites and tree types, the city partnered with Holden Arboretum, Davey Tree and residents on a site assessment in Central. They looked at the condition of tree lawns, power lines, and occupied houses at 1,300 parcels, says Ryzner.

The city will start planting with a workshop for residents in Central on May 3. It will repeat the site selection process with a kick off in Glenville on June 7.

Braman’s 21 staffers will also work with Alan Siewert, arborist at Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who developed an urban tree site index. In a discussion of how to further the tree canopy in the city, Siewert remarked that “right of way trees are only a tiny component of an urban forest. Eighty percent of an urban forest canopy will be on privately owned land, and that’s where we’ll make the biggest impact.”

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