The Forestry Crew
Public service with a heart
by Barbara Klaver
From the June, 2017 issue
I live on a street lined with old crabapple trees. Early last summer, a city forestry crew came through to remove a few dead and dying trees. The dead tree in front of our house held a nest of baby woodpeckers, so the arborists left them in peace. Months later, the crew returned to take out the tree, and a few months later still, to plant a young Purple Prince crabapple.
In the interim, my husband and sons, mother, and sister had spread the ashes of our eighteen-year-old family dog, Gretta, in the old spot, figuring the new flowering tree would make a fitting marker for our beloved hound mix.
So last fall, when I looked out my window and saw a city truck and workmen digging a fresh hole in our front yard, I rushed out to greet them.
They were digging in a different spot, about three feet from the tree they had taken, where we'd spread Gretta's ashes.
"We've started planting farther away from the street," worker Ethan Baab said, trying to soothe my concern, "because it's better for the tree: more root space, less car exhaust." While we were talking, the clam on the end of the log loader's arm opened and shut, digging deeper into the new spot. "We didn't forget you," he added affably, standing over the new hole. "City Council has put more money into our tree budget, so we can catch up with our planting."
The log loader took a young tree from the truck. "The new spot is fine by us," I spoke quickly, "except that our family dog's ashes are where the old tree had been. We thought the new tree would mark her grave eventually." I looked at Baab beseechingly. The digger placed the new tree in the new hole, and Baab waved both arms for operator Eric Wagoner to stop.
"Do you think you could possibly dig up dirt from the old spot to finish planting the
tree?" I asked. "Her ashes are not all that deep ..."
Baab thought for a moment, and signalled Wagoner, who obligingly scooped up the soil, deftly moving it to cover the roots of the new tree. Finally, the jaws brought a couple loads of tree bark mulch to finish the job. Gretta had her grave marker.
Thinking this was surprisingly sensitive and wonderful for a public works department, I wanted to learn more about these guys. This spring, Matt Warba, assistant manager of the public works unit, set up a meeting with three of the technicians I'd met last fall at the city field operations office in the Wheeler Service Center on Stone School Rd.
"People in Ann Arbor are passionate about their trees," said Warba, and tech Nick Jacobs concurred: "Ann Arbor is way more sensitive to keeping trees than other communities. There are trees saved here that other places wouldn't blink an eye to cutting down. Here it's 'let's trim it out and see what happens.'"
"There's a focus on conservation," Warba added. Baab agreed, and pointed out, "We can't replace them in our lifetime."
Working around the city, the ten members of the department talk with citizens all the time. "There are people who come out who are upset that we are trimming their tree at all, and it's our job to explain to them that we're doing this for the benefit of the tree," Jacobs said. "We're removing hazardous deadwood or limbs that are crossing [and will eventually fail], and we're pruning the tree in such a way that it's going to be healthy in its longevity."
"People will say, 'Don't touch my tree!' But it's not only safer for you and the public, it's safer for the tree itself," added Baab.
"So when that windstorm does come through," Warba pointed out, "it has strong branches that are going to be able to withstand it."
I tell them again how much I appreciated their consideration for my dog's grave last fall. "We all have dogs," shrugged Wagoner. And it's not just woodpeckers they look after. "One time we were called downtown," Baab enthused. "There was a tree with a big giant hollow, and we were taking off a branch for that reason; it wasn't safe anymore right over the sidewalk. But when we got down to the hollow--we always check those--there was a raccoon mom and her babies! So we left the rest of [the tree] because it wasn't a hazard anymore."
"A different municipality I worked for wanted me to cut down a tree with a big honey beehive in it, and a whole lot of honey," Jacobs said. "I told them I wouldn't cut it down. I got written up for it, but it was worth the write-up; Ann Arbor's much better about that kind of thing."
[Originally published in June, 2017.]
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