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HELENA — The way arborist Jim Flott explains it, trees have all kinds of value for a community — both monetary and otherwise.

Flott said trees contribute to an area's municipal health, retail success and natural resources, in addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and protecting water.

"They do all these things at once," he said. "And very easily."

That's why Flott and city Parks and Recreation Director Amy Teegarden stress that trees are a part of Helena's infrastructure that shouldn't be ignored. Just as a city needs a plan for managing its roads or buildings, it should have a plan for trees, Flott said.

For that reason, the parks department is in the process of developing an urban forestry management plan aimed at making tree maintenance within the city more organized and proactive. It deals with trees in neighborhoods, on boulevards or scattered around parks, but does not address those in the city's open space land.

The tree management project started over the summer, when three Carroll College students took inventory of a large sampling of the city's roughly 10,000 trees, noting their measurements and any distinguishing features. That data will be used as a base from which the department will create a plan to better organize its caretaking efforts for the trees.

For example, the inventory data helped identify places where trees need to be removed for safety reasons. It is particularly important to deal with such issues in well-traveled areas, like busy intersections or the space downtown that is used for the farmers market, Flott said.

The city could also work to diversify its "plant palette," Flott said. The most common trees in the area are green ash, but anything from oaks to tulip trees could be added, he said.

Flott, who is based in Spokane, visited Helena earlier this fall as a consultant, looking at trees in the city. The parks department used his GIS-based software, TreeWorks, when mapping and entering data during the tree inventory.

The way things operate now, the city has very limited resources when it comes to dealing with trees, funding at the minimal level and without much of a direction, Teegarden said. An annual $10 assessment on property owners in Helena generates between $170,000 and $180,000 a year and is used in part to hire two arborists for eight months of the year. Those employees are equipped with one tree-trimmer and one wood chipper.

In addition to completing the plan and taking the matter before the Helena City Commission this winter, the department would like to start working to establish a tree-management district that would encompass all the properties within city limits. The property owners would pay annual fees to be used for tree-related matters.

The city needs to double the amount of money it has now for such efforts, Teegarden said, looking at a budget that could amount to more than $400,000 for tree maintenance. Among other measures, she would like to eventually hire an urban forester. Putting a written plan in place also better equips the city to apply for grant money from entities like the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Teegarden said.

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She is hoping the department will be able to explain to the public the value of having such a plan, as well as get a sense of what the community thinks about tree management in the city. An open meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in room 426 of the City-County Building on 316 N. Park Ave. for those who want more information or have something to say. The city has also posted an online survey for additional feedback, available at www.surveymonkey.com/s/9G85CNJ. More than 100 people have completed the questionnaire so far, Flott said. City employees were given a variant of the survey as well.

Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or allison.maier@helenair.com Copyright 2010 helenair.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in News, Govt-and-politics on Saturday, November 6, 2010 12:15 am Updated: 12:23 am. | Tags:

 

 

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