There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second-best time is now.
One of many lessons learned from Hurricane Ike in 2008 was the value of our existing trees. Forty thousand of them perished from that catastrophe and seeing the empty landscape was emotionally devastating. In recovery we have learned that it’s not quick, easy, or cheap to re-establish a lost urban forest. It will be years before the thousands of new trees gain the stature of many of those we lost.
So, we value those trees that were planted five, 10, 50 years ago. In addition to adding beauty to the landscape, a mature tree can provide cooling shade (that also reduces energy costs and postpones street repairs), reduce storm flooding by absorbing water, and absorb 28 pounds of carbon dioxide each year while producing 260 pounds of oxygen — the list goes on.
A recent event in Galveston has shown that our community recognizes this value.
Planning for a new public baseball complex at Crockett Park on Galveston’s Avenue S went through a lengthy design process. Somehow after all that planning, the final design did not include survivor trees on the site. They had been installed 20 years ago by the Galveston Foundation and had flourished. Implementation of the plan as approved would have required removal of 24 live oaks and seven palms. Many of the oaks were over 10 inches in trunk diameter.
Bulldozers were not an option! But how to save them? To the rescue came a group effort that set an example of great tree stewardship. This included the City Tree Committee, the Tree Conservancy, numerous contractors and subcontractors, and city staff and leaders. Several issues had to be resolved: developing a moving plan, identifying new locations with proper irrigation available, figuring the cost, and finding funding.
Contractors developed the moving plan. This included preparation of the trees for relocation and working around existing power lines. Pruning of roots and canopy was necessary to ensure the trees’ stability once moved. New homes for many trees were available in the area around the new ball field, and the Galveston Independent School District welcomed several next door at Burnet Elementary School.
The next step was finding the money. The City of Galveston’s Industrial Development Corp. allocates 4B Sales Tax funds to eligible projects that can include parks and park facilities. The IDC was able to reallocate funds to provide for relocation of the soon-to-be-homeless trees.
Once the plan was in place the landscape contractors arranged for the proper pruning and irrigation. Three giant tree spades were brought in to ensure safe removal and replanting. The actual move was done just as Hurricane Harvey threatened. All trees made it safely through the deluge, although one floated up and had to be reset. Almost two months later all are doing well.
These trees are proof that we can learn from history. We can make a difference with dedication plus planning and coordination from people who care!