By Michael Howell
The City of Hamilton’s Urban Forest Management Plan is nearing completion. ISA-certified Master Arborist Sylvia McNeill has been conducting a survey of the city’s trees and circulating a survey to get public input on the plan. She expects to have a complete management plan ready to submit to City officials by the end of the month.
Last week McNeill escorted a few dozen members of the public on a tree walk in which numerous individual trees were examined and discussed. Hamilton has a lot of trees, somewhere around 1,600. Norway Maples are the most common trees gracing the streets of the city, but the variety of trees in town is also impressive, ranging from small but beautiful flowering Rose Acacia, to giant White Pine and Marcus Daly Poplar. On a short walk from American Legion Park to Kiwanis/River Park she was able to point out a Ginkgo tree, sometimes called a “living fossil,” as evidence of its presence around the globe dates back 270 million years and a long-living Bristlecone Pine. The oldest bristlecone pine individual is more than 5,000 years old and is the oldest known individual of any species. Other species spotted included ash, linden, oak, horse chestnut, box elder, Chinese maple, hackberry and many more.
McNeill knew each one by its scientific name as well, of course, and she also knew a lot about them. Her aim is to help people understand trees better and be better able to care for them. Some trees like company. Others like to stand alone. Some do well lining city streets, while others are problematic.
McNeill said the dominant tree in town, the Norway Maple, was a good tree for lining streets and sidewalks, producing a deep shade, but she cautioned that it was important to maintain diversity as certain tree species can be wiped out by invasive insects or disease and a town planted with a single species could end up with no shade at all.
Although some of the trees in town are not the right species for urban areas and should not be planted, she does not generally advocate removing them.
“We need to preserve all the old trees that we can,” she said. She said a large diameter old tree can provide 70 times the benefit as a small three-inch tree so a lot of benefit is lost and takes a long time to replace when an old tree is cut down.
McNeill has seen a lot of trees in her thirty years as an arborist in the Bitterroot. She hopes to put together a plan that is affordable and a replanting strategy that will help maintain a healthy diversity for years to come.
By Michael Howell