Walla Walla City Trees

Large hardwood trees line the road along South Third Avenue in Walla Walla on Aug. 9, 2021.

The draft Walla Walla Urban Forestry Management Plan, which provides guidelines on how the city’s trees should be maintained and added to, has passed a last hurdle before final consideration by the City Council.

After approval Monday, Oct. 4, by the city’s Parks and Recreation Urban Forest Advisory Board, the plan is tentatively scheduled to come before the City Council on Oct. 13.

The plan had been sent back to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department by the advisory board during an earlier meeting after board members asked for language to be included around public education and involvement.

This is vital, because the city only controls about 11% of the total acreage within city limits, within city rights-of-way and park land, said Andy Coleman, director of the parks and recreation department. In order to build out an urban forest throughout the entire city, Coleman said in an interview, private landowners need to be involved in any effort to add trees and maintain what is already there.

The amended plan emphasizes the importance of educational outreach by the city to teach residents how to properly select, plant and maintain trees, as well to communicate the general benefits that trees provide to the city and its peoples.

The plan includes recommended budgets for both planting and maintenance, including more than $315,000 over five years to plant 222 new trees and replace 75 removed trees every year, and over $793,000 per year for routine pruning and maintenance. In addition, around $1,055,000 would be allocated for priority removal and pruning of trees that were found to be dead or in critical need of maintenance.

The plan has faced some criticism from the Tree People of Walla Walla, a small group of community activists that have called for more funding for planting and decried what they have called an arbitrary three- or five-year pruning schedule. Pruning can damage older trees and shouldn’t be done on an “arbitrary” basis, said activist Gayle Bodorff in an August interview.

While the plan does call for regular pruning, Coleman stated that pruning would only occur when the health of the tree or legal liabilities require it.

“It’s not a defined schedule to say, hey, every six years, we’re cutting on these trees,” Coleman said. “If it doesn’t need maintenance, we won’t prune. We absolutely concur, we should trim trees as little as possible, and if you perform the maintenance when they’re young, it eliminates the need to do pruning when they’re mature.”

Where early maintenance wasn’t conducted, the city sometimes legally has no choice but to prune or remove a tree that isn’t meeting legal limits, for example if the boughs are encroaching on sidewalks or roadways, Coleman said.

“You don’t face these challenges out at the natural forest, but the urban forest needs to be treated differently,” Coleman said. “We need to maintain the forest so that we’re minimizing the potential safety issues that exist out there.”

Coleman argued that the forest management plan does not significantly differ from the 2003 plan still on the books.

Data collected by consulting firm ArborPro suggests that the city’s urban forest is more plentiful, more diverse and healthier than it was in 2003, when the last forestry management plan was approved. More than 2,600 trees and nearly 60 species have been added to the urban forest in the last two decades, according to that data, while there are now nearly 90 percent fewer dead or very unhealthy trees in the city.

What changes have been made to the old plan include significant increases to the number of trees being planted, Coleman said. The new plan calls for three times as many trees to be planted as are currently being added each year, and over six times as many as were recommended by the 2003 management plan, he said.

Coleman also pointed to praise from Ben Thompson, urban forestry program manager with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

“We value Walla Walla’s efforts to steward their urban forest because they allow us to show other eastern Washington communities what is possible,” Thompson wrote. “We feel this new inventory and management plan further strengthens the city’s commitment to its urban forest.”

Ultimately, Coleman said he believes the new plan will only add to the city’s urban forest.

“This will go a long way to ensure that, 100 years from now, people enjoy the improved urban forest like we’re enjoying it today,” he said.

Emry Dinman can be reached at emrydinman@wwub.com or 425-941-5829.

Reporter covering agriculture, Walla Walla city and county government, and other topics.

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