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Out On A Limb Ice Storm Damage Puts Many City Trees In Jeopardy

Thu., Nov. 28, 1996

The duck pond at Manito Park will never be the same.

The big, aging willows that sweep down to the water were ravaged by last week’s ice storm.

One tree toppled from the pond island into the water. Others lost so many limbs from the weight of the ice that their graceful shapes are now gone.

“Spokane is not going to look the same for a long time,” said Tonie Fitzgerald, an agent with the Spokane County Cooperative Extension office.

Across the South Side, thousands of trees were damaged, many so badly they must be removed, officials said.

Tree experts say homeowners don’t need to be in a rush to prune or remove trees unless they are so dangerously broken that more branches might fall.

Minor damage can be cleaned up by pruning smaller broken branches back to the next offshooting branch or to the trunk.

In the case of large broken branches or severe damage to the tree trunk, professional help should be sought.

Arborists said badly damaged trees can be saved with knowledgable help.

Homeowners should hire a professional arborist, especially one certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, parks officials said.

Untrained workers with chain saws will probably roam the city in coming months seeking business, but they should be avoided, Fitzgerald said.

“Surgical precision (in pruning) determines whether a tree will heal over,” she said.

Rich Baker, a certified arborist, said, “The decision to remove a tree should be based on a competent opinion.”

Trees should not be topped, a practice that involves cutting off all the long branches. Topped trees are susceptible to rotting and insects and will become more dangerous when they regrow.

Taylor Bressler, park maintenance manager, said homeowners can wait until spring to see how much life is left in badly damaged trees before deciding on pruning or removal.

Cleaning snow and ice from bent trees and shrubs is a good idea, if possible.

In the past two years, city parks officials have been promoting a new urban forestry program to protect the health of the city’s trees.

A recent survey and inventory of 50,000 street trees in Spokane found that many of them to be in poor condition from age and improper care.

The South Side had 750 street trees in poor condition or completely dead. That number is sure to have swelled greatly since the storm, parks officials said.

However, because so many trees will be taken out and replaced, it gives the city the chance to bring youthful vigor and age diversity to its urban forest, Bressler said.

City officials want the City Council to adopt an ordinance to help them regulate street tree plantings to ensure that the proper types of trees are used.

Bressler said nature has a way of clearing out weak and old trees, as last week’s ice storm dramatically demonstrated.

Ponderosa pines, which more easily adapt to severe weather, fared better than Douglas firs that lost their boughs.

Deciduous trees that grow fast or have soft wood were damaged the most. These include cottonwoods, black locusts, sycamores, willows and silver maples.

Oak trees held up well because they are strong but also bend.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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