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Preservation group advocating for old trees

Tue., June 16, 2009, 2:47 p.m.

City officials say they want trees that don’t damage pavement, utility lines

Spokane Preservation Advocates, an organization that has fought to save historic buildings over the years, is branching out this month to preserve mature street trees.

Members are concerned that Spokane city policies are encouraging smaller trees along city streets.

City officials said they are simply trying to solve problems created by putting the large trees in small spaces; they are not forgoing large trees. They want healthy trees that don’t damage pavement or send branches into utility lines. The city requires permits for new trees or major pruning in city rights of way.

While small trees are useful, said urban forestry expert Professor Michael Kuhns, of Utah State University, “They are not what a lot of people want in an urban forest.”

SPA has invited Kuhns to give a free public talk on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St.

In an interview, Kuhns said that while people love arching canopies, mature trees should not be planted in parking strips that are only three or four feet wide.

“It’s hard to have a viable safe tree in a space that small,” he said. A lawn strip along the street needs to be at least six to eight feet wide for a large tree, he said.

The debate over trees comes as neighborhood advocates have fought with City Hall in recent years over tree removals during reconstruction of Bernard and other streets.

The SPA’s Suzanne Schreiner said that her organization’s mission calls for preserving landscapes and neighborhood character, in addition to fighting for historic structures.

SPA members are concerned about the long-term effect of the city encouraging smaller trees. “How would that change the landscape of Spokane?” she asked.

Kuhns said large trees can increase the value of a home; reduce air conditioning costs; slow heavy storm runoff; shade asphalt decay; ease wind speeds; cool the outdoor environment; and increase habitat for wildlife.

His favorite large tree is bur oak.

Spokane city officials are currently seeking a new urban forestry position at City Hall to maintain the city’s stock of trees.

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