Urban Forestry team plants, prunes, and preserves to keep the city green, safe, and clean
Tony Gliot still remembers when the giant oak tree of his childhood died and had to come down.
“My earliest memory of that tree goes back to when I was three years old,” he says. “I spent my childhood playing under it and climbing in it. When that tree died it was pretty traumatic.”
It goes that way with trees, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t remember a special tree, with a canopy of leaves rustling in the breeze, or casting shade on a sweltering summer afternoon? Trees can be the backdrop to the best times of our lives – climbing in them, napping beneath them, picking and enjoying their fruit, stringing them with holiday lights.
We love trees so much that Arbor Day was born in Nebraska back in 1872. This year, Mayor Biskupski and her family commemorated the day by joining the city’s urban forestry crew, Tree Utah, and the Westpointe Community Council in planting a Giant Sequoia and 35 other trees in Westpointe Park.
Tony Gliot (pronounced Ga-liot, rhymes with “riot”) actually took that love for trees and made a livelihood. He is Salt Lake City’s Urban Forester, supervising a team of 10 full-time employees and contracting with private tree pruning companies to assist when needed. It’s a dream come true for the Illinois native, who held municipal forestry jobs in the Upper Midwest before moving to Salt Lake City with his family three years ago.
Tony traded a verdant and humid climate, where seemingly everything grows like magic, for the notoriously dry high desert of Northern Utah. It’s not that different, he says. Almost any tree that flourishes in wetter, greener regions can live well in the West, he says. And while you can certainly pick some species that are better-suited to this climate, the real key to growing a happy tree is a matter of paying close attention.
“People need to take ownership of their trees, that’s the best advice we can give them. They need water and attention,” says Julie Fratto, Forest Area Service Coordinator. Julie and fellow coordinator Cory Davis oversee tree planting and maintenance plans for the entire city, which is divided in half on an urban forestry map.
By city ordinance, Urban Forestry is responsible chiefly for keeping people and property safer by identifying and addressing tree hazards. That means branches that seriously interfere with infrastructure like streets, sidewalks and wires must go. Sometimes it means a whole tree must go. Beyond that, the foresters and arborists are responsible for the more aesthetic part of the job: Working with residents and businesses to plant and maintain trees on park strips, public parks, and green spaces throughout the city.
There are some 80,000 trees on public property in the city, and more coming all the time. This spring, 831 new trees are being planted citywide. The city’s growing focus on sustainability has meant an increase the past three years in tree inventory. In fact, since spring of 2014, the number of plantings has more than tripled. People see this service as bang for their tax dollar buck.
“We’ve been losing forest for 11 of the past 12 years, so this increased attention is really historic,” Tony says. “People are noticing.”
Every school kid hears the lesson on the benefits of trees, but it bears repeating: Trees help clean the air, filter out noise and light pollution, increase soil stability and protect watersheds, and provide crucial habitat for urban wildlife. And they do it over again every year. Trees enhance property values and when properly placed, contribute to lower energy costs.
To a person, the employees in Urban Forestry will tell you the best part of their job is instant gratification.
Nothing can be finer than driving away from planting a sapling on a park strip.
“It’s real and immediate,” says Forestry Crews Supervisor Brandon Myler. Pruning overgrown branches or even removing a dead or blighted tree has its own level of satisfaction. “Because you know that tree will be replaced by a new one, and life continues,” says Ellie Hardman, the office manager who handles customer service issues—cheers, jeers, and everything else.
“I always say trees and forestry are great because they are apolitical. But trees can be polarizing,” Tony says. The crew nods in unison. Everyone can point to that call from an angry resident whose neighbor’s tree has encroached on their property, or the one about the beloved but dying landmark tree that must be removed, in spite of every effort to save it. Whole neighborhoods can rally to these causes. It can get deeply emotional.
But the Urban Forestry team doesn’t seem to want it any other way. And why is that?
“Because tree people are good people,” Tony says. “They genuinely care.”
If you want to know more about the city’s Urban Forestry team and duties, visit here: http://www.slcgov.com/forestry