Pruned by recession: City forestry budget growing back

GRETEL DAUGHERTY/The Daily Sentinel—Ryan Dennison, a forestry worker with the city of Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department, prunes a tree along 13th Street, south of Gunnison Avenue. The department has wanted to plant 400 trees a year to replace older, diseased trees that must be cut down, but tree planting has been behind that pace. The budget for planting trees had been restored after being cut entirely for two years.

What’s the value of walking down a shaded city street on a triple-digit afternoon? How about spending the day in a park under a canopy of trees? How do you put a price tag on the cooling effects trees have on your house, or how they clean the air?

Though it’s easy to take trees for granted, the planting and maintenance of Grand Junction’s roughly 35,000 trees has been pruned back. As yet another victim of the recession, the city of Grand Junction had wanted to plant 400 trees a year. However, since 2008, the city has only planted a total of 275 trees. The city’s forestry department also has trimmed back four employees over the past five years.

“There are a lot of areas that have failing, struggling trees. They can truly be hazardous,” said Mike Vendegna, city parks superintendent. “In a reduced economy, what can we do? Add more people? It’s probably not an option.”

City trees often include ones in the medians, in city parks and along city streets. In 2009 and 2010, the city did not spend any money on planting trees, Vendegna said. In the past three years, the city has budgeted $22,000 to $24,000 a year on planting trees, a cost that also includes the purchase of flowers and shrubs.

The city is more than a year behind, or has about 300 work orders to catch up on with its tree maintenance projects. And, with so many fewer trees being planted, the city rapidly is losing its inventory as older trees that become stressed by drought or disease must be cut down.

“The trees have definitely suffered. It isn’t like it’s a drastic situation, but we need to start building it back soon,” Vendegna said of the number of city trees.

In the tree maintenance business, the goal is staying one step ahead of the curve. The city’s forestry crews have spent the past 15 years fixing shoddy pruning jobs that can be detrimental to trees. Crews also are on call at all hours of the day for lightning strikes to trees, trees downed in the streets by high winds, and once, they even pulled a large cottonwood from the Colorado River.

Putting off tree maintenance can be a tricky proposition, Vendegna said, because it’s much less expensive to trim or remove a tree than to have it crash into a home or hurt someone.

“Being reactive is not a good thing,” he said. “We need to be proactive.”

For more complete information about the best kinds of trees to plant on your property and how to care for them, visit the city’s website at Search for the tree guide in the recreation section of the Parks and Recreation page.


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