Katie Rose Levin compares the city’s aging willow oaks to long-gone music legends.
“They are kind of like the rock stars of trees,” she explained. “They grow fast and die young.”
Levin is an arborist consultant with Raleigh-based Leaf & Limb, which the city recently hired to assess and manage existing trees within city rights-of-way and create a plan to more evenly distribute tree canopy across the city.
“We know in certain pockets of the community we need to do a better job of planting trees,” said Steven Hicks, the city’s General Services sirector.
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The General Services Department is using about $45,000 in the 2016-17 budget for the tree project.
The state of Durham’s trees has been an ongoing conversation. Beyond the willow oaks, which were planted in the 1920s to 1940s and have a roughly 100-year life span, studies have also highlighted a lack of tree planting in poorer neighborhoods.
A January 2015 study by the Durham City-County Environmental Affairs Board concluded about 1,680 trees need to be planted every year for the next 20 years.
The city also needs to be taking out about 750 dead and dying trees every year.
The report recommended appropriating city money for planting and removing, a master plan for maintaining the city’s 40 percent canopy and an inventory of trees and their condition to find out where new trees should go.
To address some of those concerns, the city is paying contractor Leaf & Limb about $28,124 to asses about 6,250 willow and water oaks in in the core city.
The inventory will count, measure and assess the condition of the trees that are 16 inches in diameter or greater. The information will be used to create a digital map of the trees. The boundary includes West Murray Avenue to the north, Junction Road to the east, Guess Road to the west and University Drive to the south. The collected data will also indicate trees that need to be pruned and removed.
About 2,000 trees have been assessed, Levin said, and they are finding tree challenges common in many other cities.
The trees are “reaching the end-of-their-life stage,” she said.
The second-prong of the effort includes the city paying consultant SavATree of Bedford Hills, New York $16,876 to assess tree canopy across the entire city.
City officials will use the information to establish a baseline of the existing canopy and set a goal of what percent of the city they want to maintain a canopy, and exactly how dense that canopy should be. Then officials can use that information to create a larger urban forestry plan.
The inventory is expected to be completed by the end of November, and the canopy study completed in early 2017.
The city also recently received a $80,000 grant through the Duke Energy Foundation, which could help pay for about 150 new trees in the city.
City Councilman Steve Schewel said it’s hard to imagine a Durham without the giant willow oaks that line some of its streets, but that’s going to happen as the trees age.
“I hope we can figure out a way not just as a city ... but as a community to get ahead of this,” he said.
Tree canopies across the city
Durham neighborhoods with the highest canopy percentage
▪ Sheridan Drive - 74%
▪ Forest Hills - 72%
▪ Trinity Park - 59%
▪ Duke Park - 54%
▪ Watts Hospital-Hillandale - 53%
Durham neighborhoods with the least canopy percentage
▪ Trinity Commons - 2%
▪ Franklin Village - 7%
▪ Downtown - 9%
▪ Central Park - 11%
▪ Belcrest - 19%
Source: April 2016 study “Replanting Durham’s Urban Forest” by Duke University graduate students Gregory Cooper, Anne Liberti and Michael Asch, Cooper