6.20.2006

A Sudden and Lengthy Digression for Trees

The cub has walked. All by himself. Thank. God.

Also, it turns out he is speaking, just not in English. Today when I was home for lunch with him and our nanny, I realized he was saying "ah-wa" for water ("aqua") and "ma" for more ("mas"). Not only does my child speak, he's bilingual.

If you're interested in what's going on with the trees in Austin, here's a link to the Task Force's recent report. Like an idiot, I have volunteered to serve on the board of directors of my neighborhood association. The association's great - what makes me an idiot is thinking that I would have time to accomplish everything I'd like to. But, I figure, being over-educated and a total busy-body should be put to good use somewhere.

It's ridiculous how hard it is to find a copy of this report online. You may not realize it, but Austin Energy very recently has begun aggressively removing and severely cutting back trees to reduce power outages after storms. While tree-trimming to reduce electrical outages sounds logical, and it is, there was no evidence or study supporting the very aggressive removal and clearance standards that Austin Energy has recently instituted. Meanwhile, our neighborhoods, particularly central neighborhoods, are losing precious shade and beauty.

One morning in December some central Austinites woke up to find ribbons tied around their trees, indicating which ones were to be removed entirely and which were to be "trimmed" - i.e., severely cut back. They promptly went before the City Council and the City Council appointed a task force to study and report back on the laws, policies and procedures governing tree-trimming and removal by Austin Energy.

What they basically found is that there is really no oversight on the authority of Austin Energy to cut down trees on private property, there is no coordinated city policy or plan describing goals and objectives for urban forestry, and there is no procedure for coordinating tree-trimming plans with neighborhood councils or other existing community organizations. The task force made several reasonable, workable suggestions for remedying the current situation and better integrating Austin Energy's tree trimming practices with city and community organizations and long-term goals. They also suggested that Austin Energy reassess their new clearance standards and trimming cylces based on (duh) a study of species-specific growth rates and other relevant criteria.

Now it's up to City Manager Toby Futrell to review the task force findings and report back to City Council with recommendations. During City Council meetings last spring Ms. Futrell was reportedly dismissive towards some of the private citizens whose houses are now exposed to the glaring heat and whose backyard view has been altered from leafy and green to empty and industrial.

So why the sudden and lengthy digression? Well, (a) I care enough about the topic to not mind boring you with my rant; (b) "tree" was one of the cub's first words, which he then used for everything that he could point to; and (c) I romantically hope that the more people who are aware of the issues and what's at stake can only help things come to a sane, reasonable, and shady resolution.

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