The Forester and the Trees

July 27, 2010 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Does Lincoln need a forester? That sure has been a popular question lately. Without one we’ll save about fifty grand; if we keep the position, we get a pro in charge of the city’s trees. Frankly, neither option sounds particularly sexy. Fifty thousand dollars isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, so it wouldn’t take a whole lot for the position to pay for itself. The trick, of course, is placing value on the things a city forester does. That’s a pretty difficult task. You can’t easily say, for example, that trimming X tree branches costs Y dollars but saves Z dollars. And few Lincolnites can look around and say “Yes, I see what the forester does”. It’s just not easy for most folks to justify the cost in their own minds.

I would be more apt to lobby on behalf of the forester position if I had a better grasp on what the person in that position actually does on a day-to-day basis. I wonder if he trained the people who made their way down our street trimming trees away from power lines. They mutilated the bejeezus out of several trees. Did part of the forester’s crew do that, or was it somebody else (i.e. LES)? If the latter, is the forester be responsible for monitoring that sort of thing? I don’t know.

I love Lincoln’s trees. I want them to stay healthy and beautiful. But so far I’m not convinced we need a $50,000 forester to keep them that way. Neither am I convinced that $50,000 is too much to pay for somebody to watch over this community asset. I remain undecided.

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The Comments

Dave K July 27, 2010 at 2:56pm

Of course we need a forester.  Here’s why: 1) Lincoln’s young people will flee to Denver, Omaha, Chicago, and Kansas City if we don’t have a forester;  2) We won’t be able to attract the popular trees and shrubbery unless we have a forester;  3) Omaha has a forester who is (obviously) much better than ours, and therefore Omaha gets better trees; and 4) Lincoln’s trees will start to look like those in Topeka if we don’t get a forester. 

But seriously, if you have to ask if a new government employee is needed, or what they would do, then that position is not needed.

Robert Smith July 27, 2010 at 7:01pm

In a 2010 draft report from the Nebraska Forest Service based on a multiyear inventory of trees in Lincoln & Omaha there are approximately 1.5 million trees in Lincoln that provide more than 1.4 billion dollars in benefits to our community.

One must ask whether a $50,000 saving is really worth it? Here is a link to the actual City Forester job description so that you can better understand the role of this professional within our community.

http://lincoln.ne.gov/city/person/pdf/ps5519.pdf

Still wondering whether a City Forester is a good investment? Think back to the October, 1997 ice & snow storm and look through these pictures.

http://www.nebraskaweatherphotos.org/OCT97SNOW.html

Consider the critical role of the City Forester coordinating with LES, Police & Fire to have arborist crews open arterial routes to hospitals during future severe weather events.

Also keep in mind that LES is about to embark on the Central Lincoln Reliability Project adding new 115 kV transmission lines to connect substations in central neighborhoods with dense numbers of street, park and private trees. Work on this project will last until 2016. Would you rather have a professional degreed & certified City Forester working with LES to make responsible decisions about trees, or would an entry level Park Planner I with a background in landscape design do instead?

http://www.les.com/your_les/transmission_clrp.asp

I truly hope this information will help citizens & public officials decide these tough questions facing Lincoln.

Mr. Wilson July 27, 2010 at 7:49pm

I’ll play the role of contrarian for a moment. Read this not as a disagreement, but as a critique.

In a 2010 draft report ... more than 1.4 billion dollars in benefits to our community.

Is this document available online? I see the “$1.4 billion” figure thrown around a lot, but I haven’t seen mention of the methodology used to generate the number. (Not that I’m in any position to judge the value of the calculation, having no tree valuation expertise myself.) Regardless, you’ve provided no evidence to suggest that the $1.4 billion figure will decline without a forester working for the City.

Likewise, providing a job description isn’t the same thing as proving that a position is worth the cost to the City; nor does it prove that a person holding that position actually does the work described in the job description; nor does it prove that the value of the position is greater than the value of other uses for the position’s salary.

Think back to the October, 1997 ice & snow storm ... Consider the critical role of the City Forester coordinating with LES, Police & Fire to have arborist crews open arterial routes to hospitals during future severe weather events.

Opening arterial routes doesn’t require a professional arborist. It requires somebody who can effectively manage a large crew of individuals with chain saws and construction machinery. We need an arborist to help clear trees from roadways as much as we need a plumber to hold back flood waters.

Now if you want to talk about later stages of the clean-up process—such as deciding which damaged trees are salvageable and which should be removed—or if you want to talk about prevention—such as identifying weak/dying trees before they fall—fine. That’s definitely a role for somebody who knows trees. I’ll argue, however, that person could be a contractor, or perhaps a state or federal employee.

Would you rather have a professional degreed & certified City Forester working with LES to make responsible decisions about trees, or would an entry level Park Planner I with a background in landscape design do instead?

That’s a false dichotomy. There are plenty of options that require neither a City Forester nor a Park Planner I.

I truly hope this information will help citizens & public officials decide these tough questions facing Lincoln.

To my eye you’ve provided more passion than information. I remain undecided.

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