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Published September 18 2013

Forum editorial: Best policy protects city trees

The city of Moorhead should not be hacking down its beautiful crabapple trees simply because a resident or two think the trees are messy. The trees on public land in south Moorhead had been marked for the chain saw after the city received at least one complaint. But other residents of the neighborhood intervened and for now the trees are spared.

That’s good news, if the city sticks with policy that favors urban trees over shortsighted anti-tree sentiments of a property owner or two. After all, the trees are on public land, therefore they are public trees and should be protected by the city as valuable public property.

Sometimes removal of a public tree is necessary. Disease or damage might mean a tree has outlived its time. But it’s not enough to destroy healthy trees – in this case, the iconic crabapples that beautify many neighborhoods in Moorhead and Fargo – simply because they are seen as messy or inconvenient.

Councilman Steve Gertz said it best. He said city policy should have parameters that prevent individual tastes of property owners from dictating which trees should be removed. “Just because somebody doesn’t like that specific species of tree,” he said, “doesn’t mean it should be taken out.” That sums it up in regard to how the city should frame its tree policy.

But policy should include maintenance and, especially with crabapple trees, cleanup when fruit drops in late summer and early fall. If the city intends to preserve the trees, it also shares responsibility to care for them and do a little routine maintenance when fruit drop slicks sidewalks. Property owners who enjoy the seasonal beauty of the trees also have some responsibility for sidewalk cleanup. It’s not unlike clearing snow off the sidewalk in winter.

Preservation of the diversity of the urban forest should be paramount. If the city acceded to a demand from one property owner to destroy crabapple trees, what’s next? If a stately street-side linden drops a torrent of leaves in October, should the city hack it down because a homeowner doesn’t want to rake? If a 150-year-old burr oak sheds acorns into the rain gutters of a house, should the city call out the chain saws to take it down because the homeowner objects to acorns?

A sensible tree-friendly city policy can avoid that slippery slope.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.