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Evaluate trees to prevent damage
By Tricia Hopper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Trees provide shade and beauty and are considered an asset to most campuses, communities and homes, but they can become a liability as they age.
Mississippi State University is home to hundreds of trees of numerous species used to beautify areas and provide shade and shelter. Whenever a significant storm comes through, trees may be damaged or lost. In the concentrated area of campus, falling trees and limbs pose a significant danger to cars, buildings and people.
Researchers in MSU's Department of Landscape Architecture and the Campus Landscape Department decided to systematically attack this problem, hoping to improve both the safety and beauty of campus. They received the 2003 Urban and Community Forestry Challenge Grant from the Mississippi Forestry Commission to develop a replacement strategy for aging trees on campus. Their strategy also can serve communities, which share many of the same concerns.
"All communities are affected by inclement weather, and having a system for evaluating trees is a very important preventive measure," said Bob Brzuszek, an assistant Extension professor in MSU's Department of Landscape Architecture.
In evaluating trees, an inventory is conducted for each tree. The inventory includes an identification number, species name, crown ratio and tree class. A certified arborist conducts further analysis in consideration of the tree's health, projected life expectancy and impact to campus safety.
"Many of these trees on campus are approaching the end of their life cycle or are becoming hazardous, but they will continue to go unnoticed if there is no tree replacement plan in progress," Brzuszek said.
Not having a long-term system for tree management puts campuses and communities at risk of losing trees with significant value as well as diminishing the area's urban forest.
"Although trees typically go unnoticed, they are actually a vital part of the campus or community," Brzuszek said.
Trees are strategically placed to reduce summer energy use and aid in storm water drainage. Roots help control erosion, and certain types of trees add warmth for buildings by serving as a barrier from harsh winter winds.
Knowing if a tree is decaying or becoming unstable allows for proper maintenance before a problem occurs.
"The strategy of monitoring existing trees and planting replacements before the damaged tree is removed ensures the health, safety and welfare of the community by protecting it from hazardous tree liability," Brzuszek said.
Rob Rice, interim director of MSU Campus Landscape suggested communities should implement a plan such as the one now being used at MSU.
A tree inventory system is the first step in developing a tree replacement plan. An inventory is made by collecting data on each tree in the community and logging the information into an index. Having a tree inventory keeps information readily available during evaluation and replacement of trees.
"Once you know what you're working with, perform an analysis of each tree in order to develop guidelines for managing urban trees," Rice said.
When analyzing trees, Rice said to look for signs of decay such as discolored bark or fungal growths, mechanical damage due to construction around the tree, dead limbs and hollow areas in the trunk.
"Trees considered a threat to safety, in need of removal or replacement, or just requiring basic pruning are found during evaluation and can be taken care of easily," Rice said. "Trees that have the potential to be removed also are noted in the database for further monitoring."
Homeowners also should be on the lookout for trees in need of replacement and remain aware of the state of trees in their yards.
"All it takes is one ice storm and a decaying tree in your front yard could fall on your roof or car," Rice said. "If you know the health of the tree, preventive measures can be taken and the situation is easily avoided."
Rice said the ultimate goal is to ensure the health of the tree.
"Trees are living things and subject to disease and harm," Rice said. "They need to be maintained just like anything else."