TTU ag professor Douglas Airhart recommends tree removals, warns against toppingA yellow ribbon around a tree trunk symbolizes remembrance, but orange tape signifies the need for removal — and about 30 unhealthy public trees have been identified in Cookeville recently and will soon be so marked.
The recommendations for removal come from Douglas Airhart, a Tennessee Tech University agriculture professor and certified arborist who’s involved with a project to provide tree inventories and urban forestry management plans for Cookeville, Crossville and Livingston city governments.
“I’ve collected data for about 1,500 public trees in Cookeville so far, which puts me about halfway through the city’s tree inventory,” Airhart said.
“Out of that number, I’ve found about 30 trees — mostly along Dixie Avenue and in other historic downtown locations — that are in such poor condition that they need to be removed and replaced with healthy trees,” he continued.
The reason many of those trees are so unhealthy, Airhart said, is because of damage they’ve sustained in the past by the practice of topping because their crown growths encroach on nearby power lines.
“Cookeville now has an ordinance that prohibits the topping of public trees, and the condition of these trees marked for removal serves as an example of how hazardous the practice can be,” he said. “When a tree is topped, it’s unable to seal its natural wounds, leading to further potential hazards in the future.”
Topping not only leaves trees looking unsightly, but it can also stress trees in ways that contribute to their starvation and internal decay.
In worst-case scenarios, Airhart said, both property owners and professionals who practice topping procedures could be held liable if a tree that’s unhealthy because of topping breaks or falls and causes personal or property damage.
To avoid those and other potential hazards, he instead recommends that only certified arborists perform crown reduction procedures on trees in both the private and public sectors.
“Livingston is currently considering an ordinance that, if passed, would prohibit the topping of both private and public trees located within the city limits,” Airhart said. “Without the state legislature passing a statewide law to ban topping, it’s up to each municipality to determine how it wants to handle the issue.”
In the meantime, some residents and business owners in Cookeville’s historic district have been wondering about the tree removal issue.
Airhart said he expects the Cookeville Tree Board, in most — if not all — of the cases to be willing to plant new, healthy trees to replace the old, unhealthy ones marked for removal.
“Yellowwood, hawthorn, dogwood, Japanese maple, redbud and several other species produce shorter cultivars that are collectively termed ‘wireless’ trees because they simply don’t grow tall enough to interfere with power lines,” he continued.
“The redbud has been named as Cookeville’s city tree, so various redbud species could serve as sufficient replacements for many of the unhealthy trees marked for removal,” he said.
Members of the Cookeville Tree Board, Chamber of Commerce and other urban forestry proponents also hope to eventually establish a city Redbud Festival each spring, to complement the Fall FunFest.
Airhart said he expects his work on all the Cookeville, Crossville and Livingston tree inventories and management plans to be completed by early next year.
Those projects will bring each of the cities’ urban forestry programs a step closer to achieving managing level status, designated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service.
They are being funded by more than $25,000 in grant money from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division and require a 50 percent match by TTU and the cities.