The state needs a systematic, proactive strategy to manage its roadside trees and reduce the risk of a recurrence of the massive power outages that occurred after two major storms of 2011.
That's the conclusion of the State Vegetation Management Task Force, a panel formed in April as part of the state's response to Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm. The 20-member panel, comprised of representatives of towns, utilities, conservation groups and forestry experts, in a report released Tuesday recommended the state replace its current "reactive" approach to tree management with one that actively removes dead and diseased trees, routinely prunes and maintains trees and chooses "the right tree for the right place."
"It's significant that so many committed people worked together to propose ways to make the roads safer, keep healthy trees along our roads and reduce the risks of damage from future storms," said Eric Hammerling, chairman of the task force and executive director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association.
He noted that 90 percent of the power outages after the two storms were caused by fallen trees and limbs.
"We know we need to do a better job with trees in our state," he said.
The 94-page report describes the many environmental and aesthetic benefits of trees, particularly large trees. At the same time, it calls the state's trees a resource largely lacking in adequate oversight. Utilities, the report states, "serve as de facto tree managers for most towns," because of "chronic underfunding of forest management at the state and municipal levels."
Hammerling said implementation of some of the recommendations in the report will require an act of the legislature, while others will be the responsibility of the state departments of Energy and Environmental Protection and Transportation, municipalities or utilities.
The report ends with an 18-item "to do list" with the main responsible parties identified.
"Every member of the task force is interested in seeing this bear fruit," Hammerling said.
The report's recommendations include:
? "Right Tree, Right Place" guidelines should be followed so that trees planted near utilities and roads have shorter mature heights and larger trees are away from wires. A list of recommended short- and medium-height trees was developed earlier this year by Glenn Dreyer, executive director of the Connecticut College Arboretum, and Jeffrey Ward, chief scientists in the Department of Forestry and Horticulture at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
? Roadside forests must be managed to become more storm resistant through pruning, removals and "right tree" plantings.
? Property owners should be educated about their responsibilities to maintain their trees.
? Information about roadside forests should be centralized in one place for landowners, municipalities and businesses.
? Municipalities should develop five-year roadside tree management plans that include pruning and removal guidelines, as well as standards for planting trees that avoid proximity to utility lines.
? Qualifications for the certification of municipal tree wardens should be developed. This would "give them more standing" in making decisions about tree removal and maintenance, Hammerling said.
? All trees planted within the public right-of-way and on municipal property should be reviewed and approved by the town tree warden.
? The state should provide $100,000 to each town for two years to help towns and cities with tree maintenance and the creation of five-year roadside forest management plans.