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Volunteers work to help keep trees healthy

Tree topping weakens trees and is the city’s biggest arbor dilemma.
Thursday, December 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:45 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chad Herwald has a secret to saving money on heating bills this winter. It’s not profound. It’s not magical. It’s trees.

Trees provide shade and cool Herwald’s house in the summer, which lower air-conditioning costs, he said. In the winter, they insulate the house by allowing sunlight to stream in during the day.

“The benefit of a tree in the winter is that it will keep the wind off of your house,” said Herwald, a Parks and Recreation Department forester. “With the little drafts of wind coming in from your windows, the trees will help keep the draft away.”

Herwald’s job involves planting, educating about and maintaining trees in Columbia. But he can’t do it alone. He needs a lot of help to pull off this task to maintain the right balance of trees and plants.

Enter the TreeKeeper program.

Started in 1997 as a collaboration between the Office of Volunteer Services, Parks and Recreation Department and the Missouri Department of Conservation, the program is a six-week tree management course that teaches everything from planting to pruning and how to identify tree diseases and tree pests.

The next course begins Jan. 10 and will run through Feb. 15. It is taught by representatives of the program’s three sponsors from the city of Columbia, the Conservation Department and MU. In the labs, the TreeKeepers plant, remove and maintain the quality of forest area and park trees.

In an industry lacking volunteer man-

power, Herwald said thanks to TreeKeepers he can complete all the needed projects.

“Right now we’re sitting at about 1,000 hours logged by TreeKeepers,” Herwald said. “I’ve never worked in another state or city that offered a program like this.”

Participants are required to volunteer 36 hours, preferably within the two years after they start the program.

Jody Stotsky has been an avid participant of the program since 2002 and said her interest was spurned purely from her love of the outdoors and wanting to understand, identify and care for trees.

“It’s a fantastic program and most people either continue volunteering or move on to other similar initiatives that help better our community here in Columbia,” Stotsky said.

Anybody who has an interest in learning better tree management is encouraged to participate in the program and extensive knowledge about planting is not a requirement.

“While we do have some people that work in something related to forestry or landscaping, some take the class for their own personal use,” said Columbia volunteer coordinator Leigh Nutter “We’ve had dentists, doctors and even a bank examiner participate.”

Thanks to a grant, the group planted 82 trees at Stephens Park Lake and placed educational signs about the trees.

In 2004, TreeKeepers re- ceived the Arbor Award from the Missouri Department of Conservation for its efforts in improving the community through planting and maintenance work.

Aside from the projects it completes, Herwald thinks the group’s knowledge from the class will help the spread of basic proper tree care in Columbia. By spreading the word in his classes about what people are doing incorrectly with their plants, Herwald said Columbia can begin to fix its tree problems.

According to Herwald, the biggest arbor problem in Columbia is tree topping. When winter approaches, residents get trim-happy and cut off too much of the tree tops, thinking — incorrectly — that they are preventing their trees from holding too much snow and ice and eventually collapsing. But the effect of excessive topping counterbalances their intentions and actually produces what they are trying to prevent, he said. Heavy handed tree topping encourages weak shoot development and produces small limbs that have a greater chance of breaking and falling down.

“These branches that are falling down are the size of your leg or your arm,” Herwald said. “By topping the tree, the branches also decay faster and are weaker.”

Topping trees also squeezes owners’ pocketbooks. Trees die quicker and need to be replaced faster when they are topped. To avoid this, Herwald recommends having a professional prune your tree to prevent huge branches from falling while maintaining the natural beauty of the tree.

For more information, call the Columbia Office of Volunteer Services at 874-7499.

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