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Old friend comes down

TUG-O-WAR with an old tree was easily won by the street department employees, from left, Rick Clapper, Mike Hegan and Craig Wahlstedt.

July 30, 2013 | 03:09 PM
For Tricia Schaefer, the tree was an old friend.

The sugar maple at the corner of Center and Wisconsin streets was there when Tricia and her late husband, Ted Schaefer, moved into the corner house 26 years ago.

Yet, she knew this day was coming. The tree was old and stressed.

City Arborist Jon Foster estimated that the tree was between 70 and 80 years old.

Schaefer said her grandchildren visited last month. They, too, knew the tree was scheduled to be taken down.

"Each one gave it a slap and said, 'Goodbye old tree,'" she said.

This loss especially hurts because, Tricia said, she lost her husband in December.

The old sugar maple shaded their bedroom in the morning, she said. And during storms, Tricia said, she and her husband used to watch the tree sway and twist against the wind and rain.

But on a sunny Wednesday morning in mid-July, it was now time to say farewell.

Tricia said the city offered her a choice of replacements, and she decided on a homestead elm.

The homestead elm gets color in the fall and "it doesn't drop acorns all over the place," she said.

The old tree was well-mannered during the early going. Foster guided the lopped off upper limbs using a rope and pulley.

Street department employees Mark Hansen, Rick Clapper and Craig Wahlstedt assisted with the operation.

Near the end, Foster decided that instead of using the bulldozer to knock the tree down, he would make some strategic cuts in the trunk and the three streets department employees would pull it down using a rope.

Foster started making the cuts with a long-bladed chainsaw. But he wasn't more than half done when the chain ran into something solid, either a nail or rock, Foster said. It broke the chain. Foster had to finish the cuts with the shorter-bladed chain saw he used to take down the limbs.

Once the limbs and trunk were down, one could see the sections of the tree that had been hollowed out by rot and disease, which would have made the tree unstable and a danger to cars, pedestrians and the house it shaded for so many years.

Taken down starting at the top, removal started about 10 a.m. Wednesday and was completed at about 11:10 a.m.

About 70 years to grow, about 70 minutes to take down.

At first, Schaefer said she didn't want to keep any part of the old tree, but she had a change of heart, deciding on the lowest portion of the stump removed by Foster. It was placed behind Schaefer's garage, where her grandchildren could sit on it in the shade.

Later in the day, Foster said that the city was planning on removing 100 or so diseased and dead trees from city streets.

By mid-July, including Tricia Schaefer's tree, the city had taken down between 80 and 85 of the trees it had planned to remove.

This year, the city will take down more than it will replace, he said. But that hardly will be noticeable, because over the past few years, the city planted far more trees than it removed. "In the last seven years, we've planted 600 to 700 more trees than were taken down," Foster said. "We've planted two to three times the trees that were taken down."

New trees are not necessarily replanted exactly where the old trees were taken down, Foster said.

Tree replacement is based on a list of viable locations provided by Foster. He said he turns the list in to city hall.

The city has budgeted about $15,000 for replanting. The city council will put the replantings out to bid. Private contractors will plant the replacement trees in October and November, he said.

City environments are hard on trees. Soil underneath sidewalks and around underground sewers and water lines are compacted hard.

"In an urban environment, with sidewalks and streets, it limits the growth of the trees," Foster said.

And when streets, mains and sidewalks are repaired and replaced, root systems of long-established trees are disturbed. Trees run out of root space, which inhibits their ability to grow. If the tree is able, it will recover. If not, it will show stress and most likely start to decline, Foster said.

Maple trees are still the dominant species, followed by oak, ash, willow, pines and some chestnut, said Foster.

Yet, many of the sugar maples that are showing stress have been around for between 70 and 100 years, Foster said.

Some of that may be because many of the trees were planted at the same time and are now reaching the end of their lives, and last year's drought may have stressed many of those trees beyond the point of no return.

The city's replacement program is to create more of a diversity in the urban forest, Foster said.

Sugar maples are slow growers, he said.

The city is now planting faster-growing breeds of maples, he said.

The emerald ash borer, while a problem, was not the disaster it was in some cities, because Lake Geneva's urban forest contained just 300 ash trees, Foster said. The city is now engaged in a program to actively try to save about half of those trees. The others, which are older, will be taken down as they succumb, he said.

The dead wood is distributed around to residents who want it, said Foster. Those who request wood generally want it for their fire places or wood-burning stoves, Foster said.

It's provided at no charge.

The city also has a large mulch pile at the city's street department yard on George Street. To get on the list for tree limbs and mulch, call the street department at (262) 248-6644.

Tips for tree care

Jon Foster has been city arborist for about seven years.

Here are some of his thoughts and suggestions on tree care basics:

The life of the tree is in the tissue just underneath the bark it is called the cambial layer. All the nutrients and energy for life are supplied through this vascular tissue. When tree bark is peeled off, the slimy layer underneath the bark is the cambial layer.

It is critical not to injure the bark of the tree with string trimmers and lawn mowers. Once the bark is injured, a gateway is created for disease and decay

to set into the tree, which can cause the tree to decline in health and shorten the life of the tree.

Mulching under trees adds organic matter to the soil and protects the tree from those trunk injuries by creating a barrier, however we must never pile the mulch against the trunk or pile it so deep that water cannot penetrate to the soil. About an inch or two of mulch is optimal.

Watering the root zone during dry periods is important. Most trees need an inch equivalent of rainfall a week. During extended dry spells, owners should water the entire drip zone of the tree's upper canopy. This is especially important for newly planted trees.

Pruning trees properly is also critical. (City trees are to be trimmed and maintained by the municipal tree crew only.) Limbs should be pruned to leave a branch collar so that the tree seals over quickly and properly. If an owner doesn't know how to prune a tree, the job is best left up to the experts.

If a tree is damaged in a storm it is best to have the damage pruned out of the tree so that the wounded areas can seal up faster.

Ropes or cables or other hardware that are wrapped around limbs usually end up girdling the tree, which means it cuts off the flow of the vascular system.

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