New Yorkers outpace Sandy in tree count

Woman takes tree homeTrees are going up faster than storms are tak­ing them down in New York City.

Dozens of peo­ple lined up in a park­ing lot between some indus­tri­al build­ings and the Gowanus Canal in Brook­lyn on a recent sun­ny Sat­ur­day morn­ing to pick up stick-fig­ure-sized Red­bud trees about four feet tall. More than half of the 100 trees ready to go were picked up with­in the first 45 min­utes of a two-hour stretch, said Sophie Plitt, Forestry Coor­di­na­tor of New York Restora­tion Project.

About once a week in the spring and fall, the NYRP – in con­junc­tion with the city – goes to dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hoods and gives away trees for free. (See our cov­er­age of this year’s free tree announce­ment for upcom­ing give­away dates and loca­tions.)

Four treesThe last three tree give­aways of 2012 were can­celed after Hur­ri­cane Sandy. The storm knocked down more than 10,000 trees, said Tara Kier­nan, a spokes­wom­an for the Parks Depart­ment. That’s fif­teen times as many tree casu­alties than after 2011’s Hur­ri­cane Irene, which took down about 650 trees.

But since 2007, about 662,000 trees have tak­en root, or an aver­age of more than 100,000 a year. This growth is a result of the “Mil­lion­TreesNYC” pro­gram, a PlaNYC part­ner­ship between the city and NYRP.

All in all, I would not say [Sandy] is a sig­nif­i­cant set-back for Mil­lion­TreesNYC,” said Mike Mitchell, NYRP com­mu­ni­ty ini­tia­tives man­ager.

Tree loss was fac­tored in at the begin­ning,” he not­ed, “whether it be from storms, mechan­i­cal dam­age, soils salt­ed from peo­ple clear­ing snow from their side­walk, peo­ple pour­ing con­crete or lay­ing bricks around the base of a tree, etc.”

The new replace the casu­alties. Old­er trees are more vul­ner­a­ble to storms because they have more leafs, said Mitchell. “Because young trees have less canopy,” he added, “their branch­es are more sup­ple, and they have sig­nif­i­cant­ly less leaf sur­face area to be blown like a sail.”

How­ev­er, accord­ing to Kier­nan, the lit­tle guys have more than just youth going for them. “Thanks to new plant­i­ng meth­ods we’ve imple­ment­ed and care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion given to species selec­tion and plant­i­ng loca­tions,” she said, “our new­ly plant­ed trees have been less sus­cep­ti­ble to storm dam­age.”

In 2011, the New York Times citied stud­ies that said 7 to 11 per­cent of new­ly plant­ed trees die with­in two years. How­ev­er, almost all the trees felled by storms were lat­er report­ed by the New York Observer to be old trees that pre­date the Mil­lion­TreesNYC pro­gram.

Pri­or to Mil­lion­TreesNYC, the city plant­ed 10,000 trees every year–about the same num­ber knocked by Sandy.

The city’s win­ning bat­tle to add to the esti­mat­ed five mil­lion trees across the bor­oughs can be attrib­ut­ed to the thou­sands of New York­ers who line up to pick up the bark and do the plant­i­ng inde­pen­dent­ly at home. Only New York City res­i­dents are allowed to take the trees and the rules lim­it each house­hold to a tree, Plitt said.

The bor­oughs with the high­est turnouts at tree give­aways are Queens, Brook­lyn and Staten Island, said Mitchell. “A lot of the time this has to do with the fact there are few­er house­holds with green space in the areas we do tree give­aways in the Bronx and Man­hat­tan,” he not­ed.

The focus of Mil­lion­TreesNYC, which start­ed with a tree plant­ed on Teller Avenue in the Bronx,  has been in neigh­bor­hoods with a scarci­ty of trees. The Parks Depart­ment focus­es on plant­i­ng trees in pub­lic spaces such as side­walks and parks.

From the NYRP site in Gowanus, Forestry Coor­di­na­tor Sophie Plitt speaks about East­ern Red­buds and the expe­ri­ence of giv­ing trees:

please spec­i­fy cor­rect url

Pho­tos and video: Shan­non Ayala