Monday, May 10, 2010

Minnesota Bound: Construction Damage To Trees

Here's the third of my recent appearances on Minnesota Bound, this time focusing on construction damage to trees. Just click on the May 9 episode - the piece is after the wonderful piece about a bass fishing tournament in memory of a young man whose life was way too short.

Nearly 25 years ago (good grief I'm getting old) I started a non-profit organization called Lasting Woodlands, Inc. with the twin goals of a) educating people about how to build in wooded areas with minimal damage to existing trees, and b) encouraging people to replace vegetation inevitably lost to construction with native plants.

The concept grew out of my own twin experiences, circa 1986: I grew up in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, and watched as suburban development swept through the (primarily) oak woodlands that I had hiked, played and fished in and around. I always tried not to be a NIMBY ("not in my backyard") type of person; after all the house I grew up in was built 20 years previously in fields that had been some other kid's "wilderness." I saw suburban expansion as inevitable (or at least beyond my ability to stop). I just believed that it could be done differently.

At the same time I was spending my summers working for a nursery & garden center, so I saw first hand what these new homeowners were replacing the native vegetation with - Crimson King Norway maples, lots and lots of seedless green ash (which is not exactly looking like a good idea right now). spireas, potentillas, and tons and tons of crushed rock over plastic landscape fabric (I know because I'm the guy who bagged up the crushed rock and loaded it in people's cars - an activity of dubious environmental value, but a GREAT summer job for a kid!).

I enrolled in the Urban Forestry program at the University of Minnesota. I met giants in the field: Dr. David French, Donald Willeke and others. I realized that forestry people KNEW how to protect trees from construction damage, but that there was an enormous information gulf between what foresters knew and what homeowners and builders knew. I set out to change that.

I wrote a newsletter, and a humbling, amazing number of forestry professionals (all of whom knew a whole lot more than me), homeowners and builders supported it. I gave seminars and talks wherever I could. I like to think it made at least a small difference.

Somewhere along the line a lot changed. I ran smack dab into the whole "need to make a living" thing, after avoiding it as long as possible (and longer than I should have). Job changes necessitated moves to parts of the country where I wasn't as well connected. The allure of staying up until 3am at Kinko's to get out another newsletter that I largely paid for out of pocket began to wear a bit thin.

The need for this information to become part of the public consciousness is still as great as it ever was. That's why filming these three spots for Minnesota Bound, and especially this one about construction damage, has been so much fun and so rewarding for me. It's a reminder of why I got into forestry in the first place. It's a chance to spread an important message. My own interests and concerns have expanded far beyond the issues of construction damage & oak wilt to encompass broader issues of land use and environmental & human health (in other words permanent tree crops and eating acorns!) but I know that peoples' relationships with the environment begins in their own yard. And that makes this information as important and timely today as it was 25 years ago.

Thank you, Ron Schara, Adam McFarlane and Steve Plummer. Ron for giving me time on his wonderful show, and Adam & Steve for their patience and editing wizardry (and let me tell you it took some wizardry to make these pieces coherent!).

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