St. George takes Tree City USA status seriously

Trees of nearly every variety can be found throughout St. George. Many arborists feel palm trees lend an air of sophistication to a neighborhood. St. George, Utah, date undefined | Public domain photo, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — For the 27th consecutive year, St. George was honored as a Tree City USA community.

Trimmed trees in front of the Wendy’s restaurant on Brigham Road, St. George, Utah, June 27, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Although the distinction was awarded earlier this year, the city joins more than 85 other towns throughout Utah with nearly 68 percent of its population living in one of these special communities.

St. George’s multitude of tree-lined streets did not happen overnight. It’s been a decades-long labor of love, said Shane Moore, deputy director of leisure services.

“We take the job really seriously,” Moore said. “Our city in particular, when you drive down St. George Boulevard you can tell the City Council and the mayor puts an emphasis on the city being beautiful.”

To qualify as a Tree City USA member, cities must meet four standards established by the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters.

The standards include maintaining a tree board or department that is legally responsible for trees on city property, as well as establishing a tree-care ordinance that provides clear guidance for planting, maintaining and removing trees; budgeting $2 per capita for tree maintenance; and observing Arbor Day with an official city proclamation.

Flowers grown in one of three St. George operated greenhouses are set for their spring debut. St. George, Utah, date undefined | Photo courtesy city of St. George

To assist in meeting the standards, the city operates a 10-acre tree farm on the edge of the Bloomington neighborhood. The city plants 10 to 15 varieties of trees depending on the time of year.

“What we use the farm for are growing trees that we can’t readily get at our local nurseries,” Moore said. “We buy bare-root trees that are really inexpensive and then grow them for three years when they are about the same size as a 24-foot boxed tree.”

While the city does purchase many common trees from local nurseries, Moore added, the tree farm saves a “great” deal of taxpayer’s money.

The farm is home to trees that include ash, mulberry, oak and others. The farm supplies its trees to city parks and street medians as well as replacing damaged or dying trees across the city.

Along with its tree farm, the city operates three greenhouses that plant hard to find flowers that find their way into common areas throughout town.

As part of its overall beautification efforts, the city formed its Shade Tree Advisory Board.

The board’s task is to determine if citizens and local businesses can remove trees on city property such as sidewalks in front of residential homes and commercial businesses. The board can deny such requests. Ultimately, the St. George City Council has veto power on all decisions.

The five-member board is comprised of a council member, a Washington County commissioner, a representative from the Washington County School District, a private business person and a Washington County extension agent.

The representative for Washington County is Gil Almquist, who takes his mission on the board “very” seriously.

“More than a decade ago, the city was losing too many trees that were the property of St. George, but which people didn’t realize they belonged to the city’s,” Almquist said. “The trees in front of people’s houses that they didn’t like were being cut down or people wanted to widen their driveway. It was any number of reasons.”

Faced with the loss of what could be very valuable trees on city property, the decision was made to form the advisory board, hold public meetings, and weigh in on a request for tree removal.

“The board is kind of a liaison between the city’s policies and homeowners,” Almquist said. “It’s turned out great.”

City staff works tirelessly each year to raise a new batch of seedlings and bare-root trees for planting throughout the area. St. George, Utah, date undefined | Photo courtesy city of St. George

Many times, people’s requests are turned down because they approach the board on a “whim.” Almquist added other times if a well-argued, properly thought out request is made the board is willing to mitigate the loss by allowing homeowners and commercial businesses to plant trees in other locations as an offset.

For trees located on private property, the city has no jurisdiction of enforcement or mitigation. City officials take property rights seriously; however, there is a component of educating people that cutting down trees can have unintended effects, Almquist said.

The city’s approach for new commercial development takes a different track to beautification.

“According to city ordinance, all new building developments require a landscape plan,” Almquist said. “The plan includes a requirement for 30 to 40-foot spacing on trees located on city streets.”

The long-term vision of the board and city officials is not only to encourage new trees to be planted and preserve trees already in the ground, but keep its urban forest thriving. The city currently plants approximately 500 trees annually.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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