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Talent Urban Forestry Committee aims to restore trees

TheTalent Urban Forestry Committee aims to restore trees that were burned in the Almeda fire.Mail Tribune / file photo

Talent’s Urban Forestry Committee was established in January 2020 to make recommendations on tree matters in the city and further public understanding of the value of trees while creating community engagement through volunteer activities.

Nine months later, the Almeda fire gave the group an additional emphasis — helping replant and restore the damaged urban forest canopy. Results already are coming in.

An application for an Arbor Day Foundations Community Recovery Grant made by the committee to provide trees to those who lost them in the fire has been approved. Additionally, seven trees were planted this week in the downtown area which suffered fire destruction. Pacific Power funded the planting.

“We need urban forests. We need our trees. They’re a great asset environmentally, emotionally and psychologically for humans,” said Mike Oxendine, chair of the committee. “With our climate change, it is more important than ever that we save our trees.”

Since its inception, the committee has been involved with getting 52 trees planted. That includes 18 at Talent Elementary School, 10 at Talent Middle School, 13 in Chuck Roberts Park and four in the town’s dog park.

Development of an approved lists of trees for street planting was also completed by the committee and approved by City Council. The committee also held several tree plantings to provide education. They are working on a video to the teach how to plant and care for trees.

Oxendine is a member of the International Society of Arboriculture and is secretary of Oregon Community Trees. He was Landscape Services Supervisor at Southern Oregon University and later Parks Superintendent for the Ashland Parks Department. He served on the City of Ashland Tree Commission and currently works for the Plant Oregon nursery located outside Talent.

In the wake of the fire there is some reluctance to plant trees, said Oxendine, for fear that they could spread flames.

Media reports after the 2018 Camp fire that destroyed much of Paradise, California, noted that many of the trees survived the fire with their canopies intact, although adjacent homes burned. Similar outcomes have been reported in other communities and seemed to be true in Talent.

Trees have adapted to fire with thick bark and high canopies, according to Jenifer Harlon, a researcher at Yale University’s School of Forestry.

“We have people come up to the nursery and asking about trees that are fire resistant. They are very hesitant to replant trees, but have houses they are rebuilding,” said Oxendine.

Oxendine witnessed the fire firsthand when he and other Plant Oregon workers took two water trucks into town to help fight the blaze. They saw that trees were not feeding the fire. Instead, structures would burn first leading to the scorching of tree bark. Despite the scorching, many trees have survived.

“The thing that seemed to move the fire was the dry wood fences,” said Oxendine. “We had long conversations as a committee about how trees responded to fires in urban environments. We determined that they are not a detriment if planted in the right places.”

Approval of the street tree list will help guide replanting efforts. A couple trees often planted are not on the approved tree lists for several reasons. The Red Maple is overplanted and its roots lift sidewalks. The Calgary flowering pear doesn’t get very big or provide a canopy to shade the urban environment and reduce heat, said Oxendine.

“We are looking for biodiversity. We are looking for a diverse urban forest,” he said.

Phoenix-Talent School District collaborated with the committee to plant trees on its two campuses in town. Both had few trees, said Oxendine.

A grove with all Japanese trees was planted in Chuck Roberts Park just below the Little League fields. It includes a ginkgo and a persimmon sprouted from seeds of trees that survived the Hiroshima nuclear bombing in 1945.

The Arbor Day Foundation will work to locate partners who would fund their recovery program, said Oxendine.

“We are going to focus our effort on people who are financially more affected by the fire ... that didn’t have insurance that would pay for tree replacement,” said Oxendine. City officials would need to approve such a process.

Another project is reestablishing a tree nursery which was created in 2013 by the city’s Together for Talent Committee. The nursery provided tree starts that were donated by individuals to be planted by others. The starts were housed at the Talent Public Works site and were lost in the Almeda ire.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.