Rochester Hills speaks for the trees

by ELENA DURNBAUGH

Most people think about planting a tree to celebrate Earth Day, but the Rochester Hills Forestry Division invites people to go green this fall and plant a tree through the city’s Street Tree Program.

The Street Tree Program is one of Rochester Hills’ many environmental initiatives, which look to promote and protect green spaces in the city. The program, which started in 2015, plants trees for homeowners in the city right-of-way at no cost to residents.

Each spring and fall, the Forestry Division oversees tree planting with the help of a contractor. Funding for the Street Tree Program is provided by developers, who are required to add money to the city tree fund for every tree cut down and not replaced during construction. In the 1990s, Rochester Hills had a similar tree planting initiative that was run as a cooperative project where the city would pay for half the cost of the tree. Four years ago, the program was revitalized so that residents wouldn’t have to pay at all.

Rochester Hills Lead Arborist Gerry Pink said that the trees, in addition to looking good and increasing property values, are crucial for the environment.

According to Pink, a healthy tree canopy intercepts as much as 30% of rainfall, which means less water is going directly into the storm sewers. Trees are also an important part of the ecosystem and provide habitats for birds and other wildlife. Finally, trees add oxygen into the atmosphere, which is good news for cleaner air.

Pink said the area is experiencing a building boom right now, which means planting trees is crucial.

“We want to replace most of that important canopy,” he said.

Pink said that the forestry division arborist are happy to come out and help homeowners select a good spot for a new tree. The location must be at least 25- feet away from adjacent shade trees and be at least 10-feet from the roadway. Homeowners can select the type of tree they’d like to plant from a list available on the Rochester Hills tree planting program webpage. Pink said that the Forestry Division is also happy to recommend trees.

“We have 60 years of experience right here in this little section of land,” he said.

Lindens, hybrid elms, hybrid oaks, and hybrid white oaks have been very successful in the area. Maple trees are also popular, but Pink said he does try to talk people out of planting more maple trees because they’re so prevalent.

“The more diverse your palette of trees, the better off you are,” he said. “There’s always going to be the next dutch elm disease.”

Trees planted through the program are guaranteed for one year, and Pink said if the tree doesn’t take, people are welcome to try again.

The Street Tree program makes 250 trees available to residents every spring and fall, for a total of 500 trees a year. Pink said he would like to see more people taking advantage of the program, as they only plant about 400 trees a year.

“We quite often don’t get all 250 spoken for,” he said. “I’m kind of mystified.”

Pink went on to say that he understood people might be hesitant to plant a tree in their yard because they didn’t want to deal with the possibility of dangerous branches or a dead tree, but he emphasized that the forestry division is always very responsive to helping people when they can.

“We can’t always visit, but please, send us your pictures,” he said.

Councilman Ryan Deel said that the Street Tree Program was a great example of the city working to improve the environment and the quality of life for residents.

“In my humble opinion, it makes Rochester Hills a really, really special place to live,” Deel said. “We really care about our green spaces…The best way we can be good stewards of our environment is to make it green.”

In an effort to be more green, new recycling programs are on the horizon for the city. Deel said Rochester Hills is renewing its recycle bank program and will be working with the SOCRRA recycling center in Troy, which will allow residents to know exactly what is happening to their recycling.

“It’s important for them to know that their recycled materials are going where they’re intended to go,” he said.

The city will also be rolling out a recycling program in city parks. “At some point in the near future, you’ll start to see recycling in our parks,” Deel said.

The new recycling initiatives and the Street Tree program tie into the city’s efforts to create and protect green spaces, according to Deel.

“We’re always looking for innovative ways to be good stewards of our environment,” he said.

Every second Saturday of the month, June through October, the Green Space Advisory Board of Rochester Hills takes people on hikes through the city’s green spaces. Deel said these hikes were a great way for residents to see how the city was working to preserve green spaces and limit invasive species in the area.

“First of all, people get to interact with nature. Second of all, they get to see what their city is doing with respect to greenspaces,” he said.

Connecting people to nature is what it’s all about, Pink said, even if it’s just giving them some ownership of a tree in their yard.

“We don’t want to make people take the trees,” he said. “It about getting people in touch, as silly as it sounds, in touch with nature.”

To learn more about the Street Tree Program, go to rochesterhills.org and search for the Tree Planting Program. People can also call the Parks and Natural Resources Department at 2248- 656-4673. The deadline to reserve a tree for this fall is September 6. To learn more about Rochester Hills’ green space initiatives or the upcoming Second Saturday Green Space Hikes, go to rochesterhills.org/.