Editorial: Dealing with trees

New England would not be New England without its trees, nor would Wilton be the town it is today if its landscape were only sparsely dotted by trees. The town’s tree commission has gone to great lengths to have Wilton designated a “Tree City.”

Trees are not the villains in the latest round of power outages besieging the area — blame Mother Nature for that. But the severe storms of the past 14 months are a warning that we could manage our trees better.

The town deals with trees on its property and in fact has a program not only to remove dead or dying trees, but to replace them with appropriate species. CL&P takes care of tree trimming and cutting with regard to its utility lines and residents are responsible for the trees on their properties.

No one wants another layer of bureaucracy when it comes to trees, but a program needs to be developed — and one was talked about in the state legislature last year — to encourage property owners to pay more attention to trees on their property, especially those near their homes and adjacent to town or state roadways.

If CL&P needs to cut down or trim a tree on private property and the homeowner resists, who should be responsible for the damage caused if the tree or its limbs fall on electric wires? Or on a car? Or a passing pedestrian or bicycle rider?

Homeowners, like the town and CL&P, have a responsibility to have a licensed arborist inspect suspect trees, and to take care of them, even if it means paying to cut them down or trim them.

Some municipalities actually have a plan in place that would help the town and its property owners decide what trees are better suited near a roadside, or under a power line or near a home. So when a tree dies or is damaged by disease or wind, there is a resource in place to help decide what should be planted in its place.

To cut down trees willy-nilly because they are under a power line or near a road seems to go too far. Keeping these trees healthy, or trimming them when needed and replacing them when necessary with more appropriate trees, just makes more sense.

Putting all power lines underground, as some have proposed, may be a solution years down the road, but is unlikely to occur anytime soon. There is merit to looking to more undergrounding as new lines are needed or lines are being replaced, but even underground cables do not ensure freedom from power outages.

High winds and storms will always be with us, and there is only so much that can be done to catch trees before they or their limbs fall. But if the cleanup from Sandy will take six months to a year, as Wilton Tree Warden Paul Young predicted in a story that appeared in The Bulletin last week, clearly we need to view our trees with an eye toward more appropriate choices.