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Meeting focuses on tree damage

By now, everybody knows the October snowstorm came at the worst time for deciduous trees that were in full leaf when heavy snow wrestled them to the ground.

So it probably was a pleasant surprise for some Amherst residents Wednesday when they learned that with the trees dormant, now is the best time for arborists to make a proper assessment of the trees' conditions and do the work that could save them. If they can be saved.

"The timing couldn't have been better for that aspect of it," said Richard I. Stedman, a certified arborist who is the town's forester. "We have a lot of time."

Stedman and Robert Anderson, the town's highway superintendent, addressed a large crowd of residents in the Amherst Center for Senior Services for the first of three free seminars about storm-damaged trees.

The second is scheduled at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Amherst Museum, 3755 Tonawanda Creek Road, and the third is at 6 p.m. Jan. 10 in the Harlem Road Community Center, 4255 Harlem Road.

"Tonight's purpose is to help educate, explain the town's protocol on what we're doing out there," Anderson said.

With contractors scheduled to complete their third -- and final -- cleanup of storm debris Monday, the next step is to complete the tree assessment, which is at about 70 percent, Anderson said.

Trees flagged with orange or red tape are those that have been identified as needing a closer look. Their locations are recorded by street address and a global positioning system, which is a satellite navigational system typically used in mapmaking and land surveying.

Anderson said 7,500 trees have been flagged. The town has an inventory of approximately 65,000 trees, and Stedman said more than 39,000 of them needed attention after the storm.

All of the tree work done so far has been to eliminate safety hazards, they said.

Other professionals will look at the flagged trees, before Stedman, as the town forester, determines their ultimate fate.

"Safety is the utmost concern," Stedman said. "There's not a tree in this county that's worth anybody getting injured over."

The decision about trees coming down won't be made by anyone who can profit from it, Stedman said. The town will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for that work, but the expense of removing stumps and relandscaping falls solely to the town.

A tree's health and structure are two important aspects in determining its fate, Stedman said.

Generally, if less than one-third of a tree's crown -- its leafy part -- is lost, it can be saved. Between one-third and one-half makes it questionable, and a loss of more than 50 percent means the tree must be removed.

On the other hand, if snapped limbs expose a tree to decay or leave it unbalanced, then it's a safety issue that overrules the loss of crown.

Meanwhile, Stedman warned against "topping" trees, from which they won't recover, and excessive pruning. "All the food it makes is in the leaves. Without the leaves, the tree cannot produce food," he explained.

"The trees are dormant; they're asleep right now," Stedman said. "Give the arborists time to come in there to do a proper job."

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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