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Give trees a chance to rebound

Imagine if John Lennon had lived, and he and Yoko (OK, this is a stretch) bought a house in Amherst. They would have a ready theme song for the town's dilemma.

A simple alteration of their anti-war tune, "Give Peace a Chance," gets directly to the point: "All we are saying/Is give trees a chance."

Far-fetched? Yes.

Pertinent? Absolutely.

Vince Ciraolo is ready to sing the chorus. He bought the neat white corner house on Peppertree Drive 11 years ago. Enhancing his quality of life, shading his lawn and hiking the value of his home are four mature, curbside, green ash trees. Each was damaged in the storm. Each today is leafy, semi-whole and possibly salvageable.

If the town goes through with its plan, Ciraolo's tree-lined abode soon will be sun-baked and charm-diminished.

"If I lose them," Ciraolo said on a recent afternoon, "it will make a big difference."

The surprise October snowstorm devastated numerous neighborhoods. No town got hit harder than Amherst, where nearly 10,000 trees were damaged. Arborists say 85 percent of them -- 8,210 -- should come down.

If that happens, Peppertree and surrounding streets would lose three-quarters of their curbside tree cover. Within five months, tree-lined byways would be barren.

The problem is the federal government reimburses the town for damaged trees cut within a year of a storm. Folks suspect the town is cutting down trees that might recover.

The town does not want to run the risk that damaged trees, if given a two- or three-year reprieve, will not make it. Once beyond the one-year handout deadline, the cost of downing damaged trees comes out of the town's pocket.

"I think they are kind of jumping the gun," said Ciraolo, a retired firefighter who wields a mean gardening shovel. "I think three of [my] four trees have a real shot [of surviving]."

Amherst would collect $3.3 million from Washington for its 8,210 condemned trees. It is a quick, clean, easy solution.

Quick, clean and easy is not, in this case, smart.

You can put a price on thousands of trees. Harder to measure is the blow to the look, the feel and the liveability of numerous neighborhoods. Tree-lined vs. treeless is the difference between sublime and stark.

Upon closer look, the economics do not add up. Take the trees down, and the town foots a $2 million bill to grind out the stumps and plant new trees. Take the trees down, and a legion of homeowners demand a cut in their property assessments. Houses on a tree-shorn street are worth less than houses on a shady lane. The town would take a hit in property taxes.

"They need to take a second look at some of these trees," said Ciraolo. "If they cut these down and plant saplings, I'll be long gone before they get nearly as big as the trees we've got."

Most of about a dozen Amherst homeowners I spoke with echoed Ciraolo's sentiment: Better to wait and hope than to cut and kill.

Some trees are clearly too far gone. Arborists say it will take at least another year to decide the fate of most of the others. Taking a chain saw to a salvageable tree is not as bad as, say, pulling the plug when there is hope for the patient. But the same logic applies.

Pro-tree forces want the federal deadline extended another year. Experts say as many as half of the condemned trees could recover. It would mean the difference between barren streets or shaded lawns; between leafy byways or sun-baked pavement.

Folks in Amherst deserve better than chain-saw justice. Let time and nature sort it out. Give trees a chance.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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