To lead on climate, Connecticut must protect our trees!
Disappointment sprang anew when Gov. Ned Lamont commented on Nov. 1 “I know my phone lights up every time DOT is trimming those trees along the highways; every time Eversource is cutting back on trees along the power wires. At least I think you now understand why they do it, why it’s important, to prevent issues like this going forward,”
His comment fed the fear of trees that seems to be widespread. It played directly into the hands of the utility companies and the state DOT that want to remove trees wherever possible, regardless of their health.
This was a missed opportunity to remind the public that we are in a climate crisis. He could have advised the public of his newly released Executive Order #3 calling for “strengthening Connecticut’s Efforts to Mitigate Climate Change.” It was an opportunity for him to re-state his belief that “Climate change is an urgent, existential threat that must be tackled immediately and under the leadership of this administration I am going to see to it that Connecticut remains a national leader on climate action.”
It was a missed opportunity to call upon the public to embrace a broad new strategy that includes harnessing and using the power of our trees to help us fight the effects of climate change, to make our communities more resilient and to show his understanding of the important role trees play in fighting climate change.
It was a chance to confirm that dead and diseased trees must be removed and healthy trees must be retained, with minimal trimming as needed, as every healthy tree is an asset that provides essential benefits to the citizens of Connecticut every day.
It was an opportunity to explain to the people of Connecticut that trees are our best natural ally in the fight against climate change, which is why nations across the globe are planting billions of trees in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. In fact, the more trees we remove from along our highways and in our neighborhoods, the more extreme the weather is likely to become and the more severe the impact will be.
We have good reason to worry about the fate of our tree population. Connecticut has lost thousands of trees over the past couple of years from pest infestations, severe weather, development, and the actions of private property owners and utility companies. In 2016, statewide, 11,043 trees were removed by the utilities of which 703, (6.4%) were classified as hazardous trees. The rest, 10,340 trees, were NOT HAZARDOUS and should NOT have been removed!
The extreme weather we are now experiencing is having a catastrophic impact on our state, and we cannot ignore the massive economic, environmental, and human costs. The 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it abundantly clear that the climate crisis, which is exacerbating this weather, threatens the safety of all life on earth as we know it.
The CT DOT and the utility companies must now be required to comply with the governor’s new executive order and reflect its intent in all future tree work<strong>. </strong>This Executive Order establishes a high standard for tree wardens, builds in accountability, and makes clear that utilities have legal, environmental, aesthetic and community obligations as they go about their work. This includes evaluating the health of each tree and obtaining tree permits and abutting property owner consent for any work they perform in the Utility Protection Zone (UPZ), unless there is an immediate danger creating an emergency.
Greater restraint in removing trees must become the rule, focusing on removing dead and hazardous trees and replanting to help offset the cost of their previous massive tree removal programs. Failure to do so will be a willful act of negligence by these agencies who claim that safety is a primary concern.
For our own sake and our children’s future, we must demand an end to the now radically dangerous acceptance of “business as usual.” We are counting on the governor to become the knowledgeable, articulate, and persistent climate advocate we so urgently need.
Diane Hoffman is a representative of the Hamden Alliance for Trees.