Arborist conducts survey for Hamilton tree management plan


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    HAMILTON, Mont. - The city of Hamilton has always prided itself on its beautiful trees.

    To ensure continued health and sustainability of the city's urban forest, it's developing an urban forest strategic management plan. The city took inventory of its 1,600 trees, and identified which ones needed to be replaced.

    Now, it's one step closer to enacting a long-range plan.

    The board-certified master arborist who is developing the plan is asking for public input.

    Sylvia McNeill has been working on and studying trees in the Bitterroot for 30 years. She is asking anyone who values Hamilton's trees to take a short survey. They do not have to be residents of Hamilton to fill it out.

    McNeill wants to know the public's perception.

    The survey asks questions like whether people know the benefit of trees, and whether they feel a plan to maintain, protect and enhance the urban forest is worthwhile.

    McNeill also wants to know what people think of the forest's condition, and whether there are enough trees in the city.

    In about 100 surveys she has reviewed so far, McNeill said people are "overwhelmingly" telling her that Hamilton's urban forest is important and worthy of maintenance.

    A key part of the plan will be budgeting for its care.

    "We want our money to be well spent," said McNeill, "and recommendations on where we go with species diversity and replanting strategies."

    The city has replanted some trees with a commitment that homeowners or businesses water and care for them.

    Hamilton already has some diversity of trees. There are unique butternut trees, some horse chestnuts and several other varieties that grace the landscape. There are century-plus old Marcus Daly poplars. Perhaps Hamilton's most prominent tree is the Norway Maple.

    "Even though they're a lovely tree," said McNeill, "as we replant we need to look at other species so we keep that diversity healthy."

    With this plan, we are likely to see a wider variety of trees, like more oaks.

    If a city has only one variety, a disease or invasive insect could wipe out a good deal of our shade.

    Right now, McNeill said the invasive insect that is on the radar is the emerald ash borer, which threatens ash trees across the nation. It is not yet in Montana.

    The arborist wants a plan that is constantly evolving.

    They want to be able to "revist it on a five or 10-year basis," she said, and ask "are we on track?"

    McNeill sees the plan as an educational tool to help people make good decisions about planting and maintaining their trees, whether they live in Hamilton, or elsewhere.

    The survey must be completed by May 31. McNeill will present her plan to the city before June 30.

    Copies of the survey can be picked up in Hamilton's city hall or public works department. It can also be accessed online.

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