Aging trees becoming big problem for Durham
Posted June 20
Durham residents and city workers were cleaning up Friday after severe thunderstorms on Thursday toppled trees, including two on cars and one on a house.
Alex Johnson, manager for the city of Durham’s Urban Forestry Division, says the most recent weather event is an example of a big issue for the city.
“The city went on a tree-planting binge in the 1930s. Our historic neighborhoods have populations of these trees that are 70, 80, 90 years old,” Johnson said. “The older the tree is, the harder it is for the tree to sustain injury.”
Old oak trees, he says, are very susceptible to high winds. Over the past few weeks, more have fallen, and Johnson says it will only get worse as the trees continue to age.
“Their coming down in storm events and weather has been really unpredictable,” he said. “We’ve had really dramatic failures. They are usually root-plate failures, but in some cases, they are stem failures.
“The risk associated with these trees is significant,” Johnson added. “Especially when you’re dealing with intersections.”
Urban Forestry documents which trees are the biggest risk and then removes them. But time and budget constraints keep the division from removing the risky oaks as quickly as it would like.
The division has an annual budget of about $600,000, with 40 percent going to tree removal.
“Our maximum number of trees that we can remove on a given yearly cycle is about 200,” Johnson said. “The number of mature willow oaks in our streetscape is somewhere around 8,000.”
That means the division has to prioritize and assign resources.
“Given that nobody is here with a magic pen to write me a blank check, I have to deal with things within the framework that I’ve been trained to work it and address it,” Johnson said.
As for Thursday’s storms, he says there are 17 trees down that the city has to remove.
Two trees fell on cars, and one fell on a house on Gary Street, where a family of three adults and eight children was home at the time.
Everyone got out, and no one was seriously injured, but the homeowner’s daughter twisted her ankle and hurt her back while trying to escape.
Charlotte Gentry described the scary moments that the family experienced.
“Before you knew it, we heard cracking, and then something hit the house first, and glass was popping,” Gentry said. “I was like, ‘Everybody get to the floor.’ I threw my son and niece under me.”
The roof caved in several spots, causing water damage. There’s not much cleaning that can be done now. They’re working with the American Red Cross to figure out what’s next.
“I don’t think cleanup is going to happen,” said Tamara Pettiford, who also lives at the house. “It’s more like planning to see where we can go from here.”