By ERIN ROLL
Between an onslaught of ash borers threatening to wipe out Montclair’s ash trees, and a series of less-than-ideal weather patterns putting stress on the township’s older trees, it’s been a challenging few years for Montclair’s shade trees, and the challenges aren’t letting up.
“Old trees, like old cars and old people, they’re getting stressed,” Township Arborist Steve Schuckman said on Thursday. “We’re just seeing a die-back in old trees.”
The weather over the past few years has included late-summer and fall droughts; this year also brought a mild winter and a late-season hard freeze in March. “I just think it’s a natural occurrence,” Schuckman said.
Other recent challenges to trees have included Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and the October 2011 snowstorm.
But right now, Schuckman said, the focus is on dealing with dead, diseased or weakened trees, in order to reduce potential safety hazards.
Trees are chosen for a specific site, with crews taking into consideration such factors as overhead wiring.
The township has completed its spring planting season; Schuckman said that crews planted 275 new trees. The next round of planting is scheduled for late fall. As of this week, Schuckman said that the township was getting ready to start surveying for new planting sites.
Gray Russell, the township’s sustainability officer, said that it was crucial for Montclair to keep an eye on tree health, for environmental as well as economic reasons.
“A tree that has shade from foliage decreases the use of air conditioning in the buildings nearby,” Russell said.
In an older, established community like Montclair, Russell said, a canopy of mature shade trees tends to be a point of pride for the community. “The very point of that is those trees were planted by the leaders of our town many, many years ago,” he said. The larger trees in town are often 50 years old or more, and some of those trees are at the point where they are starting to decline. And that, he said, points to the need for Montclair to plant new trees every year.
Additionally, Montclair is facing the prospect of the emerald ash borer, which threatens to wipe out all of its ash trees. The borer was identified in Montclair last year, making it the first municipality in Essex County to be affected by the insect. The shade tree commission has been working on a project to locate all ash trees in Montclair. Once that is completed, Russell said, the council will have to decide whether to treat all publicly owned ash trees or to cut them down.
Russell noted that private property owners will have to make similar decisions about ash trees on their land. “Ash trees, whether they’re on public or private property, are going to be devastated.”