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Taking Down Dead Trees In State Parks, Forests Cost Taxpayers Another $1 Million

Taking Down Dead Trees In State Parks, Forests Cost Taxpayers Another $1 Million

Hartford Courant, Jan. 2, 2020

By Greg Hladky

Taking down potentially dangerous dead or dying trees in state parks and forests has already cost Connecticut taxpayers about $2.5 million, and an additional $1 million has just been allocated for removing another 10,000 badly damaged trees.

Since the autumn of 2018, state workers have marked about 19,850 possibly hazardous trees for removal because they pose a threat to the public in state campgrounds, parking and picnic areas, according to Chris Martin, head of the state’s forestry unit.

“We’ve focused on high-risk areas where the public tends to linger,” Martin said. He said some dead trees along very popular state hiking trails have also been taken out. But Martin added that, “It’s not our goal to get every dead tree in the parks and forests on the ground.”Millions of Connecticut trees have been dying in recent years as a result of damage caused by widespread infestations of invasive insects that include Gypsy moths and Emerald ash borers, multiple years of drought, and major storms.

Severe thunderstorms in May 2018 spawned multiple tornadoes and savage winds that downed thousands of trees in Hamden’s popular Sleeping Giant State Park. The damage was so severe the park was closed for more than a year. 

In addition to the state’s damaged-tree removal efforts, Connecticut utilities, municipalities and thousands of homeowners have also been cutting down massive numbers of dead or dying trees in recent years.

The state Department of Transportation spent about $9.1 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year to remove trees from along state highways, in part because so many damaged trees could pose a threat to motor vehicle traffic.

The state Bond Commission recently approved an additional $1 million for the state park and forest program to get rid of problem trees.

“We’re close to exhausting what we’ve been allocated so far,” Martin said of the $2.5 million that was budgeted for tree removal during the past couple of years by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

10,000 trees down back to top

Martin said nearly 10,000 trees have already been cut down in state parks and forests for public safety reasons. The state’s overall list of dead or severely damaged trees includes precise locations, the species of the tree, and the type of damage and potential hazard to the public the tree represents.

Most of the state tree cutting has been done by state workers, but Martin said his agency has also employed tree service companies to remove damaged trees in tricky or potentially difficult areas like near buildings.

Martin said the state has also hired a few contract logging operations to remove damaged trees from along state forest roads. Some of the usable lumber from those logging efforts has been sold to help cover state tree removal costs, Martin said.

Successive years of Gypsy moth outbreaks in 2016 and 2017 stripped the leaves from an estimated 400,000 acres of trees in this state, mostly in eastern and central Connecticut, according to experts. Already weakened by years of drought, millions of oak trees were killed or damaged during the infestations.

Martin said the state survey found about 9,000 oak trees than needed to be removed from state parks and forests, primarily due to Gypsy moth damage.

The Emerald ash borer infestation has so far hit mainly in woodlands west of the Connecticut River, according to Martin. He said the state found about 5,000 ash trees in state forest and park public areas that needed removal.

While state experts believe the damage to Connecticut trees from Gypsy moth outbreaks has at least temporarily halted, Martin said additional ash trees are expected to die as the Emerald ash borer expands farther into the eastern portion of the state.