Arbor Day Serves as Reminder of Benefits of Trees, Challenges Ahead
The majority of North Dakota’s windswept prairie state isn’t typically thought of as tree country. Between climate and soil type, the Peace Garden State is traditionally home to native grasses and the odd thorny shrub, with perhaps some trees clustering amongst riverbeds, or a draw or ravine with sustained access to water.
But, where people live, trees are sure to follow. There are more than 24,000 trees dotting the streets of Bismarck. Ash, Elm, Linden, and Maple varieties are the most popular. These four genera represent nearly 70 percent of the city’s street tree population. Other popular genera include Crabapple, Japanese Tree Lilac, Oak, Hackberry, and Honey Locust.
Guiding Bismarck’s urban forestry efforts is City Forester Doug Wiles. Wiles joined the City of Bismarck in 2016, coming from a City Forester position in Jamestown. His background includes a bachelor’s in education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a Master’s Degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Idaho, and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Mary. He has also worked with the U.S. Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and a forestry technician. His professional life has centered on the care for trees and sharing how this plant is an adaptive resource to meet your needs.
However, a tree’s value isn’t limited to a residential property. Often there are overlooked opportunities for businesses to benefit from trees, too. After all, North Dakota’s most abundant natural resource—its wind— doesn’t care where your property is zoned and the sun doesn’t care if your heating and cooling bills are line items on a business’s or family’s budget. There are significant benefits to be had with trees.
Benefits of Trees
Trees are an important component of a successful property. In an urban environment, a city’s managed forest is critical to a growing community for a variety of reasons:
- Ecological and Environmental Values
- Production of oxygen and improvement of air quality, conservation of water, return of nutrients to the soil, and support of wildlife.
- Practical and Commercial Values
- Production of wood products, as well as fruit, nuts, syrups, and medicinal resources.
- Property and Economic Values
- When trees are strategically planted, they have a significant impact on the environment in summer and winter.
- Trees increase property value by as much as 20 percent, depending on where you live.
- Landscaping can return 100-200 percent on investment.
- Community and Social Values
- Trees bring natural elements into urban environments.
- Trees planted in front of businesses are seen as more aesthetically pleasing. Customers will travel further distances to, and stay in areas longer, that have more trees.
One program that Bismarck home and business owners can utilize is the Partners in Planting Program. This reimbursement program offers a 50 percent reimbursement for the cost of street trees, up to $100 per tree, with an annual maximum of $700 per property. The first step to participating in this program is to contact the Forestry Division and request a Permit to Plant Trees on a Public Street Right-of-Way.
“Partners in Planting is one of those programs you may not have heard of before,” said Wiles. “But once someone has heard about it, and once they see how it can benefit their home or business property, they don’t forget about it.”
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, benefits of a thriving urban forest carry quantifiable benefits:
- Trees help absorb the sounds of traffic in urban areas by 40 percent.
- Neighborhoods with trees are seven to nine degrees cooler than those without.
- Trees reduce energy costs by up to 25 percent by shading buildings and protecting them from winter winds.
- Homes with trees have higher property values.
- Green space plays a significant role in improving mental and physical health.
- Planting and maintaining trees helps to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mitigating the effects of climate change.
When businesses or homeowners are ready to incorporate trees into the boulevards of their property, Forestry staff are available to conduct an on-site inspection that will help determine tree planting locations, explain what species are best suited for each site, and to issue the permit. These recommendations also come with maintenance insight. Certain types of trees may require more water initially, whereas some shrubs may require consistent care and perennials may need to be cleaned up seasonally or annually. After the permit to plant trees on the boulevard is received, a business or homeowner can purchase the trees and plant them as indicated on the permit.
To receive reimbursement, the appropriate paperwork (a copy of the receipt showing the types of trees purchased, the cost for each tree, and the company from which they were purchased, as well as a copy of your Permit to Plant Trees on a Public Right-of-Way) must be submitted to the Bismarck Forestry Division no later than December 15 of the same year the trees were planted. After receiving the paperwork, forestry staff inspects the planting site and a reimbursement payment should be received in four to six weeks.
Please note this program has finite funding and reimbursement is on a first-come, first-served basis. Grant funds can be depleted. In 2022, the program helped 108 property owners plant 245 new trees.
A Threat on the Horizon
One tree in particular, the Green Ash, has little care for the rogue’s gallery of North Dakota’s conditions that limit tree growth. A hearty tree, the Green Ash flourishes in the state’s conditions, serves as a shade tree, and is a familiar adornment across many of North Dakota’s cities.
But, when looking to add or manage trees on a property, it is important to know about the possibility of certain threats. Some of these threats may have to do with a property’s utilities and making sure that a tree is far enough from a service water line, so the root system doesn’t create damage as it searches for the next source of water. Other threats are on the horizon.
The start of 2023 brought unwelcome news to the Red River Valley as the discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) insect was announced near Moorhead, Minnesota, in early March. North Dakota foresters have watched the approach of EAB since 2002 when it was first discovered in southeastern Michigan, likely from adult beetles that crossed an ocean in wood packing materials coming from Asia.
There is speculation that the Upper Midwest’s frigid winters may not be a hospitable setting for these beetles, though. Cold temperature has been shown to kill a percentage of the larvae responsible for EAB. But so far this theory has only shown to slow EAB’s progress, not stop it. Still, this slowed expansion does open the door for forestry staff to have more time to make progress with mitigation measures. “The only way EAB can make big jumps across the region is through transported materials and firewood,” said Wiles. “This makes it that much more important to make sure if you are using wood, that it’s local wood and not from out of state or from near the Fargo-Moorhead area.” To date, North Dakota is one of 14 states that has not detected the pest. This is particularly fortunate because many communities in North Dakota turned to Ash trees as their go-to variety following the rise of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s and 1980s. Bismarck was no different, as upwards of 40 percent of the city’s trees were Ash varieties at one time.
Following the potentially expensive proposition of a city needing to care for a large percentage of its tree population, the philosophy of urban forestry has changed in recent years. Now more emphasis is being put on a city’s overall tree diversity. To ensure a city’s urban forest health, one genus should not make up more than 10 percent of the overall tree population. Bismarck has made a concerted effort to lower the overall Ash tree inventory in the past six years, lowering the city’s total Ash tree population from 35 percent to 25 percent. This catalog of the 31 different genera of Bismarck’s trees is maintained and evaluated each year to account for new diseases and potential impacts. Tracking the community’s urban forest goes back decades. “Our forestry managers knew the importance of what they had, so they could make wise decisions for the community,” said Wiles. “This inventory allowed them to extrapolate costs when they encountered a disease and to know what costs could be incurred if they followed mitigation measures versus doing nothing. Knowing what we have to work with is Step 1 of an urban forest management program and the tree inventory is the most important tool we have.”
But, with 1 in 4 trees in Bismarck serving as a potential home for EAB, businesses are encouraged to make tree decisions now, before their hand is forced due to infestation. If the decision is made to keep an Ash tree, the only way to ensure the long-term health of that tree is to regularly inject it with insecticide for the remainder of the tree’s life.
“The main thing businesses can do is evaluate trees on their property. If your Ash tree is planted in the boulevard, the City will help take care of that evaluation of trees that should be removed preemptively,” said Wiles. “But on private property, now is the time to make those decisions. You don’t want to wait until EAB is identified in Mandan or Bismarck, or somewhere closer than what it is now.”
In Bismarck, the approach to EAB is to focus on identifying trees that are in poor condition, young, or in conflict with utilities or intersections. As the pest approaches, so does how aggressively the City will make some of these decisions.
Part of what makes EAB so damaging is that the insects do not immediately kill the tree. In contrast to Dutch Elm Disease, which takes about two years to kill a tree, EAB keeps deteriorating the tree for years—allowing the pest population to build—before there are any outward signs. Communities may not see the first signs of EAB until after it has been at work for three to six years. This period of time, known as a death curve, means that by the time there are outward signs of damage, in many instances, it is often too late for any rehabilitation.
If you believe that a tree located on your boulevard or in a park may be infected, the City of Bismarck’s Forestry Division will inspect these trees for free. If the tree is located on private property, a $25 inspection fee will be charged. The Forestry Division is also available to discuss tree options for businesses that are moving to a new location.
The Start of Tree Planting Season
With Bismarck setting a new benchmark for snow totals and a winter feeling that stubbornly refused to leave until April, the 2023 Arbor Day served as more of a kickoff for spring than in other, recent years. Arbor Day and the City of Bismarck share a similar bond, as both celebrated a sesquicentennial, a 150th anniversary, last year.
“Arbor Day always seems like it is the kickoff for spring,” said Wiles. “The grass is green, temperatures are warming up but still mild, and these conditions are perfect for planting trees. On an average year, we see upwards of 800 new street trees planted in Bismarck.”
This year the Forestry Division celebrated the history of the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District as part of its Arbor Day event on the first Friday in May. Retired Executive Director Randy Bina, who served the community for more than 43 years, was honored with his own tree in Sertoma Park. Bina was a collaborative leader and distinguished himself by advancing parks and recreation opportunities throughout Bismarck. The City of Bismarck has planted a tree on Arbor Day since 1978 and began dedicating trees to individuals a couple of years later, beginning with Lois Erickstad’s Colorado Spruce at the Tom O’Leary Tennis Courts in 1981.
In 2023, the City of Bismarck will maintain its status as a Tree City USA for its 46th year. More than 3,400 communities nationwide are Tree City USA. Arbor Day also centers on educational opportunities for the young and old alike. In the month around Arbor Day the Bismarck Forestry Division is in high gear with presentations, tree plantings, readings, and more for students in grades 3-5 and a variety of service groups.
“Our focus is on the future and the next generation,” said Wiles. “So much of what we do with trees is thinking about a decade or two down the road. We are always telling people that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.”
For more information about all the Forestry Division’s programs, responsibilities, and impact on the City of Bismarck, visit bismarcknd.gov/101/Forestry. To speak with a representative in the division, call (701) 355-1700 and choose Option 3 from the automated menu.