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Longview has 1,500 fewer trees than usual. City staff is working to fix that.

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Longview officials are revving up tree planting as the city’s oldest and tallest growths approach 100 years old and some have to be removed.

Among the city’s 14,000 designated spots for trees, 1,500 are empty. Without as many trees, neighborhoods get warmer, and drivers tend to speed more often, said Longview Parks Director Jennifer Wills.

Trees take on decades of disease or weather events — from surprise snow in April to stifling summer heat waves — that can make them more vulnerable.

The city’s team of arborists work to plant two trees for each one they have to remove. But lately, Wills said, they have been removing trees faster than they have been replacing them.

Joanna Martin and Jennifer Wills Longview Parks Department

Longview Urban Forestry Program Manager Joanna Martin, left, and Longview Parks Director Jennifer Wills talk about how they have changed their monitoring process for aging trees on Washington Way on Thursday, Sept. 8 in Longview.

“As they get older, there is a point when a tree simply can’t stay standing,” Wills said.

The department is working to revamp tree planting, especially after tree service delays during the pandemic when crews were working with 300-plus requests. This year, with the added staff, they are fielding about 60 requests.

Longview park officials recently hired a new arborist team and launched an electronic database to track every tree in Longview — including its age, exact location and prior work that has been done on it — to keep up with service requests and diagnose aging trees vulnerable to falling down.

On Washington Way, most of the trees are 60 to 90 years old because they were planted during the city’s founding, Wills said. A large, mature oak tree, up to 90 years old, fell at Lake Sacajawea just this summer and no one was injured.

About 20% of the city has canopy cover, and the department hopes to increase that to 30% by 2030, said Joanna Martin, city of Longview parks and urban forestry manager.

Trees that grow in a city add much-needed beauty to streets and can even help reduce car speeds, Wills said.

Research shows canopies also help keep neighborhoods cooler, Wills said, but most trees are not spread evenly across neighborhoods.

In the Highlands, where fewer trees hang overhead, temperatures during scorching heat waves can often get several degrees warmer than in the neighborhoods near Washington Way.

Watch people backflip, dance and scratch like bears in an effort to win the third annual Finnish Arctic Tree Hugging Championship in Levi, Kittilä, Lapland.

This “heat island effect” is likely to become more pronounced as average summer temperatures in Western Washington continue to escalate. This effect also tends to happen in lower income neighborhoods due to disparities in how these areas were planned and developed, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Having a variety of trees helps make them less susceptible to disease or invasive insects that can start at one tree and then devastate others of the same species, Wills said.

“We’re trying to get a more diverse urban forest,” she said.

This means the department can consult nearby cities that have similar environments. When deciding on the species of tree to plant, they often refer to the approved list of urban forest trees from the city of Portland.

Expanding community forests

Reviving trees in urban spaces has become a focus across the Pacific Northwest.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources has an urban and community forestry program that helps local governments decide how to plant and sustain healthy vegetation that can coexist with the busy lives of city residents.

Last year, the state Legislature passed the Evergreen Communities Act to revamp the department’s program so they could hire another staff member and get access to funding for better technical assistance to local governments and nonprofit groups.

In the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, the federal government promised $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program. U.S. President Joe Biden in April signed an executive order promising to restore and conserve the nation’s mature and old-growth forests, several of which are located in the Pacific Northwest.

Ben Thompson, the department’s urban and community forestry program manager, said Longview stands as a unique example when it comes to tree cover.

“Longview is a pretty special community in Washington because of its legacy and history of being planned well and being planned with these urban forests in mind,” Thompson said.

Most cities the size of Longview do not have a separate team of arborists to manage the trees, Thompson said. He pointed to Lake Sacajawea as another example of Longview’s effort in maintaining large, vegetative parks.

“That’s something you might see in Spokane or in Seattle or Tacoma, but not very often do you see a park like that in the smaller cities,” Thompson said.

Sydney Brown is a news reporter for The Daily News covering education and environmental issues in Cowlitz County.

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Sydney Brown started at The Daily News in March 2022 covering education and environmental issues in Cowlitz County. She has a degree in multimedia journalism from Washington State University-Pullman.

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