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How to bring back Marshalltown’s tree canopy

Between 2018 tornado and the 2020 derecho, the community has lost a number of trees in public areas, like the terrace area or parks and on private property. While there are not any programs that help with tree removal on private property, the city has FEMA Public Assistance to help with public trees. As with anything related to FEMA, there is a process – not a short one – and we want you to have a better understanding of what steps we are taking to remove damaged trees.

The city initially marked trees with red numbers for hazardous limbs overhanging streets and sidewalks. This included both public and private trees. This work has been mostly completed, but you still might see the city’s contractor around doing some work. As some trimming has occurred, we have had to make some judgement calls on what remains of a tree. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some trees being removed due to the condition they are left in.

You should be seeing yellow numbers appear on trees throughout the community. This evaluation determines if a tree meets the FEMA requirements for removal. Those requirements include a broken canopy, split trunk or leaning more than 30 percent. This process requires a person doing an evaluation to have qualifications for the work, which means that the city’s horticulturist is doing a lot on her own. We have also had some assistance from the Iowa DNR as well, as this is a big task. In 2019, we removed 496 trees from the terrace and parks as part of our FEMA claim. While we do not have final numbers in yet, it is safe to say that we will exceed that number in 2021.

Once all trees have been identified, the city will put out a request for sealed bids in order to have a contractor remove all of the trees. We anticipate this bid will go out in early 2021 with work to happen before June 30, 2021. FEMA will only pay for trees to be flush cut at the ground, meaning that there will be a lot of stumps in the terrace area and parks. The city has to pay for stump removal on our own, which means we have to budget stump removal into our General Fund for parks or in the Road Use Tax Fund for terrace stumps. Stump removal will likely be broken down into smaller bids and start after June 30, 2021.

It is going to take the entire community working together to replant what was lost in both disaster events. However, we do not want to do this all at once. Our community has a once in a lifetime opportunity to diversify our tree canopy by both the age and species of the trees. For example, 100 trees planted in 2020 in the same area are going to come to a point of decline likely at the same time, leading to a loss of tree canopy again. By adding in previously underrepresented species, we can do more as a community to become more resilient from future diseases and infestations, like Dutch Elm disease and the emerald ash borer.

Before you plant, please consult the city’s tree list for planting on the terrace to make sure you are choosing the proper tree for the space you have. You will also need to fill out a tree planting permit before you plant in the terrace area as well. This helps us ensure that only approved species are getting planted and that we can track what trees are added to the public trees in the community. All tree information can be found at https://www.marshalltown-ia.gov/275/Trees. Please also remember to call 811 before you dig.

After the tornado, my daily drive on State Street often left me feeling depressed over the trees that were lost and how so many future residents would never know how beautiful our tree-lined streets were. I have felt the same about Riverview Park after the derecho. But that little bright spot is seeing a new tree planted and knowing that someone cared enough to replace what was lost. Thank you to the many individuals and groups who are trying to help bring back what our community has lost and create what people will remember generations from now.

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Jessica Kinser is the city administrator for Marshalltown.

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