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Forum highlights challenges of keeping Fairfield's trees healthy

The deep-rooted importance of trees and other plants to a community like Fairfield was the topic of a forum Saturday that drew state and local forestry officials to the Connecticut Audubon Society.

Titled "Roots to Branches," the program at Audubon's Burr Street headquarters was sponsored by the Fairfield Forestry Committee, chaired by Misty Beyer. The event featured presentations, educational literature and interactive discussion about trees and preserving their future health and sustainability.

Chris Donnelly, the urban forestry coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Protection, was a featured speaker. "It's been an interesting year since we last convened in April 2013 with this program," he said. "We currently have two major interests: roadside forests and forests in general. After the recent big storms (Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy), the state collectively realized we have a lot of trees and our forests do benefit from management. We've been busy interpreting what that means on a local scale."

With regard to roadside forestry, Donnelly said, "Pruning and general tree management to remove truly hazardous trees and fostering the idea of the right tree in the right place has been important. We've been collaborating more with utility companies to increase the dialogues."

Another big issue has been the arrival of the Emerald Ash Bore, which is an invasive insect that attacks and kills ash trees. According to Donnelly, these arrived in North America from Asia in the late 1990s, were first found in Detroit in 2002 and found in Connecticut in 2012. They have now been detected in 16 towns in our state. The insect bores into and feeds on the growth layer under the tree's bark. Homeowners can combat them with systemic insecticides; town services use a triage approach.

Invasive plants continue to be an issue. Mary Hogue, chairman of invasives for the town's Forestry Committee, was on hand to raise awareness that such plants are illegal to sell and move around. She also provided information on how to recognize the destructive vegetation. The top concerns, she said, are the bittersweet vine, which strangles trees; phragmites grasses in low-lying marsh areas, which change water environments; yellow irises, which are not native, and Japanese barberry, which is often tick infested.

A planning consultant for Fairfield, Geoffrey Steadman gave an overview of the town's Community Forest Vision, which was developed by the committee. It includes recommendations for managing the 50,000 to 75,000 trees that overhang public rights-of-way along Fairfield's 270 miles of road. "We have a draft plan, which is meant to be a guidance document, that we hope to bring to the Board of Selectmen in the next few months, for endorsement," he said.

Also attending was First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who said, "This is a critical time as not only Fairfield but our state grapples with how to live alongside trees, a question brought up by Storm Sandy.

"On one hand, Fairfield has been named Tree City USA for the past 27 years," Tetreau said. "We have also gotten a grant by the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council to survey and map our tree canopy to give us the ability to better track and manage our trees."

He noted, however, "United Illuminating has come up with initiatives for vegetation management along streets and power lines to provide more secure power during storms. Our challenge is to balance tree-lined streets and security of power, which will be a discussion over the next several years."

For more information about the Forestry Committee and its programs, visit http://bit.ly/1rgjBGV

Mike Lauterborn

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